January 2024 – A Brief History of the Bass Guitar

Prelude

WELCOME FAIR MUSIC‑MINDED PATRONS to the first CRAVE Guitars’ monthly article of the New Year. While we may be less than a full month into the year Two Thousand and Twenty Four of the Common Era, one hopes it is off to a good start despite global uncertainty (and insanity). Let us hope that those intent on geopolitical conflict come to their senses, unlikely as it may seem, rather than escalate tensions further. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be part of the doomsday generation. Scary.

Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all)” – Thomas Hobbes (1588‑1679)

Getting back to the musical point, ask pretty much anyone with a slight interest in modern music culture, the question, “Who invented the first bass guitar?” and I’m sure a lot of people would say, “Leo Fender, of course”. Well yes… and no. In the world of vintage guitars, things are rarely quite as straightforward as one may at first think.

With the recent addition of CRAVE Basses to the CRAVE Guitars, Amps and Effects family, this month seems perfectly apt to take a quick look at how the electric bass guitar as we know it came into being and how it has become such an integral component of contemporary music.

Primarily as a guitarist, my dalliances with bass guitars up to now have, I admit, been spawned out of curiosity and exploration, rather than a serious preoccupation. Those dalliances, though, span well over four decades, so the bass encounter isn’t a single, short or recent ‘event’.

We do not start the story, as many might imagine in the 1950s. We’ll come back to that in a little while. Before we get there, though, we should go back quite a few years. Many, many years in fact, starting with the classical orchestral double bass, originating from the 15th Century or thereabouts. Then we’ll explore the modern‑day innovations starting in the 1920s and 1930s before the ‘big bang’ that really exploded in the 1950s and 1960s. Finally we’ll come up‑to‑date, with a look at the instruments, equipment, artists and sounds that have helped to shape the modern musical landscape. Finally, we’ll take a wee peak into the near future of bass instruments.


The fretless acoustic double bass

Before the solid body fretted electric bass guitar, popular music relied almost totally on the acoustic upright double bass for low frequency impact. The instrument’s origins date approximately to the 15th‑16th Century in Venice, Italy. Venetian musician, Silvestro Ganassi developed a ‘bass viola da gamba’ in 1542, widely regarded as the forerunner of today’s double bass. It wasn’t until around 1700, though, that the double bass became part of the opera orchestra. The double bass as we now know it is the largest and lowest‑pitched chordophone in the classical music orchestra.

As a quick recap, defined by the Hornbostel‑Sachs system of musical instrument classification, a chordophone is a musical instrument that makes sound from vibrating one or more taught strings by bowing, plucking or striking the strings. Examples of chordophone types include violins, guitars, and pianos respectively. The word chordophone stems from the Greek words for string (chordē) and sound (phonē).

For more on the historical origins of musical instrument classification (to provide a context for the development of the guitar), see CRAVE Guitars’ March 2018 article.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (The ancient world up to the early Renaissance):
March 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (craveguitars.co.uk)

The traditional 4‑string double bass is usually played in one of two ways, either by rubbing the strings with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings with fingers (pizzicato). Some modern double bass players, for instance in rock & roll and rockabilly, also use a distinctive ‘slap’ technique. This percussive sound derived from the ‘Bartók pizzicato’ (‘snap’ pizzicato) named after the Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók.

Double Bass (courtesy of Roxanne Minnish)

Depending on the style of music, the double bass is also known by a number of other names, all of which refer to the same instrument. Some of these alternative monikers include bass, upright bass, string bass, acoustic bass, acoustic string bass, contrabass, contrabass viol, bass viol, bass violin, stand‑up bass, bull fiddle, doghouse bass and bass fiddle.

The traditional double bass is a large acoustic fretless instrument of the violin family that is played upright. The deep, resonant, woody tone of the double bass endows it with a very different sound when compared to the modern solid body fretted electric bass guitar. The tuning of the double bass is different from other members of the orchestral sting instruments, in that it is tuned in fourths (E‑A‑D‑G) rather than a violin’s fifths (G‑D‑A‑E). The double bass, then, is tuned the same as a modern bass guitar, an octave below the bottom four strings of a 6‑string guitar in standard tuning. This particular characteristic aided the bass’s transition from classical to modern day musical styles.

Originally, double basses were more likely to have three strings until four strings became commonplace by the 19th Century, by which time the standard format and construction of the double bass had become established. There are, however, 5 and 6 (or more) string variants and there are also various alternative tunings.

The double bass has been the mainstay of orchestral string sections and chamber music for several centuries in one form or another. It was predictable that, with the emergence and evolution of the major modern popular music genres, such as jazz, blues and country & western that the double bass would become the go‑to bass instrument, at least up until the 1960s when the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became predominant. However, the double bass hasn’t disappeared from contemporary music completely. Plenty of present‑day artists still use or revert back to the double bass for authenticity and/or effect.

The main drawback experienced by many players is that the double bass is a substantial piece of equipment. The full‑size double bass is almost 75 inches (190cm) tall, weighing in at c.20‑25lbs (9‑11½kg), without its hefty case. The scale length is set at around 42” (107cm), much longer than most modern bass guitars. Given these dimensions, the double bass is sizeable, cumbersome, unwieldy and plain heavy, making it far from the easiest of instruments to move around or play. There are smaller double basses including ¾, ½ and ¼ size, mainly aimed at younger players. Even so, the double bass not for the faint hearted, as the smallest ¼ size instrument is still over 61” (156cm) tall.

Another drawback is the double bass’s acoustic construction. Like the acoustic guitar, in the first half of the 20th Century, the acoustic double bass’s lack of volume made it hard to be heard in a jazz‑era big band mix unless there was some form of electrification through either a magnetic pickup or a microphone connected to an amplifier and, even then, acoustic instruments can be prone to feedback in high sound pressure level environments.

Traditional double basses are not only large but, because of their construction, they are also quite expensive, making them a major investment and therefore difficult for novices or younger players to access and learn.

Even so, despite its limitations, during the 20th Century the double bass became widely used in a diverse range of modern music genres, including jazz, blues, swing, rock & roll, rockabilly, country & western, bluegrass, folk, funk, reggae, metal, rock, pop, tango and visual media soundtracks.

Trivia: Believe it or not, there is an even larger bass, first built c.1850 by the French luthier Jean‑Baptiste Vuillaume (1798‑1875) in Paris. The octobass, as it is called, has three strings and is basically a larger version of the double bass tuned a further octave down. The octobass is a truly gargantuan beast, approximately 137” high (348cm).


The electric upright bass

To enable modern players to experience the spirit of the acoustic double bass in a more convenient and amplified form, there is the modern Electric Upright Bass (EUB), which is also played, as its name suggests, upright, like a traditional double bass.

EUBs allow for greater portability while retaining the playing style and general sound of its forebear. As the EUB doesn’t require the substantial acoustic resonating chamber of a double bass, they often feature a ‘skeleton’ body, making it much smaller, lighter and cheaper to produce. The minimal structure may have either a solid body or a small acoustic body.

A magnetic, piezo or condenser bass pickup provides the means to route the signal via a bass amplifier to loudspeakers. Like a double bass, the EUB’s strings can be bowed or plucked, although that is dependent on fingerboard and bridge radius. While evoking its acoustic origins, the structural and electric characteristics of the EUB endow it with a unique sound all of its own.

As the EUB’s construction isn’t bound by convention like its orchestral sibling, the flexible format allows for a range of scale lengths to be employed from around 30” (76cm), through 34” (86cm) like a long scale bass guitar to the full 42” (107cm) of a double bass, making it much more accessible to a range of players. Almost all EUB necks allow for a full two‑octave range and most but not all are fretless. Compared to the double bass or the electric bass guitar, the electric upright bass tends to be a modern, notable but relatively niche instrument. There are EUB models at all price points, making it easier for novices and experienced players alike.

The first production electric upright basses were developed independently in the mid‑1930s by Regal (Electrified Double Bass), Vega (Electric Bass Viol), Rickenbacker (Electro Bass‑Viol) and Audiovox (bull fiddle – see below). Gibson introduced their special order Electric Bass Guitar in 1938, which was still an upright fretless instrument with a hollow body and a magnetic pickup.

Manufacturers of electric upright basses include Framus, Ampeg, Warwick, Ibanez, Yamaha, Palatino, NS Design (Ned Steinberger), and Harley Benton.

Electric Upright Bass

The first solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar

As hinted at above, while Leo Fender was the major innovator associated with the solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar, he wasn’t the first. He was beaten to the starting post by at least some 15 years. Hardly a photo finish!

The first indication of the possible future of a bass guitar was in 1924 when the legendary Gibson designer, Lloyd Loar came up with a prototype electric bass. The Loar concept focused on the body, pickup and strings but with little additional detail. Loar’s radical design was rejected by Gibson management at the time. Loar left Gibson shortly thereafter in 1924, so his visionary ideas for an electric bass guitar went no further.

Nearly a decade later, around 1933, American musician and inventor Paul H. ‘Bud’ Tutmarc (1896‑1972), based in Seattle, Washington, began experimenting with reducing the size of the double bass to a more manageable instrument. Tutmarc originally devised an electrified fretless double bass‑style instrument described as an electric 4‑string upright ‘bull fiddle’, slightly smaller than a cello.

It’s worth a quick diversion to go back in time to take in an original report from the ‘Seattle Post‑Intelligencer’ newspaper, which published the story on 17 February 1935. The headline read, “Pity Him No More – New Type Bull Fiddle Devised.”

The article went on to state that, “People have always pitied the poor bass-fiddler… who has to lug his big bull-fiddle home through the dark streets after the theatre closes. But he doesn’t have to do it anymore. Because Paul Tutmarc, Seattle music teacher and KOMO radio artist, has invented an electric bull-fiddle. One you can carry under your arm. And it doesn’t even need a bow, either. You pluck a string – and out of the electric amplifier comes a rich, deep tone, sustained as if five or six bass violinists were bowing five or six bass‑violins with masterly artistry. The tone is sustained as long as you want it, too, without a bow.” The instrument described in the article was a cello‑like upright fretless instrument with an electromagnetic pickup.

Tutmarc was, however, about to do something far more radical. By 1935-1936, Tutmarc, had changed direction and developed the first solid body fretted electric bass guitar, pretty much recognisable in its modern form. It was this version of Tutmarc’s bass that was intended to be played horizontally, rather than upright, in a similar way to the modern bass guitar. The 1935 sales catalogue for Tutmarc’s company Audiovox featured his ‘Model 736 Bass Fiddle’, a solid‑bodied electric bass guitar with four strings, a fretted neck, with a 30½” (775mm) scale length, an ebony (or purpleheart) fingerboard with 16 frets, a black walnut body, a hidden single Tutmarc‑Stimpson horseshoe pickup below a mirror-steel faceplate, and a single volume control.

Tutmarc AudioVox Model 736

In addition, as an electric bass guitar would be pretty much useless without the means to amplify the sound, Audiovox also sold an accompanying ‘Model 936’ bass amplifier with 18 watts of power and a 12” Jensen Concert speaker.

Around 100 of the Model 736 Audiovox bass guitars were made in the mid‑1930s. However, there are only thought to be three Model 736 Tutmarc bass guitars still in existence today, making them remarkably rare. One belongs to the Experience Music Project (EMP), now known as The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), a non‑profit enterprise founded by Microsoft co‑founder Paul Allen in 2000 and based in Seattle, Washington state, USA. In 2018, a 1936 Audiovox Model 736 bass guitar was reportedly sold by Tutmarc’s grandson on eBay for $23,850.

Sadly, for Tutmarc, the Audiovox 736 was not a commercial success. The price tag was high for the mid‑1930s, in a country still severely affected by The Great Depression (1929‑1939). The 736 bass fiddle originally cost $65 and the matching 936 bass amplifier cost $75, placing it well out of reach for many musicians. The high price and the radical concept didn’t attract enough musicians at the time and it wasn’t long before it was discontinued and was subsequently forlornly forgotten to history. Tutmarc’s company, Audiovox folded in 1950.

It can well be argued that Tutmarc was ahead of his time. Perhaps it is a case of supply looking for a demand that consumers didn’t know they needed. Maybe it was bad timing and/or bad luck. The Model 736 also arrived shortly before the outbreak of World War II when the guitar manufacturing industry was deemed ‘non‑essential’ and resources were diverted to the American war effort. Furthermore, a bass guitar didn’t seem to fit seamlessly into any of the prevailing musical styles at that time.

It is surprising, though, that such a significant innovation in guitar history isn’t more widely known about. Perhaps it is time, nay overdue, for Tutmarc’s milestone achievements to be deservedly recognised.

One company, Luthiery Laboratories, makes modern‑day replicas of the Audiovox 736, keeping the spirit of the original instrument alive.

Audiovox 736 Bass (1/4) ~ Luthiery Laboratories (luthierylabs.com)


The first commercially successful mass produced solid body fretted electric bass guitar

And so it was that the scene was set for someone else to step in and make the bass guitar ‘a thing’. That someone else was Clarence Leonidas Fender (1909‑1991). Unlike poor old Paul H. Tutmarc, you may just have heard of him.

“I wonder if I could make an electric bass” – Leo Fender (1909‑1991)

For more on the history and development of Fender guitars and musical equipment, see CRAVE Guitars’ August 2018 article for the context behind Fender solid body electric guitars.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (1950s and 1960s):
August 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (craveguitars.co.uk)

Once the proverbial ball started rolling, the bass guitar had a phenomenal, transformative and relatively rapid impact on modern music that cannot be underestimated or understated. It is also very easy to take the electric bass guitar’s presence on stages, in studios and bedrooms all around the world for granted. Back in 1950, though, no‑one other than a select few in Fullerton, California had any idea of what was to come.

So… what are we actually talking about? The answer, after the lengthy preamble (apologies for keeping you on tenterhooks for so long), is the mighty Fender Precision Bass. Three little words. Game changing, era defining and well‑deserving of all the hyperbole attached to it over the past seven‑plus decades. So much has been written about the Precision that there is little need to dredge up the detail again, so what follows is a brief overview.

Leo Fender was working on a prototype back in 1950, bringing the world’s first commercially successful mass‑produced electric bass guitar to market in 1951. Fender designed the Precision Bass (often shortened these days to P‑Bass) to overcome the many drawbacks of the acoustic double bass alluded to earlier in this article. Even the name, Precision, referred to the fretted neck to enable musicians to play in tune far more precisely than on the double bass’s fretless neck. Conservative double bass players may well have looked at the Precision Bass in the same way that conservative guitarists looked at the Fender Telecaster, which had been introduced a year earlier in 1950. Consternation and indignation were probably natural initial reactions from the ‘old‑school’.

At its most basic, the Fender Precision Bass is a solid body, 4‑string bass guitar equipped with a single pickup and a one‑piece 20‑fret maple neck with rosewood or maple fingerboard. It all sounds so very straightforward and unremarkable nowadays doesn’t it?

The Precision Bass didn’t, however, appear fully formed. The original design of the Precision borrowed several design features from the Telecaster guitar, other than the double cutaway body. Initial models carried one single coil pickup, a slab body, large scratchplate and a Tele‑like headstock.

After Fender introduced the Stratocaster guitar in 1954, some of its design features were brought over to the Precision including a contoured body and a Strat‑like headstock. The original pickup was replaced with a single split coil hum cancelling staggered design and a sleeker redesigned scratchplate. It is this version of the Precision from 1957 that has stayed in production largely unchanged to the current day. There have been many, many variants with numerous changes in specification over the years, including a fretless version (ironically, given the origin and intention of the Precision’s name). 5‑string versions, 22‑fret necks, active electronics, multiple pickups, etc. followed.

The original pre‑1957 Precision design has been re-issued by Fender at times over the years, often called the Telecaster Bass to differentiate it from the post‑1957 Precision specification.

The popularity of the Fender Precision Bass grew significantly throughout the 1950s especially with rock & roll and country fraternities, as well as with session musicians. During the 1960s the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became dominant in most modern musical genres. During the early days, there wasn’t a great deal of choice in terms of alternatives to the Precision but that was to change later on.

1977 Fender Precision Fretless Bass

Fender capitalised on their supremacy by introducing the solid body fretted electric Fender Jazz Bass in 1960 (originally called the ‘Deluxe Model’). The svelte Fender Jazz Bass (often now shortened to J‑Bass) was designed to appeal to a different customer base. Like the offset bodied Fender Jazzmaster guitar, it was aimed squarely at the dyed‑in‑the‑wool jazz community. However, like the Jazzmaster, the Jazz Bass’s appeal spread far wider than jazz musicians. Like the Precision, the Jazz Bass has rightly become an iconic industry standard solid body electric bass guitar.

Throughout the years, both the Precision and Jazz Bass have featured sizeable chrome covers over the pickup and the bridge, despite these items limiting playing techniques such as palm muting the strings. As the covers are purely aesthetic, rather than functional components, it is fair to say that the vast majority of musicians removed these covers permanently.

Without doubt, the Fender Precision Bass and its younger sibling the Jazz Bass are icons of contemporary music and remain hugely popular today. Consumers can purchase genuine P‑Bass and J‑Bass models from the budget Fender‑owned offshore‑produced Squier brand, through Mexican and American‑made Fender models, to the high‑end Fender Custom Shop versions. Throughout the decades, the Precision and Jazz Bass models have oft been imitated and/or blatantly copied by other manufacturers, eager to cash in on Fender’s industry‑dominant status.

Understandably, over the years, the Precision and Jazz Bass have become highly collectable, especially the earliest models. The highest vintage market prices undoubtedly belong to the models from 1951 (Precision) and 1960 (Jazz Bass) to 1965, when Leo Fender sold his company to industry giant CBS. Fender equipment from this period is known as ‘pre‑CBS’.

For more information on the Fender Precision and Jazz Bass, just complete any Internet browser search and, alongside a great deal of drivel, there is a massive volume of fact and opinion available, often described in forensic detail.

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

Evolution of the electric bass guitar

It is probably fair to say that, since 1951 and the introduction of the Fender Precision Bass, other brands were in the position of having to play catch up. In particular, Fender’s biggest competitor, Gibson, was wrong‑footed and they have never been able to compete on a level playing field. In 1953, Gibson released the EB‑1, which was a violin‑shaped solid mahogany body bass with a set neck. The EB‑1 didn’t catch on and was replaced by the semi‑acoustic ES‑335‑shaped EB‑2 in 1958, the SG‑shaped Gibson EB‑0 in 1959 and the EB‑3 (made famous by Jack Bruce of Cream) in 1961. While the semi‑acoustic EB‑2 proved popular, its Epiphone‑branded counterpart, the Epiphone Rivoli proved more successful. All these early Gibson basses used a shorter 30½” scale. In 1959, Gibson also released a hollow body EB‑6 6‑string bass.

Possibly Gibson’s best contender for an iconic bass guitar is the Gibson Thunderbird, originally introduced in 1963. The Thunderbird was based on Gibson’s Firebird guitar, designed by legendary American car designer Raymond Dietrich (1894‑1980). The Thunderbird was the first Gibson solid body bass to use the 34” scale made popular by Fender. Like the Firebird, the Thunderbird was redesigned in a simpler ‘non‑reverse’ form for 1966 and the original ‘reverse’ shape wasn’t reissued until the mid‑1970s. During the 1970s, Gibson also released the Ripper and Grabber basses but neither really captured bass players’ imaginations (or their precious dollars!). Later additions like the Gibson Triumph, Victory and RD basses didn’t fare much better as viable competition for Fender’s stalwarts. Epiphone have Thunderbird and EB basses in their line‑up alongside Epiphone‑specific basses such as the Newport and the Embassy.

Over at Danelectro in Neptune, New Jersey, Nathan Daniel launched the world’s first 6‑string bass, the UB‑2 in 1956 comprising a single cutaway semi‑hollow bass with a 30” scale, 24 frets and dual single coil pickups, earning its nickname the ‘Tic Tac bass’. In 1958, Danelectro replaced the UB‑2 with two new 6‑string bass models. The first was the Long Horn 4623 bass with a radical new lyre‑like design 24 frets, and a short 25” scale. The other was the Short Horn 3612 with stubby double cutaways, 29½”scale and only 15 frets. All Danelectro models substantially undercut the retail prices of both Fender and Gibson’s basses. The 6‑string models seemed to attract guitarists rather than bass players to their designs, providing a novel bridge between guitar and bass camps.

It should be noted at this point that older 6‑string basses are generally tuned an octave below a guitar in standard tuning, to E-E, while the baritone guitars that were appearing at the time were tuned either to B‑B or A‑A. On the other hand, modern 5‑string basses simply add a lower B string while modern 6‑string basses tend to add lower B and higher C strings compared to an equivalent 4‑string bass. Confused?

Meanwhile, back in the 1960s, Fender weren’t resting on their laurels. Following the popularity of the ‘student’ Mustang guitar, Fender introduced the short scale Mustang Bass in 1966. The Mustang Bass spawned two later variants, the Bronco Bass (introduced in 1967) and the Musicmaster Bass (introduced in 1971). Fender also released two esoteric ‘bass’ guitars, the Fender Bass V (introduced in 1965), which was the world’s first 5‑string bass guitar and the 6‑string Bass VI (introduced in 1961). The latter was strongly influenced by the Fender Jaguar guitar design. The Bass VI was Fender’s upmarket response to the Danelectro 6‑string bass introduced 5 years earlier. The Bass VI is unique in having 3 pickups, 6 lighter gauge strings, a short 30” scale, a floating bridge and a mechanical vibrato as used on the Jazzmaster/Jaguar guitars, as well as a removable string mute. To compete with the Gibson EB‑2 and Epiphone Rivoli thinline semi‑acoustic basses, Fender introduced the hollow Coronado Bass in 1966.

In addition, the ‘other’ Californian company, Rickenbacker, run by F.C. Hall at the time, also wasn’t going to be left on the side‑lines in the bass department. Rickenbacker had hired Roger Rossmeisl (1927‑1979) who designed the brand’s key guitars and the 4000 series basses. The Rickenbacker 4000 bass with its distinctive cresting wave body outline and thru‑neck construction was launched in 1957. Subsequent models were named 4001, 4002, 4003, 4004, all being variants of the same basic instrument. There isn’t enough space to go into the specification differences here.

Rickenbacker 4001

A decade after Leo Fender left the company that still carries his name today, Music Man was formed in California and released Leo Fender’s vision for the next evolution of his era defining bass guitars. The Music Man Stingray Bass was released in 1976 with a single large bridge humbucker, distinctive 3+1 headstock, innovative on‑board active electronics and an integral string mute. While Music Man’s guitars never caught on at the time, the Stingray Bass has joined Fender and Rickenbacker as an iconic design for many bass musicians. The Stingray Bass was especially popular for funk slap‑style bass technique for the likes of Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson.

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

There are a few other notable basses, such as the German Höfner ‘violin bass’, the 500/1, made famous by Paul McCartney of The Beatles. This model, introduced in 1955, with its carved solid spruce top and humbucking pickups, is often nicknamed the ‘Beatle Bass’. Beyond the Beatles connection, though, the 500/1 remains a relatively minor entry in the bass stakes, while the company’s only other notable entry being the Höfner Club and Verythin basses.

Another oddity to mention at this point is the Swedish Hagström H8, unique for being the world’s first mass‑produced 8‑string bass, with four pairs of strings on a short 30” scale. The H8 was only produced briefly from 1967‑1969.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s a plethora of other companies jumped on the bandwagon, eager to make the most of the massive increase in demand as rock, pop and other genres proliferated. Many of the basses produced during this time were flagrant facsimiles of the best‑selling American brand models, often by Japanese companies (now termed ‘lawsuit‑era’ copies). Other companies like Warwick in Germany were making their own headway with their successful original‑design Thumb and Streamer basses.

Today (2024), Fender arguably still rules the roost with basses covering all bases (sic!) from budget to elite models. All other brands stand firmly in Fender’s enviable shadow. While Fender may dominate, there are now plenty of alternative options. There are some incredible bass guitars out there, some of which are listed later in this article for those that want to diverge from the predictable industry standard ‘Fender sound’. There are numerous ways to deviate from the common path, with different brands, string/pickup configurations, electronics, scale lengths, body construction, etc. The quality of budget instruments is vastly superior to anything available in the past and provides a strong basis (again, sic!) for players seeking to learn and develop their skills.


The acoustic bass guitar

While the solid body electric bass guitar finally took the world by storm from the 1950s and 1960s, the acoustic bass guitar has proved to be another modern, notable and niche instrument. The first (largely unsuccessful) attempts at acoustic bass guitars began to appear in the 1950s as a logical extension to its electric counterpart.

Historically, one of the earliest acoustic bass‑like instruments was the Mexican guitarrón, which has its roots in the 16th Century and is widely used in Mexican Mariachi bands. While looking similar to a guitar, these huge instruments were either 6‑string or 12‑string acoustic instruments, tuned in A‑D‑G‑C‑E‑A.

In 1972, Ernie Ball introduced the Earthwood acoustic bass guitar, stating that “…if there were electric bass guitars to go with electric guitars then you ought to have acoustic basses to go with acoustic guitars.” A simple yet ‘blindingly obvious’ observation, given the benefit of hindsight. Ernie Ball took a guitarrón, being the nearest thing to an existing acoustic bass guitar, and created a more practical instrument for guitar‑centric American consumers. The Earthwood was relatively short‑lived but the foundation of the acoustic bass guitar was established. American company Washburn took the concept and created more successful instruments that coincided neatly with MTV’s Unplugged concert series (1989‑1999). Interestingly, despite starting it all, Ernie Ball does not have an acoustic bass guitar available to buy at the time of writing.

Acoustic bass guitar construction is essentially similar to the steel‑strung flat top acoustic folk guitar, with a larger hollow wooden body and a longer scale neck. Most acoustic basses have four strings, tuned in the same way as an electric bass, E‑A‑D‑G, an octave below a standard guitar. The majority of acoustic basses have fretted fingerboards, although some are fretless.

Acoustic Bass Guitar

Like many modern day acoustic guitars, many acoustic bass models have pickups to enable them to be amplified for stage use or DI’d for recording purposes. Some instruments are thinline electric semi‑acoustic basses while others are full‑depth electro‑acoustic basses. These are designed primarily as acoustic basses with an on‑board pickup for additional amplification when needed.

Today, there are any number of acoustic bass guitars on the market for every level of player and every price point from many key manufacturers including, amongst others; Martin, Taylor, Guild, Fender, Takamine, Ovation, Tanglewood, Epiphone, Warwick, Epiphone, Washburn, Godin, ESP, Breedlove, Larivée, Framus, Hohner, Ozark, Dean, D’Angelico, Ibanez, Sigma, Alvarez and Cort.


Bass guitar amplification

In the early days of bass guitars, brands released bass amplifiers to accompany their instruments, often sold as a package (see Tutmarc’s Audiovox above, for example). Other brands like Rickenbacker did the same in the early days. The main difference between guitar amps and bass amps is that the latter are tuned specifically to reproduce bass frequencies accurately. A standard 4‑string bass guitar produces low frequencies in the range 41Hz to 100Hz with overtones extending up to 4‑5kHz (not dissimilar to an acoustic double bass in fact).

In terms of sound pressure levels, bass frequencies need more power to be heard by the human ear/brain at the same volume as higher frequencies, so bass amps tend to have higher power ratings than guitar amps. In the past, speakers for bass also tended to be larger with 12”, 15” or even 18” to shift the amount of air needed at lower frequencies. In contrast, guitar speakers tended to be 10”or 12”. Bass speaker cabinets, especially those with multiple speakers, normally had sealed or ported enclosures to increase volume. For all these reasons bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets tend to be different to their guitar equivalents.

Probably the most famous brand associated specifically for its bass amplification is the American company Ampeg, founded in 1946 and now under the ownership of Japanese giant, Yamaha. Ampeg started out attempting to amplify the acoustic double bass in 1949 by using a microphone/pickup in the instrument’s stand. The ‘Amplified Peg’ as it was called was then shortened to ‘Ampeg’ and the rest, as they say, is history. Their most famous range of amps was the 300W Ampeg SVT from 1969 and their bass combo amps, the B‑15 from 1960, as used by the likes of Motown session bass player James Jamerson.

It was no surprise that Fender, the leader in the world of bass guitars from the 1950s should also produce bass amps/cabs. Perhaps the most famous Fender bass amp was the Bassman from 1952 onwards, first introduced as a combo valve amp with a 15” speaker. The most desirable though, was the Dual Rectifier Bassman valve combo with 4×10” speakers. From 1960. Fender also released a ‘piggy back’ amp head and speaker cabinet design to cope with higher power levels and to provide flexibility. From 2000, Fender released a solid state version of the legendary Bassman amp. The original valve Bassman also became beloved by many guitar players for its tone, for instance by the late blues rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV).

Student bass players also needed a bass amp. So Fender introduced the Musicmaster Bass amplifier in 1970, as a companion to the Fender Musicmaster Bass guitar. The Musicmaster Bass combo amp was a very simple affair with one channel, 12W of power, volume and tone controls and a single 12″ Fender speaker. Like the Bassman, it has latterly been enjoying a bit of a revival as a budget vintage amp for guitarists. The Musicmaster Bass amp was discontinued in 1982 after the introduction of the Fender Studio Bass combo and Japanese Fender Sidekick Bass 30. Nowadays, the extensive Fender Rumble series has proved very popular with bass players.

Legendary British amplifier company Marshall was not going to be left behind. Marshall’s first 100‑watt bass head was the JTM 45/100 / JTM 45 Super 100 model. Another, also dating from the second half of the 1960s, is the JMP #1992 Super Bass 100 (100W) and JMP #1986 Bass (50W). Like the Fender Bassman, the Marshall Super Bass 100W also proved popular with guitarists. Bass players were also known to use the Marshall #1963 Super PA (50W) and Marshall #1968 Super PA (100W) amps.

Another legendary British amplifier company, VOX produced bass versions of its AC‑15 and AC‑30 combo amps. These were followed in 1963 by the VOX T‑60 and Foundation amps, the latter promoted by Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.

German acoustic amp company AER also produce a range of bass amps, particularly well‑suited to amplifying acoustic and electro‑acoustic bass guitars.

Bass guitarists turn out to be a little less conservative than their guitarist counterparts, especially when it comes to amplification and speaker cabinets. For instance there are plenty of modern‑day bass amps that use efficient solid state D‑class amplification (a type of amplifier that uses digital switching technology to amplify audio signals efficiently), with very high power ratings – 500W and 600W or more being not uncommon. Bass amps often also make wide use of sophisticated on‑board EQ. Speaker cabinet configurations also tend to be more versatile with reflex ports, horns, tweeters and combining multiple speaker types being common.

There are many other valve, solid state or hybrid bass amplifier manufacturers not mentioned above, including Trace Elliot, Ashdown Engineering, Mesa/Boogie, Peavey, Music Man, Hiwatt, Laney, Sound City, H/H, WEM, Hartke and Orange.


Bass guitar effects

Things have changed a great deal over the decades since 1951. In the early days of the solid body electric bass guitar, most players plugged straight into their amps without much in the way of tone augmentation.

By the 1970s and 1980s bass players had a paucity of effects specially designed for their instruments, so they generally adopted guitar effects with just a few bass‑specific pedals to choose from. Since the industry started to migrate to digital technology from the 1980s onwards, the major effect companies began to produce pedals designed primarily for use with bass guitars. Now, in the 2020s, there is plenty of choice with most of the big players in the effect industry now making bass‑specific effect pedals, including Electro‑Harmonix, MXR, BOSS, Ibanez, Fender, Laney and Ampeg.

In addition, from around the start of the new millennium, a number of manufacturers turned their ideas for integrated multi‑effect units into practical musicians’ tools that became popular for both guitar and bass, including BOSS, VOX, Zoom, Tech 21, Behringer and Valeton.

In 1998, Line 6 introduced a ground‑breaking innovation called the POD, which put many guitar effects, amps and cabinet emulations into a single portable unit. While the little red kidney shaped POD was initially directed at guitarists, the rack mounted Line 6 POD Pro models came in both guitar and bass versions. Since then, Line 6 and other manufacturers now combine guitar and bass amp/effect/cabinet emulations into a single unit. These units are constantly improving and are gradually replacing stage backlines with direct input (DI) into PAs/monitors, as well as into studio desks/DAWs. Along with the POD, Line 6, also now part of Yamaha, is still in the same business with their extensive Helix range.

Alternatives to the Line 6 POD and Helix units include the Axe-Fx III from Fractal Audio, which is a pro‑level amplification/effects processor suitable for both guitar and bass. Meanwhile, Kemper Amps took a slightly different route with their Profiler, which has all‑in‑one effects, amplifier and speaker cabinet profiles designed for both guitar and bass.

Just to finish off, there are numerous boutique effect pedal manufacturers that produce stomp boxes, often to very high degrees of quality, including brands such as Way Huge, TC Electronic, EarthQuaker Devices, Darkglass, Aguilar, Origin Effects, Free The Tone, Providence, Source Audio, Walrus Audio, ZVEX, Mooer Audio, Sansamp, Digitech, Eventide, Strymon, JHS, Keeley and Empress Effects.


Iconic (and other) bass guitars

The next sentence is likely to be highly provocative and intentionally so. While there are innumerable bass guitar models out there from 1951 to the current day, there are probably only four bass guitar models that can truly be called iconic (i.e. something that is widely considered to epitomize an era, culture, community or place). The four key instruments – none of which are based on guitar equivalents – that stand head and shoulders above the rest are:

Truly iconic bass guitars:
Fender Precision Bass (1951‑date)
Fender Jazz Bass (1960‑date)
Rickenbacker 4000 series (1957‑date)
Music Man Stingray Bass (1976‑date)

In addition, below are listed just a very few of the other great electric bass guitars manufactured from 1951 onwards. This is far from a comprehensive list and is intended only to be broadly indicative of the type.

Fender bass guitars:
Fender Bass V
Fender Bass VI
Fender Coronado Bass
Fender Mustang Bass
Fender Musicmaster Bass
Fender Performer
Fender Telecaster Bass
Squier Bronco Bass

Gibson bass guitars:
Gibson EB series
Gibson Thunderbird
Gibson Explorer Bass
Gibson Melody Maker Bass
Gibson Grabber/Ripper/G3
Gibson RD series
Gibson Triumph
Gibson Victory
Gibson 20/20 Bass

Epiphone bass guitars (not including Epiphone versions of Gibson basses):
Epiphone Embassy
Epiphone Newport
Epiphone Rivoli
Epiphone Viola

Other American brand bass guitars:
Alembic Series 1/2
Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite
Ampeg AEB-1
BC Rich Eagle
BC Rich Mockingbird
BC Rich Warlock
Danelectro Longhorn 4623
Danelectro Shorthorn 3612
G&L JB2
G&L L1000/L2000
Gretsch 6071/6072
Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet
Gretsch 5440 Electromatic
Guild B-301/B-302
Guild Starfire
Harmony H22
Harmony H27
Jackson JS
Kramer 450-B/650-B
Kramer DMZ
Lakland Skyline
Music Man Sabre
Music Man Sterling
National Val Pro Model 85
Ovation Magnum
Peavey T-40
Peavey Millennium/Milestone
PRS SE Kestrel/Kingfisher
Schecter Omen
Schecter Stilletto
Silvertone 1440 series
Steinberger Spirit XT
Steinberger Synapse
Supro Pocket
Travis Bean TB2000
Washburn Taurus

European bass guitars:
Burns Sonic
Hagström H8
Höfner Club
Höfner HCT-500/1
Höfner President
Hohner B2
Hohner The Jack
VOX Clubman
VOX Cougar
VOX Phantom 4
VOX Sidewinder
VOX VBW Teardrop Bass
Wal Mk1/Mk2
Warwick Thumb/Streamer/Infinity/Corvette
Warwick Rockbass

Japanese bass guitars:
Other than perhaps the Yamaha BB and TRBX series, and the Ibanez SR and TMB series, Japanese bass guitars do not have the same level of brand/model heritage when compared to those produced by American and European companies. There are, however, many Japanese basses produced by companies such as Ibanez, Tokai, Greco, Jedson, Westone, Teisco, ESP/LTD, Fernandes and Aria.

“Without the Fender bass, there’d be no rock n’ roll or no Motown. The electric guitar had been waiting ’round since 1939 for a nice partner to come along. It became an electric rhythm section, and that changed everything.” – Quincy Jones (1933‑)


Famous bass players

Below are listed seventy of the world’s most famous and influential bass players – alive and departed – including upright double bass and electric solid body bass guitar players. There are, of course, many, many more but this is an indicative list for those interested in exploring some of the music created by these diverse musicians (in alphabetical order):

Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett (Bob Marley & The Wailers)
Walter Becker (Steely Dan)
Andy Bell (Oasis)
Bill Black (Elvis Presley)
Jack Bruce (Cream)
Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
John Cale (Velvet Underground)
Stanley Clarke (Return To Forever, solo)
Adam Clayton (U2)
Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic)
Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave)
Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix)
John Deacon (Queen)
Kim Deal (Pixies, Breeders)
Willie Dixon
Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie)
Bernard Edwards (Chic)
John Entwistle (The Who)
Flea (a.k.a. Michael Peter Balzary – Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Bruce Foxton (The Jam)
Simon Gallup (The Cure)
Roger Glover (Deep Purple)
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Larry Graham (Sly & The Family Stone)
Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash)
Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
Dusty Hill (ZZ Top)
Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order, The Light)
Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple)
Jah Wobble (a.k.a. John Joseph Wardle)
James Jamerson (session musician)
Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson)
John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
Carol Kaye (session musician)
Lemmy Kilmister (Hawkwind, Motörhead)
Mark King (Level 42)
Alan Lancaster (Status Quo)
Geddy Lee (Rush)
Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead)
Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel)
Jenny Lee Lindberg (Warpaint)
Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols)
Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings, solo)
Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses)
John McVie (Fleetwood Mac)
Marcus Miller (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Benson)
Charles Mingus
Krist Novoselic (Nirvana)
Pino Palladino (session musician)
Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report)
Guy Pratt (Madonna, David Gilmour)
Suzi Quatro
Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)
Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix)
Mike Rutherford (Genesis)
Robbie Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie)
Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth)
Gene Simmons (KISS)
Nikki Sixx (a.k.a. Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna Jr. – Mötley Crüe)
Chris Squire (Yes)
Sting (a.k.a. Gordon Sumner – The Police)
Danny Thompson (John Martyn)
Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Lee Bruner)
Robert Trujillo (Metallica)
Sid Vicious (a.k.a. Simon John Ritchie – Sex Pistols)
Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)
Tal Wilkenfeld (Jeff Beck, Prince)
Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings)

“The gunk takes the funk” – James Jamerson (1936‑1983)


Bass in the (near) future

It is difficult for, and unfair of, me as a guitarist, to predict any sort of unified future for the bass guitar but I’ll give it a shot.

The traditional conservative brigade will still stick to tried and tested instruments and equipment. Musicians looking for something a bit different will probably want to experiment with the format, for instance number of strings, scale lengths, pickups and electronics. If anything there will be more radical and custom bass guitar designs from up‑market and boutique luthiers that diverge from the traditional archetype set by Fender over 70 years ago. Many additions to the form extend the flexibility of the core instrument, so it may be a case of further evolution, rather than revolution.

Bass amplification will continue to diverge from its simple valve origins and continue to embrace the digital realm, probably dispensing with backline amps/cabs altogether with signals being DI’d into desks/PA/monitors.

While bass players haven’t been particularly well served in the past for bass‑specific effect pedals, I anticipate that bass effects will achieve greater representation, including some out‑there effects not currently available to guitar players.

Bass guitar players have struggled to compete, with synthesisers dominating the world of modern electronica, dance and popular music. At least, for now (thankfully), the bass guitar remains essential to most guitar‑based music in a sort of symbiotic, co‑dependent relationship. As long as guitars keep going, so will bass, and vice versa. Bass players, being ever inventive individuals, will adapt and cultivate new ways to keep the instrument relevant, current and in the limelight for decades to come.

Technique‑wise, there will continue to be the traditional approaches towards walking bass lines, typically using the fundamental root/fifth styles that has been the general mainstay of modern music for decades. In contrast, there will be many more amazing virtuoso bass players who see the versatility and potential of the instrument in its own right.

So, other than tangible incremental progress around the margins, there is probably not a whole lot that will change profoundly in the near future. I may be wrong with that last sentence. In many ways, I hope so!

Interestingly, while the upright double bass continues to appear in modern music from time to time, the solid body fretted electric bass hasn’t really made any headway into the clique of conservative classical orchestral music, which still relies heavily on the traditional, some may say archaic, acoustic upright double bass.


Resources

Periodicals dedicated to bass guitar may be the best place to keep up‑to‑date with the technology and equipment associated with the instrument. Publications include Bass Musician Magazine, Bass Player Guitar Magazine, Bass Guitar Magazine, Bass Magazine, Bass Musician and Bass Gear Magazine.

Online resources include Music Radar, TalkBass.com, Basschat and No Treble. There are also many books on bass guitars and bass playing techniques, including the inevitable, ‘Bass Guitar For Dummies’.

As far as purchasing bass guitars, there are the large Internet sites, brick & mortar retailers and the usual online sites, Reverb.com and eBay. For vintage and rare bass guitars, there are outlets purely for basses including (in the UK) Andy Baxter Bass, The Bass Gallery, The Bass Centre, Vintage Bass Room and ClassicandcoolGuitars.


Some final thoughts

I certainly learnt a lot from researching and writing this article. At first sight, there may seem to be quite a bit of relevant information on the Internet. It is only when one starts to dig deeper and attempt to put something together that makes some form of sense that things rapidly become unclear. All of a sudden, much of the available information seems incomplete, contradictory, vague and/or outright erroneous. In the end, it comes down to evidence and corroboration but sorting the wheat from the chaff isn’t always easy. It seems that online information about vintage guitars is far more reliable than that about vintage basses. There are far too many poorly informed people who invent facts and present opinion as truth.

Despite my best attempts to piece things together, I may have fallen foul of the same issues raised above. However, I have tried very hard not to fill in gaps with assumptions and/or fiction. While I endeavour to be thorough and rigorous, my approach isn’t academic and I don’t have the time, funds or energy to provide the last word in scholarly fact. The contents herein should therefore probably not be relied upon too heavily. This article should, for that reason alone, be regarded as my best intention to balance fact with entertainment.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama – c.480‑400BCE)

This is just the sort of article that would benefit greatly from images to illustrate and break up the narrative. Sadly as a (broke) not‑for‑profit entity, I cannot afford the costly copyright/royalties charged for the use of relevant images, so I have had to rely on very limited free/public domain resources or my own photographs. I apologise for the thousands of words used to describe what images could do in none. Once again, no AI was used in the research and writing of this tome – only my own hard work.

NB. Apologies to anyone disappointed by the wait for a cheap, clichéd joke at the expense of ‘the bass player’! T’ain’t gonna happen here. Love ‘the bass player’.


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Album of the Month’

Given that this month’s article focuses on the fascinating history of the bass guitar, it seems only fitting to select an album that demonstrates the virtuoso bass playing of one of the greatest bass guitarists of all time, Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987) and his famous modified fretless Fender Jazz Bass.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977) – The seventh and most commercially successful studio album by the American jazz fusion band. ‘Heavy Weather’ was the first album with Pastorius on full‑time bass duties. The smooth jazz funk production of the album, which was released at the peak of the punk rock movement in the US and UK, stood in stark contrast to the otherwise brutal sounds of the late 1970s. Given that it sold in huge numbers (and still does) is testament to the composition and musicianship on display. Initial sales were about 500,000 and total sales to‑date are over 1.06 million. Other Weather Report albums may be ‘better’ according to purists but this is the one I heard first and it has stuck with me over the years.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977)

To me, this album hit me right between the eyes about what virtuoso bass playing can be like. There are many, many other artists and albums that could arguably take the acclaim, for instance Stanley Clarke’s successful solo album, ‘School Days’ (1976), but on this occasion, the late, great Jaco (& co.) takes the accolade, such as it is.

“I’m the greatest bass player in the world” – Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987)


Tailpiece

Well, there you go. I think that most of us love a bit of decent low bass in our music. I hope y’all got something out of this fleeting exploration into the defining instruments, artists and music of the lower registers. I think the narrative works well as a complement to the launch of CRAVE Basses at the end of 2023, but that’s just my (obviously biased) opinion.

I hope you feel inclined to come back next month to see what’s currently fermenting in the CRAVE guitars’ secret brewery.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Mundanity is the devourer of lost dreams”

© 2024 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2023 – CRAVE Guitars: Three Years in Review

Prelude

GOOD DAY’S SALUTATIONS and seasonal best wishes to all you good folks out there in music land. Welcome to vintage gear aficionados and greetings to the conclusion of the year, two thousand and twenty three. There is no point in, and no good will come from, re‑hashing the journey over CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus once again, so it is now officially behind us and a thing of the past. Gone. However, there may be merit in looking briefly at what CRAVE Guitars actually got up to behind the scenes during that time. It is the end of the year, so it’s kinda traditional for review anyway, as has been the practice in years past. This review, though, isn’t a single year but three years in retrospect. As it transpires, less has happened in those three years than would normally have occurred in one year prior to 2020’s global meltdown. Perhaps that is just as well. If the previous trend had continued unabated, CRAVE Guitars would have run out of space and funds a long time ago. I guess that there are silver linings at the end of the tunnel after all (I really must stop playing with mixed metaphors! Bad CRAVE!).

Well, there is no point in perpetuating petty procrastination, so let’s proceed with some prosaic pontification (nothing like a bit of CRAVE’s addictive affinity for asinine alliteration, again!). All text and images copyright of CRAVE Guitars. No AI used here.


‘New’ old gear over the past 3 years

The volume of acquisitions may not be great but the choices, I believe aren’t too shabby. I aim for variety and novelty in my quest for something a wee bit different to the norm, at least as far as the guitars are concerned. Here, there are two are from the 1960s, two from the 1970s and one from the 1980s. The effects are slightly more numerous and there is a little bit of gap‑filling going on here but variety is again a factor. Only 3 out of the 11 stomp boxes are ‘Made in USA’. Interesting. Right, here is the short shortlist…

Guitars and basses (5):

1963 Danelectro Pro 1
1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn
1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass
1979 Gibson Explorer E2
1964 National Glenwood 95

Effect pedals (11):

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal (distortion)
1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive
1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear (auto swell)
1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender (fuzz)
1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell
1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 (echo)
1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah
1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector (A‑B switch)
1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II
1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal (distortion)
1989 Marshall The Guv’nor (overdrive/distortion)

Over the last three years, there haven’t been any ‘new’ vintage valve amps. This is mainly due to space restrictions and the responsibility for maintaining these delicate electrical artefacts. They weren’t delicate when originally manufactured, they were built to go on the road and put up with punishment. However, after 60 or 70 years, they tend to get a bit temperamental. A bit like humans in fact. The last amp that joined the family was the fantastic little 1973 Fender Princeton Reverb ‘silverface’. Possibly my favourite amp.

There has been one notable departure from the CRAVE Guitars family. I was looking around for a Gibson Explorer E2 to partner the Gibson Flying V2. However, I couldn’t really justify yet another Explorer. Then, someone contacted me out of the blue enquiring about the black 1984 Gibson Explorer. If there was one guitar that I would let go to trade up, that was the one. It can be really strange how opportunity can present itself as coincidence. Eventually, deals were agreed and one came in while one went out. Serendipity and status quo. Result! I hope the 1984 Explorer is in a happy place.

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘new’ guitars – all of them exhibiting unusual construction and specification, making them exceptionally cool and rare (in my opinion). Right, here is the long shortlist…

1963 Danelectro Pro 1 – I first saw one of these a few years ago and was struck by its utter simplicity and quirky charm. Nothing fancy going on here. It is diminutive, dinky and hyper cute. It is, however not very practical. It has a short scale and upper fret access is awkward and only one pickup will limit it for some. However, it has all the usual Danelectro traits, including the unique construction and that classic lipstick pickup. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, that’s a good reason to dig it. It is a genuinely unique instrument and SO cool that it hurts. It’s great fun to play too.

Feature: 1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn – I have long wanted a Fender Jazz Bass. The new CRAVE Basses has allowed me to indulge that luxury. However, this isn’t a Jazz Bass as you know it and definitely not in the long tradition of the J‑Bass. This lovely beast is a Longhorn, only made for five years, this one from the first year of production. The deep cutaways and 22 fret neck make it look, feel, play and sound different from a ‘normal’ Jazz Bass. The Longhorn nickname gained it an altogether humorously crude moniker of the ‘boner’ bass. Now this one lives with me, I actually now prefer the look of this unusual instrument over the one that defined the icon.

Feature: 1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass – Another oddity and one of the ‘lost Fenders’. After the success of the Mustang Bass, Fender went on to release an even simpler budget model. The Musicmaster has the Mustang’s short scale but the pickup is actually a 6‑pole Mustang guitar pickup. The overall design and specification certainly alienated a whole bunch of players but that kind of misses the point. Snobs. Take the bass purely on face value and it’s actually a decent ‘student’ bass with great build quality and that offset body look that is currently very popular. Not one for the traditionalist. Note: Since the feature and photos were published, the original 2‑saddle bridge has been reinstated.

Feature: 1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1979 Gibson Explorer E2 – Some people hate the Gibson Flying V2 and Explorer E2. I love them because of their unusual multi‑layered construction. As mentioned above, finding an E2 was a mission. Moreover, this one belonged to the lead singer of the band Go West, Peter Cox. Kudos and thanks Peter. I don’t usually go for provenance but in this case, it adds something significant to the guitar’s backstory. It’s the walnut‑faced model (some are maple‑faced) and in wonderful near‑original condition. While it’s not quite as whacky as the admittedly peculiar V2, it has plenty of character and charisma. The Gibson Explorer, I think, remains my overall favourite guitar model.

Feature: 1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1964 National Glenwood 95 – Here’s a glorious instrument with another unusual type of construction. The body is moulded fibreglass, what the makers, Valco, called Res‑O‑Glas. I was expecting the material to be thin and plasticky. Instead, it is quite thick and solid. The two halves are screwed together leaving the interior hollow. It is very unique and an awesome entry in vintage guitar history. Not only is it well built, it is visually striking in just about every way. Whatever part you look at or whatever angle it is viewed from, it is a startlingly beautiful creation. Neither is it a case of style over substance, it plays very well and with an inimitable sound. I could go on and on but I’ll let it speak for itself.

Feature: 1964 National Glenwood 95

1962 National Glenwood 95

… and, now moving on to the ‘new’ vintage effect pedals:

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal – A pedal renowned for creating a whole heavy metal sub‑genre thanks to Swedish death metal band Entombed and their debut studio album, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990). Not many stomp boxes can claim that distinction. It is a monster. This one also comes with its original box and documentation. Very cool.

Feature: 1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive – Considered by many as a classic in the BOSS overdrive tradition. The SD‑1 adds a Tone control to the existing BOSS OD‑1 Over Drive to give it more flexibility and to help BOSS compete with other brands’ overdrive pedals. The SD‑1 has been seen on pedalboards all over the world for decades, earning it its enviable reputation.

Feature: 1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1985 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear – This is one of the rarest, most collectable and misunderstood BOSS stomp boxes. The name gives nothing away. It acts a bit like a noise gate in reverse, the filter creating an auto swell effect. It is quite unique. After much experimentation, there is really only one sweet spot so, to be honest, sadly, it is a bit of a one‑trick pony, albeit an exclusive one.

Feature: 1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender – The Supa Tone Bender is basically just a big box version of the original Colorsound fuzz. There is no room in this article to dive into the nerd zone and cover its origins or its similarities/differences to other models. The numerous gear obsessives out there will tell you at great length about all the geeky differences. Basically, it’s a great 1970s fuzz pedal. What more do you need to know?

Feature: 1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1975 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell – Another over‑sized ‘Supa’ version of a standard combination wah‑wah and swell pedal with a footswitch to go from one mode to the other. There’s very little on the inside other than empty space, indicating that the old marketing ploys of ‘more is more’ and ‘bigger is better’ played a part here. 1970s pedalboards weren’t as crowded as they are today, so pedals like this gained bragging rights. I can’t date this one accurately.

Feature: 1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1977 Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 – Here is a truly wonderful 1970s American echo pedal. It’s not quite up with the benchmark Electro‑Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man but it is still authentic and very musical. I love these old analogue delays. It’s great fun to use and sounds great. It may not be in great cosmetic condition on the outside but few are because they were well used, an indication of what really matters to working musicians.

Feature: 1970s DOD Analog Delay 680

1980 DOD Analog Delay 680

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah – Probably one of the most iconic wah‑wah pedals of all time. This one is a straightforward model from the 1980s. As classic as they come, you know exactly what you are going to get. The model has probably been used by most of the great guitarists at some point during their careers. The pot is a bit scratchy but I can’t bear to replace it, so it’s still original.

Feature: 1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector – Strictly this is not an effect, just an A‑B switch. Another ‘no bones’ pedal with nothing much inside the box. It has one input and two outputs (or vice versa if you wish). Not massively useful or flexible but it does what it needs to do in a simple set up. Typical 1970s EHX styling to boot.

Feature: 1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II – A pedal in the classic ‘square switch’ ‘0’‑series Ibanez effect pedal series (as is the most desirable TS‑808 Tube Screamer). The CD‑835 (catchy name, that. Not) is a perfectly capable pedalboard compressor. I still prefer the basic MXR Dyna Comp but this one will appeal to others. This one comes with its original box and documentation.

Feature: 1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal – Part of Ibanez’s ‘9’‑series, the SM9 is a massively beefed up Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer but without the reputation of the latter, so it is a bit of a dark horse. Much more flexible and with a greater range of sounds available. It is a bit fiddly to recreate just the right tone but it is worth the effort involved in getting it tuned in. How far do you want to go? Pretty colour too.

Feature: 1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor – Way, way before the current fad of putting a guitar pre‑amp on a pedal board, Marshall basically came up with the idea back in the 1980s. For those wanting classic Marshall tones without a 100W head and two 4×12 cabs stacked as they should be, there is The Guv’nor. For a large box full of transistors, rather than baking hot valves, it does an impressive job. Not necessarily accurate but great distortion on tap nevertheless. This is the original ‘Made in England’ version, complete with its box.

Feature: 1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

There you have it, a brief rundown of 3 years’ collecting cool and rare vintage guitar gear in the background. Not a great deal to show for 36 months in terms of quantity but a nice range of quality. I am completely out of both storage space and funds, so any progress will be slow and steady for a while.


CRAVE Guitars’ website

The superficial sheen of the website hasn’t really changed much at all. However, there are technical changes beneath the surface that will hopefully keep it up‑to‑date and relevant. I’m no techno whizz, so CRAVE Guitars doesn’t appear on the prized ‘first page of Google’. Still, seeing as it is not a commercial enterprise, I’m not overly bothered. Overall viewing figures though have continued to increase year‑on‑year over the last seven years, even through the hiatus, which is a promising sign.

The web site’s beneath‑the‑radar positioning hasn’t stopped all the typical spammers inundating CRAVE’s e‑mail box with the usual promotional BS. It is absolutely clear that they don’t do their research, so every single one them gets summarily blocked and deleted without exception. I do, however, welcome genuine communications via the website, so long as they are sincere.

The biggest ‘news’ on the website is the addition of the all‑new CRAVE Basses pages. The web site originally started out just as CRAVE Guitars almost a decade ago now. Then it expanded to include CRAVE Effects and CRAVE Amps a few years ago, so CRAVE Basses is a logical extension. Even though I’m primarily a guitarist, I like the occasional dabble with the lower frequencies. The new sections of the website include features on CRAVE’s four vintage basses, as well as additions to the galleries.

The two ‘new’ CRAVE Basses covered above join a pair of existing vintage basses that I’ve owned since the 1970s…

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

Feature: 1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Feature: 1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Before Covid, the number of visitors to the site was steadily increasing and reaching peaks that I could only have dreamt about when I started. During Covid, things slowed dramatically, indicating that people, rightfully, had other things on their minds. This slow‑down was mirrored by consumer’s overall demand in the music equipment industry. Even after Covid, things have been slow. The so‑called cost‑of‑living‑crisis (thanks Putin et al), especially in the UK has hit most people (including me) hard and visits dropped right down to pre‑2020 levels. Other priorities rightly prevailed once again. Despite being generally subdued, visits seem to be gradually increasing again but it is way too early to call it a trend.

I actually have quite a bit more content already written for the site that I will get around to publishing at some point. It’s not super critical but it seems a shame not to use it.


CRAVE Guitars’ (un)social media

I really don’t have the resilience to return to social media to the same level as in the past. However, CRAVE Guitars is posting things irregularly on Musky old X (ex‑Twatter), Facebook and LinkedIn. I can’t respond to messages but I do review them every so often. That will have to do for now. My engagement with social media is not negotiable for now.


CRAVE Guitars’ database

There is not really a great deal to say about this other than I use it to catalogue all of CRAVE’s vintage guitars in some detail. In the case of catastrophe such as fire, flood, theft, cat, etc., at least the information should be safe and sound. A copy is saved in the cloud just in case the laptop goes the same way.

CRAVE Guitars Database

Brand augmentation

No, I’m not getting bigger brands for all you fetishists out there. CRAVE Guitars has been around since 2007. The short name is OK but it isn’t specific enough to identify that vintage guitars are the focus of the ‘brand’. The full name of CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is certainly specific enough although it is a bit of a mouthful when it comes to everyday use. Internet SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) also has some difficulty placing the CRAVE Guitars brand in the vintage guitar category. Type ‘CRAVE guitars’ into a search engine and the site appears straight away. Type in ‘vintage guitars’ and the site may eventually appear plenty of pages down.

So… In addition to the established short and full names used above, I will also be using the name CRAVE Vintage Guitars to help searchers and visitors to get a better understanding of what this strange entity is all about. It is a small but important change. It will take search engines a while to pick up on it but it might help people find the site. Future CRAVE Guitars merchandise is also likely to carry the updated branding as and when needed. As ‘they’ say, it does what it says on the tin (apart from the amps, effects and basses of course. Doh!).


Musical history update

It’s a while since the 14‑part CRAVE Guitars’ series of articles, ‘The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts’, culminated in May 2020. Sadly, we have lost far too many great music people since I published the last of the ‘Facts’ just 2½ years ago.

The inevitability of life is that it ends. RIP great men and women. This list picks up from where that last article on the subject left off. Here are just a few of them.

DayMonthYearMusic Fact
4June2020English bass guitarist, singer and founding member of glam pop/rock band The Sweet, Steve Priest died at the age of 72.
18June2020English singer, songwriter and entertainer, nicknamed ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’ during WWII, Dame Vera Lynn died at the age of 103.
6July2020Italian composer, conductor and musician, who wrote hundreds of cinema and television scores, Ennio Morricone died of complications after breaking a leg in Rome at the age of 91.
13January2021American guitarist with rock band New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain, died after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 69.
17February2021Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of reggae ‘toasting’ U‑Roy (Ewart Beckford) died from complications following surgery in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 78.
2March2021Jamaican singer, songwriter, percussionist and original member of The Wailers alongside Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer died from complications following a stroke in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 73.
28July2021American bass guitarist and long-term member of southern blues/rock band ZZ Top, Dusty Hill died at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 72.
13August2021Celebrated American folk singer, guitarist, and songwriter Nanci Griffith died in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 68.
24August2021English drummer with rock band the Rolling Stones for over five decades, Charlie Watts died in hospital in London at the age of 80.
29August2021Legendary Jamaican reggae and dub producer and recording artist, Lee “Scratch” Perry died of an undisclosed illness in hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the age of 85.
26September2021English bass guitarist and founding member of pop/rock band Status Quo from 1967-1985, Alan Lancaster died from complications of multiple sclerosis in Sydney, Australia at the age of 72.
8December2021Jamaican bass guitarist and record producer, Robbie Shakespeare, best known as half of the reggae duo Sly & Robbie, died following kidney surgery in Miami, Florida at the age of 68.
10December2021American singer, guitarist and songwriter with TV pop band, the Monkees, Michael Nesmith died from heart failure at his home in Carmel Valley, California at the age of 78.
7January2022Canadian musician, singer, songwriter, and producer for Motown Records, R. Dean Taylor died at his home having contracted COVID‑19 (coronavirus) at the age of 82.
9January2022American jazz and R&B musician, songwriter, producer, and radio personality James Mtume died in South Orange, New Jersey at the age of 76.
12January2022American singer, co-founder and member the Ronettes, nicknamed the ‘bad girl of rock and roll’, Ronnie Spector died from cancer in Danbury, Connecticut at the age of 78.
20January2022American singer and actor Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, died from Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome in Nashville at the age of 74.
19February2022English singer/songwriter, keyboard player and founder of the rock band Procol Harum, Gary Brooker MBE died from cancer at his home in Surrey at the age of 76.
22February2022American singer/songwriter who worked with Isobel Campbell and Queens Of The Stone Age, in addition to a lengthy solo career, Mark Lanegan died at his home in Killarney, Kerry, Ireland at the age of 57.
25March2022American rock drummer of the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins died of heart failure probably caused by a drug overdose in a hotel in Bogota, Colombia at the age of 50.
4April2022American guitarist and member of Motown Records’ in‑house studio band, the Funk Brothers, Joe Messina died from kidney disease in Northville, Michigan at the age of 93.
26April2022German electronic music innovator, producer, composer and former member of krautrock band Tangerine Dream, as well as solo artist, Klaus Schulze died following a long illness at the age of 74.
17May2022Academy Award-winning Greek musician, composer and producer Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis died of heart failure in Paris at the age of 79.
26May2022English keyboard player, DJ and founding member of electronica band Depeche Mode, Andrew Fletcher died of an aortic dissection at his home at the age of 60.
9June2022American singer known for her collaborations with film director David Lynch, Julee Cruise committed suicide in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at the age of 65.
8August2022British Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John died from breast cancer in Santa Ynez Valley, California at the age of 73.
28September2022American rapper Artis Leon Ivey Jr., a.k.a. Coolio died from a heart attack caused by a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California at the age of 59.
4October2022Highly acclaimed American country music singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn died from natural causes in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee at the age of 90.
28October2022American rock ‘n’ roll pianist singer and songwriter, Jerry Lee Lewis died from natural causes in DeSoto County, Mississippi at the age of 87.
10November2022English musician and key member of space rock band Hawkwind, Nik Turner died from unknown causes at the age of 82.
21November2022English guitarist, singer, songwriter and one‑time member of pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, Wilko Johnson died from pancreatic cancer in Southend‑on‑Sea, England at the age of 75.
30November2022English musician, singer and member of Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie died of Ischemic stroke and metastatic cancer in London, England at the age of 79.
4December2022German musician, composer, member of Ash Ra Tempel and solo artist, Manuel Göttsching died from natural causes in Berlin at the age of 70.
11December2022Acclaimed American composer of film and TV scores, Angelo Badalamenti died from natural causes in Lincoln Park, New Jersey at the age of 85.
18December2022English musician, singer and member of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, Terry Hall died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.
23December2022British musician, rapper, singer, songwriter and DJ, front man of electronic band Faithless, Maxi Jazz (Maxwell Fraser) died from undisclosed causes in London England at the age of 65.
10January2023English virtuoso guitarist and former member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck died from bacterial meningitis in East Sussex, England at the age of 78.
18January2023Legendary American guitarist and singer, member of The Byrds and CSNY, David Crosby died from COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Santa Ynez, California at the age of 81.
28January2023American singer, songwriter and guitarist with alternative rock band Television, Tom Verlaine died from prostate cancer in Manhattan, NYC at the age of 73.
8March2023Legendary American composer, songwriter, producer and pianist, Burt Bacharach died from natural causes in Los Angeles, California at the age of 94,
5March2023American guitarist and founding member of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington died from undisclosed causes in Milton, Georgia, USA, at the age of 71.
12April2023Influential Jamaican dub reggae sound system and record label owner, renowned for his work in London, Jah Shaka died at the age of 75.
1May2023Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot died from natural causes in Toronto at the age of 84.
24May2023English bass player and member of post‑punk alternative rock band The Smiths, Andy Rourke died from pancreatic cancer in New York City at the age of 59.
25May2023The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, American singer, songwriter and actress Tina Turner died after a long illness in Küsnacht, Switzerland at the age of 83.
6June2023English guitarist, singer and founder of blues/rock band Groundhogs, Tony McPhee died from complications after a fall and a stroke at the age of 79.
20June2023English guitarist with rock group The Pop Group, John Waddington died from undisclosed causes at the age of 63.
21July2023Legendary American jazz and popular music crooner Tony Bennett died from Alzheimer’s disease in New York City at the age of 96.
26July2023American musician, singer, songwriter, and founding member of the Eagles, Randy Meisner died from COPD in Los Angeles, California at the age of 77.
26July2023Irish singer, songwriter and activist Sinéad O’Connor died from unknown causes in London, England at the age of 56.
9August2023Canadian musician and guitarist for Bob Dylan and The Band, Robbie Robertson died from prostate cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 80.
24August2023Renowned English rock guitarist with Whitesnake and UFO, Bernie Marsden died from bacterial meningitis at the age of 72.
27August2023American musician best known for being one half of electronica duo Stars Of The Lid, Brian McBride died from undisclosed causes at the age of 53.
13September2023British singer, songwriter and musician Roger Whittaker died from a stroke in France at the age of 87.
30November2023British‑born Irish singer, songwriter, musician and frontman with Celtic punk rock band the Pogues, Shane MacGowan died from pneumonia and encephalitis in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 65.
5December2023English guitarist and founding member of The Moody Blues and Wings, Denny Laine died from lung disease at the age of 79.

Music industry opinion

A lot has (or rather hasn’t) happened in the music industry over the 3 years since CRAVE Guitars suspended its main activities. First, there was the hangover from global economic recession/depression, then the coronageddon, then the cataclysmic geopolitical conflicts adversely affecting far too many innocent peoples around the globe. At best, the music industry at all levels could only hope to hold its own.

In reality, it has been a tumultuous few years, to say the least. Everyone from equipment manufacturers (including their supply chains), venues, artists, music recording and distribution, publicity and management have been hit hard. Every conceivable facet of the market has been decimated. While I haven’t been able to keep up with events in the industry as I normally would have done, it is clear that things are only now just beginning to get back to 2019 levels.

Who would have predicted three years ago, for instance, that British amp stalwart Marshall would have been acquired by the Swedish digital music company, Zound Industries. A sign of the times, I guess.

Strategically, it has been a nightmare where even the best scenario planning has failed to predict wildly off kilter outcomes. Vintage guitar prices seem to have kept up as the super‑rich collectors are basically unaffected by economic blips that are savage to the rest of us. I know that I am paying more now than I would have done in 2019 for the same thing. While I am not economically motivated and CRAVE Vintage Guitars is a non‑profit enterprise, it is a relief that the 3‑year hiatus hasn’t totally wiped out the value of CRAVE Guitars’ precious artefacts.

It will take a long time for things to settle down and start to grow again. It will be a challenge for everyone involved for some time to come. The last three years haven’t signalled the death throes of the guitar music community. Yet. It has, however been badly wounded, let us hope not mortally so.


The guitar book

A while back, I was contacted out of the blue by a book publisher wanting to use one of CRAVE Guitars’ vintage guitars in their author’s new book on the subject. After a bit of formal toing‑and‑froing, it all went ahead and the book was published earlier this year. I was happy to do this for no commercial gain and the only reward was a shiny copy of the final print version and a credit in the acknowledgement section. While it won’t make CRAVE Guitars famous, I am quite proud of this minor morsel of exposure and recognition.

The book in question is, ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’ by author Ultan Guilfoyle, published by Phaidon Press (ISBN: 978 183866 558 6) (2023).

Link: ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’

Phaidon – Guitar The Shape Of Sound (2023)

The vintage guitar that was featured in the book is my lovely 1974 Ovation Breadwinner 1251 (see page 204‑205).

CRAVE Guitars Ovation Breadwinner

The pulp novel

As you may know, I have been writing on and off for some time, going back to the dim dark origins of CRAVE Guitars back in 2007. The main examples of this are the web site features and monthly articles on the CRAVE Guitars website over the last 9‑10 years or so, as well as the usual social media activity.

Very recently, I felt an irresistible urge to write a fiction novel. Its status is currently work‑in‑progress. It will be called, ‘The Distortion Diaries’ (remember, you read it here first). It started out as an amateur musician’s journal but the early content was clichéd, derivative and, frankly, very dull. It also wouldn’t fill a novel. So, I expanded the story to include a broader variety of situations and characters. The result will be, believe this or not, an eroti‑rom‑com with PARENTAL ADVISORY for Explicit Content. Even then, it isn’t at all what you might think or expect. Heck, how it turned out surprised me too! I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read it. It doesn’t matter. It is something creative that I had to do for myself. It isn’t good enough for a publisher to pick up and I have absolutely nil experience of self‑publishing, so it might never see the light of day. I have considered serialising it through the CRAVE Musings (i.e. the monthly blog articles) but I’m not sure the public is ready for some lovey‑dovey smut‑ridden muso pulp on a vintage guitar website though. The novel may end up just an aborted, ill‑advised, folly of an average superego’s gratuitous self‑indulgence. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Parental Advisory Label

Whether anything comes of this probably pointless fictional venture, I have no idea but it’s been addictive and fun to come up with something non‑factual for a change. And, no, it isn’t autobiographical, just in case you were wondering. Nor is it aspirational. Sadly, seeing as the protagonist has a ‘good time’ on the whole. Lucky git.

In truth, I would actually like to try and self‑publish the novel but I have no idea whatsoever about how to go about such an endeavour, so it will probably languish in long‑lasting literary limbo (stop it with the alliteration, already!).


New 2023 albums

As it’s the time of year for lists, here is a breakdown of 2023 album releases acquired during the year. As usual, these aren’t the only albums bought and neither will they be the only 2023 albums over time. Here are this year’s 33 purchases:

100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
Alborosie – Shengen Dub/Embryonic Dub
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
The Chemical Brothers – For That Beautiful Feeling
Creation Rebel – Hostile Environment
The Cure – Black Sessions: Maison De La Radio Paris 2004 (live broadcast)
Depeche Mode – Memento Mori
Don Letts – Outta Sync
Dub Pistols – Frontline
Everything But The Girl – Fuse
Fred Again.. & Brian Eno – Secret Life
Gentleman’s Dub Club – On A Mission…
Hollie Cook – Happy Hour In Dub
James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
King Krule – Space Heavy
King Tubby & The Observer All Stars – Dubbing With The Observer
Kurt Vile – Back To Moon Beach
Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Laurel Halo – Atlas
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
The Orb – Metallic Spheres In Colour (Feat. David Gilmour)
The Orb – Prism
Orbital – Optical Delusion
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper
Queens Of The Stone Age – In Times New Roman…
Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
Skindred – Smile
Sleaford Mods – UK GRIM
Slowdive – Everything Is Alive
Steve Hillage – LA Forum 31.1.77 (live)
X‑Press 2 – Thee
Yeule – Softscars

Is there a favourite 2023 album out of that lot? Well, I keep coming back to British alternative/indie shoegaze/dream pop band, Slowdive and ‘Everything Is Alive’ more than once, so that’s a fair choice at the time of writing. The big disappointment was Don Letts’ ‘Outta Sync’. Sadly. It comprises many well-crafted pop songs but very little of what I, and I think many others, hoped for in the way of heavy dub reggae tracks.

An even bigger disappointment for me was what didn’t appear. The Cure had hinted that their first studio album since 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream’, heralded as, ‘Songs Of A Lost World’ would be released in 2022. It was notable by its absence and many enthusiasts were hoping that it would finally see the light of day in 2023. The band tempted fans by playing several of the new tracks during their live concerts during the year. However, still nothing tangible has appeared on record store shelves. Let’s hope Robert Smith & co. get around to letting us hear it in 2024. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for new material. C’mon Bob, don’t keep us waiting any longer.

Note: I haven’t gone back to cover 2020, 2021 and 2022 lists of those year’s album releases, as this article would become just a loooooong list.


Whazzup for CRAVE Guitars in 2024?

Before Covid, I used to include at the end of the ‘review of the year’, a shortlist of vintage guitar gear that I might try to acquire in the subsequent 12‑month period. Rarely were the predictions spot on, or even close. Given CRAVE Guitars’ limited activity, space and funds, there is little point in speculating other than in very broad terms.

While there is always a long list of ‘most wanted’ guitars, it’s unlikely to expand significantly in 2024. I am actually generally relatively content with my lot. For now. I am sure that GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) will strike again at some point.

Having launched CRAVE Basses in 2023, there are only four vintage bass guitars in the ‘collection’ thus far. There are a few I might be interested in looking for and which may improve diversity in this area.

There are no intentions for ‘new’ CRAVE Amps at the moment. But that can change, depending on opportunity.

I am also keeping an eye open for some interesting vintage stomp boxes for CRAVE Effects but it really depends on whether anything crops up at a reasonable market price.

The overall result is that there are no specific ambitions for 2024. Next year’s annual review will probably be very short and very dull! I have learned from past experience that predictions aren’t a good idea. Not only are they over‑ambitious but also they end up way wide of the mark. So, I will take things as they come and await any surprises with great anticipation. That sounds like it might be a bit more fun than reporting on yet another failed plan.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record(s) of the Month’

It seems that this might become a regular feature. I listen to a lot of music (see last month’s article, ‘Music Machinations’ – November 2023). There are some albums that tend to stand out from the rest. There is no rhyme or reason why they do, they just do. Over the last month, I just can’t split two albums, which I’ve been enjoying amongst all the other great material out there. They both come under the general genre category of instrumental ‘stoner rock’ but that downplays their appeal. So, on account of there being SO much great music to discover, I’m going for the plural of ‘Record’ for December 2023. Let’s just call that extra little ‘(s)’ a Christmas/New Year treat for y’all. Enjoy

Eternal Tapestry – Beyond The 4th Door (2011) – First up is this strange thing of beauty. Eternal Tapestry is an American psych rock band based in Portland, Oregon. It may not be regarded by some as their best but it was their first ‘proper’ record label release, after several previous albums. It isn’t heavy. It sounds like a group of friends getting together for a jam session. To get that right is a LOT harder than people think. It is atmospheric, dreamy and so far out of this world that it leaves the sordid real world truly out of sight. Good. laid back, hypnotic, immersive, psychedelic and otherworldly experience.

My Sleeping Karma – Soma (2012) – Not the same as Eternal Tapestry but not too far off either. My Sleeping Karma is a German psych rock band from Aschaffenburg, Bayern and ‘Soma’ is their 4th studio album. The tracks are long, intentionally repetitive and with a gentle groove. It’s not quite an impromptu jam session but it has a distinctive psychedelic undercurrent that can be great for zoning out. I prefer this to other MSK studio albums, as it has a bit more variety within the confines of its moody origins. Emotional krautrock. Who’da thought?

Albums Of The Month – December 2023

Tailpiece

Good riddance to 2023. Funny (not) how I seem destined to repeat that same dreary sentiment every year. Ever hopeful and optimistically deluded, I have to remain confident that 2024 will be a bit better. Any improvement will be eagerly grasped. A new year, new opportunities.

My naïve wish and hope for 2024? Listen up all humans! Stop destroying our planet and stop killing each other. Then put all that wasted money to good use making a peaceful, sustainable civilisation, fare and just for all. A pipe dream, maybe, but one has to dream.

As far as articles for 2024 are concerned, I have a couple of ideas gestating, although nothing firmed up at this stage, Watch this space folks. Tune in, same time, same channel, next month. In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be good.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “The best thing in life is freedom”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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November 2023 – Musical Machinations

Prelude

WELCOME ONCE MORE to CRAVE Guitars’ unhurried cruise through the planet’s turbulent waters this November 2023. While there has been much to protest about in the rapid disintegration of the prevailing ‘world order’ during the 2020s thus far, one has to grasp onto any positive prospects that may present themselves. Arising from the debris and carnage of grinding attrition, the poppies of opportunity are optimistic symbols for hope and prosperity, albeit fleeting. That’s basically all flowery language for carpe diem (from Roman lyric poet, Horace’s work, ‘Odes’ in 23 BCE – literal meaning ‘pluck the day’, commonly interpreted as ‘seize the day’).

“While we speak, envious time will have fled: seize the day, to the least extent possible trusting in the next one.” Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8 BCE)

I recognise that there has been little in the way of exciting news on CRAVE Guitars core ‘business’ for many reasons outlined in the previous article (October 2023). It has been slow but it hasn’t been a total wipe‑out though and I’ll come back to that on another occasion. Here, I’m focussing purely on recorded music and principally a persistent quest to unearth something a little bit different.

Once again, no AI was used to research or write this article, only the author’s meagre cranial capacity and a bit of old school pre‑AI technology.


Context

The one upside of recent times has been an opportunity to embark on an intentional journey to explore off‑the‑beaten‑track modern music. As in physics, the musical micro‑universe is continuously expanding. The challenge is that the musical catalogue since the 1950s is absolutely massive and, with each passing day, becomes even bigger – far too much to begin with, let alone keep up with. While, on the basis that one’s knowledge is inherently extremely limited, it means that any adventure has plenty of scope for discovery, even if it is only vainly scratching the surface of the iceberg’s tip (there I go mixing metaphors again!).

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Greek philosopher Socrates (c.470-399 BCE)

On this particular excursion into the unknown, music discovery means expanding the author’s knowledge and appreciation across many aspects of contemporary music. The exercise is about not only consolidating existing music but also about travelling lands un‑trod for new music, which may mean older music that is new to me as well as recently released music that is new to everyone.

Fortunately, 21st Century explorations are sedate experiences. No longer do we have to fear ‘hic sunt dracones’ in ‘Terra incognita’ (here be dragons in unknown land). Note: The former derives from the Hunt‑Lenox Globe (1504), the latter from Ptolemy’s Geography (c.150).

Over far too many years than I would care to contemplate, I have been buying and listening to music. Nothing unusual about that. For many reasons (space, funds, etc.), music was largely revolved around established genre preferences. Fair enough; isn’t that what it’s all about, buy what you like and don’t bother with everything else? However, such an exercise becomes largely self‑perpetuating and insular. This I was aware of and felt that there was much more to be revealed. Where to start?

During CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus (see last month’s article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’), I became fascinated by exposure to ‘new’ music, rather than the habitual repetitive listening to a small repertoire of familiar choons. This is no new epiphany. When much younger, I made a point of listening to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel (1939‑2004) and valued his nonconformist approach towards exciting new bands and their music, especially but not solely during the punk rock era. The late John Peel may not be familiar to readers outside the UK. It was because of John Peel that I bought my very first LP album – ‘Meddle’ by Pink Floyd (1971), after he debuted it in its entirety on his late night radio show.

While so many other things were getting in my way, I consciously elected to spread my musical wings again, mainly because it is something I had wanted to do and it was actually eminently do‑able, especially economically (at first!). I engaged in the hobby of ‘crate digging’ or simply ‘digging’ in the Internet age, i.e. searching anywhere for content, online suppliers and auction sites, charity shops, second hand record shops, brick‑and‑mortar retailers, etc. Buying used albums makes the exercise much more economic, fun and sustainable.

Record Store (credit: Cottonbro Studio)

“Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.” Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Alternative sources include ‘recommendations’ from other music aficionados and using the Shazam app on a smart phone to identify something unfamiliar and interesting that pops up wherever one might be at the time.

One of the first steps was to identify what I had and where there were obvious gaps. I had already created a Microsoft Access database so that I could scrupulously catalogue the albums, EPs and singles in my possession. That soon ran into the application’s upper limit of 2 GB per database, so had to be split into multiple databases. Now that I readily know what I have (little), what I haven’t (massive). It also enabled me to log what I might want (a continuously growing ‘most wanted’ list). The systematic categorisation was reinforced by importing everything I had from source onto Apple iTunes. Between these two key resources, it became relatively straightforward to keep track of things. Then, it was on to, thankfully dragon‑free, pastures new.

My investigations are basically limited to modern contemporary music from the early‑mid 1950s – basically from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll – to the current day. It also includes going back further into the history of some long‑standing top‑tier genres such as blues, country and jazz that were direct predecessors to, and influences on, everything from rock ‘n’ roll onwards, as well as continuing to evolve in their own right.

There have to be boundaries or I would go insane just collecting for collecting’s sake, which is not only unrealistic but also pointless. American rapper and entrepreneur Dr. Dre once stated that he accumulated 80,000 albums and kept them in storage, before realising just that basic error. I’m sure that somewhere out there is a comprehensive British Library‑esque collection of music releases over the last 100 or so years, catalogued for historical posterity. That would be one heck of a monumental task. My endeavours are, unsurprisingly, much, much more modest.

One has to enjoy, as well as feel that an avocation is worthwhile, or there is no worth in doing it. It is for this reason that I have to exclude classical music. For some reason, classical music leaves me stone cold dead. Always has done. I’ve tried repeatedly to get into it but to no avail. However, in contemporary music, there are styles of modern classical and minimalist music that blend, fuse or crossover into contemporary electronic sensibilities with classical instrumentation that I can grasp but I’m afraid that’s it. The likes of Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Philip Glass, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Walter/Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita I can engage with, otherwise, meh. I genuinely apologise to classical music fans. I’m sure it’s fabulous n’all but it just doesn’t do anything for me and going down that particular rabbit hole is an experience I don’t want to pursue… so I won’t. My choice.

Here are just a few figures relevant to the 3‑year hiatus to bandy about. During that period, I’ve purchased circa 3,000 albums along with a (large) handful of EPs and the odd single. That equates to around 90 per month (averaging c.3‑ish per day). I dread to think of the gross expense but at least it is little and often, unlike buying vintage guitars. It’s also relatively quick and easy to do, filling those occasional idle moments. The last 3 years has basically doubled the hoard. The ‘most wanted’ (for want of a better term) list hovers around 1,500‑2,000 depending on timing and motivation. The ‘find out more’ about list of artists is, by comparison, relatively short at around 200‑250. The conclusion is that there is plenty of scope for improvement. Additions to the hoard cover about 100 genres with the largest proportions being mainstream ones.

I haven’t ventured into the realms of rare music collection – most albums I have been looking for are relatively available with patience and digging. Indeed, many have been from bargain bins. I can’t justify or afford two expensive artefact hobbies! Neither has this mission been to create any sort of ‘standout albums of the last 75 years’ or so. I don’t think anyone could possibly agree on what that might comprise.

Right, let’s get down to the business at hand; colouring in the sketch of the musical landscape, so to speak.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”  From ‘Hamlet’ (c.1600) by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564‑1616)


Genre gap‑filling

Like most people, one has favourite genres, so‑so ones, and disliked ones. However, to rule music out just because it belongs to a hitherto underappreciated genre tends to limit one’s exposure to some highly regarded music. As an example, I was never very keen on country music. Then I watched an 8‑part documentary called, unsurprisingly, ‘Country Music’ which first aired on American TV channel PBS in 2019. I was struck by a whole bunch of music that I was completely unaware of and had summarily discounted out‑of‑hand because of what it was labelled. I was fascinated by the documentary and what it portrayed. PBS also produced another documentary series called ‘Jazz’ from 2001 that opened my eyes to what that genre also had to offer. Both PBS series were directed by Ken Burns. Actually, finding out more about the cultural history that surrounded the genres provided a context that enhanced the experience of the music greatly. This observation reinforces the (perhaps) blindingly obvious fact that societal change and musical development are both interdependent and co‑dependent. Having fired my imagination, I extrapolated the concept to other genres as well. Sometimes, ‘various artists’ genre compilations can provide a suitable entrée to a musical world less wandered.

Are there any contemporary genres that are considered out of bounds? On the whole, other than aforementioned classical, generally no. I am up for pretty much anything, while still retaining my core preferences, which include reggae/dub, IDM/EDM, ambient electronica, downtempo/chillout, dreampunk/vaporwave, indie, alternative, heavy metal, gothic, dream pop, drone, rap/hip‑hop, shoegaze, grunge, punk, garage, funk/disco, deep house, blues, rock and neo‑psychedelia. That’s a pretty broad spectrum.

My two recent articles on ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’ and ‘Adventures in Ambient’ (August and September 2023 respectively) I think adequately demonstrate the potential of genre gap‑filling. That was just breaking down two genres.

One ‘genre’ that sits outside the normal categories is the Original Soundtrack (OST). Film and TV soundtracks tend to fall into two types, one camp compiles existing music brought together to accompany what happens on screen, while the other camp employs music composed (scored) specifically for the medium. Both camps can be helpful when discovering new music.

“I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection.” Quentin Tarantino (1963‑)

There are only so many genres (my database lists over 140 of them!) but when you consider the bewildering multiplicity of sub‑genres and micro‑genres within the umbrella of, say, heavy metal, dance or electronica, there seems no end to what can be achieved. One great thing about music is that there is always something out there somewhere to match one’s prevailing mood. Genre gap‑filling actively opens doorways into finding a whole raft of ‘new’ artists, and the next task of filling in some of the blanks was added to the ‘to‑do’ list. One simple example was a brief dalliance with Cajun and zydeco music. These originated from the 20th Century intermixing of French Canadian Acadian immigrants, native American peoples, African slaves, and freemen in Louisiana in the deep south of the USA. Fascinating. And, thus, the search goes on.


Artist gap‑filling

There were, as you might expect, quite a few artists already covered, while there were many more that I knew about or was curious enough about to complement existing artists with ones that I hadn’t previously coveted. Some of these artists work could best be exposed by buying ‘best of’ or compilation albums, especially when I wasn’t prepared to go all out and get multiple original albums. This worked well for some artists that I wasn’t overly keen on. The relative randomness of the ‘digging’ process led to many new artist discoveries, simply through browsing and taking a gamble on something that looked intriguing. ‘Digging’ is easier in brick‑and‑mortar shops than online. Although the latter works, it is definitely much less enjoyable. We need to support our mainstream and independent record shops or they will be lost forever (as in the case of Virgin Megastores, Tower Records and many others). We almost lost the HMV chain in the UK, which would have been disastrous for high street music retail. Artist gap‑filling is a never ending expedition with untold treasures to be uncovered beyond the famous big names. Along with the household headliners, there is a multitude of lesser and unknown artists producing some fantastic music. An open mind unlocks entire vistas begging to be perused.

I soon realised that my personal favourite artists are actually few and far between, many of which have had long, consistent careers. During any artist’s long‑term output, there would inevitably be good, average and poor albums. Picking out the wheat from the chaff became an integral part of my newfound preoccupation.

Surprisingly, there are some very famous artists that simply do not resonate with me, including (believe it or not) respected giants like The Beatles and The Who. Yup. Heretical I know. I have tried over and over to get into them but without success.

There are many lesser known artists that I really like at the moment and only time will tell whether they create any sort of lasting legacy. I came across many great artists that I hadn’t even heard of, many with surprisingly extensive back catalogues. They are all out there, just waiting to be found. I realised that artist gap‑filling was the simplest way to stretch one’s listening goal posts. And, thus, the search goes on.

“For me, to turn people on to new music, on to things that are going on in the world, is important.” Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe (1958‑)


Release gap-filling

One logical method was to fill obvious gaps in some of the existing artists’ back catalogues or the solo careers by members of established bands. I would have some releases but not others, generally through an essentially arbitrary process, rather than any sort of systematic approach. Some additions were credible releases, while with others, there turned out to be an obvious reason why they weren’t there in the first place. Oops. Other avenues to explore in addition to studio albums include live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, dubs, remixes and various artist DJ mixes. This process wasn’t intended to be comprehensive – some releases simply weren’t/aren’t available, some have been long discontinued while others were obviously a waste of space anyway. Some albums were originally on limited release and have subsequently become rare and valuable. I know that there are plenty of collectors out there prepared to pay vast sums for some of these one‑offs. I’m not in that game and can’t afford to be. There are still plenty of missing pieces but broadly speaking the main bases have (possibly) been covered.

It would be all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘completism’, i.e. getting absolutely everything released by an artist. Given how prolific some artists are, completism would be a venture all unto itself. Frank Zappa has released over 50 studio albums, Brian Eno over 65, Johnny Cash over 75, Lee Perry over 80, Tangerine Dream over 100, and Willie Nelson over 130, not including live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, videos and bootlegs. From now on, release gap‑filling will be a case of diminishing returns, as the gaps decrease along with the overall quality of content.

One notable trend during the coronavirus pandemic was a proliferation of live music releases. Artists couldn’t get out on tour and many couldn’t access recording studios, so record labels scoured existing unreleased resources as a pragmatic stop gap during the lockdowns. Some of these live concert recordings are OK and many would normally be regarded as superfluous under ordinary circumstances. However, when needs must. One silver lining to arise out of the so‑called ‘Chinese Virus’ plague has been the rate and quality of subsequent studio releases once the ‘new normal’ was established. And, thus, the search goes on.

“I look forward to the future – and going into the studio to make new music.” Diana Ross (1944‑)


Record label gap‑filling

Some collectors also go for label gap‑filling but that’s a step too far for me, although there are some great independent labels worth giving a shout out to, such as Ninja Tune, Italians Do It Better, PIAS, Sub‑Pop, XL‑Recording, Jamaican Recordings, 4AD, Bella Union, Pressure Sounds, On‑U Sound, Ariwa Sounds and Hyperdub Records. Beyond the major corporations, there are thousands of record labels out there, so chasing artists and releases starting with a record label is neither quick nor easy. If it wasn’t for the small independent labels, though, we would be subject to commercially driven mainstream mediocrity. However, the method of looking at artists belonging to a certain label can prove promising for finding ‘new’ artists, which can then lead directly onto gap‑filling of their previous works.

“John Peel made his reputation with his radio show and his record label, Dandelion, by championing the underdog.” Jimmy Page (1944‑)


Musical discovery

There is much to be said for and against ‘taking a punt’ on something with which one is unfamiliar. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but there is always some sense of eager anticipation involved in lucky dips. This intentionally random exercise can lead onto other artists, and so on, basically ad infinitum. Due to the finite number of listening hours in any given day, week, month, year, this means that some music can only be listened to once or twice, while others warrant repeated auditions. Buying one‑off listens is not really very productive but it happens. One day, they can be re‑used by going to someone who might appreciate them more than I do. Often, genuine appreciation or enjoyment can only be gained by listening multiple times, especially with more experimental, leftfield or avant‑garde music.

“What motivates us is always new music.” Nuno Bettencourt (1966‑)

While physical media has been a main source of content for at least the last 40 years, this is rapidly changing. According to Spotify in 2021, over 60,000 tracks are uploaded to their platform every day. One, perhaps, might wonder about the depth of quality behind such figures. I know I do but then again, I’m a sceptic. There is no shortage of music to discover and no hope of listening to even a tiny fraction of it all. Spotify is also the platform that boasts the most effective method of curated music discovery. Even so, there is still a lot of inherent chance to finding something that will stay with you over the years. One might think that genuinely new discoveries would be infrequent, especially as time goes on. Far from it in practice.

Just one example, I recently came across late Canadian composer, Mort Garson (1924‑2008), renowned for his album, ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ (1976), tag lined, ‘warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them’. When looking more into him and his music, I felt that, somehow, I should have been more aware of him before now. There is plenty of info on him on the hinterwebby thingummy but our meandering paths had not crossed before now. This sort of experience, which many readers who are familiar with Garson will probably snicker at my evident naivety. Such experiences are annoyingly common.

“I actually spend as much time listening to new music as to old. Probably more. I just try to get something out of it all.” Mark Knopfler (1949‑)

So, after all that preparatory exposition, you might well be wondering, just who the heck has been ‘discovered’? Here are just a few artists that I came across during the last 3 years. Some of which readers may know, some not. I might, though, challenge anyone to tick them all off so as to expose, pour scorn and ridicule my raw ignorance for what it is, sheer witlessness. Time to position the currency where my oral cavity is (lol!). The following list covers any genre and is in alphabetical‑ish order (Note: These are indicative only and should not be regarded as recommendations)…

*Shels, 100 Gecs, 2814, 9 Lazy 9, A.M.P. Studio, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Agnes Obel, AK/DK, Aggrolites, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Album Leaf, Arms And Sleepers, Atoms For Peace, Autechre, Be, Benis Cletin, Bent, Big Thief, Blue In Tokio, The Burning Of Rome, Burnt Friedman, Cave In, Chezidek, Clark, Cloud Control, Craven Faults, Creation Rebel, Deadbeat, Deptford Goth, Desire, Devics, Dirty Loops, Divination, Dubkasm, Dynamic Syncopation, Ekoplekz, Ethel Cain, Fink, Flanger, Fragile State, Gallows, George Faith, Girls In Synthesis, Glass Candy, Goblin Cock, Helium, Hint, How To Dress Well, Hybrid, I. Benjahman, The Irresistible Force, Ital Tek, King Creosote, Konx‑Om‑Pax, Labradford, Laurel Halo, Lemonade, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza, Loop Guru, LoveTrio, Machinedrum, Male Bonding, Man With No Name, Martyn, Midnight Juggernauts, My Sleeping Karma, ott, Plastikman, PreCog, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Psychonauts, Pure Bathing Culture, Purity Ring, The Qemists, Rakoon, Red House Painters, Rhombus, RJD2, Romare, Scrapper Blackwell, SkyTwoHigh, Sleep Token, The Slew, Sentre, Some Girls, Sparklehorse, StarOfAsh, Steve Roach, Suckle, Sunda Arc, Sundara Karma, Sunmonx, Swayzak, Symmetry, The Syncope Threshold, T e l e p a t h, Temu, Trembling Blue Stars, The Vacant Lots, Vessels, Wooden Shjips, Yellowcard and Yppah.

… plus many, many, many more. Phew! Some amazing, some good, some interesting, a few less so, etc. One may wonder how many of these artists – regardless of how ‘good’ they are – may attain the superstar status of, say, another Rolling Stones or The Beatles from the ‘good old days’. Not many, I’ll wager. And, thus, the search goes on.

“The times, they are a‑changin’” Bob Dylan (1941‑).

Live Music

Physical media

From the beginning of recording and playback in 1877 (although there were earlier experiments dating back to 1857), with Thomas Edison’s phonogram, first through wax cylinders and then shellac discs, followed by vinyl discs with the advent of the gramophone, people have been collecting music. For decades, vinyl was really the only practical medium for collectors. Collecting became more popular by the late 1970s with magazines dedicated to the hobby and suggesting values for some rarer releases. Magnetic recording technology added to, rather than replaced, vinyl and became popular with reel‑to‑reel, eight track (remember that?) and audio cassettes.

Portable music was made possible for the masses by the Sony Walkman (TPS‑L2), introduced in 1979, using the then‑ubiquitous analogue compact cassette. Perhaps the most significant portent for the demise of physical media was the introduction of the Apple iPod way back in 2001, sadly now no longer made, which led into the convenient access to music on the go, now with today’s smart phones.

Digital music, mainly through the introduction of digital music Compact Discs (CDs) in 1982 led to a revolution in collecting. CD sales peaked in 2000 at over 2.5 billion worldwide accounting for 91% of the market. By 2020 sales had fallen 95% and accounted for only 5% of global sales. However, CD sales increased again in 2021, although it is too early to predict a revival. The introduction of downloads and streaming has significantly impacted CD sales, precipitating a dramatic decline in physical album sales, as more and more consumers switched to digital streaming services.

Some alternative digital formats arrived in the wake of CD but didn’t survive for long, including Sony’s Mini Disc and DAT (Digital Audio Tape), as well as Philips’ DCC (Digital Compact Cassette). HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) and SACD (Super Audio CD) were promising but ultimately failed to supersede CD.

By the 1990s, I had disposed of my collection of then‑seemingly redundant vinyl LPs and singles (and my turntable) and embarked on collecting CDs, starting off with replacing what I had on vinyl and then adding new content over time. Ditching vinyl was something I might have regretted, but don’t. Vinyl represents nostalgia to me and I’m not going back. It is neither practical, desirable nor possible to embark on such a regressive approach now. At the time of writing, my music hoard of CDs comprises well over 6,000 releases by over 2,500 artists. This conglomeration has recently been organised into over 50 crates packed to the gills with the little silver discs. That equates to around 85,000 tracks on iTunes and counting. I don’t know whether this is a lot or not, with all things being relative. Currently, CD remains my main medium of choice. I predict that CDs will not become totally extinct and will experience a resurgance at some point.

The advent of CD was a catalyst to the long‑running analogue versus digital debate. For what it’s worth, my view is the debate is not about encoding, it’s about something far more subjective. Vinyl reproduction flatters music in a way that digital doesn’t and that appeals to us. Digital is technically superior but not as warm and cuddly as vinyl. Simples. Fans of analogue still swear that digital is a poor representation of real music. Fans of digital swear that analogue (and even digital CD) is outmoded and obsolete. That’s a lot of swearing. Streaming has added further fuel for opposing viewpoints with the compressed versus lossless argument. The truth is, does it really matter? As long as we enjoy the music, that’s what counts, isn’t it? Focus on the content, not the carrier. If we have a preference, make the most of it. I do think that the audiophile press is somewhat hypocritical in only going along with the latest tech after having criticised it before it became commercially established. That way, we all keep buying new kit. That is a personal opinion. Ain’t hindsight great?

“The digital world is so convenient and nice, but just playing back a vinyl record is a much warmer, hotter, more present feeling.” Steve Miller (1943‑)

Physical Media (credit: Andre-Moura)

Music streaming

A brief recap of developments may be in order, so a short diversion first. Let us rush past the short‑lived phenomenon of downloads, which have largely been superseded by streaming (which includes off‑line listening). The storage problem associated with physical media has led to the next revolution in listening, which is to dispense with physical media altogether and access music on remote servers held in huge data centres somewhere. This marks a watershed where the listener no longer owns a tangible product but only purchases the right to listen to it. You cannot easily donate tracks to charity or sell purchased music on to other people. Mixtapes? A thing of the past. How unromantic. All this is, to me, a major drawback. I like having something tangible that I can pick up, look at, read the liner notes, view the artwork and so on. Somehow, the old‑school ownership of a physical item is something I value. Streaming just seems like an ephemeral audition of someone else’s music, rather than something personal, bestowed by genuine ownership. Is this simply a transitional symptom? Probably, maybe.

Although streaming was introduced in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the launch of Napster in 1999, using the new compressed MP3 digital format and exploiting new Internet‑based Broadband services, that downloads and streaming became widely popular. The licensed subscription music service Spotify was launched in 2008, rising from the ashes of the flirtatious fleeting dalliance with illegal downloads. Once again, the industry ‘big boys’ have found a way to re‑assert their dominance over us. Digital streaming now accounts for more than 80% of global music industry revenues.

The Internet and the major music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, etc.) have facilitated exploratory listening greatly while, at the same time, enabling artists to gain exposure in a way that they couldn’t previously through the traditional studio/record label system. Streaming generally can be on demand, through curated playlists or via Internet radio stations. All are valuable resources for the curious listener. The streaming platforms often state that they have 100,000,000 (100m) or more tracks available to customers. In practice, this is both a mind‑boggling and meaningless figure. There is such a thing as too much choice. It also gives some sense of scale, although it may call into question the balance between volume and quality. Suddenly, my meagre 85,000 tracks seems somewhat miniscule in comparison. I do, however, find it a sign of progress when more than 50 crates of CDs can be stored on an SSD (Solid State Disc) that’s less than half the size of a cigarette packet (remember those too?).

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage (1912‑1992)

Another problem exposed by streaming is that there is now plenty of material that is not distributed or sold on physical media at all and is only available via the Internet. Streaming‑only releases are essentially simpler and cheaper than managing traditional physical distribution channels. It also pushes new customers towards expensive streaming subscriptions whereby they earn money whether they are used or not. Talk about milking a cash cow! This online‑only approach affects some genres more than others but it means that, in order to continue with this ambitious side project of mine, streaming has become a necessary additional resource. In effect, physical and virtual music has to co‑exist; being an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ approach. For info, after much deliberation, CRAVE Guitars subscribes to Apple Music.

Some streaming services provide high definition listening, such as Tidal, and they charge a premium for it. Others, such as Spotify are content to go for volume at low definition. The lesson to take from this is that streaming services are not all alike despite peddling similar wares to punters.

“You pays your money and take your choice” A British lexicographic irregular that first appeared in print in Punch magazine in 1846

Does streamed high definition music (i.e. better than CD quality) make a difference to most listeners? Big question. Well, apparently, not really. The evidence suggests that most average (i.e. non‑industry) people cannot tell the difference in blind listening tests conducted under ‘normal’ conditions. Trained listeners can, allegedly, differentiate formats but “If there’s any discernible difference, it’s so subtle and so slight, you’d have to be somebody who’s been in the business for decades like me to hear it.” (recording and mixing engineer, Prince Charles Alexander, Berklee Online study, 2019). A case of fidelity vs artistry vs money, always good for an argument. Why on Earth spoil music listening by teaching people to identify comparative digital encoding anomalies when they are so small as to be meaningless? Spotify’s strategic positioning seems to agree, while Tidal doesn’t. People who go down the high definition route are, perhaps, hedging their bets. If they have the best, it doesn’t matter whether they can hear a difference or not. No doubt there is some audiophile snobbery lurking in there too. For the sake of throwing my two penny worth into the ring, I can neither tell the difference nor can I be bothered to waste my time trying to spoil the enjoyment that music brings by attempting to do so. Time for some good ol’ fashioned snake oil to leech the contents from your bank account?

Does streaming stop me ‘digging’ for used CDs? NO. Does it stop me buying new CDs? NO. Does it encourage me to buy more CDs? Actually, YES. I still prefer to purchase and store music on CD, while recognising the inevitability of embracing the dark side of streaming culture. On the basis that vinyl and cassette have seen a popular resurgence, CD is not going away anytime soon. In practice, and probably being totally hypocritical in doing so, I tend to rip music from CD on iTunes and then stream (or rather cast) it to my music system. I know that this practice probably makes little sense but, for me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the physical media and the convenience of digital storage. Which leads neatly onto…


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘music room’

If you read my October 2023 article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’, you will know of the sad loss of ‘mi media naranja’ (my better half) due to the vile and relentless ravages of cancer. Initially crestfallen, once accepting the loss, I set about repurposing the small ‘dining room’ which had been my wife’s bedroom into a dedicated ‘music room’, used for noodling on vintage guitars and listening to recorded music. NO TV or clock allowed! Having previously lost our home and the vast majority of our belongings (another story altogether!), I had to rebuild a hi‑fi from scratch which, in itself, was quite an exciting experience, along with uniquely decorating the room to provide a suitable listening/playing environment. It took a year of painful sacrifices involving the sale of some beloved A/V gear (I’m also a film & TV buff) to raise funds and some lengthy (re)searching for used ‘bargains’. I fully acknowledge that this indulgence seems an excess of a luxury, given everything else but other things had to be compromised to enable it. My choice.

The ‘music room’ is used every day for music listening. For those who are interested in the techy side of things, the main hi‑fi system comprises:

  • Naim Uniti Core music server with 2TB SSD storage
  • Naim ND5 XS2 music streamer
  • Naim CD5 Si CD player
  • Bryston BP17 pre-amplifier
  • Bryston 4BSST power amplifier
  • PMC Twenty.24 floor standing speakers
CRAVE Guitars Music Room

While this is neither a high‑end system nor a budget system, it has been carefully selected to meet the need for critical and enjoyable listening of both physical and streamed music (and within budget). My 500 or so most preferred CDs are immediately to hand in the room, as well as being stored in lossless digital form on the music server, thereby also making them available throughout the house via Wi-Fi (in due course). It’s certainly more than good enough for my tired, aging ears. Being pragmatic, the electronics are, after all, only a means to an end, which is to stimulate an emotional response through music.

At this point, you may be wondering whether I actually listen to all that music. Fair question. Well, yes, is the answer. There wouldn’t be much point in writing about it if I didn’t experience the results of my labours. While I try very hard, there may be the odd track here or there that gets shunted down a listening list but I would hope that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Heck, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

“Don’t tell me baby you gotta go, I got the hifi high and the lights down low” from, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight‘ (1959) by Elvis Presley (1935‑1977)


Personal top 20 ‘desert island’ albums

Depending on mood, I do go back to long‑term favourites, simply for the comfort and familiarity of a ‘known quantity’. Like chatting with an old friend. At the outset, I said this wasn’t about compiling any sort of ‘best albums of the last 75 years’. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some albums for which I hold a special affection and which have been part of the hoard for many years (so not ‘new’). Here are 20 of them, all pretty well known mainstream releases, and which I feel have stood the test of time. Regular readers will see no surprises here. This is very much a personal list, chosen at the time of writing – it would undoubtedly be different on different days/weeks/months. Some entries hold special meaning and are therefore highly evocative.

I call this my ‘desert island’ security list. That is, if I could only have 20 albums as a castaway, what would they be? Perhaps, more accurately, it could also be called ‘top 20 memories’ or ’20 comfort classics’. Now how’s all that for wistful nostalgia? For what it’s worth, here is today’s list:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)
  4. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971)
  5. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
  6. Steve Hillage – L (1976)
  7. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980)
  8. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1977)
  9. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
  10. Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  11. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! (live) (1975)
  12. Deep Purple – Made In Japan (live) (1972)
  13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (2013)
  14. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
  15. Massive Attack – 100th Window (2003)
  16. David Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983)
  17. Burial – Untrue (2007)
  18. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975)
  19. John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (1993)
  20. Beck – Sea Change (2002)

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


The future

OK, that’s the past, so now let’s take a brief, casual look at what may happen into the near future. While vinyl is doing remarkably well and CD is showing possible signs of life, it is clear that streaming is the future until something better comes along. It is certainly in the interests of the music industry to retain tight control over their valuable assets, although many artists say that the practice is detrimental to their income. However, this actually means little to the consumer. Better returns for the companies and artists simply mean higher prices for the public who have no say in the matter. The reality is that the few rich get much richer and the many poor get much poorer; sadly the dysfunctional norm of the modern capitalist world.

The commercial interests of multinational companies like Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner Brothers rule their respective roosts. Interestingly, the major corporations don’t own the streaming companies, unlike in the parallel dimension of film and TV where the studios control all levels of vertical integration.

Mega‑artists with mega‑egos to match like Taylor Swift, Madonna, Adele, Jay‑Z/Beyoncé, U2, KISS, Dr. Dre, Timberlake and Ed Sheeran, along with many other big names in the lofty reaches of the higher socioeconomic hierarchy are laughing hysterically all the way to their already mega‑well‑stocked tax‑free offshore bank accounts. The industry ‘big four’ major record labels and powerful business artists together make up a resilient ‘pyramid of power’, that will continue to dominate the economics of the music biz for many years to come. Sadly, your ordinary talented hard working musicians don’t attract such filthy lucre. When push comes to shove, it’s all about the money. T’was ever thus, or more accurately…

“Oh! Ever thus from childhood’s hour” from the poem, ‘The Fire Worshippers’ (1817) by Irish writer and poet, Thomas Moore (1779‑1852)

Perhaps more worrying for creative artists and for many music enthusiasts is that the focus is clearly moving away from coherent album releases and more towards the production of single tracks out of context of other material by the same artist. By that statement, I don’t mean a rejuvenation of chart singles, which have long ceased to mean anything. The evidence shows that people are streaming individual songs, rather than a collection of tracks that would historically have made up a cohesive LP. Just look at the streaming stats of albums on any digital online platform and the predominance of maybe one or two tracks over the rest is unmistakeable. There is a feedback loop that encourages artists to change the way they make music and which goes on to influence curated playlists, radio coverage and, ultimately, sales, then repeat. The modern equivalent of the old‑fashioned radio playlist.

In 2016, it was reported that album releases were plummeting while EPs and single tracks were skyrocketing. Will we ever see (or, rather, hear) any more all‑time classic albums like ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Rumours’ or ‘Thriller’? Only time will tell. Will the way that music is created, distributed and accessed mark the death knell of the ‘album’ as we know it? Highly likely, but not just yet. The album may, like many things, see a revival. We’ll just have to wait and see (if we live long enough). Personally, I grew up with the antiquated concept of the album or LP, so it retains a certain sensibility but, then again, I am destined for premature oblivion myself, so what the heck do I know?

The topical buzz around Artificial Intelligence (AI) will inevitably play its part in music creation with virtual artists and AI composed tracks. It’s already here and can only evolve from here on. AI isn’t new, its roots go back to 1956 and the American Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. AI generative music goes back to the mid‑1990s. Is AI a threat? The jury is currently out. Thankfully, if AI is used for music, literature and art, it won’t be used to annihilate mankind (except, perhaps, through technological mediocrity). The ultimate demise of humans is up to humans, directly or indirectly, at least for now. Who needs doomsday generative AI when we all have to endure the antics of egregious corrupt despots like Putin, Xi, Kim and too many others of their insane immoral ilk? Don’t you just love mankind’s determined destiny of denial and doom? I digress (again).

“If we don’t end the war, war will end us.” H.G. Wells (1866‑1946)

One certainty is that music will survive in its manifold forms. One hopes that tired and clichéd genres like the current vapid world of commercial pop and dance music since the new millennium will rejuvenate into something more interesting at some point. Conversely, let us also hope that the more dynamic genres don’t descend to the deplorable depths of hideous homogeneity.

Musicians will proliferate. Music will proliferate. The way we access music will change. Whatever happens, change is inevitable and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves and how we adapt. Music as an essential component of the human condition will prevail in one form or another as long as humans exist. Music is, after all, a phenomenon unique to the human race. Thank goodness for that. And, thus, the search goes on.

“When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, ‘I hate rap or techno’ I rush to it.” George Clinton (1941‑)


Amateur musicology?

I do not pretend to be some sort of self‑appointed authority on contemporary music. My main obsession is still vintage guitars and vintage guitar gear. Perhaps, though, my passion for music predated my addiction to guitars. Over the decades my love of modern music does, I believe, provide a reasonable insight into the science as well as art of music, with a little alchemy thrown in for good measure.

Strictly speaking, musicology is the analysis and study of music. Musicology belongs to the humanities and social sciences, although some music research also belongs to the fields of psychology, sociology, acoustics, neurology, anthropology and computer science.

Musicology covers three general disciplines; music history, new musicology (the cultural study of music) and ethnomusicology (the study of music in its cultural context). For the life of me, I can’t really (be bothered to) differentiate between the last two of those.

Clearly, I cannot compete with professional experts in the field and my research methods are hardly scholarly. I am, however, happy to be an amateur sleuth, as it allows for significant enjoyment. Music should be overwhelmingly pleasurable, rather than playing second fiddle to methodical and clinical academic enquiry. Again, my choice.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

In addition, and hopefully obviously to readers by now, I also play music (very badly it must sadly be said). I wouldn’t hoard vintage guitars unless I could actually conjure up something vaguely creative and emotional out of them. Perhaps interestingly, I don’t play other people’s music; I much prefer to ‘do my own thing’ for better or worse. Usually the latter.

I am incessantly amazed at what I don’t know. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but society tends to prejudge ignorance as a weakness and expertise as a virtue. What others regard as the blatantly obvious is utterly oblivious to me until I encounter it. However, isn’t that what exploration and discovery is all about?

If we accept that “Music is the universal language of mankind” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one can only trust that exploration is the means by which we enhance and articulate our own individual musical linguistic skills.

Musicology may not be quite the right word for my approach towards modern music but I sure can’t think of a better one. Musicology Lite perhaps? Deluded dilettante? Possibly. Biased? Definitely. We all have our own opinions, right? And, thus, the search goes on.

“Music is the strongest form of magic.” Marilyn Manson (1969‑)


Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Musicology suggests an interest in music psychology, which is how music affects the cognitive functions of the human system. Building on some of my opinionated comments last month, here’s a thought for the day. Let us remember that music carries with it enormous power to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Music can boost serotonin, dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin levels that work on the pleasure receptors of the brain. Put simply, these magic substances can act as effective natural anti‑depressants and can help to improve both mood and behaviour. All in all, mostly good stuff then. As we all know, music, can also irritate the heck out of us sometimes, so remember to love what you love.

Now here’s an interesting diversion into music cultural history. All three human activities, sex, drugs and music directly affect the pleasure centres of the brain, so there is something scientific behind the old rockers’ adage, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ after all. While some suggest the phrase came from Ian Dury’s 1977 single, its roots derive from a much earlier hendiatris, ‘wine, women and song’, emanating from Germany in the 1770s, although there is some debate as to who actually coined it. Many scholars attribute its origins date back even further to theologian, Martin Luther.

“Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang. (Who not loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long).” Martin Luther (1483‑1546)

The first modern use of the phrase was printed in a LIFE magazine article that dates from 1969, “The counter culture has its sacraments in sex, drugs and rock.” In 1971, The Spectator magazine printed, “Not for nothing is the youth culture characterised by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Ian Dury certainly made the most of it.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record of the Month’

Once again, as this is a bit of an outlier in the overall scheme of CRAVE Guitars’ articles, I cannot leave without at least mentioning one of those albums that warrants repeat listening (for me). While last month, I was clinging onto sultry summer with dub reggae, this month, with the rapid decline into grim winter, I’m going for something a little more contentedly contemplative.

Biosphere – Microgravity (2015 reissue of the 1991 studio album with additional tracks). Biosphere is electronica artist, Geir Jenssen (1962‑) from Tromsø, Troms, Norway. The 16 tracks fall broadly into the ambient, ambient techno, ambient house, field recording and progressive electronica genres. Microgravity was Biosphere’s debut studio album. Laidback ambient grooves are a wonderful way to escape and transport one’s consciousness into an otherworldly, serene dimension, great for relaxation, stress relief and focus. It is also great for testing the hi‑fi.

“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die” from the play, ‘Twelfth Night’ (c.1601/1602) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Tailpiece

Well that’s another monthly article done and dusted. Number 75 to be precise since I started writing CRAVE Guitars’ articles way back in November 2014. It’s come a long way.

I am genuinely grateful to be in the position whereby I am able freely to undertake such projects as this one. The author is acutely aware of the extreme difficulties faced by innocents around the globe.

The pursuit of new stuff is unlikely to abate now that it has begun in earnest. Is there anything I regret uncovering? Nope. I try hard not to regret anything; I would rather use any missteps along the way as a learning experience. Are there any guilty pleasures that have been adopted? Probably, but now isn’t the time or place for shaming my deviant musical proclivities! Surprises? Plenty. Pleasure? A mixed bag. Top tips? A few. Anticipation? Always.

What is most encouraging is that there is an almost unlimited wealth of awesome, incredible music out there waiting to be discovered if you want to look hard enough. Enjoy!

The plan is to get back to more CRAVE Guitars core raison d’être for the next article. However, we all know what happens to “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” from the poem, ‘To a Mouse’ (1785) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759‑1796), so no promises. OK? Thanks for reading.

Peace, love, truth and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Material possessions feed the vanity of the ego, while music nourishes the spirit and sustains the soul”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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October 2023 – Return to and from obscurity

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Prelude

Hi y’all. This month’s article is mercifully short (relative to most) and a necessary, albeit uncomfortable, therapeutic self‑indulgence. It is probably not an enjoyable read, just as it was not enjoyable to write. Time, methinks, for some clarification. This article is about CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars’ recent journey.

Before CRAVE Guitars, I was pretty much invisible to the world. Good, suits me fine. Even now, Crave Guitars is the main focus. Call me whatever you like; enigmatic, shy, introverted, inscrutable, reserved, or reclusive… I prefer to avoid people and I enjoy solitude. This is a lifestyle choice. Strangely for a guitarist, I do not crave (sic!) the limelight. I like to let the musical artefacts speak for themselves. To me, they are far more important. Publishing anonymously behind the veil of CRAVE Guitars is an indispensable creative outlet.

For those in the know, CRAVE Guitars took a ‘break’ for almost 3 years. That meant no monthly articles and a total withdrawal from participating in social media. Development of the CRAVE Guitars’ website also stalled, while expansion of the enterprise itself was reduced to a casual pastime. To all intents and purposes, CRAVE Guitars ground to an almighty stop overnight, at least as far as the outside world was concerned, although it has continued to tick over in the background. Playing guitar also dropped off to near‑nothing, so no more feeble fantasies for recording or video.

At the time, I thought that this ‘break’ would only be a very temporary interruption and things could return to status quo relatively quickly. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an extended absence. However, as time passed since the September 2020 cliff edge, I found the task of putting finger to keyboard increasingly challenging, making the hiatus a ‘thing’ in its own right that I knew eventually had to be confronted and dealt with.

In September 2023, I returned tentatively to writing with the article, ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’, exploring the wonderful world of Jamaican music, while October saw the next article, ‘Adventures in Ambient’, a delve into the serene, otherworldly dimension of ambient electronica. Neither of these articles focused on vintage guitars and neither genre is particularly guitar‑oriented. Why return with these in‑depth research projects you may ask? To tell the truth, both of these articles were an intentional and ‘safe’ distraction from addressing the pachyderm in the place (NB. The ‘elephant in the room’ is an idiom deriving from an 1814 story by poet Ivan Krylov, ‘The Inquisitive Man’). I also made a very hesitant return to posting occasional items on various social media platforms, although the prospect of getting back onto that particular treadmill remains daunting.

I apologise upfront for the style and content after an extended break; I’m basically out of practice and need to get back to being ‘match ready’. What follows is not a full explanation for the break, however, it is a cathartic attempt to ‘break the silence’ and restore some sense of realism. So…

Cause and effect

Coronavirus – The ‘coronapocalypse’ or ‘coronageddon’ pandemic started in early 2020 and we all know what happened between then and now. Over 771 million cases of SARS‑CoV‑2 worldwide and almost 7 million deaths (25 million cases and over 230,000 deaths in the UK alone, a shameful 9th in the global league table, with the US at the top). Lockdowns, self‑isolation, testing, vaccinations, ventilators, hospitalisations, deaths and all that went along with the spread of the virus have been well‑documented elsewhere. In October 2023, Covid‑19 is very much still with us and continues to mutate, taking more lives in the process. As an inherently anti‑social animal, withdrawal from the social order was easy for me as a lifelong misanthropist and borderline sociopath. The impact on live music, music venues and manufacturers due to Covid has, however, been fairly catastrophic, as has the number of artists directly or indirectly affected by the contagion. What I think everyone can agree on is that the global health crisis has undoubtedly had a major impact on our day‑to‑day behaviour, mental health and occupational prospects. Covid, whatever its origins, respects no territorial boundaries and affects everyone; a so‑called ‘leveller’.

To quote Italian writer and moral philosopher Dante Alighieri (c.1265‑1321) from ‘Inferno’, “I had not thought death had undone so many”.

Economics – A deep crisis with a high price indeed. Thanks to Putinland egregiously and aggressively expanding its redundant soviet empirical aspirations, everyone, everywhere has felt the negative impact of just getting by on a day‑to‑day basis. The Middle East resorting to pointless bloody conflict again only adds fossil fuel to the escalating economic volatility. Never mind the tyrannical exploits of the People’s (?!) Republic of China. Etc., etc., etc. As CRAVE Guitars is a not‑for‑profit enterprise, there is no fat on the bones to indulge the increasingly expensive ‘hobby’ of vintage guitar hoarding. A low fixed income lags about a year behind the times during the current economic climate, so no spare pennies to squander on old gear. Vintage guitars tend to increase in (or at least hold their) value during recession and increase disproportionately so under periods of growth or high inflation, pushing these desirable relics out of the reach of enthusiasts (like me) and into the hands of wealthy collectors seeking return on investment and profit. Demand continues to outstrip supply, at least in everything I can afford. Ggrr. Argh. Sigh.

“War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” (Edwin Starr, War 1970).

Life – During 2020 and 2021, the demands of sustaining all aspects of everyday life eventually proved overwhelming and something had to give. In addition to the already stated ‘break’, I also could not keep on top of current music and industry‑related events, so my insights into what was going on were inevitably constrained. My motivation and ability to acquire, maintain and play vintage gear also hit the proverbial buffers. The repugnant politics of, particularly, Twitter (now Elon Musk’s execrable X) resulted in a general reluctance to engage with online communities. The abuse simply wasn’t worth the effort. Human behaviour is not improving with time. In fact, it appears to be notably regressing. The outcome was CRAVE Guitars withered in short order like a scorched seedling affected by global overheating. Ultimately, the self‑imposed abstinence was basically driven by self‑preservation and survival.

“These so‑called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.” David Lynch (1946‑)

… and Death – After 43 years since meeting my other half, 33 years of marriage, and 13 years of caring (the last 6 years full‑time), my soulmate finally succumbed to cancer in 2022 after a protracted and particularly brutal decline. ‘Until death do us part’, as vowed. This, sadly, is the way of the wicked world and we will all, at some point, pop our proverbial clogs and shuffle off this mortal coil (mixing metaphors, sorry Mr. Shakespeare). Cancer sucks and there is no magic spell for getting over its cruel incursion. Fundamental and profound grief is definitely not conducive to the pursuance of a preoccupation, however, obsessive, with material things. An existential watershed was thus irrevocably cast. The inevitable and involuntary re‑evaluation of one’s existence results in a re‑prioritisation and reflection about one’s ikigai – the Japanese concept meaning the achievement of a sense of purpose and a reason for living. This is not an excuse, just a cruel and unavoidable fact of life… and death. Farewell wife. R.I.P.

“It is crucial to be mindful of death – to contemplate that you will not remain long in this life. If you are not aware of death, you will fail to take advantage of this special human life that you have already attained.” (The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso 1935‑)

Extortion – Around September 2021, CRAVE Guitars was subject to Internet extortion. A German company using a household brand name as a front threatened legal action for copyright infringement. Whatever the circumstances, I was forced into settling rather than risk disproportionate legal costs to defend against the possibility of legal action. However, the incident was totally fraudulent and the UK authorities took no notice, as it emanated from the EU (which apparently is no longer part of the UK) and, to them, insignificant in value. Thanks for absolutely nothing British Police and fraud investigation. Hello! Blackmail is a crime! For a not‑for‑profit enterprise with zero budget, this proved temporarily crippling. The specific event caused a ‘crisis of faith’ about whether to continue with CRAVE Guitars at all, while also compounding other pressures. Self‑doubt is a horrible and unproductive experience. All previous articles have had to be substantially edited with all images not totally owned by CRAVE Guitars were removed from all features, articles and web site pages, severely reducing their potential interest to the casual reader. All images used by CRAVE Guitars are now diligently produced either in‑house or obtained via copyright/royalty‑free sources.

“Blackmail is more effective than bribery.” John Le Carré (1931‑2020)

Property – CRAVE Guitars is not a discrete entity. It is not a museum and it is not a commercial enterprise. It operates out of a normal, and rather small, house in the South West of the UK. The property is almost 100 years old and in a very poor condition. The recent imperative has been to renovate the structure to provide liveable accommodation. As a result, a large proportion of time, effort and funds have had to be re‑directed towards extensive necessary property upkeep, leaving little in the way of capital for other things (like vintage guitars). The long‑intimated cellar refurbishment to provide a safe and secure home for the vintage gear keeps getting shunted down the list of priorities and further into the future. It does, however, remain a goal. The lack of storage space limits acquisition of any more instruments.

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” Kurt Vonnegut (1922‑2007)

Karma – Hatred is a negative and wasteful emotion that has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. It drains the soul of compassion. However, there are many contemptable people in this world intent on furthering their own agendas at others’ expense, seemingly with impunity. Everyone probably has a degree of experience of such self‑entitled, exploitative and controlling individuals. They are vile, vindictive and unfortunately often unavoidable, intent on causing misery wherever they go. Fortunately, such heinous parasites are relatively rare. The list is short but the hostile influence is high. Given that societal structures favour law over justice, it is unwise to name such vermin. I just hope that, in some way, they become aware of the terrible consequence of their actions and that their conscience holds them accountable. Sadly, they may not exhibit the necessary integrity and contrition. Where is karma when it is really needed?

“Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; men love in haste but they detest at leisure.” Lord Byron (1788‑1824)

Musicology – Perhaps there is one positive note amongst all the preceding doom and gloom. My fascination with all things musical has been both long‑running and constant over time. While other things were understandably dominating priorities, the hiatus did present an opportunity for musical exploration and experimentation. I am no authority on the matter so, I set about addressing this particular shortcoming by adopting a more rigorous approach towards understanding and appreciating contemporary music (from the 1950s to the current day). Modern music is at least relevant and related to CRAVE Guitars to a greater or lesser extent, so therefore within my general bailiwick. I intend to come back to this side project on another occasion.

“For I was conscious that I knew practically nothing…” (attributed to Plato’s account of Socrates),

Summary – The extended hiatus appears, prima facie, to be an irrational and disproportionate response to a culmination of disparate events that, in the past, would (probably) not have been a big issue either in isolation or together. There was no single external trigger, rather a confluence of factors that proved to be ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ (NB. an idiom derived from an Arabic proverb that describes a minor action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, resulting from the cumulative effect of small actions – a.k.a. ‘the last straw’). However proverbial it is, it does raise the point that we all need to do our best, despite difficult circumstances, to look after ourselves first and foremost. Not to do so inhibits our ability to deal with external threats and have empathy for others. We only live once and life really is too short (see above). There are no second chances. Time to be positive about the future…

“The future depends on what we do in the present.” Mahatma Gandhi (1869‑1948)

The way forward

In late 2023, I regard my preoccupation with CRAVE Guitars as essential therapy to help cope with other day‑to‑day circumstances. I am, however, still finding it incredibly hard to rekindle the spark of craving (sic!) held previously. The prospect of CRAVE Guitars returning to its old form is, as far as I can tell at the time of writing, rather unlikely. After over sixteen years of building the ‘brand’, this state of affairs is genuinely heart rending.

As I am only just beginning to recover some of my former vintage guitar mojo, I cannot say for sure what the way forward will be. The first faltering purgative steps are, I think, basically threefold:

  1. To resume writing articles, although these will not be regular or consistent to begin with and they will likely not be major tomes as before (probably a relief for many!).
  2. To recommence work on maintaining, updating and expanding the CRAVE Guitars web site, together with resuming a modicum of social media activity.
  3. Last but most certainly not least, to get back into acquiring, maintaining, playing and sharing my compulsive captivation with vintage guitar gear.

Simple to say, less easy to do. Pursue them I must for my own sanity. I can only hope that the extensive investment in CRAVE Guitars as a coherent entity over the years has not been totally wasted and that the impetus behind what the brand stands for continues in some form, even if it is in a less assertive fashion.

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749‑1832)

CRAVE Guitars’ Album of the Month:

As this article is an anomaly in the canon, I couldn’t move on without at least mentioning something musical. As we are moving away from sultry summer warmth into darker, cooler and wetter autumn, I’m clinging desperately onto evocative tropical Jamaican beats. Therefore, my selection for ‘album of the month’, October 2023 is:

Dubbing at Aquarius Studios 1977-1979 – The 16 tracks were laid down at Dynamic Sounds, Harry J’s and Randy’s Studio 17 by session bands the Aggrovators, Soul Syndicate and High Times Players, and dubbed at Herman Chin Loy’s Aquarius Studio during the peak years of Jamaican dub reggae. For me, these tracks deserve repeated listening. Irie mon.

Footnote

Mental Health & Wellbeing is a serious issue in today’s chaotic and dysfunctional world. Depression and anxiety present an insidious and invisible menace of 21st Century lifestyles. They are not trivial issues to be dismissed out of hand and can be severely debilitating. The impact is non‑discriminatory and can affect anyone at any time to one degree or another and can strike without warning. There is no simple ‘cure’ and the adverse effects can be both long lasting and unpredictable. If you haven’t actually experienced these problems first hand, it can be difficult to understand the symptoms, let alone be able to unravel the causes. Meds can be useful but ultimately result in a chemical cul‑de‑sac. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the current fad with professionals but the focus on process is only good for some. High quality one‑to‑one psychotherapy is expensive and thereby exclusive. Mindfulness is a dreadful title but the western concept, based on aspects of eastern spiritualism (but not religion) and meditation, can be an effective tool for building resilience and promoting focus. Whatever your remedy, in the face of an increasingly intrusive stressful life, it is important to take care of your whole self, mental and emotional as well as physical. These opinions, I must emphasise, are not the warped rantings of an insecure neurotic grumpy old man… or are they?

To quote one wise Asian dude, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama – c.480-400BCE)

Tailpiece

I apologise once again for the self‑centred, self‑serving self‑pitying nature, as well as the unforgiveable excess of hyperbole, of this therapeutic ‘confessional’. It had to be done. For CRAVE Guitars, putting this ‘explanation’ of involuntary absence was an obligatory recuperative process along the path to recovery. Without casting the metaphorical albatross from the (ancient mariner’s) neck, things could not get back on track. CRAVE Guitars does not need reinventing, rather it needs to adapt to a different paradigm. Hopefully, in an attempt to be positive, there may be the fertile green shoots of a new beginning.

“Ah! well a-day! What evil looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772‑1834)

So… is CRAVE Guitars back? Well… only partially. The world around us today is a different place and CRAVE Guitars’ minuscule part in it is going to have to be different. Primarily, this means a more modest, humble and less determined approach to vintage guitar appreciation. Frustrating though it is, it’s possibly better to call it ‘work‑in‑progress’ than any form of momentous return. Long live CRAVE Guitars!

On the plus side, the next few articles are already in planning and likely to be both more relevant and more optimistic than this poor excuse for an editorial. After that, who knows? Watch this space.

Peace, love, truth and guitar music be with you all. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Sometimes it is better to withdraw intentionally from society than to be wholly rejected by it”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2023 – Adventures in Ambient: Music of Another Dimension

Prelude

In the last article (August 2023), I explored the alluring realm of dub reggae, as one of my musical passions. This month, as we race headlong into autumn with its cooler, darker evenings, I’d like to explore another musical genre close to my heart, ambient electronica. There seems to be a great deal of consensus about where ambient came from while, at the same time, a great deal of disagreement about what it is today, let alone where it is going. While this may sound inherently contradictory, the convoluted world of ambient music is quite fascinating, at least to me. Unlike reggae, which had a defined geographical origin – the small island of Jamaica in the Caribbean – ambient has a completely different set of roots. Also, while dub reggae and ambient seem entirely discrete, there are some crossovers.

Once again, like dub reggae, the ambient musical landscape is not really guitar‑based. It is essentially one of three things, acoustic – mainly classical – instruments, the sounds of the natural and built world all around us, and electronic sounds, primarily but not exclusively synthesizers.

As with all previous articles, this is not intended to present any sort of definitive academic analysis, it is purely my interpretation of ambient music, past and current, as I see (or rather hear) it. There are a lot of blurred overlaps and permeable boundaries here, so I am certain that some readers will disagree vehemently with my version of the story. That is their prerogative and this is my article, so I’m sticking to my biased version. This is also only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ with lots more to discover.

No AI has been used in researching and writing this article. All images used are royalty free courtesy of Pixaby and Wikimedia Commons.

So, get comfy, chill and absorb yourself into the mesmerising universe of ambient music for a while.


Defining ambient

Perhaps a good starting point is to understand what the solitary word ‘ambient’ actually means, both in non‑musical and musical contexts.

Literally, ambient is an adjective meaning ‘of the surrounding area or environment’, ‘existing or present on all sides’ or ‘enveloping or completely surrounding’. As a noun, it means ‘an encompassing environment or atmosphere’. In this article we are not talking about ambient temperatures or ambient pressures, although these may affect sound vibrations in the environment. We are also not talking ambient light, although this may affect mood and temperament.

Defining ambient sound

Ambient sound is the total of all background or surrounding noises that exist in every direction, in any immediate surroundings, as measured by sound pressure level (SPL – expressed in decibels). Decibel levels are important because they provide information to the brain on how quiet or loud a sound is in relative terms. Human ears and brains are designed to detect slight variations in SPL in stereo (binaural hearing), which help us determine from which direction a sound originates. Basically, ambient sound is the total of what you can hear in the present moment, wherever you are.

Ambient sound is always present, even if it is at very low levels. Humans cannot tolerate near‑0dB for long. 0dB is unobtainable under normal conditions. Experiments have shown that people who are deprived of ambient sound can quickly become unsettled or disoriented because humans rely on ambient sound to locate themselves within their environment. The dissociation of sight and sound is inherently problematic for us. The quietest place on Earth is an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, USA. It is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to experience it is just 45 minutes.

The simple fact is that there is always some ambient sound present in our lives. These ever‑present characteristics play a part in ambient music compositions.

Defining ambient music

Ambient music is a term that means, ‘a genre of instrumental music that focuses on patterns of sound rather than typical melodic form and is used to promote a certain atmosphere or state of mind’. Another definition is ‘incidental music intended to serve as an unobtrusive accompaniment to other activities and characterised by quiet and repetitive instrumental phrases’.

So far, so what? Useful background info but it doesn’t really mean much on its own. So let’s delve a bit deeper.


A brief pre‑history of ambient music

There is a significant amount of information on the hinterwebby thingummy about the history of the genre, so this is a brief retelling of the essential elements, starting in France, then Germany before crossing the Atlantic to America and then back to the UK. These unfolding events were probably all ahead‑of‑their‑time and in the vanguard of experimental art.

Let us begin by going all the way back to 1917. French composer Erik Satie (1866‑1925) used Dadaist‑inspired explorations to invent what he called musique d’ameublement (‘furniture music’ or, more literally, ‘furnishing music’), music played by live musicians and designed to be unconsciously experienced rather than consciously listened to. Satie described his compositions as music that could be performed at a function to create a background atmosphere for the function, rather than being the prime focus of it. In Satie’s words, his music would, “… be part of the noises of the environment”.

Satie’s use of repeated short compositions is said to have influenced ‘minimal music’ from 1960s onwards, particularly the experimental avant‑garde music of composer John Cage. Satie is also regarded as an essential forerunner to modern ambient music and a key influence on British artist, Brian Eno.

During the 1940s, Frenchman Pierre Schaeffer (1910‑1995) who was, amongst other things, a composer, engineer and musicologist took a different approach. Schaeffer experimented with recording sound, then processing the signals to create an abstract sound collage. The resulting sounds and tones were unrecognisable from the originating source material. Schaeffer used musical instruments, vocals, recorded environmental ‘sound objects’ and electronic sound synthesis. This type of music composition became known as musique concrète (concrete music).

Prolific and controversial German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928‑2007) was a pioneer in electronic music. Stockhausen’s electronic music compositions comprised abstract noise collages created through the use of tape loops, oscillators and recorded sounds. He also specialised in ground breaking ‘spatial music’, using multiple sources to locate sounds within a three dimensional space (an early form of surround sound). Stockhausen created one of the first examples of purely electronic music using sine wave generators and filters, called ‘Studie I’ (1953). In 1954, he pushed the boundaries of classical music using acoustic instruments augmented by electronic sounds. The same year, he published the first fully electronic music score. Stockhausen, the so‑called ‘father of electronic music’, was an important figure who rejected conventions and heavily influenced multiple genres outside classical music, including jazz, pop and rock decades later.

Muzak is a type of background music created by American inventor George Owen Squier in 1934. Known commonly as elevator music (or lift music in the UK), it became used predominantly in public spaces, retail stores and other venues. The word muzak has become embedded in the public consciousness as synonymous with all types of generic and inconspicuous background music. Muzak was particularly prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Muzak has been a registered trademark of Muzak LLC since 1954. Ambient by stealth?

From the 1950s, particularly in Germany, elektronische musik (electronic music) took precedence over previous forms such as musique concrète. The term ‘elektronische musik’ was first used by German composer and musicologist Herbert Eimert in 1952 to describe music created only by the use of electronic instruments and technology. As the genre developed, elements of musique concrète were incorporated into electronic music. Natural environmental recordings combined with music resurfaced later as a popular element of new age music. German electronic music heavily influenced krautrock, an experimental rock genre that emerged out of West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s with bands like Can and Neu!.

American composer John Cage was another influential figure in post‑war avant‑garde music including electroacoustic music. He had been experimenting with studio electronics since the late 1930s. In 1952, Cage ‘performed’ his now‑famous composition, 4′33″. The piece is not, as many believe, silence; it is the intentional ‘absence of deliberate sound’. The musicians do nothing but be on the stage with instruments. For the aforementioned duration of the piece, the audience is encouraged simply to listen to and experience the ambient sounds in the auditorium around them.

Minimal music is a form of art music that, as its name suggests, uses a very limited array of components to produce a composition. Minimal can apply to the instruments used, the sounds/tones produced, as well as the studio processes employed. Minimalism may comprise continuous drones, pulses or repetitive phrases. Minimalism emerged in New York in the late 1960s with American composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young. It has been suggested that minimalism was one influence behind experimental rock band The Velvet Underground during the 1960s and, much later, on electronic dance music (EDM) sub‑genres such as minimal techno. In 1990, British electronica duo The Orb used a sample from Steve Reich’s work on their hit single, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

At this point, it is worth making quick mention of cinematic music, a.k.a. film scores or original soundtracks (OSTs). The first music to accompany film goes back to the earliest part of the 20th Century if not further, although its use really came into its own, ironically, with the advent of talking pictures in 1927. Cinematic music is composed specifically as a background to fit well with what is happening on screen by creating a certain atmosphere. Many classic theme music pieces would simply not exist without the films for which they were created. Some of the best cinematic music is an integral part of the audio‑visual experience, rather than the music being consciously listened to in isolation. The best soundtracks are equally good pieces of music in their own right and the art form has become highly respected (and profitable). John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Vangelis, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hans Zimmer are some of the principal cinematic music composers.

In the field of television, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up in 1958, stands out for its experimental work in electronic incidental sound design and music for radio and TV. Key members of the unit included Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and David Cain.


A brief history of electronic sound synthesis

It is probably true to say that synthesizers changed the world of music forever. Here’s a short resume of how that change came about. Warning! This is the techy bit.

Analogue synthesizers – The word synthesizer was first used by RCA in 1956, although it has widely been used to refer to electronic musical instruments from the early 20th Century onwards. Early electronic analogue sound synthesizers were developed in the 1920s and included the Theremin, invented by Leon Theremin in Russia in 1920, the Ondes Martenot, invented by Maurice Martenot in France in 1928 and the Trautnium, invented by Friedrich Trautwein in Germany in 1929.

There are basically only three parts to an analogue synthesizer; one or more oscillators to produce the sound, filters to change the sound, and voltage‑controlled amplifiers to adjust the volume of the sound. In addition, envelope generators are frequently used to change the behaviour of the sound (commonly referred to as ADSR – attack, sustain, delay, release).

Another major development in electronic sound synthesis was by American engineer Robert Moog (1934‑2005) who invented the first commercially available analogue synthesizer, the Moog Modular in 1964. The first fully integrated synthesizer, including the keyboard, was the Minimoog released in 1970. Moog developed his products in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic musical instruments.

Moog Synthesizer

Samplers – A sampler is an electronic device that captures, records and plays back sections of the recordings. The first example was the Chamberlin, invented by American Harry Chamberlin in 1946. The British Mellotron, introduced in 1963, was perhaps the first famous electro‑mechanical instrument used to play back tape recorded sound samples.

Sequencers – A key factor in making music synthesizers usable was the introduction of the programmable sequencer to program and play back multi‑part arrangements. The first example was probably the analogue Buchla 100 synthesizer in 1964. More importantly, Moog introduced the Moog Modular Sequencer Module – the 960 Sequential Controller in 1968.

As synthesizers became more complex, additional features were added, such as arpeggiators that automatically play a sequence of notes based on a chord or scale, and a range of effects used to process the sound even further.

Digital synthesizers – The first digital synthesizer was made by Synclavier in 1977, while the first commercially successful model was made by Yamaha in 1983. The first production polyphonic synthesizer, able to play chords, was the analogue Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, designed by Tom Oberheim, produced from 1975 to 1979. Yamaha, however, may disagree, citing their GX‑1 ‘Dream Machine’. These were followed shortly thereafter by the Polymoog. Another first was the programmable analogue Prophet 5 made by Sequential circuits in 1978. The culmination of these inventions was the introduction of the Fairlight CMI (standing for ‘Computer Musical Instrument’) in 1979, the first polyphonic digital synthesizer, sampler and sequencer.

Finally, polyphonic digital sound synthesis was here to stay, as was the studio recording technology able to exploit it. Miles away from ambient while owing a debt to it, Donna Summer’s massive disco hit single, ‘I Feel Love’ (1977), written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, was seen as a milestone and “a rejection of the intellectualization of the synthesizer in favour of pure pleasure”. It did, however, herald sound synthesis to the popular market. The phenomenal boom in synthpop during the 1980s, leading to the EDM boom of the 1990s, was the tangible result of lengthy electronic music development.

MIDI – MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a powerful industry standard protocol introduced in 1983 that enables wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and audio devices to communicate. MIDI has become essential for synchronizing, playing, editing, and recording music.

These, and many other tools, were a valuable resource for the new generation of experimental composers and musicians. Everything was pretty much now in place.


A brief history of ambient music

Up to this point it is probably fair to say that elements of ambient music’s predecessors existed, and indeed thrived, on the periphery of the popular music of their time, rather than being front and centre of the mainstream. During the 1960s, that was about to change, albeit relatively slowly.

One interpretation of ambient music is that it is a style of calm, often electronic instrumental music with no discernible rhythm or beat, used to create or enhance mood or atmosphere. Ambient music emphasises tone and textural layers of sound that focus on the actual sounds being produced rather than the traditional musical form in which those sounds would normally reside. As such, ambient music may well intentionally eschew formal structured composition, harmony, melody and metre.

While now commonplace, ambient music, at least in the past, broke the rules of what we understand as familiar music or song content. Ambient music is not limited by accepted tropes of how it is produced, making use of acoustic and electronic musical instruments, unorthodox implements used as instruments, environmental sound recordings and sometimes vocals. A large proportion of ambient music is instrumental, not requiring narrative arrangement through either sung lyrics or spoken words.

One characteristic of ambient music since the 1990s has been the ubiquitous use of looping, creating repeated sections of sound, initially using tape and most commonly through digital effects. Another key trait has been the use of modern digital reverb and delay techniques to provide a sense of space, disconnection and otherworldliness.

One key element of ambient music is the way it can reward equally both passive and active listening. The listener can either focus on the content or allow ‘cognitive drift’ to occur, which can encourage a sense of calm, introspection or contemplation, meditation or as an aid to sleep.

While ambient music is a self‑contained genre, it does not stand alone; it has been incorporated into, or fused with, many other musical genres. This fact, in part, contributes to the debate about what ambient music actually means today and why it has become successful both artistically and commercially.

At last, getting to the point now… Ambient music as we now (think) we know it emerged in various forms during the 1960s and 1970s, largely thanks to the commercial availability of synthesizers. The album that is widely regarded as the watershed that brought ambient music to wider attention was, ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’ (1978) by British musician, producer and artist Brian Eno. This studio album also established the term ‘ambient music’ in the public mind set. Eno, either solo or in collaboration with other artists, released many subsequent ambient works, further defining the genre. By the early 1980s, the ‘new’ genre had become recognised and widely accepted. Eno has been oft‑quoted that “ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”.

In 1995, Brian Eno used the term ‘generative music’ to describe any music created by a computer system that is ever‑different, non‑repeating and always changing. Eno has frequently used generative ambient music as a background for visual art installations, thereby creating an immersive audio visual experience. There are now a number of autonomous ambient music generators available on the Internet, such as Generative.fm, that provide completely unique compositions that never end, never repeat and last as long as the listener wants them to. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into music is likely to expand the scope of generative music considerably.

A discrete subset of the genre is Japanese ambient pioneered by artists such as Hiroshi Yoshimura, Haruomi Hosono, Midori Takada, Osamu Sato and Susumu Yokota during the 1980s. The offshoot aligned with the Japanese concept of ‘wa’, meaning harmony and serenity. Japanese ambient was an expression of the deep cultural appreciation for nature, an aesthetic preference towards minimalism, and traditional values of maintaining peace.

Ambient has heavily influenced many sub‑genres of downtempo dance music, including ambient house, ambient techno, ambient dub, trip‑hop, nu‑jazz, new age, chillwave and deep house. Ambient has undoubtedly come a very long way from its avant‑garde artsy origins. Ambient was now cool and it was here to stay.

In recent years, ambient music has continued to evolve and expand. Some contemporary artists have incorporated elements of jazz, classical music, and other genres into their work, while others have experimented with new digital technologies such as AI and virtual or augmented reality to create new experiences. Improvisation and extemporisation have become integral elements of many ambient compositions.

Overall, ambient music has remained a vibrant and innovative genre that continues to explore the limits of what is possible in music. Perhaps, the essence of ambient music continues to flourish at the margins, requiring some effort to discover as the means of dissemination moves away from traditional record companies, labels, distributors and physical media. The Internet and streaming services may become the only means to access these esoteric future forms.

Ambient music’s experimental aspirations, though, have been an on‑going thorn in its side, which seems particularly hard to expunge. Partly because of its eclectic roots, many regard the lofty art & culture baggage of ambient as self‑absorbed, arrogant, sanctimonious, pompous and pretentious – or just plain dull and boring. Brian Eno in particular has attracted considerable scorn for refusing to conform to populist ideals and short‑term fads. The fact that he is not fazed by such clichéd criticisms and follows his own path regardless, encourages his opinionated detractors even further.

A predilection for ambient music is a choice, not a requisite and it doesn’t carry any cache amongst some imaginary elitist intellectual cultural community. It is, though, not for everyone, with many seeing ambient as a tedious interminable din. Indeed, if anything has been learned through the decades about ambient music is that its appeal is, at least partially, subliminal, nurturing our subconscious need for enlightened contemplation and therefore beyond our ability to control whether we appreciate it or not. Discuss…

Influential artists that have dabbled in ambient music either in part or whole include (in no particular order) Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, William Basinski, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Pauline Oliveros, Cluster, Biosphere, Harold Budd, John Hassell, Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Terry Riley, William Orbit, Four Tet, Steve Hillage, Stars Of The Lid, Bonobo, Mark McGuire, Ash Ra Tempel, Alice Coltrane, Jon Hopkins, Edgar Froese, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Caretaker, Laurie Speigel, Tycho, GAS, Boards Of Canada, Burial, Fripp & Eno, Slowdive, Air, Julianna Barwick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Ben Chatwin, Richard Norris, Luke Abbott, The Cinematic Orchestra, Daniel Avery, Darshan Ambient, The Gentleman Losers, Ibizarre, A.M.P. Studio, Orbient, Nacho Sotomayor, Sigur Rós, Johnny Jewel, Bicep, Marconi Union, Memory Tapes, Neon Indian, Com Truise, The Orb, The KLF, Divination, Lawrence English and The Irresistible Force.


A brief history of other music genres related to (but not) ambient music

New age music –New age music emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by a variety of styles including classical music, jazz, world music, religious music, folk and rock. New age music often explores arcane folklore, ancient traditions, ethnic groupings, astrology, mythology, mysticism, spiritualism, fantasy and even the occult. Lacking any precise definition, it is often seen as an umbrella for many different and often divergent styles. Ambient and new‑age music are two distinct genres albeit with some overlap between them.

Starting with the similarities… New age music is a genre of music characterised by its soothing and relaxing qualities. It often features acoustic instruments such as flutes, harps, guitars and pianos, traditional Asian or African instruments as well as nature recordings and synthesizers. New‑age music is often used for relaxation, contemplation, yoga, massage, stress relief and anxiety management. As background music, it is used to create a calm, serene, peaceful atmosphere for other activities.

… and some key differences… Ambient music tends to be more experimental and abstract than new‑age music, with a greater emphasis on soundscapes and textures rather than rhythm, melody or harmony. New age music tends to be more melodic, structured and more easily accessible than ambient music.

Overall, both ambient and new age music are genres designed to create a sense of serenity in the listener (the ends). However, they go about achieving this goal in different ways (the means).

New age music has habitually been ridiculed (erroneously) for being part of hippie culture, with acolytes that embraced new age beliefs being called ‘zippies’. From the 1990s. Zippies were in favour of new age principles such as social change, environmentalism, and alternative lifestyles while also being influenced by rave culture, cyberculture, and psychedelic drugs.

New Age Travellers are a loose grouping of people primarily in the United Kingdom generally adopting new age beliefs along with the counter culture movement of the late 1960s. Their nomadic lifestyle often brought them into conflict with static communities and the authorities.

Prominent new age artists include Enigma, Enya, Deep Forest, Clannad, Gregorian, Phil Thornton, Patrick Kelly, Peter Gabriel, Bernward Koch, Paul Winter, Grouper, All About Eve and William Ackerman.

Nature recordings – Ambient nature sounds or, technically, field recordings are a popular sub‑genre of ambient music that feature environmental recordings such as the sounds of water, animals, thunderstorms, wind and even fire. The origins of combining natural sounds with musical compositions can be traced back to the early 20th century. Field recording is regarded by many as a genre in its own right, with or without music.

Field Recording

The use of field recordings in music became more widespread in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of portable recording equipment and with digital recording from the 1980s. Musicians such as John Cage and Dan Gibson began using natural or built environmental sounds into their compositions.

The use of field recording in ambient music can be traced back to Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’, which featured recordings of airport terminal announcements and other environmental sounds. Since then, many ambient artists have incorporated field recordings to create captivating soundscapes that blur the line between music and environmental sound.

Some popular ambient nature sound artists include David Dunn, Chris Watson, Dan Gibson, Diane Hope, Lawrence English, Biosphere and Francisco López.

Downtempo and chillout music – Ambient music did not burst onto the scene overnight and, at least initially, it did not attract significant commercial success. With the popularity of EDM and the domination of house and techno in nightclubs, ambient experienced a mini‑revival towards the late 1980s with sub‑genres including ambient house, ambient trance, ambient techno and ambient dub. During the dance‑dominated 1990s, ambient music became trendy as an after‑party ‘comedown’ with the advent of ‘chillout rooms’; spaces within clubs that served as venues for a relaxing alternative to the high‑energy ‘rave rooms’.

Chillout is a form of downtempo music (or vice versa) characterised by relaxed rhythms, mellow beats, laid back grooves and atmospheric soundscapes intended to induce a tranquil mood – fertile ground for ambient music to proliferate. Chillout is heavily derived from EDM, but typically at slower tempos and with sonic palettes often reminiscent of ambient, electronic‑styled new age, progressive electronic and even elements of instrumental hip hop, dub, deep house and breakbeat.

However, neither chillout nor downtempo come under the definition of ambient, due to their prominent use of structure and rhythm. Sunset beach bars, restaurant venues and cult dance clubs in Ibiza in the 1990s jumped onto the ambient/downtempo/chillout bandwagon as an escape from the more intense side of life and a counterpoint to the hectic rave and acid house scenes of the time. In the UK, the Bristol trip hop scene also capitalised on the chillout boom.

The chillout zeitgeist during the late 1990s was partly due to a proliferation of commercial chillout compilation albums from record labels such as Ministry of Sound, Café del Mar, Café Mambo, Beyond Records, Kompakt Records and Mercury Records. Mainstreaming ultimately motivated underground producers to move away from chillout into other more adventurous leftfield ventures. By the early‑mid 2000s, popularity of chillout music faded heavily. However, it would see a revival in the 2010s and 2020s (so far), which aimed to recapture the spirit of earlier forms of the genre.

Ambient and downtempo/chillout and are not interchangeable, although the boundaries between them are often unclear. Downtempo and chillout would go on a different path to influence subsequent genres like psybient, psychedelic trance, chillwave, lounge, post rock, lo‑fi hip hop, hypnagogic pop and nu‑jazz.

Prominent downtempo and chillout artists include The KLF, The Orb, Thievery Corporation, Deep Dive Corp, East India Youth, The Album Leaf, Nightmares on Wax, Falco, Robert Miles, Morcheeba, Bowery Electric, Mr. Scruff, Tosca, Hallucinogen and Ultramarine.

Trip Hop – Trip hop is a genre of electronic music that emerged from downtempo/chillout in the early 1990s. Trip hop is characterized by its use of hip hop beats, samples, and dense atmospheric soundscapes, fusing influences from jazz, soul, funk, reggae, dub and R&B. Like other forms of electronic music, trip hop uses structure, melody and beats, differentiating it from ambient. The term trip hop was first used in an article in Mixmag magazine in 1994 about American artist and producer DJ Shadow. Trip hop music was popularised mainly by artists from Bristol in the UK such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky. Trip hop further influenced genres like instrumental hip hop and UK garage.

Other artists that have made use of trip hop leanings include Sneaker Pimps, Aim, Howie B, The Dining Rooms, FKA Twigs, Glass Animals, Kosheen, Martina Topley‑Bird, Poliça, Smoke City, 9Lazy9, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut, Morcheeba, Pretty Lights, DJ Shadow, DJ Food, DJ Vadim, Funki Porcini, Gorillaz and London Grammar.

Electronica – Electronica is a massively broad term for music that uses electronic instrumentation and sound manipulation technology as the primary means of production. As such, it is a catch‑all for music that doesn’t slot easily into existing sub‑genres. In its widest sense, electronica is pervasive, directly or indirectly, in much of modern contemporary music. There is, therefore no point in defining it or attempting to establish its scope here.

Since the 1960s, electronica artists have both influenced and taken influence from many other music genres. The commercial breakthrough of electronic music occurred with the advent and subsequent domination of synthpop, Europop and Eurodance in the 1970s. This was followed by EDM sub‑genres such as house, techno and electro from the 1980s onward. The burst in electronic creativity was fuelled by a self‑perpetuating feedback loop, pushing things further in the popular mainstream as well as in the margins that continues to this day.

Some prominent artists under the diverse panoply of electronica include (again in no particular order) Clara Rockmore, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Röyksopp, Gary Numan, Japan, David Sylvian, Natural Snow Buildings, Global Communication, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Orbital, Underworld, The Human League, Visage, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Ultravox, Rick Wakeman, Jean‑Michel Jarre, Skrillex, Leftfield, Herbie Hancock, Electronic, Deadmau5, Fred Again.., Sven Väth, Major Lazer, Armin van Buuren, Sasha, Thom Yorke, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP), Daft Punk, Four Tet, Floating Points, Flying Lotus, Hot Chip, Pet Shop Boys, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Giorgio Moroder, M83, Goldfrapp, Amon Tobin, Carl Cox, Crystal Castles, Infected Mushroom, Groove Armada, Eat Static, LCD Soundsystem, Faithless, Disclosure, System 7, 777, Erasure, Yazoo, Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz, Heaven 17, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), Tears For Fears, Monaco, Bronski Beat, Vince Clarke, Eurhythmics, Thompson Twins, Yello, Squarepusher, Machinedrum, Pendulum, Romare, Calvin Harris, Apollo 440, Ladytron, MØ, Flume, Public Service Broadcasting, Solar Fields, The Grid, X‑Press 2, Arms And Sleepers, Caribou and ATB.


A brief history of ambient electronica (and related) artists

OK, so we’ve looked at some of the genres that have led up to the current day and the prevailing view of ambient music in context. Now, it’s time to take a brief look at some key artists involved along the way, whether they could strictly be considered proponents of ambient music or not. Here are some of the most prominent.

Tomita – Isao Tomita (1932‑2016) was a Japanese composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analogue synthesizer arrangements. Tomita is known for his electronic versions and adaptations of familiar classical music pieces as well as futuristic science‑fiction themes and trance‑like rhythms. Tomita received four Grammy Award nominations for his studio album based on music by classical composer Claude Debussy, ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’ (1974). He also famously adapted Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ (1976).

Wendy Carlos – Wendy Carlos (1939‑) is an American musician and composer born as Walter Carlos and transitioning to female gender in 1972. She is known for her pioneering electronic music and film scores. Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University before studying music composition at Columbia University in New York City. She helped in the development of Robert Moog’s first commercially available synthesizer. Carlos’ breakout release was Grammy Award‑winning ‘Switched‑On Bach’ (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed entirely on synthesizer. Carlos went on to release further synthesized classical music adaptations, as well as experimental and ambient electronic music. She composed film scores for three major studio films, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and ‘Tron’ (1982).

Tangerine Dream – Tangerine Dream is a German band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese (1944‑2015). The best‑known incarnation of the group was the mid‑1970s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. Tangerine Dream is considered a pioneer in electronic, ambient and space music, a.k.a. kosmische musik (‘cosmic music’). Tangerine Dream were key members of the so‑called Berlin School of electronic music. Despite having released over one hundred albums over the years, they are best known for their use of synthesizers and sequencers, including milestone albums, Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975). Tangerine Dream has also composed over sixty film soundtracks as well as the score for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. However, it is their mid‑1970s material that profoundly influenced the development of electronic music styles such as ambient, new age and EDM.

Klaus Schulze – German electronic music composer and musician Klaus Schulze (1947‑2022) is considered one of the pioneers of electronic music since the late 1960s. Schulze was an early member of the band Tangerine Dream before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1970. Schulze had a prolific career, releasing over sixty studio albums. Schulze’s music is known for its long, repetitive sequences and its use of analogue synthesizers. His early work was influenced by the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, while his later work was more experimental and ambient. Schulze’s music has been used in films such as ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

Brian Eno – English musician, composer, producer and artist Brian Eno (1948‑) has become synonymous with contemporary ambient music, pioneering and contributing to the ambient, electronica and minimalist drone genres. He started out in experimental rock, glam rock, art pop and art rock as former keyboard player with Roxy Music. Along with his extensive solo career, Eno has also collaborated on many side projects with other artists including Harold Budd, David Bowie, David Byrne, Fred Again.., Jon Hopkins and Cluster. Many of his collaborations explored beyond the scope of purist ambient music. He has also been prominent behind the studio desk producing many artists including John Cale, David Bowie, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, Talking Heads, Ultravox, Devo, U2, Coldplay, Daniel Lanois, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Slowdive, James, Kevin Shields and Damon Albarn. In addition, Eno has composed a number of film scores. If that wasn’t enough, Eno has also worked prolifically in other media, including audio visual installations, art installations, film and as an author. As mentioned above, Eno pioneered the introduction and growth of generative music. A little known fact is that Eno also composed the six‑second music snip that accompanied the start‑up of the Windows 95 computer operating system, known as ‘The Microsoft Sound’. Love him or loathe him, Eno’s legacy is probably as far reaching as it is incalculable.

Brian Eno (courtesy of Cosciansky)

Kratwerk – German electronic band Kraftwerk was founded in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Kraftwerk is widely regarded as an innovator and pioneer of electronic music and was one of the first successful acts to popularise and commercialise the genre. The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s before adopting electronic instruments for which they are best known, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Their massive hit single and album, ‘Autobahn’ (1974) cemented their reputation. Kraftwerk inspired many artists including David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.

Jean‑Michel Jarre – Jean‑Michel Jarre (1948‑) is a French composer, musician and record producer. He is widely regarded as an innovator in electronic, ambient, new age and synthpop music. His breakout studio album, ‘Oxygene’ (1977) has become an electronica classic, selling over 18 million copies worldwide. Jarre’s musical style builds on the work of Tangerine Dream and adds a bit of populist French va‑va‑voom. He is famous for organising extravagant outdoor events involving laser light shows, visual projections and pyrotechnics to accompany his stage music. One of his concerts in Moscow, Russia in 1997 holds the world record for the largest audience for a single outdoor event, estimated at 3.5 million people.

The Orb – The Orb is an English electronic music group founded in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty. The duo began as ambient and dub DJs based in London before making the move into music production. The Orb is well known for their psychedelic ambient space sound. Over the years, The Orb has developed a cult following among clubbers ‘coming down’ from drug‑induced highs and, as such, their music became popular in club chillout rooms. Their influential debut studio album ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ (1991) established the UK’s underground ambient house trend. The Orb’s second album, ‘U.F.Orb’ (1992) confirmed the band’s popularity and ensured their longevity. The Orb was influenced heavily by predecessors, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. The Orb has maintained their signature science fiction aesthetic throughout their prolific career.

Amorphous Androgynous – British electronic music duo Amorphous Androgynous and its better known alter ego, The Future Sound of London (FSOL), was founded by Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans in 1988. The duo’s music is characterized by its psychedelic, ambient, and experimental sound. They acted as a bridge between the underground and well‑established electronic artists and has been influential in the development of electronic music genres such as ambient house, ambient dub and trip hop. They have released several albums, including ‘Tales of Ephidrina’ (1993) and ‘Lifeforms’ (1994).

Orbital – Orbital is an English electronic music duo founded by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll in 1989. The band has had on‑off periods of activity, breaking up and reforming on more than one occasion through the years. The band’s name is taken from the M25, London’s orbital motorway, which was key to the early (illegal) rave scene and (legal) acid house scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orbital’s involvement with dance music has led to its strong reputation as a live band. They have mixed ambient sounds along with techno, trance, breakbeat and electronic rock styles. They have also been hugely influential in the development of modern electronic sub‑genres such as glitch, wonky and Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), as well as EDM.

The Chemical Brothers ‑ English electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers, originally known as The Dust Brothers, was formed in 1989 by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons in Manchester, UK. Along with peers, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, they were pioneers in bringing the big beat, techno, house and EDM to popularity. Their breakout studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ (1997) rapidly became a rave classic. Like Orbital, they have become regular headliners on the festival and arena circuits. While their music is far from ambient, the origins are still evident and their enduring influence has also been widespread.


Contemporary music genres related to ambient

Here we are now, well into the 3rd decade of the 21st Century, so what position does ambient occupy now? Has it stagnated, frozen in aspic? Is it languishing in some obscure genre limbo? Or is it still evolving either on its own terms or in other ways? Let’s look at where ambient influences have led us and which may give a clue to where it might be going in the future. Here are eight of the most important modern‑day ambient spin‑offs.

Drone – Drone is a music genre that plays on long, sustained tones or repeated single notes. Unlike other genres that use drones as a component, drone music puts drones at the forefront, removing most melody and rhythm. As such, it bears many similarities to ambient. Drone music explores the changing timbre of individual sounds over time. For electronic drone, this is often achieved by slight fluctuations in the drone’s pitch, tone and amplitude.

The origins of drone, whether electronic or classical, are found in traditional music from across the world and date back to the 1940s with ‘Monotone Silence Symphony’ (1949) by Yves Klein. Drone developed through minimal music and through rock. Drone has seen a resurgence in the 2020s. Drone music has expanded to influence countless other genres, including ambient, EDM, drone metal and post‑rock.

Progressive Electronic – Progressive music in its widest sense generally attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with a specific genre of music. It also places emphasis on creating a sense of progression or development throughout a piece of music. Layered soundscapes, intricate changes in rhythm, a wide range of sound effects and textures are commonly used. Improvisation is also a key characteristic of progressive electronic music, as many musicians use improvisation to create new and inventive sounds rather than relying on pre‑recorded samples or synthesizer presets. Another important aspect is the use of lengthy, extended compositions, with tracks frequently having multiple sections and mood changes. Basically, progressive electronic covers a large proportion of electronic music from the late 1960s to the current day, including post rock. Is it a genre in itself? Make up your own mind.

Vaporwave – Vaporwave emerged in the early 2010s and is characterised by its use of synthesizers, slowed‑down samples and a great deal of studio manipulation including time shifting and cutting up of sound clips, then applying reverb, echo and other studio effects. The advent of computer‑based digital audio workstations (DAWs), such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Abelton and Cubase, greatly aided production and the Internet provided the means of distribution through platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

Vaporwave got its name from ‘vaporware’, a term applied to computer hardware or software which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge.

At first, vaporwave was a nostalgic reflection of the sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, drawing from popular music, contemporary R&B, smooth jazz and muzak, as well as from consumer culture, corporate logos, films, radio broadcasts and television commercials. Vaporwave has been described as a form of ‘post‑Internet’ electronic musical movement that reflects the fragmented and disorienting experience of living in the digital age.

The release of ‘Eccojams Vol. 1’ (2010) by Daniel Lopatin, under one of his aliases Chuck Person, is widely regarded as the foundation of vaporwave as a genre. The debut was followed ‘Floral Shoppe’ by Macintosh Plus and ‘Far Side Virtual’ by James Ferraro (both 2011), bringing greater visibility to vaporwave and its associated aesthetics. Despite this, vaporwave remains niche with tracks not readily available on physical media such as CDs or vinyl.

Like ‘pure’ ambient, vaporwave shuns structure and rhythm. The use of looping, glitching, pitch‑bending, panning, and echoing sound samples came to define the sound of vaporwave, giving the patchwork sound a hazy, surreal, dreamy and atmospheric quality with a focus on hyperreality. The vapor movement alludes to a disconnection or separation from reality presented through its original form.

In addition, vaporwave gave birth to a distinct aesthetic based on subcultures like cyberpunk, seapunk, manga and anime. Artist names, album titles and track listings often used uncommon symbols and Japanese script. In conjunction with the heavily manipulated and often intentionally degraded sound of vaporwave music, much of the genre’s artwork featured low‑grade image distortion or digital artefacts, bringing the limitations and flaws of past technology and positioning it within the broader post‑internet artistic landscape. The integration of the visual and the music elements can be interpreted as a criticism of consumer capitalism and hi‑tech culture.

Dreampunk – Dreampunk is an evolution of Vaporwave, also emerging in the mid‑2010s. Dreampunk artists wanting to experiment with more minimal and atmospheric compositions while, at the same time, distancing themselves from the nostalgic restrictions of the 1980s. The Internet record label, Dream Catalogue, helped popularize dreampunk within the vaporwave community as well as further afield.

The abstract, hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes and repetitive structure of vaporwave is perhaps closer to ambient music, although the presence of rhythm differentiated it from its predecessor. This contributes to the dreamlike ethereal sound for which the genre is known. Dreampunk artists tend to seek anonymity, with many using several Internet aliases to create a sense of mystique around their music, hiding behind the aesthetic, often utilizing abstracted imagery of cityscapes, neon‑lit night scenes and incorporating futuristic dystopian and cyberpunk themes. Like vaporwave, dreampunk also uses Japanese scripts to further mystify their image. Classic dystopian and cyberpunk films such as ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995) also influenced and inspired the music genre. Both vaporwave and dreampunk continue to thrive in the underground.

Ambient, morphed through the lens of vaporwave and dreampunk, heavily influenced other genres such as hypnagogic pop, chillwave, VHS pop, witch house and slushwave.

Some popular vaporwave and dreampunk artists include Blue In Tokio, Fishmans, T e l e p a t h (テレパシー能力者), 2 8 1 4, Windows96, SkyTwoHigh and Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza.

Chillwave – Chillwave, a.k.a. glo‑fi, is an Internet genre that originated predominantly from the United States circa 2009. Chillwave, like vaporwave, looked back to the aesthetics and musical styles of the 1980s and 1990s, intentionally evoking a sense of nostalgic reflection. Chillwave melded analogue instruments with modern recording technologies and techniques to create a hazy dreamlike atmosphere. Chillwave appropriated elements of synthpop, funk, downtempo, EDM and alternative/indie genres like indie pop, neo‑psychedelia and synthwave.

Chillwave, vaporwave and dreampunk led to a great deal of fusion and crossover material, blurring the differences between them. Chillwave declined in popularity by the start of the 2020s but like many other genres, the end of chillwave may have been greatly exaggerated. Expect it to come back to the fore in due course. Chillwave’s influence would go on to play a part in genres such as cloud rap, alternative R&B, future bass, synthwave, ethereal wave and bedroom pop.

Prominent chillwave artists include Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, Flume, Com Truise, Tycho, Panda Bear, Lemon Jelly and Nite Jewel.

Intelligent Dance Music and its spin offs, glitch and wonky – Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s as a derivative (and rejection) of EDM. It is characterized by complex rhythms, intricate melodies, and a focus on sound design and experimentation. IDM artists often use unconventional time signatures, polyrhythms, glitches and de‑tuned sounds to create a unique listening experience. The genre is also known for its use of ambient textures and atmospheres, which can create a vague or otherworldly feel. IDM has been influential in the development of other electronic music genres such as ambient techno, and intelligent techno.

Some of the most well‑known IDM (and glitch/wonky) artists include Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Daniel Avery, Actress, Floating Points, Machinedrum, Moderat, Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards Of Canada, Mouse On Mars, Flying Lotus, LFO, Clark, Luke Vibert, Autechre and Squarepusher.

Dream pop – Deriving more from structured alternative and indie rock rather than ambient, dream pop uses reverb‑laden guitars, effects‑rich vocals, and dense studio production, to create a psychedelic, spacious, ethereal and surreal sound, albeit with a de‑emphasized beat accompanied by quiet, breathy harmonised vocals to elevate the music from its origins.

Dream pop is commonly fused with other genres such as shoegaze and noise pop, although dream pop does not solely depend on ‘walls of sound’, heavily distorted guitar layers or feedback. Dream pop relies heavily on modulation effects such as chorus, tremolo, vibrato, delay and reverb, to create mesmerising sonic textures. Dream pop bands often employ synthesizer layers to add atmosphere and lush soundscapes. Influences include slow core, post rock and trip hop.

In a similar way to shoegaze, vocals focus on melody and timbre, rather than lyricism. It is not uncommon for dream pop groups to have multiple vocalists to make good use of harmony and ‘instrumental’ vocals.

Prominent dream pop artists include Warpaint, 2:54, Lanterns of the Lake, Beach House, Cigarettes After Sex, The xx, Bat For Lashes, Low, Chromatics, Spiritualized, Julee Cruise, Broadcast, Zero 7, Phantogram, Yo La Tengo, Cocteau Twins, Dévics, Esben And The Witch, Pure Bathing Culture, School Of Seven Bells, His Name Is Alive, How To Dress Well, Lush, London Grammar and Mazzy Star.

Ambient dub – Ambient dub fuses ambient music with dub electronica. Ambient dub is a chillout fusion of ambient, dub reggae and future dub, featuring the atmosphere of the former and the Jamaican‑style basslines, percussion, and psychedelic production techniques of the latter. The name of the genre was coined by record label Beyond Records with a series of compilation albums of the same name, starting with, ‘Ambient Dub Volume 1: The Big Chill’ (1992). Many of the prominent artists within the genre also perform or mix in elements of dub techno, dubstep or ambient techno, which has led to some confusion over ambient dub’s actual sound. While the lines are indistinct between such electronic genres, ambient dub can genuinely be discerned by its denser atmospheres, a heavier use of reverb and/or delay, and an emphasis on bass akin to traditional dub, as well as reggae rhythms.

Notable ambient dub artists include: The Dub Syndicate, Bill Laswell, Dreadzone, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Orb, Ott, Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, Jon Hopkins, Jah Wobble, Mad Professor, Burnt Friedman, Deadbeat, The Bug, Solar Quest, Ladytron and Banco de Gaia.

Dark ambient – before we leave, it’s worth a quick mention about dark ambient, a.k.a. ambient industrial. While most ambient music creates a peaceful, welcoming and safe place, dark ambient is intended to disturb. Dark ambient emerged as a post‑industrial counterpoint to the wider ambient landscape. It is characterised by an ominous, brooding, eerie, sinister and overbearingly gloomy atmosphere, often with discordant overtones, dissonant timbres and lengthy drones. Dark ambient often crops up in film scores intended to unsettle the audience and create a sense of disorientation or suspense.

Dark ambient artists include Deathprod, Agalloch, David Lynch, Throbbing Gristle, Angelo Badalamenti, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, William Basinski, Blut Aus Nord, Mortiis, Cabaret Voltaire, Dolorian, NON, Controlled Bleeding, Earth, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sunn O))) and Steven Wilson.

STOP! Enough already! I hear you cry. We are beginning to go down a bit of a proverbial rabbit hole here, so the short list that follows suggests other sub‑genres heavily influenced by ambient and its derivatives. These sub‑genres include black ambient, ritual ambient, space ambient, space music, ambient Americana, ambient house, ambient techno, ambient trance, psybient, psydub, minimalism, modern classical, ambient industrial, tribal ambient, pop ambient, dubstep and turntable music. Phew!


Key ambient+ albums:

As with my previous article on dub reggae, it would be remiss not to mention some of the key albums that have impressed over the years. Here are some predictable and some very unpredictable selections to showcase the vast expanse of electronic ambient music as it is today. As this article has hopefully shown, ambient isn’t a clearly defined pigeon hole with unbreakable rules but rather a constantly changing complex and diverse approach to experimental soundscapes. Hence this ‘top 20’ collection is more like ‘ambient+’ (as I call it; remember, you read it here first!), intended to demonstrate the ecosystem’s multiplicity. Another ‘desert island disc’ compendium to daydream about. Again, it was a difficult decision‑making process with many excellent works that didn’t make this particular cut. These albums are all classified as contemporary, i.e. 1975 to the current day.

  1. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‑92 (1993) and Vol. II (1994). Two seminal albums in the ambient genre that feature a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds. It is known for its dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes and has been described as ‘a journey through a strange and beautiful world’.
  2. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). Basically, the one that started it all. Essential listening for devotees of the ambient music genre. A starting point for the many great ambient works that followed and an entrée into Eno’s many other ambient works.
  3. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975). Along with its predecessor, ‘Phaedra’ (1974), the pair stand out from the band’s extensive canon. The band had stopped using traditional instruments in its compositions and focused on analogue synthesizers and sequencers. Truly remarkable.
  4. Max Richter – Sleep (2015). Almost 8½ hours of sweet lilting lullaby, a transcendent, cinematic, post‑minimalist ambient album of gentle music intended to be experienced as much as it is to be listened to, awake or asleep (or, interestingly, in between – a phenomenon known as ‘eyelid movies’; what the mind conjures up when one is in the transitional state of near sleep).
  5. GAS – Pop (2000). A comforting, immersive experience and a lesson in how to make electronica sound organic and engrossing. Transcendent and transformative. A lysergic trip for your ears.
  6. Fripp & Eno – Evening Star (1975). Combining the talents of Brian Eno and Crimson King guitarist Robert Fripp. Good to see guitar making a contribution to ambient music.
  7. Four Tet – Rounds (2003). Not really ambient, more IDM and glitch. However, a disarmingly elegant stripped back intimate album. Perhaps, Kieran Hebdan’s landmark album.
  8. Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998). Focusing on concepts of childhood nostalgia, created by the use of obscure samples and masterly manipulated layers of sound. The album has become rather essential listening along with ‘The Campfire Headphase’ (2005) and ‘Geogaddi (2002).
  9. Bonobo – Black Sands (2010). Lush, sumptuous and beguiling. Not ambient in a true sense but a great example of downtempo electronica from Simon Green. Also worth a listen is, ‘The North Borders’ (2013). Both also have excellent remix albums.
  10. The KLF – Chill Out (1990). A classic ambient album that features a mix of samples and original music. It’s known for its dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and has been described as ‘a road movie in music form’.
  11. Stars Of The Lid – Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid (2001). An album that features long, slow‑moving pieces that are built around drones and other ambient textures.
  12. Chromatics – Night Drive (2001) – More ambient pop, dream pop and synthwave than pure ambient. Chromatics’ ethereal style was featured by David Lynch in his surreal TV series, ‘Twin Peaks’.
  13. Burial – Untrue (2007). Enigmatic London‑based dubstep artist burst onto the scene with an album that is stark, blurred, eerie, tender and hauntingly evocative. A breath taking and inimitable event.
  14. William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops I‑IV (2002‑2003). Four albums that feature loops of decaying tape recordings. The music is haunting and melancholic, and has been described as ‘a meditation on loss and decay’. Dedicated to the victims of 9/11. Tape music entropy as it happens, captured for posterity.
  15. Tim Hecker – Radio Amor (2003). An album that features a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, including guitar and piano. It’s known for its dense, layered soundscapes and has been described as ‘a beautiful, immersive experience’.
  16. Banco de Gaia – Last Train To Lhasa (1995). Along with its predecessor, ‘Maya’ (1994), it shows the approach of Toby Marks to progressive ambient electronica. Again, not really ambient but hugely influenced by it.
  17. Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon (2000). Along with its remix EP, ‘Babylon Rewound’ (2004) it takes other influences including reggae and dub and brought it into the downtempo chillout world.
  18. The Higher Intelligence Agency – Freefloater (1995). British artist Bobby Bird started off running experimental electronic music nights in Birmingham. Ambient techno meets ambient dub meets ambient. Also worth a listen is, ‘Colourform’ (2010).
  19. Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza & SkyTwoHigh – Imaginary Pathways (2021). The final Internet album by Brazilian musician and producer, Cesar Alexandre before his untimely death due to covid. More dreampunk, ambient techno and downtempo with a hint of vaporwave rather than ambient. Blissful.
  20. The Gentleman Losers – The Gentleman Losers (2006). Finnish brothers that take a mix of ambient, post rock, lo‑fi, dreamlike slowcore and even a hint of Americana and blend it into a strange place where one isn’t certain of what is light and what is dark.
20 Ambient+ Studio Albums

In addition, referring back to ubiquitous compilation albums of the 1990s, one of the most significant events was ‘Ambient Dub Volumes 1‑4’ by various artists (1992‑1995) – A series of ambient dub compilation albums from Beyond Records that announced ambient dub to the world. The last of the four isn’t quite up to the first three but best seen as a whole. Another name check is for the annual ‘Pop Ambient’ compilations (2001‑) curated by Wolfgang Voigt, the man behind Kompakt Records and his nom de guerre GAS (see #5 above).


The future of ambient and ambient‑related music

The legacy of ambient music in all its facets has had a major impact on pretty much everything we listen to, even if we aren’t always aware of it. The question is, where is it going?

Ambient has exhibited somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2020s. Part of this renewed interest may be because of what is called multi‑sensory branding, where media events attempt to evoke memories through stimulation of all the senses. Another reason may be the rediscovery of obscure Japanese ambient music, as well as an interest in previously experimental, niche or underground music now garnering mainstream recognition. Streaming services make accessing unconventional music much easier. In addition, the growth of interest in mindfulness and mental health & wellbeing as a ‘cure’ for stress and anxiety caused by an increasingly frenetic and unpredictable world has reinforced the search for aids to relaxation, introspection and contemplation.

One thing we’ve learnt from this escapade is that ambient and ambient+ (or whatever else you want to call it) has been pushing the boundaries ever since the start of the 20th Century. If nothing else, it will continue to explore the outer limits while influencing the mainstream.

Probably the most significant tool in the future of ambient electronica won’t even involve human beings or actual instruments! AI will make significant inroads into generative music. Ultimately, though, this is likely to be a bit of a creative dead end. The drawback of AI is that it can only learn from what has come before it, it lacks the imagination and inventiveness of the human mind. At some point, AI generated ambient will become stale and derivative and human creativity will, once again be needed to bring spontaneity and unpredictability back to front and centre of music. Go People!

Given the inherent limitations of traditional musical instruments, electronic music may, arguably, have the greatest potential for innovation and creativity. One can only imagine the possibilities yet to be explored.

While many critics view electronica as soulless, cold and inert, it is sure to develop the ability to elicit more organic, fluid emotional responses. Many artists are looking backwards to analogue instruments and production techniques to add warmth and to create beauty out of its inherent imperfections.

Genre developments can only surprise once before they become part of the historical mosaic. One possible future is that ambient reaches a point where it becomes sterile and disposable. One might envisage it derided in the way that elevator muzak has become. Arguably, a proportion of current‑day throwaway popular music is already demonstrating that bleak possibility with anything new ultimately being short‑lived around the periphery before being subsumed into universal, amorphous homogeneity.

How we will be listening to music is another factor. If music becomes more clichéd, contrived and derivative, it will become more and more dismissible, fading into the background environment. However, isn’t that exactly what Erik Satie intentionally started with back in 1917?

For some, like the author, ambient resonates with the psyche on both a subconscious and conscious level. Others, meanwhile, may find the genre melancholic or even highly irritating. Ultimately, like all music preferences, it is partly a deliberate decision and partly predetermined in some obscure way.

Personally, I have confidence that people who appreciate ‘real’ music and have a passion for creating and performing it that will perpetuate this idiosyncratic form of music into a healthy future. Once again, discuss…


Tailpiece

So… there you have it. Another lengthy (apologies) delve into a relatively narrow niche of the wondrous world of music. Back to the real world, sadly. I cannot write about things that I don’t have some sort of fascination with. Having said that, these ambient+ genres are not exclusive listening. However, they can be just the ticket when one feels like some chillaxing, escaping from reality or as an antidote to insomnia.

Why do I dig ambient and electronic ambient+ music? It just resonates with me, It creates a welcoming oasis of contemplative calm away from a crazily intense ‘real’ world and it is somewhere to go that isn’t, well, here. Nothing profound, transcendent or conceited. See you in The Matrix soon.

I have no idea what’s up next, so it will come as much of a surprise to me as it will to you. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “If you could literally have the world, what, exactly, would you do with it?”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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August 2023 ‑ Dub Reggae Revelation

Prelude

It has been far, far too long since I wrote a CRAVE Guitars’ article. At some point, I may (or may not) go into the whys and wherefores behind the near 3‑year hiatus. I may also look into a brief résumé of what has happened to CRAVE Guitars during that period (hint… given Covid lockdowns, the cost‑of‑living crisis, etc., not a massive amount!). I am a bit out of practice.

In the meantime, I thought I would divert my attention a little, away from vintage guitars. The topic of this article is to present a few thoughts on one of my favourite music genres… dub reggae. It has allegedly been summertime in the UK, so I immersed myself in the crucial vibes of dub and that spawned the idea to write, which inspired me to listen to more dub, and write more. And so on. Although not particularly guitar oriented, I believe it is still worthy of exploration. As one might imagine, dub is often overlooked and misunderstood, even though it is a complicated branch of mainstream reggae. I hope that it may be of interest to someone out there and maybe, just maybe, there is something new to learn.

My passion for dub reggae was ignited in the mid‑1970s in a time before CDs when a friend introduced me to a specific vinyl LP, ‘Garvey’s Ghost’ by Burning Spear (1976). This particular studio album is the dub version of the vocal roots reggae album, ‘Marcus Garvey’ (1975), also by Burning Spear. For those not familiar with Burning Spear, Winston Rodney is a Rastafarian roots reggae artist, born in Saint Ann, Jamaica in 1945. As a youngster at the time, I hadn’t heard anything like it before and it made such an impact that it remains my favourite dub album and a reference against which others may be judged. I visited Jamaica back in 2008, although it wasn’t deemed safe for, especially white, tourists to move around freely.

This article looks at what dub reggae is, where it came from, why it became influential, who was involved and when it mattered. Despite some extensive research, I want to stress that this is my personal interpretation of the subject matter and should not be regarded in any way as definitive.

I would dearly like to illustrate the article with more images. However, copyright restrictions and CRAVE Guitars’ zero budget precludes relevant illustration. So… the words will have to suffice as a 1,000th of a picture.

Reggae, roots and dub, as music genres, should be viewed as a fundamental fragment of Jamaica’s fascinating geography, history, demographics, politics, economics, culture and religion.

Right… Time, then, to spark up the chalwa and feel the righteous vibration…


A brief history of Jamaica

It is quite astounding that such a prolific genre of music could arise in – and be sustained by – such a small island in the Caribbean. In order to understand the context into which such unbound creativity emerged, perhaps there is something in Jamaica’s past that may explain it.

Jamaica is the third largest island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, after Cuba and Hispaniola (a.k.a. Haiti and the Dominican Republic), at 4,244 square miles. It has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather and high annual rainfall. Flora and fauna are also diverse with many species only found on the island, many in the Blue and Crow Mountains National Park. Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and has experienced significant storm damage on a number of occasions in its past.

Jamaican Beach

Humans have inhabited Jamaica from as early as 4000‑1000 BCE, although there is little known about their ancient society. The main pre‑colonial inhabitants were the Taino who may have originated from South America around 800AD. The indigenous Taino called their home Xaymaca. Most of the Taino people disappeared following the arrival of Europeans, although some may have sought safe sanctuary in the island’s mountainous and forested interior.

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, under the sponsorship of Spain, first sighted the island in 1494 and called it Santiago. Columbus spent a year shipwrecked on the island from 1503 to 1504. Jamaica was not considered strategically important by the Spanish.

Spain ruled Jamaica from 1494 to 1655. The capital was established in what is now known as Spanish Town. The Spanish were the first to introduce African slaves to the island. Over time, the Spaniards changed the name of the island from the native Xaymaca to Jamaica.

In 1655 Britain captured and colonized Jamaica by force and formally gained possession of the island from Spain in 1670.

Following the British takeover, the island’s governor actively offered safe harbour to pirates and buccaneers in Port Royal in south eastern Jamaica in return for defending the town from Spanish attack. Some of these mercenaries and renegades became legal privateers operating in the name of the King of England. The pirates focused on attacking and plundering mainly Spanish ships on the trade route between Spain and Panama. Perhaps the most famous privateer of the 17th Century was Welshman Henry Morgan, who also became a plantation owner and governor of Jamaica. The legendary pirate captain Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was also believed to live in Port Royal c.1700. By the end of the 17th Century, Port Royal was known as a Pirate Utopia and its pervasive corruption, prostitution and lawlessness earned it the nickname of ‘Sodom of the New World’. Even though piracy was outlawed in 1681, it wasn’t until around 1730 that pirate numbers disappeared after action from the British navy. Piracy still occurs in the Caribbean in the present day.

‘The wickedest city on earth’, Port Royal, was destroyed by a devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 1692 (when part of the town sank into the sea), by fire in 1703 and by hurricanes in 1712, 1722, 1726 and 1744. It almost seems that the destruction of Port Royal was nothing short of divine retribution, with the hand of God smiting a modern‑day Sodom and Gomorrah. After that onslaught, Port Royal was effectively abandoned.

In the middle of the 17th Century, the Dutch introduced sugarcane to the British West Indies. Sugar rapidly began to replace cotton and tobacco as the main crop.

Britain set about increasing both the European and the African slave population throughout the 18th Century, as the sugar plantation industry spread across Jamaica. Success of the plantation system relied upon exploiting African slaves for labour. Many Jamaicans with slave origins can trace their ancestry back to the West African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. The British government abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and the practice of slavery itself in 1834. Consequently, the island’s plantation system collapsed. Descendants of African slaves who fled the plantations for the interior of the island set up their own communities and are still known today as Jamaican Maroons.

Britain made Jamaica a Crown Colony in 1866 and the capital was moved just 11 miles from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872. Long‑term strife, through rebellions, resistance, skirmishes, riots and uprisings were commonplace throughout the 19th Century, causing significant social, economic and political unrest. Toward the end of the 19th Century, the demand for sugar waned significantly, creating severe economic decline.

The Jamaican government is based on a parliamentary democracy and the two main parties are the right‑wing JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and left‑wing PNP (People’s National Party). A long‑standing feud between the two opposing parties has led to considerable political violence since they were formed in 1943.

Following the end of World War II, large‑scale emigration from Jamaica to the UK, USA and Canada occurred during the 1950s and 1960s when the country was still under British rule. Internally, political and racial tensions continued to grow and force change. Jamaica established internal self‑government in 1959 and became an independent island country on 6th August 1962. Jamaican Independence Day is celebrated annually as a national holiday. The independent Jamaica is part of the Commonwealth of Nations with the British monarch as head of state, at least for now. The Jamaican government is seeking further constitutional change from 2025.

Political conflict, economic instability and widespread gang‑related disorder were major issues that plagued Jamaican society during the remainder of the 20th Century and into the 21st. Jamaica experiences high levels of crime and violence, and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Organised crime and gang violence are rife especially in deprived areas. An intense street culture developed with disaffected, violent and discontented youths often known originally as ‘rude boys’ and latterly, ‘yardies’. The street subculture became widespread, associated with Jamaican ska and rocksteady music, even spreading to the UK as part of the mod and skinhead trends of the 1960s where it became known as boss reggae’.

Reggae artists were sadly not immune from violence and gun crime. Among the artists tragically murdered include Prince Far I (1983), Hugh Mundell (1983), Peter Tosh (1987), Carlton Barrett (1987), King Tubby (1989), Junior Braithwaite (1999), Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes (1999), Lucky Dube (2007) and Winston Riley (2012). Famously, in 1976 seven armed men invaded Bob Marley’s home in Kingston in a failed assassination attempt. Marley was shot in the chest and arm and his wife, Rita Marley, was shot in the head. Both survived the politically motivated attack.

The Jamaican white population decreased drastically during the 19th Century. According to census figures, in 1662, 87% of the population was white while by 2011, it was just 0.16%. This dramatic decline was a result of the end of slavery, the decline of the sugar industry with the abandonment of plantations, and a blending of racial boundaries.

Today, Jamaica currently has a total population of approximately 2.8m, with over 92% being of black African origin. The major religion, by far, is Christianity at over 72% of the population, principally Protestant. The official language is English, while the main spoken language is a creole Jamaican Patois based on English. Jamaica’s national motto is, “Out of Many, One People.”

Over half the Jamaican economy relies on tourism and services, with an estimated 4.3 million foreign tourists visiting Jamaica every year. Sugar remains the main crop grown in Jamaica followed by bananas, cocoa and coffee. Mining, oil refining and manufacturing also make up a proportion of its GDP by sector:

  • Services – 58.22%
  • Industry – 20.93%
  • Agriculture – 8.34%
  • Other – 12.51%

The spiritual context behind reggae

Jamaican Flag

This is where things begin to get interesting. Jamaica is a diverse multi‑ethnic, multi‑cultural and multi‑faith country. However, the distinguishing religion that contributed significantly to the home‑grown music industry of the country, particularly reggae, is Rastafarianism. Below are a few notable individuals and some of the ritual symbolism that have helped to define Rasta from the 1930s to the current day.

Haile Selassie I (1892‑1975) – Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until his death. Selassie’s pre‑imperial name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. Rastafarians adopted his name and believe in the incarnate divinity of Selassie as the messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on 21st April 1966, attended by approximately 100,000 black Jamaicans and Rastafarians from all over the island. Selassie reportedly respected Rastafarian beliefs even though he was a devout Christian. Selassie died in Ethiopia at the age of 83.

Marcus Garvey (1887‑1940) – Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey was a Jamaican political activist and black nationalist. He was the founder and first President‑General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, commonly known as UNIA from 1914. Garvey was a key influence on the Rastafarian movement from the 1930s. Many Rastas regard Garvey as a prophet, although the reverence was not necessarily reciprocated, as Garvey was a Catholic, not a Rastafarian.

The principal tenet of Garveyism is the ideology of unification and empowerment of African‑descended people and the repatriation of the descendants of enslaved Africans to the African continent.

Garvey was responsible for the establishment of the short‑lived Black Star Line from 1919 to 1922, a shipping company created to facilitate the transportation of goods and Africans throughout the global economy. The company used the Ghanaian Black Star of Africa flag, as a symbol of the ‘Back to Africa’ movement and of anti‑colonialism. The line’s name was a rejection of the competing British White Star Line.

Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were responsible for the Pan‑African flag created in 1920 comprising three horizontal stripes of red, black and green. The colours represent red for the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry and shed in the name of liberation, black for the colour of the people, and green for the abundant natural wealth of Africa.

Garvey died in London at the age of 52. When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the new government hailed Garvey as a hero. In 1969, he was posthumously conferred with the Order of the National Hero by the Jamaican government.

Leonard Howell (1898‑1981) – Howell, along with peers Joseph Hibbert and Robert Hinds, was one of the first preachers of the Rastafarian movement. Howell is regarded by many as ‘The First Rasta’, following the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie in 1930. Howell died in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 83.


Rastafarianism – While the predominant religion of Jamaicans in Christianity, Rastafarians make up only 1.1% of the Jamaican population. Rastafarianism is an unstructured religious movement originating in Jamaica in the 1930s and has now become established globally. Rastafarianism takes elements from the Christian Bible and combines them with the ideology of Marcus Garvey and the belief that Haile Selassie was the second advent of the Messiah. Many theologians question the legitimacy of the Rasta doctrine as a true religion in its own right, regarding its philosophy and beliefs as more of a pseudo‑religion.

Rastafarian Dreadlocks

Jah – Jah is a term widely used by Rastafarians as their name for God. Jah is a shortened form of YHWH (Yahweh, Yehovah, or Jehovah), translated as ‘lord’, as used by the ancient Israelites. The word Jah appears literally in the King James Bible (Psalm 68:4), “Extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him”. However, even though Rasta faith draws elements from the scriptures, the Jah of Rastafarians should not be regarded as synonymous with the God of the Christian Bible. The expression of Jah as spoken by Rastafarians is “I and I”, where the first “I” is the Almighty and the second “I” refers to oneself. A goal of Rastafarian meditation is to maintain or raise awareness of the unity of I and I.

Zion – Rastafarians regard Africa as their Promised Land, or ‘Zion’, specifically Ethiopia, due to the reverence held for Emperor Haile Selassie. Zion is another Biblical reference and an idealisation of Jerusalem. Zion may refer to Africa, Ethiopia or Jamaica, as well as an individual’s state of mind. Rastas commonly believe that Black Africans are descended from one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel through the lineage of the Ethiopian royal family. Neutral commentators might suggest that Zion has become a nostalgic, semi‑mythological and metaphorical paradise in the way it is idealised by Marcus Garvey and the Rastafarian movement. Furthermore, it may be argued that Zion is used more as a motivational symbol rather than an objective critical reality.

Babylon – Rastafarianism is strongly Afrocentric and proclaims that the African diaspora is oppressed and suffering in exile within Western society, which they refer to as ‘Babylon’. Rastas compare the exile of African people displaced outside Africa to the imprisonment of the Biblical Israelites in Mesopotamia. A frequent mantra for Rastas is to “chant down Babylon”, advocated by Marcus Garvey as the ultimate goal of Rastafarianism; to overcome oppression, bring an end to suffering, and act as a powerful anthem for social change.

Livity – Livity is seen as the ideal lifestyle for Rastafarians, comprising prayer and meditation, a righteous – often vegetarian – diet (ital), and the same positive love for everything (one love). Livity is about Rastafarians living a natural lifestyle, including a focus on the growth of natural hair and a rejection of alcohol, tobacco and synthetic medicines. Furthermore, the concept of livity incorporates a belief that the energy or life force of Jah exists within, and flows through, all living things (positive vibration). The word irie can mean anything from good, fine and OK to a powerful, pleasing and all‑encompassing quality.

Dreadlocks – While dreadlocks date back as far as 1600‑1500 BCE in Europe, the distinctive hairstyle, often called ‘dreads’, has been adopted by many Rastafarians. Dreadlocks in Rasta tradition are symbolic of the Lion of Judah, inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible and representing male inner strength and courage. The Lion of Judah is depicted at the centre of the Imperial Flag of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Natty Dread is a common term that refers to a Rastafarian with dreadlocks. In addition to the symbolic colours of red, black and green of the Pan‑African flag, the yellow stripe of the imperial flag is said to signify the historical rebellion against colonial rule and those who stole Jamaica’s wealth. The four colours – red, black, green and yellow – are collectively known as the Rasta colours. Since the 1970s, dreadlocks have become a popular fashion statement of choice worldwide, even among non‑Rastafarians.

Ganja – Marijuana/cannabis is colloquially referred to as ganja, callie weed, kaya and the herb. For many, although not all, Rastafarians, smoking of ganja is considered a sacrament and a key component of their belief system. Rastas contend that the use of ganja is promoted in the Bible, literally in Exodus, Psalms, Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For instance, in the Book of Exodus, God gave Moses instructions to build the tabernacle (the Tent of the Congregation that was the portable earthly dwelling of Yahweh), “Then the Lord said to Moses, take the following fine spices, 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus [cannabis], 500 shekels of cassia – all according to the sanctuary shekel – and a hin of olive oil”. NB. One shekel equates to approximately 13g. For Rastas, the use of ganja is believed to have healing properties, is used an incense to ward off bad spirits, promotes peace and love, and provides introspection or meditation that enables them to discover their internal divinity. Ganja is smoked either in the form of a hand‑rolled spliff (joint) or through a ‘wisdom’ chalice or chalwa, a smoking pipe, also referred to as a kutchie. Ritual use of ganja is often used in communal meetings called ‘groundings’ or ‘groundations’ (depending on size) with ganja traditionally circulated in an anti‑clockwise direction. Rastas have long advocated for the legalisation of cannabis in those parts of the world where possession and use are illegal. Use of ganja became widely associated with Jamaican reggae music when performed by Rastafarians, especially during the 1970s.

Jamaican Ganja

Reggae music variants and timeline

Mento – Mento is a Jamaican acoustic folk music that melds West African and European influences into a distinct style. Calypso music, which emerged from Trinidad and Tobago far to the south east of Jamaica, had tended to become a generic term for West Indian music. However, while mento is similar to calypso, it should not be confused with it. Jamaican mento was particularly popular in the 1940s and 1950s. A mento band generally used acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums and a rhumba box used for basslines. Mento lyrics were a commentary on Jamaican social life and issues experienced by Jamaican citizens. Mento is still played today, mainly for tourist entertainment. Mento is important because it is regarded as a necessary precursor of ska, rocksteady and, ultimately, reggae, roots and dub.

Notable mento artists included Louise Bennett, Count Lasher, Lord Flea and, most famously, Harry Belafonte, an American star born in Jamaica.

Ska – Ska is a lively and energetic popular dance music and is seen as the forerunner of reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento, calypso, American jazz and rhythm & blues. The word ‘ska’ first appeared in a 1964 news article, despite the genre having been around since the late 1950s. The term ska is possibly a contraction of ‘skavoovie’, a greeting used by musician Cluett Johnson. Alternatively, ‘ska’ was used by Jamaican musician and producer Byron Lee to differentiate ska from mento.

Jamaican ska music is characterised by a 4/4 rhythm with drum accent on the 3rd beat of the bar and a guitar chop on the 2nd and 4th beats, known as an upstroke or ‘skank’. Skanking is also an indigenous dance style that accompanied ska music. One of the earliest ska tracks was, ‘Easy Snappin’’ by Theo Beckford (recorded in 1956 and released in 1959), made popular by producer Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd and his Downbeat Sound System. ‘My Boy Lollipop’ (1964) by Millie Small is widely regarded as the first international ska hit single.

Special mention should be made of Laurel Aitken, a Cuban/Jamaican singer, often referred to as the ‘Godfather of Ska’. A legacy of ska, known as boss reggae, became very popular in the UK, as the skinhead trend cottoned on to high energy ska through their association with Jamaican youths in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ska has had roughly three incarnations; original Jamaican ska from the late 1950s and early 1960s, British 2‑Tone in the post‑punk late 1970s and the so‑called ska revival of the 1980s and 1990s.

Notable ska artists include Desmond Dekker, The Skatalites, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, Lorenzo ‘Laurel’ Aitken, The Melodians, Toots & the Maytals, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Derrick Morgan, Ernest Ranglin and The Pioneers.

In the UK, notable ska artists include The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selecter, Judge Dread and Spunge.

Rocksteady – Rocksteady was a short‑lived but crucial musical link between ska and reggae. Rocksteady was essentially a slower tempo form of ska and was popular as a dance genre. It emerged around 1966 and was popular for only 2 years until 1968 when reggae became the predominant genre. The term rocksteady came from a song by Alton Ellis called, ‘Rocksteady’ (1967). Producer Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd continued to be a key character in rocksteady. Rocksteady was influenced by American soul, resulting in a focus on romance and love songs, which became known as ‘lovers rock’, a mainstream reggae sub‑genre in its own right. Rocksteady was also influential in the evolution of radio friendly pop reggae and Euro reggae.

Notable rocksteady artists included The Paragons, The Heptones, The Gaylads, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Phyllis Dillon, The Wailers, Jackie Mittoo, The Ethiopians, Tommy McCook, The Melodians and Hopeton Lewis.

Reggae – Rocksteady rapidly evolved into what we now know as mainstream reggae from around 1968. The word reggae first appeared on a single by Toots and the Maytals, ‘Do the Reggay’ (1968). It was around that time that Jamaican studio technology began to be upgraded and the role of producers and sound engineers became increasingly important. Reggae arrangements typically comprise vocals, drums/percussion, bass, guitar(s), keyboards and horns. Reggae bands tended to have fewer musicians, horns became less prominent, bass players tended to become more experimental, aided by the slower tempo that began with rocksteady.

Reggae retained the same 4/4 time signature as its predecessors, although its component parts now became more stylized. The drum pattern, usually snare and bass drum, retains its emphasis on the 3rd beat of the bar. As there is no accent on the 1st beat, it is ‘dropped’, hence what is called reggae’s ‘one drop’ rhythm. In addition, the slower ‘rockers’ rhythm uses a bass drum on every eighth note, while the even slower ‘steppas’ rhythm uses a bass drum on every quarter beat. Reggae also retains the guitar or keyboard staccato ‘skank’ on the offbeat 2nd and 4th beats. Reggae introduced the offbeat double‑skank, enabled by the slower, more laid back tempos of reggae rhythms. The rhythm part often uses melodic, syncopated basslines.

An important element of reggae and dub was the ‘version’. B‑sides of rocksteady and reggae singles were often instrumental with greater emphasis on drums and bass, and little or no vocals. Guitar and keyboards, as lead instruments, were ‘dubbed’ in and out of the mix with little studio manipulation.

The Jamaican sound system culture (effectively nightclubs) made great use of these ‘versions’ as a basis for a live artist or MC to talk, chant or rap over the rocksteady backing tracks. The practice became known as deejaying or toasting. Probably, the most famous deejay of the era was U‑Roy who used rhythms made by producer Osbourne Ruddock (a.k.a. King Tubby) as a backing for his distinctive ad‑libbed vocals. To keep things simple and cheap, many ‘riddim’ tracks, as they were known, were used over and over. The person choosing the music and operating the turntables for sound systems was called the ‘selector’, rather than a DJ. Many observers have suggested that American rap and hip hop had its roots in Jamaican deejay/toasting from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At the same time, the Rastafarian movement became increasingly popular and Rasta traditions became a key, if not core, part of reggae culture. Rastafarian artists’ influence led to reggae lyrics that gave greater prominence to black consciousness, politics and protest. In turn, reggae, to a lesser or greater extent, became a vehicle for Rastafarian messages and provided a platform for Rastafarian visibility. Ironically, while Rastas saw Babylon as the oppressor, they actively used Babylon to spread their Afrocentric gospels.

While ska and rocksteady were popular, reggae became a mainstream global phenomenon in the first part of the 1970s, helped largely by Jamaican reggae’s iconic ambassador, Bob Marley. Marley has sold more reggae records than any other artist in history. ‘Legend: The Best Of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ (1984) is the biggest‑selling reggae album of all‑time with over 28 million copies sold since its release. There is so much written about the legend that is Robert Nesta Marley (1945‑1981) that I won’t retell his story here. Suffice it to say that no‑one from Jamaica has had the impact that Marley had through his music, his image and his Rastafarian beliefs

Bob Marley

Another key factor in the globalisation of reggae music was the Jamaican crime film, ‘The Harder They Come’ (1972), starring reggae star Jimmy Cliff. The soundtrack to the film became commercially successful in many countries outside the Caribbean, greatly raising awareness of reggae on the international stage.

The extraordinary success of Jamaican reggae helped to sustain international demand for pop reggae and lovers rock for radio playlists and singles charts. The phenomenal popularity of reggae, including commercial songs produced by non‑Jamaican artists for non‑Jamaican audiences, boomed particularly in the USA and UK. This cross‑pollination and fusion with other musical genres led to the vastly increased diversity of reggae styles, while its heritage still remained instantly recognisable.

Reggae was also influential in the British punk rock/post‑punk/new wave era including works by artists such as The Clash, the Ruts, The Police, Jah Wobble, Don Letts, Blondie and The Slits.

Notable reggae artists across its hugely diverse catalogue include (in no particular order) Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Culture, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, The Itals, Dennis Brown, Horace Andy, Sly & Robbie, U‑Roy, Jacob Miller/Inner Circle, John Holt, Third World, Don Carlos, Freddie McGregor, Dennis Alcapone, Sugar Minott, Beres Hammond, Junior Reid, Maxi Priest, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Aswad, Dillinger, I‑Roy, Trinity, Junior Murvin, Marcia Griffiths, Althea & Donna, Big Youth, Junior Byles, Susan Cadogan, Dr Alimantado, Clint Eastwood & General Saint, Matumbi, Eddy Grant, Jah Cure, Lone Ranger, The Maytones, Musical Youth, Dawn Penn, Ranking Dread, Ranking Joe, Garnett Silk, Twinkle Brothers, The Upsetters, The Wailing Souls, The Hippy Boys, I Wayne, Mikey Dread, Morgan Heritage, Tapper Zukie, Boris Gardiner, Lucky Dube, and UB40.

Notable reggae producers include Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Duke Reid, Joe Gibbs, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, Harry J, King Tubby and Dandy Livingstone.

Notable international reggae record labels responsible for bringing the genre to the global masses include Island Records, Greensleeves, Virgin Frontline, Trojan Records, Jamaican Recordings and VP Records.

Roots Reggae – The lines between reggae and roots are blurred. Perhaps it is better to see them as ends of a continuum with artists leaning more to one end or the other, rather than being discrete or derivative. Roots evolved at the same time as reggae in the late 1960s. Many reggae artists attracted by commercial success, fame and international recognition also crossed over into roots with its more serious and authentic style and vice versa. The likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were prime examples of reggae artists tapping into the ‘vibration’ of Rastafarian black pride and African roots.

The visit of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966 led directly to a growth of the Rasta movement and the idea of black liberation and the spiritual connection to God (Jah). Rastafarian transcendent themes and the unrest of Jamaican political violence were integral to roots, engendering it with a more ‘gritty’, socially conscious and down‑to‑earth style than its more popular, more acceptable, and marketable counterpart. Even the word, roots, referred to the origins – roots – of West African slave descendants. The hard‑hitting messages of roots were seen as revolutionary, fuelling urban conflict and resistance in Jamaica. Roots became particularly popular in the UK and Africa. Roots, like mainstream reggae, was overtaken in popularity by dancehall by the early 1980s.

Notable roots reggae artists include Burning Spear, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Misty in Roots, Steel Pulse, The Congos, Linval Thompson, Prince Far I, Bunny Wailer, Max Romeo, The Mighty Diamonds, The Abyssinians, The Gladiators, Luciano, Johnny Clarke, Keith Hudson, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Alpha Blondy, Junior Murvin, Winston Holness, Michael Prophet, Hugh Mundell, The Revolutionaries, Morwell Unlimited, Roots Radics, Pablo Moses, Cornell Campbell, The In Crowd, Bushman and Yabby You.

Dub reggae – At last… getting to the root (sic!) of this article. The sublime (and occasionally ridiculous) dub reggae.

Dub reggae is quite difficult to define and is perhaps best described by the sum of its parts. Essentially dub comprises the remixing of existing recordings, at least that’s how it began. Producers and sound engineers extensively manipulated the original track by (usually) removing the main vocal content, resulting in largely instrumental arrangements. Studio effects such as reverb and echo are used widely on pretty much all but the earliest dub recordings. The drum and bass parts – providing the ‘riddim’ – are the heavy driving centrepiece of dub tracks. On top of the sparse rhythm base, lead instruments, vocal extracts and/or other, often seemingly random, sounds are dubbed in and out of the mix. These basic components give dub a very distinctive and recognisable sound. Dub tracks mixed on the then new analogue multi‑track recording desks made isolating different musical elements far simpler and creating multi‑layered arrangements much easier. Modern dub is usually composed as dub from scratch.

The word dub derived from early film soundtracks of the 1920s and the copying – doubling – of a sound recording from one medium to another. Jamaican dub emerged in the late 1960s, roughly at the same time as reggae and roots. The purely accidental omission of the vocal track for a ‘version’ of The Paragons hit, ‘On The Beach’ (1967) by sound engineer Byron Smith proved highly popular and extremely fortuitous, as it basically spawned a genre. After that simple error, instrumental ‘versions’ of reggae songs were ‘dubbed’ onto acetate discs. Over time, dub came to describe the method used to create the distinctive style as much as the music itself. The term ‘dubwise’, coined by ace rhythm duo Sly & Robbie, has come to mean using a strong drum‑led bassline in dub.

Studio sound engineers and producers treated the mixing desk as an experimental instrument in its own right and essential to the creation of the dub sound. Some studio staff attracted an almost legendary reputation, well beyond that of the musicians actually providing the music. Producers such as Osbourne Ruddock (King Tubby), Lee “Scratch” Perry, Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson were the pioneers of what we now know as dub, with many apprentices such as Scientist following in their footsteps. The authentic sound of dub has been attributed to the use of analogue recording studios of the 1970s when there were no digital effects or tracking. While many artists release both vocal and instrumental dub ‘versions’, some are associated more with dub. Some key figures, like Lee Perry and Augustus Pablo, were both artists and producers.

A dubplate is an acetate disc usually of 10” diameter, traditionally used by studios after mixing and prior to mastering. However, dubplates were pioneered by producer King Tubby for reggae sound systems as a way to distribute and play exclusive music. Special one‑off ‘versions’ would be cut for crews from different sound systems to compete head‑to‑head in what was called a sound clash. These unique discs were known as ‘dubplate specials’ and attracted high demand. The aim of a reggae sound clash is to go song‑on‑song (“dub fi dub”) and beat or ‘kill’ their opposition. The sound clash craze spread to London in the 1970s with the likes of Jah Shaka’s Mighty Jah Shaka Sound System being one of the first. The British film drama, ‘Babylon’ (1980) focused on London, urban Brixton’s sound systems and its sound clash culture.

Then there is the extended 12” Reggae Discomix. These have nothing to do with mirror balls or Travolta‑esque dance moves. A Reggae Discomix is the original, usually roots, vocal track immediately followed by a dub version, mixed together in heavy style. For some, the Discomix provides the best of both worlds.

As dub crept up on Jamaican audiences, there has been much debate over who released the first dub album, especially as local administrative record‑keeping was not seen as important at the time. Rather than try to credit any specific release it is, perhaps, better just to celebrate the quality of the early dub albums.

The pre‑dub release of ‘The Undertaker’ by Derrick Harriott and the Crystallites (1970), engineered by Errol Thompson was one of the first instrumental rocksteady albums. Another proto‑dub album was Bob Marley & The Wailers’ instrumental rhythm ‘Soul Revolution 2’ (1971), also called, ‘Upsetter Revelusion Rhythm’, produced by Lee Perry.

Competing for the first legitimate dub album were, ‘Blackboard Jungle Dub’ / ‘Upsetters 14 Dub Black Board Jungle’ (released 1973) mixed in stereo by King Tubby and Lee Perry. A further contender for first dub album was ‘Java Java Java Java’ (recorded c.1972, released 1973) by Impact All Stars featuring melodica maestro, Augustus Pablo and produced by Errol Thompson. ‘Aquarius Dub’ by Herman Chin Loy (recorded c.1971‑1973, released c.1975) with a stripped back, largely instrumental sound without much studio trickery was also one of the first. All of these recordings were seminal and proved highly influential. Certainly worth checking out, if nothing else.

The mid‑1970s was the peak creative period for dub and, just like reggae and roots, dub gave way to dancehall in the early 1980s. Over time, dub has developed its own style that extended way beyond its original traditional roots influences, many in the sub‑genre underground. Dub, has endured and has seen a resurgence in the 21st Century, not only in its original form but in many contemporary forms as well. Dub’s influence has spread far and wide over the years, and not just in reggae.

Some notable dub reggae artists and producers include King Tubby, Prince/King Jammy, Scientist, Niney The Observer, Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Upsetters, Herman Chin Loy, Dennis Bovell/Blackbeard, The Aggrovators, Augustus Clarke, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, Alpha & Omega, Gaudi, Mad Professor, Augustus Pablo, Sly & Robbie, Linval Thompson, Roots Radics, Alborosie, Errol Brown, Joe Gibbs, Yabby You, Ossie Hibbert, Dub Syndicate, Soul Syndicate and Errol ‘E.T.’ Thompson.

Notable Jamaican sound systems include King Tubby’s Hometown Hi‑Fi, Winston Blake’s Mighty Merritone, Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s Downbeat, Duke Reid’s The Trojan, Noel ‘Papa Jaro’ Harper’s Killamanjaro (intentionally misspelled) and Tom Wong’s Tom The Great Sebastian.

Dancehall – Dancehall is a departure from traditional reggae both in style, content and production. Faster riddims were often constructed digitally and vocals were once again rapped. Dancehall evolved as a product of political turbulence, economic uncertainty and extensive social change in Jamaican communities during the early 1980s.

While reggae has never really fallen out of fashion, its mainstream reach had become ever more diluted and its popularity declined in the early 1980s. Another factor was the death of Bob Marley in 1981. This tragic event seemed to symbolise the ‘end of reggae’ as we know it. Thirdly, studio recording technology in Jamaica was transitioning from the old analogue desks to more modern digital equipment, thereby changing the intrinsic sound and techniques of recordings from rough‑and‑ready to slick, clean and sharp. Electronic instruments were also increasingly digital. Lyrics tended to be about partying, dancing, violence and sexuality, rather than the now‑outdated Rasta messages of social injustice, suffering and oppression.

All these factors, among others, led to the emergence of dancehall. Initially, dancehall music was not widely played on radio and was seen by many Jamaicans as the people’s music of the 1980s and 1990s. The legacy of dancehall is helped by the growth of digital reggae since the 1980s. Producer Philip ‘Fatis’ Burrell and his Xterminator record label was a key factor in establishing dancehall’s longevity.

Notable dancehall artists include Eek‑A‑Mouse, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Yellowman, Barrington Levy, Sean Paul, Cocoa Tea, Prince Jazzbo, Shabba Ranks, Tenor Saw, Sizzla, Anthony Johnson, Josey Wales, Charlie Chaplin and General Echo.

Ragga – Ragga, a contraction and bastardisation of ‘ragamuffin’, used as a pejorative term by white colonists, became associated with scruffy and unkempt Jamaican ghetto dwellers. Jamaican youths appropriated the insult with the intentionally misspelled Raggamuffin music or, more commonly, Ragga in the early‑mid 1980s. Ragga emerged in Jamaica during the 1980s as a subgenre of dancehall and reggae music fused with hip hop and digital electronica. With its ‘gangsta’ leanings, some ragga is much closer to hip hop than reggae. Ragga has its origins in the late 1960s and, like deejaying/toasting before it, is distinguished by a DJ that improvises lyrics over a sampled or electronic backing track. Like dancehall, the musical style is quite different from reggae.

One of the earliest ragga tracks was, ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ (1985) by Wayne Smith, produced by King Jammy. Ragga is often seen by many as synonymous with dancehall and therefore has a lower profile despite its rich history. Ragga heavily influenced early jungle and dubstep music.

Notable ragga artists include Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shaggy, The Bug, Frankie Paul, Ini Kamoze, Capleton, Wayne Smith and Bounty Killer.

Soca – Soca, a.k.a. Soul of Calypso, is a music genre that emerged in the 1970s as a result of Trinidadian Lord Shorty, the ‘Father of Soca’, who attempted to revive the spirit of untainted calypso music, which had declined in popularity compared to the rise of reggae. While soca is not reggae, it fuses calypso with African and East Indian influences, as well as elements of Jamaican reggae. Jamaican ska artists, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires also dipped their toes into the warm waters of soca.

Reggaeton – Another, arguably derivative, form of reggae developed in the 1980s in Panama, called reggaeton. Central American ‘big reggae’, or reggae grande, evolved from dancehall and combines reggae tropes with American hip hop, Latin American, and Caribbean music, with vocals sung or rapped, often in Spanish. Puerto Rican, Daddy Yankee is probably the best known reggaeton artist.

There are various other reggae sub‑genres not mentioned above, such as kumina, Niyabinghi, and reggae fusion, along with derivatives such as ska jazz and ska punk. No radical new sub‑genres have really appeared since the 1980s, perhaps suggesting a degree of creative stagnation. Reggae does, however, continue to produce new artists, including Ziggy Marley, Protoje and Chezidek.


The legacy of dub reggae

Jamaica’s musical legacy is massively disproportionate to its humble genesis. Dub reggae’s influence has grown over the years and continues to exert its presence, not only on reggae and its sub‑genres but also across many other music genres including dub poetry, hip hop, punk, dubstep, big beat, jungle, grime, trip hop, drum & bass, techno, ambient dub, future dub, UK garage, dubtronica, psydub, electro‑dub, post‑disco, EDM/IDM, rock and pop. It is fair to say that dub’s fingerprint is pervasive in modern music to some extent or other. Such diversions were orchestrated by alternative artists such as Adrian Sherwood, Jah Wobble, The Orb and Sound Iration.

(Dub) reggae’s geographical reach has also spread globally with artists from many countries getting involved with the dub bonanza, including Slamonella Dub, The Black Seeds and L.A.B. (New Zealand), Rebelution (Austria), Soul Revivers, Alpha Steppa, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Pato Banton, Aswad, Oku Onuora, Creation Rebel, Dennis Bovell/Blackbeard, Winston Edwards, Dreadzone, Hollie Cook, Dubkasm, Zion Train and Alpha & Omega (UK), Alborosie and Gaudi (Italy), Bush Chemists and Dubmatix (Canada), Dubblestandart (Austria), Brain Damage and Manudigital (France), 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, Groundation and Easy Star All‑Stars (USA), Ace Of Base (Sweden), Alpha Blondy, Colbert Mukwevho, Ismael Isaac and Lucky Dube (Africa), and Pressure Drop (Australia).

The current and future of reggae

The second decade of the 21st Century has seen a renewed interest in reggae roots and dub in its many variants. Contemporary reggae, particularly with a heavy use of electronica, is often described as ‘digital reggae’ because of the type of instruments and recording methods used in modern studio production. Purists say that digital reggae lacks the raw emotion and earthy authenticity of analogue reggae, roots and dub. Techniques that were simply not possible in the past are now commonplace and the requirement for traditional brick‑and‑mortar studio space has reduced significantly with the widespread use of home recording. Cynics might suggest that ease of digital production has distorted established tropes to become clichéd or caricatures of the original; detached or at least dislocated from its Caribbean ghetto background. Perhaps it is better to celebrate success and accept the status quo as an ‘and’, rather than an ‘either or’.

By the late 2000s, dancehall reggae from the privileged districts of uptown Kingston and without connection to the generally disadvantaged areas of downtown Kingston, perhaps unsurprisingly, became known as uptown reggae, including artists like Sean Paul, Alex Marley and Marcus I.

The so‑called reggae revival is a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, even if it doesn’t regain the multinational dominance it had in reggae’s ‘golden era’ from 1968 to 1983. While its pedigree lies in the unique tapestry of Jamaican life, location and history, reggae and dub are now a global phenomenon, safe in the hands of enthusiasts keeping the traditions and influences alive and well. More importantly, opportunities for involvement in dub are available to all.

While Rastafarianism is reportedly in favour of gender equality, female artists have been woefully underrepresented in reggae generally and particularly in dub. In addition, several dancehall and ragga artists have been accused of homophobia, including targeted song lyrics, aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. Hopefully, these intolerant and prejudicial characteristics will be overcome in time.


Some great reggae and dub recording studios

The concentration of outstanding studio capacity into one small city (with a population of less than 2 million people) is truly extraordinary. The key studios, some famous and others less well known, are listed below in alphabetical order. These studios are all based in Kingston, Jamaica – the spiritual home of reggae – unless stated otherwise:

  • Aquarius – founded by Herman Chin Loy in the early 1970s
  • Ariwa – founded by Mad Professor in London, UK in 1979
  • Big Ship – founded by Freddie McGregor in 1995
  • Black Ark – founded by Lee “Scratch” Perry in 1973
  • Black Scorpio – founded by Maurice ‘Jack Scorpio’ Johnson in the early 1970s
  • Channel One – founded by Joseph ‘Jo Jo’ Hoo Kim in 1973
  • Digital B – founded by Bobby Digital Dixon in 1988
  • Dynamic Sounds – founded by Byron Lee in 1963
  • Federal – founded by Ken Khouri in 1961
  • Harry J – founded by Harry J in 1972
  • Hitmaker Studio – founded by Donovan Bennett in 2002
  • Jammy’s – founded by Prince/King Jammy in 1985
  • Joe Gibbs – founded by Joe Gibbs in 1975
  • King Tubbys – founded by Osbourne Ruddock in 1971
  • Music Works – founded by Augustus ‘Gussie’ Clarke in 1988
  • Penthouse – founded by Donovan Germain in 1987
  • Randy’s – founded by Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin in 1962
  • Studio One – founded by Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd in 1963
  • Treasure Isle – founded by Duke Reid in 1964
  • Tuff Gong – founded by Bob Marley in 1977
  • Wackie’s – founded by Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes in New York, USA in 1973
  • Xterminator – founded by Philip Fatis Burrell in 1988

Some great dub reggae recordings

It would be remiss of me, after all of that exposition for me not to reveal my preferences for some dub reggae albums. This is purely subjective and based on my own personal favourites, rather than any form of recommendation. This is, hopefully obviously, only be the tip of an enormous iceberg. There are innumerable possibilities from which to choose and picking a top 20 was a tough job, albeit with perhaps a fairly predictable outcome. Apologies to all those I might have overlooked in making this, my ideal ‘desert island disc’ compendium.

  1. Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  2. Scientist – Scientist Rids The World Of The Evil Curse Of The Vampires (1981)
  3. The Upsetters – Super Ape (1976)
  4. Agustus Pablo – King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown (1977)
  5. King Tubby – Dub From The Roots (1974)
  6. The Upsetters – Blackboard Jungle Dub / 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973)
  7. Herman Chin Loy – Aquarius Dub (1975)
  8. Linton Kwesi Johnson – LKJ In Dub (1980)
  9. The Aggrovators – Dubbing At King Tubby’s (2016)
  10. Niney The Observer – Sledge Hammer Dub In The Street Of Jamaica (1977)
  11. Gaudi – Dub, Sweat And Tears (2004)
  12. Gregory Isaacs – Slum In Dub (1978)
  13. Horace Andy – In The Light / In The Light Dub (1995)
  14. Yabby U – King Tubby’s Prophesy Of Dub (1976)
  15. Keith Hudson – Pick A Dub (1974)
  16. Mad Professor – Dub Me Crazy!! (1982)
  17. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Heavy Rain (2019)
  18. Johnny Clarke – Dread A Dub (2012)
  19. Prince Far I & The Arabs – Dub To Africa (1979)
  20. Dennis Brown – Dubbing At King Tubby’s (2016)
Top 20 Dub Reggae Album Covers

For dub newbies, exploring the list above would, I believe, serve as an excellent introduction to the genre. I certainly wish such an informative list had been around for me in my early days of dub epiphany. A righteous way to bring this digest to a conclusion, I think.


Tailpiece

There you have it, my return to writing (welcome or not) via a brief guide to mento, ska, reggae, roots, dub, dancehall and ragga. I hope you found something herein to enjoy.

As to THE crunch question of WHY such creativity exploded in the way that it did, when it did, in such a small island community in the West Indies, the answer frustratingly still eludes me. Serendipity? Chance? Coincidence? The quest continues.

One thing is certain, support for, and influence of, reggae’s diverse ecosystem is as healthy today as it has been for several decades, making it truly universal and multi‑generational. I believe that reggae can continue to be a positive force for change. One Love. Irie.

Finally… my appreciation for reggae isn’t just my personal passion. In November 2018, the ‘reggae music of Jamaica’ was added to the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The award was in recognition of reggae’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, socio‑political, sensual and spiritual.” Nuff said (and much more succinctly!!!).

This article may be the start of exploration into other genres for which I have a passion. Let’s see how this one goes first.

Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Perfection isn’t good enough”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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August 2020 – Even More Whazzup at CRAVE Guitars

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Prelude

GREETINGS GREAT GUITAR people and welcome back to some ‘even more whazzup at CRAVE Guitars’, herein the third and final part of the triptych of guitar‑related ‘current affairs’ articles. You may be pleased to know that this one is a wee bit shorter than usual. You might well conclude that I pad out these monologues because I revel in writing voluble blurb for the sake of it. If there isn’t much to say, I won’t… or will I?

For the record, at the time of writing, current COVID‑19 statistics indicate that there are now over 25 million confirmed cases and 843,000 deaths recorded globally and still rising. These are scary and truly staggering statistics for a health pandemic during the modern era. Like every other responsible adult, CRAVE Guitars is not only weary of the enforced constraints of living through coronageddon but also aghast at the sheer arrogant stupidity of selfish covidiots who ignore the threat and risk prolonging the danger for the rest of us. GGggrrrr. Right, got that out of my system, now back to business.

While I cannot promise oodles of delightful entertainment, I can at least deliver on what I said that I would do two months ago which is to bring you all bang up‑to‑date with what else has been happening down here in the south west of the UK during 2020. As a rapid recap, the first slice of this recent 3-parter was to cover last year’s (2019) purchases in some detail, the second was to cover the on‑going vintage guitar repatriation project, and this third part is basically a ‘what’s new in at CRAVE Guitars’ in 2020 so far. So, getting right to the point, what shiny new old stuff has come CRAVE Guitars’ way?

New in at CRAVE Guitars in 2020, so far

Well, for starters, it has been a very quiet time for guitars recently. This is primarily because a) I’m trying futilely to save funds for the much‑vaunted but little‑actioned cellar conversion, and b) actually finding the 5 guitar Rs – the right instruments at the right time in the right place in the right condition at the right price. Then there is the COVID‑19 situation triggering the worst recession in living memory going on in the background, which is affecting the fundamental economics of supply and demand.

CRAVE Amps has been equally quiet but more eventful than last year. While there has been only one purchase, it is a doozy and one I’ve been after for a couple of years. Amps take up a lot of space and demand a lot of attention, as well as resources, so buying a whole bunch of them isn’t exactly a high‑priority large‑scale exercise.

It is CRAVE Effects where I’ve been most active this year; I’ve been a very busy boy (for me). Effect pedals have a number of advantages; they generally require less capital outlay per item (but not always!) and most take a lot less space to accommodate. There also seems to be a plethora of choice (unlike guitars at the moment). Under current circumstances, and with another deep economic downturn looming, effect pedals have proved less financially risky all round, which is a good thing as funds are very limited. Having said that, a couple of these pedals cost nearly as much (or more!) than an ‘affordable vintage’ guitar, so perhaps I need to have a rethink. Effect pedals also make a great complement to the guitars and amps and they can be great fun to amass. So… here is the shortlist of what has actually come this way in the last 8 months.

CRAVE Guitars (2)

  • 1984 Gibson Flying V Designer Series
  • 1979 Peavey T-60

CRAVE Amps (1)

  • 1973 Fender Princeton Reverb

CRAVE Effects (11)

  • 1986 BOSS DD‑2 Digital Delay
  • 1984 BOSS DM‑3 Delay
  • 1980 Electro‑Harmonix Bad Stone Phase Shifter
  • 1981 Electro‑Harmonix EH4600 Small Clone Mini‑Chorus
  • 1982 Ibanez CP9 Compressor/Limiter
  • 1981 Ibanez PT‑909 Phase Tone
  • 1978 MXR Analog Delay
  • 1982 MXR Micro Flanger
  • 1982 MXR Phase 100
  • 1982 MXR Stereo Chorus
  • 1976 Sola Sound Tone Bender Fuzz

Plus 3 replacements for existing pedals:

  • 1982 BOSS DM-2 Delay
  • 1975 MXR Phase 90
  • 1980 MXR Dyna Comp (compressor)

The whys and wherefores

Just sharing a list of gear doesn’t give any sense about the rationale behind searching them out or how they fit into the overall CRAVE Guitars strategy. Although unforeseen opportunities cannot be ignored, there is generally some rhyme and reason to purchasing decisions. In order to give some insight to what the heck I’m doing, it’s worth a little bit of exposition in each case.

1984 Gibson Flying V Designer Series – Believe it or not, up to now I didn’t have a ‘normal’ Flying V. I was actually looking for a vintage Gibson Explorer E2 and got within a hair’s breadth of getting hold of a very nice example but sadly it proved ultimately unsuccessful. This was very disappointing, as it would have been a perfect partner for my groovy Flying V2. Anyway, I’d been holding off on a couple of other vintage guitars while looking into the E2, which were quite tempting. Then I came across this very nice example of a cool and rare all‑original Flying V Designer Series in pinstriped ivory. It was happily residing in restful retirement in sunny Florida, USA, so I took it upon myself to do a ‘Cocoon’ on it and transport it over to a chilly and soggy UK. Basically, I didn’t want to lose out on another guitar, so I bit the bullet and jumped in (darn that FOMO!). The exchange rate, customs duty, VAT and fees made it a highly unprofitable transaction but to heck with it. At least the relaxation in CITES regulations didn’t prevent the rosewood fingerboard from flying (sic!) my way. As it turned out, I think I was lucky to grab it when I did. Thankfully, I am not driven by monetary gain, as I’ll probably never get the full cost back, so I’ll just hang onto it and enjoy it, which is what CRAVE Guitars is all about. Original Flying Vs from the 1960s and now even the 1970s are getting incredibly expensive. I’m sure it won’t be long before the evil profit‑motivated collectorati get their heads around the up‑to‑now not very popular 1980s Flying Vs. Personally, I like them and that’s plenty good enough for me.

1984 Gibson Flying V Designer Series

1979 Peavey T-60 – I’d been interested in the Peavey T‑60 for a while, as it’s a bit of an underground underdog, which often piques my curiosity. The T‑60 was Peavey’s first venture into electric solid body guitars, so it really is the first of its kind. The people who have owned them tend to rave about them but they don’t tend to come anywhere near the top of the list for collectors (a good thing too, if you ask me). I thought I’d satisfy my inquisitiveness and try one out for myself. They are still relatively good value for a vintage guitar, especially when compared to the aforementioned Flying V for instance! The T‑60 is bit of a heavy beast at just under 10lbs (4.4kg), so that particular reputation is on the button but… remember that weight was seen as a ‘good thing’ at the time. It has very 1970s style with its slightly ungainly outline and natural ash finish. On close inspection, it is quite intriguing with its subtle carved top and now‑ever‑so‑trendy thin but tough satin finish. The T‑60’s electrics are unique in that the tone controls blend from single coil to humbucker, a feature that I think remains unique to this day. In addition, a small phase switch adds further flexibility when both pickups are in use, making the T‑60 a very versatile and underrated instrument. It may seem an odd choice for a CRAVE Guitar but, to me, it makes perfect sense – cool, rare, American, vintage and electric. Nuff said.

1979 Peavey T-60

1973 Fender Princeton Reverb – I have been using American valve amps for years and the Fender Princeton Reverb has been top of the ‘wanted’ list for a quite a while. I was fortunate enough to find one in the same county, so off I trundled just before the coronavirus lockdown and brought her home with me. It was just what I was after, a 1973 ‘silverface’ Princeton Reverb in fantastic condition. I am not wealthy or pedantic enough to aspire to a ‘blackface’ or ‘tweed’ Princeton, so this will do very nicely thank you. It is still hand‑wired and true to its origins. My vintage Fender Champ and Vibro Champ have been reliable little home workhorse amps and my Music Man 210 ‘sixty five’ can deliver big noise when needed but I was pining for some valve driven spring reverb in a small package and this is just the ticket. I had been using a BOSS RV‑2 Digital Reverb with the Champs but this brings all the basics together in one neat solution. It has been modified to a 240V UK mains power supply, a very practical mod, which is fine by me. I have to say that it sounds awesome for its diminutive size. The valve tremolo is not as pronounced as other Fender amps but apparently that is quite normal and I can live with it. I am now looking for a vintage ‘silverface’ Fender Deluxe Reverb to compare the Princeton’s 10” speaker with the Deluxe’s 12”. Is that getting greedy?

1973 Fender Princeton Reverb

1986 BOSS DD‑2 Digital Delay – You may already know that I am a huge fan of analogue solid state echo pedals. However, the limited delay time usually tops out at c.300ms and the tails can get a bit mushy. Sometimes, longer delays and crisp clarity are called for. The DD‑2 was Boss’ first digital pedal and the first compact digital delay. It is one of the few digital effects worth having that appeared before my vintage cut‑off year of 1989. Last year, I got hold of a 1980s BOSS RV‑2 Digital Reverb and they go well together, so here they are, now part of the CRAVE Effects family. If nothing else, it shows that I’m not a complete digital‑phobe.

1986 BOSS DD 2 Digital Delay

1984 BOSS DM‑3 Delay – Going back to analogue delays after my digital excursion (see above), the DM‑3 fits that bill. It is remarkably similar to the outgoing DM‑2. The internal circuit was tweaked to improve fidelity and reduce noise but there really isn’t that much between them. The only visible difference is the screen printing and the unique knobs used on this model. Other than that, it is business as usual and it does sound very similar to its predecessor. So, an interesting variation on the classic DM‑2. The DM‑3 was the last analogue delay pedal made by BOSS until they released the DM‑2 Waza Craft in the 2010s.

1984 BOSS DM 3 Delay
[Image: 1984 BOSS DM 3 Delay]

1980 Electro‑Harmonix Bad Stone Phase Shifter – The EHX Bad Stone was another pedal that I had back in the 1970s, so I have a soft spot for it. I had retained a Small Stone but the Bad Stone obviously ran away with a better guitarist than me. So, it was a case of reuniting with an old friend and feeling that comfort that comes with rose‑tinted familiarity. It sounds great, just like it did back in the day. All’s well that ends well. Good EHX Bad Stones are getting surprisingly expensive on the vintage effect market. Welcome home, mate.

1980 Electro Harmonix Bad Stone Phase Shifter

1981 Electro‑Harmonix EH4600 Small Clone Mini‑Chorus – Now here is another big‑time elite (a.k.a. expensive) classic pedal. I was never really into chorus pedals when I was younger, so this was a new one for me. I preferred my faithful trio of EHX pedals, the Big Muff Pi (fuzz), Electric Mistress (flanger) and Deluxe Memory Man (echo). The Small Clone didn’t really achieve reverential status until Kurt Cobain used it to great effect (sic!) in Nirvana’s revolutionary grunge exploits. Yes it is good for what it is but is its hallowed status truly warranted? I guess so if you want to imitate the past but there are many other competent chorus pedals out there. Original vintage Small Clones seem to be very scarce and when they do come up they are pricey and/or in a bit of a state, so I think I was fortunate to grab this one.

1981 Electro Harmonix EH4600 Small Clone Mini Chorus

1982 Ibanez CP9 Compressor/Limiter – Compressor pedals are strange things. They aren’t in‑your‑face effects that will immediately blow you away. They add a glossy sheen to playing that is very effective but also quite subtle. They give a studio produced feel to playing dynamics when used properly. Compact pedals are very simple compared to their studio counterparts and a bit of experimentation is needed to hit the ‘sweet spot’. Good compressor pedals are probably best left on full‑time and it’s only when they are switched off that you realise what magic they have been weaving. The ‘9’ series Ibanez CP9 was made famous by David Gilmour, so everyone then jumped on the CP9 bandwagon in a vain attempt to sound like him. Probably a pedal for the guitarist who doesn’t have one and didn’t know they needed one. The CP9 is still very good value on the used vintage market despite the strong artist association.

1982 Ibanez CP9 Compressor/Limiter

1981 Ibanez PT‑909 Phase Tone – Alongside the iconic Ibanez TS‑808 Tube Screamer, there were a whole range of other ‘0’ series pedals sporting the familiar square footswitch. The PT‑909 is one of those ‘other ones’. Ibanez got through a huge number of phase pedal models in a short period of time and this is just one in that long line. It’s a phase pedal and it sounds like most other phase pedals, which pretty much says it all. Incidentally, I actually have more phase pedals than any other type of effect. I guess I’m a bit jaded or perhaps it’s just a phase (sic!) I’m going through. The PT‑909 does its job well but it doesn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd (more below). It is, though, better sounding, more ergonomic and sturdier than the previous ‘narrow box’ PT‑909. Another vintage stomp box that remains reasonably priced at the moment.

1981 Ibanez PT 909 Phase Tone

1978 MXR Analog Delay – Right, now we’re really talking. The 3rd echo pedal in this catch‑up and the 2nd analogue one. The now‑vintage Electro‑Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man is my all‑time favourite delay pedal and I’ve had mine since new, so there is a lofty pedestal with which to compare. The Japanese BOSS and Ibanez delay pedals are all very well but there is something about good American delay effects that sets them apart. The MXR Analog Delay is a large, unwieldy, mains powered box with just 3 controls and, boy, does it do a grand job? I really, really respect this analogue delay for its warm, lush repeats. OK, so the delay tops out at the typical c.300ms but when it sounds this good, does it really matter? Well, sometimes, to be honest. The enclosure paintwork is a little scuffed here and there but that’s nothing, as it is the sonic signature that excels. Does it beat the EHX? No, not quite but it really is a marvellous effect. The MXR Analog Delay is much heard on recordings but for some reason, it isn’t much talked about. They are quite scarce, so they tend to be quite pricey. However, in my humble view, they’re definitely worth it. Don’t delay… or, on second thoughts, do.

1978 MXR Analog Delay

1982 MXR Micro Flanger – Once again, I find the American pedals beat the Japanese, even though the latter make some very good effects and sold them very successfully. I can’t be objective as to why I feel that way, so perhaps it is just a subjective bias. This rather demure looking MXR Micro Flanger is one is one of the later ones with LED status light and DC power input, so it is immediately more convenient than the older ones. It also sounds great. It isn’t up there with my favourite flanger, the Electro‑Harmonix Electric Mistress but it is very creditable. I’m now on the lookout for a large box, mains powered MXR Flanger to see what it can do that the Micro Flanger can’t. I think it may improve on it by a small margin and perhaps challenge the EHX, let’s see. Watch this space.

1982 MXR Micro Flanger

1982 MXR Phase 100 – I’m already a lucky owner of a vintage ‘script’ MXR Phase 45 and the iconic Phase 90. One of those aforementioned unforeseen opportunities came up to get my grubby hands on a large box Phase 100, so here it is. This pedal is unique in the MXR Innovations canon in having this size/shape of enclosure, somewhere between the familiar ‘micro’ boxes and the larger mains powered big boxes. I haven’t had a Phase 100 before and it really was an epiphany for me; this thing sounds awesome. Given that I’m a bit blasé about phasers, using that adjective is saying something. It has a 4‑way preset switch and two rotary controls so, compared to its smaller single‑knob peers, it is very flexible. Perhaps it’s the 6‑stage phasing that raises it above its competition. Whatever fairy dust MXR sprinkled on its innards, it worked and I wasn’t really prepared for the engaging sounds it exudes. It is also in fantastic original condition, which is icing on a tasty cake. The Phase 100 has quickly become my favourite vintage phaser. Sorry Bad Stone, your post has been pipped.

1982 MXR Phase 100

1982 MXR Stereo Chorus – Around the same time that I came across the MXR Analog Delay, I had the opportunity to get this enhanced version of the MXR Micro Chorus (which, to be honest, was the one that I was actually looking for and still don’t have). Like the Analog Delay, the Stereo Chorus is a large, bulky, mains powered behemoth with three controls. Like phasers, I can’t put my hand on my heart and assert that the chorus effect is the bee’s knees but it is certainly very creditable. Comparing this to the Small Clone revealed the answer to my previous question about whether the EHX pedal deserves its post in chorus royalty. Spoiler warning: not really. This one is in exceptionally clean condition and actually quite a bargain as well. Result!

1982 MXR Stereo Chorus

1976 Sola Sound Tone Bender Fuzz – Okey dokey, now we’re getting serious again. Last year, I ventured out of safe territory and acquired two iconic (and very expensive) vintage effect pedals, a 1969 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and 1981 Ibanez TS‑808 Tube Screamer Pro. The Sola Sound Tone Bender Fuzz is another of those exclusive vintage pedals, which is a little surprising given its roots in cheap British effects of the 1970s. It also came under the banner of the British Colorsound brand. I had a Tone Bender back in the day and this was an interesting reintroduction, albeit just a bit (!!!) pricier nowadays. This version of the Tone Bender is based largely on the Electro‑Harmonix Big Muff Pi, so if you’re familiar with that, you know you’re in the right ballpark, tone wise. Plenty of fuzzy goodness. This one is in very good all‑original condition and fuzzes, fizzes and froths in all the right ways. I adore great vintage fuzz pedals. A classic, for sure, but why SO expensive? Really.Hhhhh’jdf

1976 Sola Sound Tone Bender Fuzz

I won’t go into the three replacement pedals here, suffice to say that they were all bought to improve marginally on the ones I had, which can now move on to good homes elsewhere. The image below is of the new replacements (from left to right), 1982 BOSS DM-2 Delay, 1975 MXR Phase 90 and 1980 MXR Dyna Comp (compressor). All very cool effects.

Other 2020 Pedals

One good question might be, how do these purchases all tie together? Well, believe it or not, there is an inherent coherency to the plan. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” (as said by Polonius in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’).

The two new old guitars integrate seamlessly into the other vintage guitars in the family. Similarly, the amp is very complementary to my other vintage amps and, although I don’t have many, that’s plenty enough… for now. The effects fall into three main camps, the Japanese BOSS and Ibanez range, the American Electro‑Harmonix and MXR lines, plus the odd one or two from Europe or other manufacturers. They generally all derive from the 1960s to the 1980s so, once again, job done.

Full features on both these guitars, amp and effects will appear on the CRAVE Guitars web site in due course (see more below).

Help Needed

Apologies, this is the 3rd article in a row where I’ve made this earnest plea. A few of the effect pedals above have minor electrical issues like extraneous noise, non‑working DC or battery input, LED faults, etc. If there is someone out there with the requisite skillset to help maintain these vintage effects as well as the guitars and amps, and who is local to SE Cornwall in the UK, I would be interested in exploring mutually beneficial opportunities. Is there anyone out there attracted to the proposition? If there is, please contact me at the e-mail address at the bottom of every page on the website. Talking of which…

CRAVE Guitars Web Site

I will probably cover this in more detail in coming articles but I thought that this might be a good place to mention it. For over 2½ years, the CRAVE Guitars’ web site remained largely static and unchanged. This was largely due to more pressing personal circumstances, as it takes a lot of time to do it properly. I have, at long last, finally started the desperately‑needed updates to the web site. Overall, it won’t look much different and its structure remains the same, it’s the content that matters.

CRAVE Guitars – Web Site

So far, the underlying technology has been brought right up‑to‑date and many behind‑the‑scenes components have been made current. It is actually quite a fundamental change to the mechanics, which aren’t immediately apparent when viewing the pages – it’s a bit like a car’s engine rebuild hidden away under the bonnet (a.k.a. hood for American readers).

I have also started the process of introducing a whole raft of new content. Again, at the moment, it isn’t immediately obvious because I’m starting off by replacing what is already there before moving onto adding brand new material.

To give you an idea, there are over 120 existing pages and more than 70 monthly articles. There are 60+ incumbent guitar feature pages to revamp and 15 new guitar feature pages to add. There are only 2 amps to add, then there are 30+ effect pages to overhaul and 26 new effect pages to add. Then there are all the galleries, new features on brands and model histories to add. The resources pages need to be completely re‑worked as they are completely out of date, often irrelevant and error‑prone. Even the main CRAVE Guitars logo has been very subtly refined.

Also, the bass guitars have gone from the site, as have the newer guitars that don’t (yet) qualify as vintage. This makes the material a bit more focused than it was. I hope to re‑introduce CRAVE Basses in the future but it’s not an immediate priority.

In coming weeks and months, I hope to make many fundamental changes. Well over 1,000 new photographs have been taken and many dozens of new features have been written. It is a colossal task and one that I’ve been actively prevaricating (?!) for way too long. Now that I’ve started, I will actually relish rejuvenating the site and making it a lot more relevant, and hopefully a respected resource for people to enjoy. There is so much to do that it will probably take until the end of the year before the project is completed (and then the on‑going updates and maintenance). By the time the main job is done, every single page and post will have been updated in some way or other. Some pages have already been finished and have gone live. I will work through the immense backlog as quickly as I can.

If anyone has any positive and constructive thoughts or ideas about what you’d like to see on the web site, let me know and I’ll give it serious consideration. Also, some typos and errors will undoubtedly creep in, so I would appreciate being informed of any corrections and clarifications to help improve the quality of the narrative.

Tailpiece

There isn’t a lot of time to go now until the end of a thoroughly miserable and depressing 2020. There also isn’t much time to take action to acquire some of those elusive items that were on last year’s ‘most wanted’ list. I think I’m going to fail big time on the guitars but I’m very content with how other things are going. I realise how fortunate I am to have all these great vintage guitars, amps and effects, so I’m not going to complain about my lot… much. Anyhow, the quest continues and it’s time to get back to the graft!

Who knows what I’ll be pontificating about for the next article but I’m sure I’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I will be in splendid misanthropic solitude and voluntary seclusion to work on the web site and play vintage guitars. Sounds good to me. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Why are so many people so determined to be so stupid?”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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July 2020 – More Whazzup at CRAVE Guitars

Prelude

HELLO AND WELCOME to the second half of 2020 for what it’s worth. The fact that most of us meek hominids have made it this far is surely a good thing (for mankind, if not the planet), despite the best efforts of coronageddon. At the time of writing there are over 17 million confirmed cases and 667,000 deaths recorded globally due to coronavirus and sadly the numbers are still rising. I hope you are surviving amongst the mercenary madness. Thoughts, as always, lie with those affected directly and indirectly. Also, it is important to recognise the detrimental effects of the COVID pandemic on mental health & wellbeing; the risk of long‑term psychosis is a concern, worse because it cannot be seen and is rarely disclosed as an issue. Civilisation still has some way to go before it can prove resilient to the virus and worthy enough to survive as a species.

Before further ado, let’s move forward to the past. In the last article, I covered the key acquisitions made by CRAVE Guitars during 2019. As signposted last time, this month I’ll be covering the experience of repatriating 42 guitars and basses (40 of them vintage) after an extended period in enforced storage and bringing them back to as good a shape as they can be. None of the guitars covered here were featured in last month’s article, so there is no overlap between the two.

What are we actually talking about here?

As a reminder, here is the full list of the guitars that eventually returned home (by brand/alphabetic order):

Vintage Fender guitars (13):
  • 1966 Fender Coronado II
  • 1965 Fender Duo-Sonic II
  • 1965 Fender Jaguar
  • 1965 Fender Jazzmaster
  • 1965 Fender Musicmaster II
  • 1966 Fender Mustang
  • 1972 Fender Mustang Competition
  • 1977 Fender Stratocaster
  • 1983 Fender Stratocaster ‘Dan Smith’ Era
  • 1988 Fender Telecaster
  • 1974 Fender Telecaster Custom
  • 1973 Fender Telecaster Deluxe
  • 1972 Fender Telecaster Thinline
1966 Fender Coronado
Vintage Gibson guitars (20):
  • 1983 Gibson Corvus II
  • 1963 Gibson ES-330 TDC
  • 1985 Gibson ES-335 Dot
  • 1983 Gibson Explorer
  • 1984 Gibson Explorer
  • 1982 Gibson Explorer CMT/E2
  • 1984 Gibson Explorer Custom Shop Edition
  • 1984 Gibson Explorer ‘Union Jack’
  • 1976 Gibson Firebird Bicentennial
  • 1966 Gibson Firebird III
  • 1980 Gibson Flying V2
  • 1989 Gibson Les Paul Custom
  • 1977 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Gold Top
  • 1975 Gibson Les Paul Standard
  • 1964 Gibson Melody Maker
  • 1961 Gibson Melody Maker D
  • 1982 Gibson Moderne Korina Heritage
  • 1981 Gibson RD Artist
  • 1965 Gibson SG Junior
  • 1968 Gibson SG Standard
1981 Gibson RD Artist
Vintage other brand guitars (5):
  • 1966 Epiphone Olympic
  • 1962 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Double Cutaway Hollowbody
  • 1965 Gretsch 6135 Corvette
  • 1974 Rickenbacker 480
  • 1964 Silvertone 1449 ‘Amp in Case’
1974 Rickenbacker 480
Vintage basses (2):
  • 1977 Fender Precision Fretless Bass
  • 1978 Music Man Stingray Bass
1978 Music Man Stingray Bass
Non-vintage guitars (2):
  • 2002 Gibson Les Paul Standard
  • 1998 Gibson Les Paul Standard DC
1998 Gibson Les Paul Standard DC

Many purists may assert that some of these aren’t ‘vintage’. However, that is a debate for another time and place (and has actually been deliberated upon in previous articles). CRAVE Guitars’ cut‑off point is currently the end of 1989, i.e. over 30 years old.

While I might bloviate limitlessly about these musical devices, you will probably be relieved that I won’t be going through each of the guitars in sequence and in forensic detail. Rather, I will try to relate the key headlines, the highs and lows, the learning points and any resultant implications arising from the exercise.

At the time of writing, 38 vintage guitars have been given a well-deserved cossetting and these are the ones I’ll be covering here. The only ones remaining are the two vintage bass guitars, which I dread will both need some expert remedial work, as well as the two newer guitars (1998 and 2002). These remaining instruments will get the treatment they require in due course but now is the time to reflect on the significant work done on the major assets. I abhor calling them that but in this context, I guess that’s what they are.

Where they went and how they returned

In this first section, I may reiterate some points I’ve previously covered, so for regular readers, please forgive me for repeating myself. The elephant in the room is… ‘why?’.

I have to admit that the events that led to ‘here & now’ include a very dark period for me and the impact of the hardship still deeply affects me to my core. I won’t go into the detail of the circumstances, suffice to say that I lost pretty much everything back in 2011 and rapidly had to find a temporary home, not only for us as a family, but also for most of my guitars, which at that time was around 37 of them.

My first job was to document what was going away as best as I could, which included photographs and a comprehensive database covering each guitar. Fortunately for me, a good friend was able to find a safe space for them and they were stored away in a dry and reasonably ventilated roof space. Certainly not the ideal conditions for temperature and humidity but when desperate needs must, it was a saviour of momentous proportions and for which I will be eternally grateful. At least we live in a cool temperate zone, so the swings in climate could be a lot worse.

I had hoped to get back on my feet in a matter of just a few months, however that turned into a year and then several years until they were brought back home in 2019. I felt truly bad about the imposition on my friend and very fearful about what deterioration might be taking place in a less than perfect environment over an extended period of confinement. At least the guitars were all in cases of one sort or other, offering some degree of protection. During the lengthy hiatus, some guitars were retrieved, others swapped out and some were interred. Some of them, however, spent the full 7‑8 years in horrible exile.

We eventually relocated into a new home in the SW of the UK in 2017. When we moved, a few of the newer non‑vintage gear had to be sold off to preserve the core vintage items. A year after our move, my friend also moved home, staying in the SE of England. It was that combination of events that led to ‘the 42’ and I being reunited at long last in January 2019. A specialist haulage company charged the Earth for the pleasure of transporting them 200‑odd miles but at least they arrived OK. I had originally planned to refurbish our damp, dark cellar to make a new home for the guitars first but, as is usually our luck, circumstances got in the way and now I’m living amongst many stacked guitar cases. At least they are always close to hand.

Repatriation Guitar Cases

I knew that it wasn’t just going to be a case of unpacking and playing them as if nothing had happened, so I set about planning a very unhurried and practical approach to assessment and reconditioning. There was no set order to this process; it was very much a case of starting at the beginning and working through in whatever order they happened to be in. Now, in July 2020, I have worked through all the key returnees.

Nevertheless, it has taken over 18 months to complete the programme of refurbishment to this point. Not a quick procedure but not rushed either. I always felt that it would be better to take it easy rather than potentially to make things worse by jumping in too enthusiastically. They are already old, a little longer doesn’t matter.

General Condition

Thankfully, all the guitars were in cases, although the condition of each case varied greatly. Some cases are good and strong, while others have various signs of wear and tear and some are very tatty and weak, providing hardly any physical protection but better than nothing. The oblong cases were far easier to accommodate, being easier and safer to stack, unlike the shaped ones.

The first thing to notice was a predictable coating of general entropy. A lot of people pay a lot of money for genuine old dust and grime (heehee), so the cases stay as they are, as testament to the trials and tribulations to which they had been exposed. I am not one of those snobbish ‘collector’ types that insist on everything being perfect and as‑new. I fully understand that I am only a temporary custodian in their long lifespan that in some cases started before I was born and which most likely will well outlast me. This part of their existence has at least been documented for all to see. It is all part of our collective heritage, albeit a miniscule representation.

Opening each case for the first time and taking each guitar out was the point of maximum trepidation and anxiety, rather than excitement. On initial release, each one was given a cursory once over to see if there was any immediate and obvious appreciable damage. I can report that, so far, that no appreciable impairment has occurred to any of the guitars during stasis. No significant issues requiring immediate corrective work were noticed, which was a massive relief. Phew!

One thing common to many, if not all, guitars was an unidentified surface film/smear, despite being effectively protected from too many outside elements. There were also signs of varying degrees of oxidation and/or corrosion to some metal parts although, again, nothing particularly serious. Most of these ‘issues’ would be rectified by a sensitive clean. A few guitars seemed to have more nitrocellulose weather checking than I remember. Whether this was a result of inaccurate memory or a genuine reaction to environmental factors, I cannot be absolutely sure. While finish crazing can add mojo to a vintage guitar, I’d rather not intentionally make it worse, so I was a bit despondent on that front, as the crazing process is irreversible. So, job number 1 would be a thorough deep cleaning – not enough to ruin the genuine patina of age but just to bring the finish back to life and protect it for the future.

1984 Gibson Explorer

The next thing was a quick acoustic strum and noodle before plugging them in. All of them were strung at full tension to preserve the neck relief but the strings themselves showed various degrees of corrosion and were horribly sticky to the touch. What surprised me was that about 80% of them were still in tune. Impressive. They sounded dead and lifeless though, even acoustically. So, job number 2 would be a full restring and setup for each of them.

Each guitar was then plugged in to an amp to test the instrument’s electrics. This is, sadly, where the most obvious degradation was evident across the board. Initially, some showed no signs of electrical life at all, which was a concern. Others had annoyingly intermittent noisy signals, many had rough scratchy pots, iffy crackly switches and raucous jittery jack sockets. I don’t think that any permanent failures occurred although they clearly needed to be seen to before they could be used in earnest. To be honest, with unkempt electrics and long dead strings, they generally sounded awful compared to how they should be. Not a promising initial analysis. So, job number 3 would be to go over the electrics where necessary to return them to usable operation.

That’s about it. Thankfully, there were no major concerns other than any reservations I might have had anyway (these are vintage guitars after all). The appearance could easily be resolved through some sensitive tender loving care (TLC). The electrics, I was pretty sure could be cleaned up and just used. Restringing and setting them up properly would, I hope give them a new lease of life. Phase 1 sorted then – just 3 key straightforward tasks for each guitar plus anything specifically identified on each one as they went through the TLC procedure.

Playability

As mentioned above, straight out of storage, pretty much every guitar felt dead and lifeless with little resonance from the bodies. Anyone who has followed CRAVE Guitars over the years knows that it is my firm belief that guitars should never be kept as mere trinkets and they need to be played regularly. The guitars seemed to agree wholeheartedly with this observation, as they were telling me loud and clear that they didn’t appreciate not being used for so long. It makes me wonder how many would‑be collectors are put off vintage guitars because they try one out in this unprepared state and then presume that they are all like that.

As I wasn’t in a hurry, I experimented with my approach to this zombie‑like phenomenon. They are just bits of wood, metal and plastic after all; why should a period of abandonment make that much difference? What is it that makes the difference? I decided to take some amateur and idle investigation a little further.

1983 Gibson Corvus

Some guitars I stripped down straight away, while others I decided to play for a while before reconditioning them. The interesting thing is that they didn’t need cleaning or restringing to bring them back to some resemblance of vitality, they simply needed playing for a while. Even with ratty old strings, tarnished finish and creaky electronics, they surprisingly would recover much of their vibrancy after a few days of being used. Some needed more teasing than others – no surprise there. This doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be made even better. Those that were given some TLC first seemed to spring back a bit quicker and stronger with fresh strings on board.

Most of the guitars did not need much in the way of set up to restore their playability. Not one needed a truss rod adjustment (phew!). I suppose the necks have been OK for several decades and they had already settled into how they should be. However, restringing gave an opportunity to check action, nut, bridge saddles, intonation and pickup height to fine tune them. A couple needed appropriate lubrication for the nut, bridge and tuners but not much. Time for some D’Addario/Planet Waves ‘LubriKit Friction Remover’, especially on vibrato‑equipped instruments. Just a few simple things made a lot of difference.

However, getting back to the point, the biggest difference to usability was simply to play them for a while. The comparison between ‘before’ and ‘after’ was remarkable in almost every instance. I’m sure that there must be scientific reasons but I’m not clear in my mind what actual cause and effect is going on here.

General TLC

This is the bit of maintenance that I’m probably best at – the simple stuff. I have mentioned quite a few times that my practical guitar tech skills are limited. What I can do though, is to give guitars a thorough pampering. The first thing is to take the old strings off (and recycle them). Some needed a bit of extra dismantling, for instance to get at the electrics, to shim a bolt‑on neck or to capture neck/body codes and document internal condition.

Cleaning is a relatively straightforward and painless process but it does make a huge difference to aesthetics. If there were specific reasons to do so, I might start off using T‑Cut judiciously to get through thick grime or smooth out some minor scratch marks. However, T‑Cut isn’t recommended to use on vintage guitars but it can help in some circumstances, as long as one is very careful. I have tried other abrasive products with varying degrees of success.

Most of the cleaning process was done using my guitar maintenance ‘system’ of choice, which is D’Addario/Planet Waves products.

More gentle than T‑Cut is D’Addario’s ‘Step 1 Restore: Detailer’, which is good for restoring the underlying nitrocellulose finish without ruining the natural aging and patina that develops over many years. It also helps to reduce minor swirl or plectrum marks, giving a nice healthy overall sheen. The degree of elbow grease required depended on each guitar and it is worth it.

After leaving the finish for a day to stabilise, I then used D’Addario’s ‘Step 2 Protect: Guitar Wax’, which uses premium quality Brazilian carnauba wax to give it a lovely finish and protect it for the future. As a wax, I’m uncertain as to how effective it actually is on nitrocellulose or polyester finishes but I figured that it certainly can’t do any harm. It is important here not to use anything that contains silicon or other unhelpful contaminants.

At this point, I would stop and not use D’Addario’s ‘Step 3 Shine: Spray Cleaner’ unless I continued to play the guitar for some time. It is ideal for use when a guitar needs a quick spruce up after playing, before putting it back into its case and/or moving onto the next one.

Plenty of people prefer other maintenance systems such as Dunlop’s excellent cleaning products. I just prefer the ’Addario/Planet Waves’ products. It may seem like I’m promoting and/or recommending their products, I’m not – it just works for me. They are quite expensive per millilitre but I think worth it on balance.

All rosewood and ebony fingerboards needed a good clean and multiple applications of lemon oil (which, incidentally, ain’t what it used to be!). Here, I use Kyser Lemon Oil, now that I’ve run out of my old good stuff, which it seems you can’t get any more. I’m still looking for something better though. Maple fingerboards only needed the same cleaning as for body/neck finish and it is important not to use lemon oil on lacquered maple fingerboards.

The condition of frets unsurprisingly varied from guitar to guitar, especially in the lower ‘cowboy chord’ frets. A few will require expert fret work at some point but not immediately. There were a few signs of rough surface corrosion. At its worst, rust build up could be removed using very fine grade wet & dry paper, whereas routine sprucing up could be achieved with fine wire wool depending on condition. For a final gleam, I used D’Addario’s ‘Fret Polishing System’. Visually, it does make a difference and it makes playing much nicer, especially when string bending in the higher registers.

Most of the other metalwork was OK and nothing needed anything radical. One has to be careful on gold, chrome or nickel plating, not to abrade the surface too much, so a gentle application of Brasso Metal Polish wadding was usually enough to remove surface tarnish and restore a nice metallic shine. I didn’t need to go further and use something harsher like Solvol Autosol on any guitar metalwork.

The crackly, glitchy, scratchy electrical components, including the usual pots, switches and jack sockets were mostly solved with a dose of electrical contact cleaner and repeated use to clean the surfaces. Here, I use Tone Electro-Sound Guitar Pick-Up & Electronic Cleaner, which is expensive but cheaper than the class leader, DeoxIT. There were a few remaining electrical problems that will require soldering and/or replacement parts/wires but nothing requiring immediate attention. As they were mostly OK when they went into confinement, it was really only new issues that will need sorting out.

1965 Fender Duo-Sonic II

As I’m sure most guitarists will attest, new strings are a key part of the playing experience. Here, I am very pragmatic and don’t insist on a ‘must have’ type of string. I am certainly not a string snob, opting for some (expensive) esoteric boutique product that needs changing after every play. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference. What I will mention is that it requires a level of investment to restring 40+ guitars, especially without ready access to bulk buying as a regular end‑consumer.

For Stratocasters with a vibrato block, I generally use Fender Bullets 10‑46 gauge. For most standard scale guitars, I use Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 10‑46 gauge. For short scale guitars or ones that benefit from a little extra string tension, I’ll go up to Ernie Ball Power Slinky 11-48 gauge. For the Gibson ES‑150, I haven’t decided on a suitable string set yet but it will probably need something like 12-56 semi‑flat wound strings to give it the necessary volume, warmth and resonance that it deserves. With the dreaded Brexit negotiations and no clear trade deals with either the European Union or the U.S.A. (or anyone else for that matter), I may decide to migrate to British‑made Rotosound strings for general use.

A final buffing with a lint‑free duster keeps the guitar’s finish nicely clean and shiny. No guitars are going back into long‑term storage and all will be played regularly over time. They aren’t on constant display and are kept indoors in their cases when not being played.

Remedial Work

Most of the guitars were in pretty good condition when they were stored away, so they didn’t go into incarceration with (m)any outstanding issues. Fortunately, they also came home in pretty good condition too. As mentioned above, I think both basses need some expert attention to their necks. I can’t be sure what issues they may have or what may be required but it is probably best to leave that to the experts.

There are a few guitars that do need electrical work doing, once again, anything beyond cleaning up contacts is best left to the experts. Some have intermittent problems (hums, crackles) or weak signals. On some, the balance of tones doesn’t seem right and could do with investigation. Perhaps some combination of new pots, switches, wires, capacitors, jack sockets, solder joints, etc. may be required.

If replacements and/or repairs are needed, where possible, these will be vintage correct. However, finding genuine vintage parts in the UK is a big issue and importing them is disproportionately expensive, so it isn’t something to be taken on lightly. In several instances, I may have to be pragmatic and replace faulty vintage parts with newer quality equivalents. After all, it is better to have guitars working properly, otherwise they are just planks of wood, bits of metal and plastic that won’t get played. Things like vintage pots can always be fitted retrospectively if need be.

Apart from the basses, not one of the guitars suffered neck problems, which I am genuinely amazed at. I guess they were old and settled anyway. Certainly no fretwork will be needed other than some basic levelling, crowning and polishing. I wish it was something I felt more confident about doing myself but I know that, if I made a mistake, it would undoubtedly be worse than when I started. Best left to a competent technician.

None, thankfully, require any finish work. I would prefer to leave any worn finish, dinks, scuffs, scratches or other marks as they are, rather than refinish a guitar and ruin its authenticity. Besides, I am smitten by the untold stories behind the genuine blemishes and imperfections that give them character. These are not new guitars and neither should they look it. Neither are they museum pieces, so the ravages of daily use are important to both their integrity and charm.

I only have one refinished guitar, which is CRAVE Guitars’ ‘signature’ 1975 Gibson Les Paul Standard. The guitar came to me when it was about two years old and had significant buckle rash on the back. For a while, it was finished in natural before being refinished again in a beautiful cherry sunburst. If you are wondering, it was originally a dark tobacco sunburst. At the time, as a teenager, I didn’t know any better and had absolutely no idea that in several decades that I would a) still have the guitar or b) value original finishes. Oh well. One lives and learns.

1975 Gibson Les Paul Standard

Guitar cases are a different matter. Some of the very old ‘cardboard’ cases are pretty tatty and there is not much that can be done about that. A number of cases have broken latches or missing handles and I would like to work through these to make them at least usable. Sourcing vintage or OEM NOS parts and restoring the hardware isn’t easy, as latches, hinges and handles were mainly riveted on, rather than screwed. Again, this isn’t entirely necessary or urgent, so it can be a project for a future date. Mostly, they are best left as they originally came to me.

Parts and Accessories

There are a few guitars that have had newer parts fitted at some point (not by me, I might add!). Some of these examples could do with sensitive conservation by using vintage original replacement parts. None of this is necessary or urgent so, like several other jobs, it can be done over time as opportunities present themselves. Messing with them or modifying them is not on my agenda.

Case candy is always nice to have but I don’t go out of my way to acquire it, if it wasn’t original to the guitar. Authenticity matters here. We have more than enough fake news and phoney history to contend with, without adding unnecessary doubt to the origins of the guitars.

Some have optional parts missing, for instance, my 1977 Fender Stratocaster doesn’t have its original bridge cover but, let’s face it, does it really matter? It may be another ‘nice to have’ but it serves absolutely no beneficial function.

1977 Fender Stratocaster

Many of the guitars have their original cases but, similarly, many came to me with non‑original or modern cases. While I might like to get vintage original cases for some guitars, that can be inordinately expensive and it kinda messes with originality. Another ‘nice to have’ but not essential. If an occasion comes along to conserve the instrument better, I’ll consider it as and when. It really is the contents that matter.

If I’ve done my buying well in the first place, the acquisition of parts and accessories to restore a guitar to as close to its original condition generally aren’t needed. There are always exceptions to each rule, so it’s on a case‑by‑case basis.

Documentation and Photographs

By now, you’ll have hopefully concluded that they are all in more‑or‑less acceptable playable condition. Everything else is a bonus.

All that is left to do is to document each guitar at this particular point in time. As mentioned above, when the guitars went into storage, they were photographed and their individual characteristics logged onto a comprehensive database. Now, several years later, some of the details on the database can be updated and, where information was missing, new data can be added.

CRAVE Guitars – Database

New photographs have been taken for historical evidence and also added to the database. In the event of some potential future catastrophe such as theft or damage, all the necessary details will be available. Many of the same photographs can also be used on the web site to go with new all‑new features that have been written. I will come back to the web site in due course, so that’s enough on that front for the time being.

In addition, and perhaps more interestingly, this article and the documentation are all part of each these guitars’ long life stories and something that can go with them if and when they ever get passed on. Perhaps for the first time in their long lives, there is a written and photographic moment‑in‑time record for these wonderful heritage artefacts. This extensive task is still only partially completed but there is no ‘burning bridge’ imperative to hurry the task and it can be done at leisure.

The one I couldn’t put down

Rediscovering these lovely vintage guitars all over again was a real pleasure and there weren’t really any major surprises or disappointments. I wasn’t planning on comparing or ranking the returnees. There was, however, one guitar that stood out above all the rest during the process.

It was… drum roll please… the cool 1965 Fender Jazzmaster. It is an all‑original, pre‑CBS standard sunburst Jazzmaster, so there is nothing particularly unusual about it to differentiate it from any other of the period. Once it was resurrected, fairly nearly the end of the programme, it was the one that I just couldn’t put down and I kept playing and playing if for several weeks before I was compelled to move on. The Jazzmaster must have had some fairy dust sprinkled on it for it to stand out from very tough competition.

1965 Fender Jazzmaster

I consider myself to be very fortunate not only to have had all the guitars but also to re‑experience them for a second time. I am therefore largely content with my lot, despite the hellish privations in getting through the wicked times to this redemptive point.

What next?

Well, the obvious next thing to do is to play and enjoy them. That is, after all, the whole point of having these things in the first place, isn’t it? They can’t all be played at once, so organising them so that they can have equal opportunity for playtime will be important.

That brings us back to an oft‑repeated bugbear of mine, which is my priority to refurbish the house’s currently unused cellar to make a safe and secure home for them all. In the meantime, they are arranged not too badly, so they can be accessed without too much heavy lifting.

While I have worked through the vast majority of the repatriated guitars, these only represent about two thirds of all the instruments here at CRAVE Guitars. There are also the other 24 guitars (and counting), some of which could well do with the same sort of pampering that the returnees have had, and some also need similar remedial work to, for instance, frets, electrics, etc.

1967 Gibson Melody Maker SG

I think the cycle of TLC is a continuous one. Once one cycle has been finished, it will be time to start another one. It is a bit like the metaphor of ‘painting the Forth Bridge’, i.e. an on‑going, repetitive and never ending process. Almost the definition of Sisyphean. At least it is a pedestrian task that I can enjoy as therapy from the mad, mad world unravelling outside my little hikikomorian bubble.

While the focus of this article has been on the guitars, there are also effect pedals and amplifiers that need regular attention and some of which were repatriated alongside the guitars. The same basic principles apply to keeping them in tip‑top shape, even though their needs are different.

I don’t need to sell any guitars although a bit of rationalising and trading up may actually be a good idea. The thing is that I’m not one of those people who regularly buys and sells to keep a constant flow of ‘new’ (to me) guitars coming through. I tend to grow an attachment to guitars, and especially these guitars that have been through so much at my expense. There is maybe a small number that I could part with to make space for something else. It’s just whether I can break the emotional ties. Oh, that and the impending global recession will undoubtedly have a bearing on matters.

There will also inevitably be further additions to the ‘collection’ in due course. I can’t see it getting smaller but I can certainly envisage it getting bigger. However, due to the finite constraints of space, time and money, buying anything else is on hold for a while out of plain old and boring necessity.

Help Needed

I mentioned in the last article that vintage guitars, effects and amps need expert attention from time to time to keep them working at their best, so this is basically a reiteration. If there is someone out there with the requisite skillset to help maintain these treasures, and who is local to SE Cornwall in the UK, I would be interested in exploring opportunities. Is there anyone out there attracted to the proposition? If there is, please contact me at the e-mail address at the bottom of every page on the website.

Learning points

Well, having gone through all of the above, I must have learned something, right?

Probably the most important lesson is simply, ‘don’t do what I did’. Don’t store guitars away for long periods, especially in inappropriate environmental conditions. I couldn’t help what happened to me and I did what I had to do using my best judgement at the time. In retrospect, I am not sure what I could have done differently and retain the guitars. I ‘swear to God’ that I don’t ever want to go through that experience again.

The second lesson is ‘to take your time and not rush in’. To do so would risk the integrity of the guitars. After all that time away, a few more weeks waiting to be sorted out made no difference in the big picture. A measured approach worked wonders and also took a lot of the potential stress out of the process. In effect, instead of a single insurmountable task, breaking it down into manageable steps made it more of a therapeutic and cathartic exercise.

The third lesson is to ‘do what you can and do not do any more’. Leave the other stuff to the experts. Be prudent and cautious about what you undertake. Any foolish actions might well prove to be irreversible and therefore regrettable. One also really doesn’t want to make them look like new; they are old and they are meant to look and feel that way. Conserving these artefacts is important, while preserving them (proverbially ‘pickling them in aspic’) is not. Sensitive refurbishment means accepting that what they are is a direct result of what happened to them and to be happy about it. That doesn’t, however, mean that they should now be neglected all over again. They can be played, enjoyed, maintained and kept in good condition, no problem. They’ve survived this long; my job is to ensure that they survive for a long time after me.

That is really it. Three fundamental, profound and straightforward learning points. Simples! The vista of glorious vintage guitars has been re‑opened to me, so that is one thing to celebrate for sure. The haptic experience of playing these gracefully aging instruments has been restored at long last.

Tailpiece

So, that represents some of their story, revealed at long last. After a year‑and‑a‑half, I can finally say that I am relatively pleased with how things are and no longer over‑anxious about what I might find. Why am I not over the moon? Any overwhelming joy or excitement has been surpassed by the detriment of the past decade that I cannot obliviate.

There is still plenty to do, even in one’s splendidly isolated silo of virus‑induced exile. The short‑term aim is largely to continue on the path already set, while also looking forward more ambitiously to the medium‑to‑long‑term future. I have a plan; it is executing the plan that is the problem. That, ultimately, comes down to filthy lucre.

Anyway, that’s two out of the three catch‑up topics now dealt with. I hope you’ll be willing and able to return for another tasty course of ‘whazzup’ delights next month.

Stay safe and hope you continue to survive the coronapocalypse. Remember that the basis of karma is to ‘be good and do good’. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Addiction to false beliefs is equivalent to wronging the world’s rights”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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June 2020 – Whazzup at CRAVE Guitars

Prelude

WELCOME BACK ONCE again guitar fans and hello to any new visitors. We are now half way through an extraordinary 2020 and the world is still turned upside down in so many concerning ways. While there may be glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel for COVID‑19, there is still a long way to go and there will be profound ramifications that it will leave in its sizeable wake. At the end of last year, we had no inclination as to what was about to befall, yet here we are now. Perhaps us hooman beans really aren’t as clever as we seem to think we are (shock, horror – hold the front page!). It seems that we also still have some way to go before all people are deemed equal and can live their lives freely, responsibly and peacefully. The first half of 2020 has passed by very quickly and, frankly, good riddance to it. I don’t like wishing life away but it has been 6 months that I’m sure we could all have done without, everything being on‑hold.

Well, here we are and no more historical facts, quotes or predictions on which to ponder this month. I said at the very end of the last article that I would get back to pontificating about ‘cool & rare American vintage electric’ guitars and, at last, I can deliver on that promise/threat (delete as applicable).

There are 3 themes on which I’d like to embark this month. Firstly, I mentioned in my December 2019 article that I had bought some gear (big surprise… not) during last year but I didn’t go any further than to list what they were, without any indication as to the whys and wherefores behind the spending spree. Secondly, after 18 months, most of the 42 repatriated guitars have now been properly assessed and worked through as far as I am able. So far, I haven’t given any real sense about what I found and what I learnt from the exercise. Thirdly, there have been a number of purchases during the first half of 2020 and in due course I can reveal what those are and how they relate both to the existing ‘collection’ and to the ‘wanted’ list from that same December 2019 end‑of‑year/look‑forward roundup.

I think that there is more than enough material to occupy one article, so without further ado, let us begin at the beginning. Sitting comfortably? Good. Then, we’ll begin…

2019 CRAVE Guitars’ Purchases

An Introduction to the 2019 CRAVE Guitars

2019 was certainly an interesting year. Due to circumstances, I started out not anticipating much in the way of guitar purchases. The relatively modest vintage guitar ‘wanted’ list from December 2018 included a Danelectro of some sort, a Fender Starcaster and a Gibson Melody Maker. These had all featured on the target list for more than one year, so it seemed a fairly realistic expectation. What actually happened was a bit more fruitful than I foresaw and I think it deserves some rationale to indicate why they weren’t random purchases. In fact, 2019 resulted in nine new additions to the CRAVE Guitars family, spanning five decades (1940s‑1980s with at least one from each). I couldn’t really afford the outlay but, although it meant sacrifices in other areas, it has probably been worth a bit of hardship. I hope you find this array of short stories moderately interesting.

1982 Fender Bullet H2

This is what happened when esteemed Fender designer John Page was tasked with creating a low cost student model to carry the ‘Made in U.S.A.’ decal and replace the outgoing Mustang and Musicmaster? The result was the Fender Bullet. I’d already acquired a 1981 Fender Bullet which was essentially a Telecaster‑on‑a‑budget model. Several aspects of the first iteration intrigued me and I set about looking for a second generation model, with the more Stratocaster‑like body outline. Initially, I was looking for a ‘standard’ one with twin single coil pickups and the integrated bent steel pick guard and bridge assembly, just like the ‘Tele’ Bullet. Instead, I found a cool Fender Bullet H2 in great all‑original condition in very smart red and white with a maple neck. This version has a more robust standard integrated hardtail bridge/tailpiece with through‑body stringing. The H2 features what at first glance appear to be standard twin ‘humbuckers’. However, looks can be deceiving. The pickups aren’t actually traditional humbuckers – they are actually 4 single coil pickups arranged as two pairs in humbucking configuration. In addition to a normal 3‑way pickup selector switch, the H2 has two additional buttons that ‘split’ the humbucking pickup pairs to give a wide range of tonal options including genuine single coil sounds (unlike most tapped or split humbuckers). When it arrived, one of the 4 pickups wasn’t working and it had to be sent to a pickup expert to fix. Thankfully, it was a weak connection between the coil and pickup lead, so easily sorted. Like the earlier Bullet, the H2 has a very nice standard Telecaster neck. The diverse sounds available from this guitar are nothing short of remarkable and it makes me wonder why this particular unique configuration hasn’t been widely used since. The early USA‑made Bullets were misunderstood and tend to attract a lot of unfair criticism from purists. As a result, like the Fender Leads of the time, they weren’t manufactured for long. Judging it on its own terms, this is really not the cheap Stratocaster imitation it may seem at first glance. I realised that the Fender Bullet H2s are both cool and quite rare, so fit the CRAVE criteria. I never envisaged that it would be so fascinating and collectable while still being affordable. This Bullet H2 came with its original (if battered and stickered) Original Hard Shell Case (OHSC).

1975 Fender Starcaster

The Fender Starcaster (and, no, that isn’t a spelling error) has been a long‑standing ‘wanted’ guitar, ever since I got a 1960s Coronado. There is very little similarity between the two models but as there are very few semi‑acoustic electrics in the brand’s history, I was once again curious. Unusually, I bought this one from a retailer, so I probably paid more than I normally would have considered but it was worth it. Where the Coronado is fully hollow, the Starcaster has a solid centre block running under the pickups and the massive hardtail bridge/tailpiece assembly. Surprisingly, the Starcaster has through‑body stringing like a Telecaster. While the Coronado has DeArmond single coil pickups, the Starcaster uses the sublime Seth Lover ‘wide range’ humbuckers as used on several Telecaster variants from the 1970s. While both the Coronado and the Starcaster use bolt on maple necks, they are, again, very different and the latter is unique to the model with a maple fingerboard. Both the Coronado and Starcaster were reissued by Fender in 2013 although neither are a patch on the originals. The vintage Starcasters are instantly recognisable because of the distinctive bridge assembly and the 5 controls (2 volume, 2 tone plus master volume). When going over the guitar on arrival, I found it was a rare very early 1975 (pre‑production?) model. It has been well used but is still in remarkably good condition with the sort of genuine patina that only age can bestow. The tobacco sunburst and sunburst flame maple is just gorgeous. It is also a fantastic guitar to play with a great neck and I really like the (in‑vogue) offset body shape. Even better, it doesn’t play or sound like any other Fender, ever made. The Starcaster didn’t prove popular on its original release and wasn’t produced for long before being quietly discontinued in 1982. I can understand why it didn’t sell in large numbers but that misses the point about its exclusive charms. Make no mistake, the Starcaster is a high quality instrument just waiting to be rediscovered. This beauty is not to be confused with cheapo far‑eastern Strat imitations from the 2000s that unfortunately carried the ‘Starcaster by Fender’ moniker. The case, while vintage, is not an original Fender Starcaster case. Obtaining a Fender Starcaster was a long‑standing aspiration achieved, which can now be removed from the ‘wanted’ list. These babies are now becoming extortionately expensive on the vintage market, as the ‘collectorati’ are now cottoning onto them. Seems I got this one just about in time‑ish.

1979 Fender Stratocaster Anniversary

I already have a 1977 Stratocaster hardtail and I was kinda looking around for one from the early 1970s with a vibrato before they become unaffordable (rapidly heading that way now). Along the way, I became distracted by the 1979 Anniversary Stratocaster. I missed out on a couple before I finally attained one (once again at a higher price than I intended, unfortunately). The Anniversary is distinctive in that it was Fender’s first foray into limited edition commemorative models, celebrating 25 years since the original Stratocaster’s introduction in 1954. I was attracted by the classic look of silver, black and maple fingerboard. Whether one can regard a massive 10,000 examples as a ‘limited edition’ is debatable. It also comes with a very unsubtle ‘Anniversary’ logo emblazoned on the bass horn plus a much more understated 25th anniversary neck plate which carries its serial/issue number. This one comes with its original certificate of authenticity and most (but not quite all) of its case candy, as well as its ABS OHSC, all of which is nice to have. Like all Anniversary models, this one is heavy at 10lbs (4.6kgs) but I can live with that because of the part this model plays in electric guitar heritage. It looks cool, sounds great and plays very nicely, although the action is a little high. Fundamentally, though, it is essentially a standard Stratocaster with a few aesthetic embellishments. This guitar is in excellent, almost mint condition, which suggests that it was kept as a memento rather than an instrument to be played, which in my view is sacrilege. These aren’t especially rare instruments and many purists would say they aren’t cool. Well, I’m going to stand my ground and say that I like it, which is why it now has a safe home here at CRAVE Guitars.

1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite

This is the first of a pair of Fender Elites that I bought in 2019 (and the second Stratocaster!), both of which I think are quite desirable. As background, the Elite series was only produced in 1982 and 1983 before it was withdrawn shortly before CBS sold Fender in 1984. It is the innovative electronics that really set the Elites apart. The signal chain starts with 3 ‘noiseless’ single coil pickups including an additional dummy coil to reduce hum. These pickups are distinguishable by the Fender logo covers with no visible pole pieces. Instead of a 5‑way pickup selector switch, there are 3 on/off buttons, 1 for each pickup, giving 8 permutations in all (including all ‘off’). This arrangement provides easy access to more sounds than the standard Stratocaster of the time. The switching is unusual but also very intuitive (far better than Fender’s current S‑1 switching). The signal then passes through an on‑board active pre‑amp powered by a 9V battery. The controls are different too and not just the nice soft‑touch logo knobs. There is the usual single master volume complemented by two master tone controls, comprising Fender’s propriety MDX (MiD‑range eXpander) boost and TBX (Treble/Bass eXpander) circuit. The Strat’s iconic jack plate is also absent, with the output moved to the body edge. The bridge assembly is also unique, here it is a top‑loading hardtail Fender Freeflyte bridge. In use, it plays just like a Strat, although it is a touch on the heavy side. The sounds though are, as you might expect, quite different from a normal Stratocaster. Before the purists clamour with cries of sacrilegious iconoclasm, the electronics went on, albeit modified, to be used in both the Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy signature guitars, so the Elite wasn’t an abortive experiment. This example looks particularly cool in creamy Olympic White with a lovely rosewood fingerboard. This Elite is in lovely all‑original excellent condition and comes with its ABS OHSC. Like many 1970s and 1980s Fenders, these are now becoming more desirable on the vintage market. These original Elites are not to be confused with the similarly named but otherwise standard Elite series instruments issued by Fender between 2016 and 2019.

1983 Fender Telecaster Elite

More?! OK then. Onto the second in the pair of Fender Elites. This one is a 1983 Telecaster Elite in lovely translucent Sienna Burst with a gorgeous rosewood fingerboard. Like the Stratocaster Elite, it is a fascinating variant on the classic design. The electronics here comprise dual‑coil noise‑cancelling Alnico 2 pickups routed through an on‑board active 9V preamp with 2 volume controls allied to the same MDX (mid‑range) and TBX (high‑range) tone controls as found on the Stratocaster Elite. Like its sister model, it has the unique top‑loading hardtail Fender Freeflyte bridge. The body has cool single binding on the top edge, similar to the original Custom Telecaster from the 1960s. For some inexplicable reason, the designers at Fender felt that a Telecaster would look good with a Les Paul‑like scratchplate. They were wrong, it doesn’t. Fortunately, the scratchplate was provided in the case, rather than being attached and even then, it could be stuck on with double‑sided tape. Personally, I prefer it without the scratchplate, revealing the woodgrain through the finish. Like the Stratocaster, the Telecaster is a touch on the heavy side but I can forgive that because of its unique position within the Fender canon. This little beauty is in near mint condition and includes its OHSC. The Elite is far from your average Telecaster and, on my unending quest for something cool and rare, it has found a good home here at CRAVE Guitars. Both Elite models (and there was also a Precision bass in the range as well) are harder to come across than standard models, so the prices tend to reflect their relative scarcity. The Elites are unequivocally ‘curio’ guitars from the last dying days of Fender’s notorious CBS era, so they tend to be frowned upon by purists, which makes them all the more appealing to the maverick side of my enduring addiction to the quirky and idiosyncratic guitars from a generally unloved period of guitar history.

1947 Gibson ES-150

Thus, we move onto the ‘Big G’. The author sadly hit one of those dreaded ‘big birthdays’ in 2019 and without much else to celebrate, I figured that I would mark my passing years with something self‑indulgent. I had been keeping my eyes peeled for a vintage Gibson ES‑150 for several years and watching as the prices escalated to, frankly, silly levels. I couldn’t afford one of the carved top pre‑war models with the Charlie Christian pickup, so I was looking around for a newer model, which would be cheaper. For those that may not know, the Gibson ES‑150 was introduced in 1936 and is acknowledged as the first commercially successful electric Spanish guitar. I eventually found a lovely 1947 ES‑150 from the first year of post‑war production and sporting a single P90 pickup. This one was way, way more expensive than I could normally justify so, because of my impending mortality, I was tempted to go for it. In fact, it is the most I’ve ever spent on a single instrument to‑date. This ES‑150 was residing in Italy, so I imported it before Brexit shuts down all opportunities to access vintage fare from our European colleagues. Owning a really old hollow body non‑cutaway jazz guitar is new territory for me, so it was with some trepidation and excitement that I was delving into this particular art form. The guitar itself is in fine all‑original condition with just surface crazing to the lovely sunburst nitrocellulose finish. There is no serial number or Factory Order Number (FON) which, along with the features, dates it to 1947. Playing it is a different experience altogether, as it needs heavy semi‑flat wound strings to get the laminated top vibrating. Then there is the limited upper fret access to contend with, so it takes some time to acclimatise to the technique. Being deep‑bodied and fully hollow, this one actually works quite well as an acoustic jazz guitar too. As you may know, I really like single pickup guitars, so there is less to get in the way of pure P90 tone. The ES‑150 is currently a bit of an outlier within the CRAVE Guitars family. One thing is for sure, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Definitely not the ideal guitar of choice for metal heads though.

1965 Gibson Melody Maker

This 1965 Melody Maker was a bit of a gap filling exercise. Between 1959 and 1971, Gibson released four versions of their ‘student’ guitar, the Melody Maker. The first was a single cutaway Les Paul shape (1959‑1961), the second was a unique and really cute double cutaway model (1961‑1965), the third iteration was a somewhat crude and short‑lived double cutaway model (1965‑1966) and the final generation was SG‑shaped (1967‑1971). This is one of the rather ‘ugly duckling’ models from 1965 (weirdly often called the ‘type 2’, even though it’s the third body shape), which completes the set. The Melody Maker comprises a slab mahogany body with double cutaways, a set mahogany neck with the typical narrow headstock, one single coil pickup, and comes in a reserved cherry nitrocellulose finish. Unsurprisingly, this model has never been reissued by Gibson, although there has been a Joan Jett signature guitar. The Melody Maker name has re‑appeared a number of times since the 1960s. This example is not in pristine shape but is all‑original and it comes with its OHSC. At least this one hasn’t been butchered over the years unlike many. I was shocked that a recent guitar magazine article (which I won’t name but they really should know better) was recommending that the vintage Melody Maker body should be routed and the pickup replaced with a P90 or humbucker! Unbelievable and indefensible! I think that the narrow single coil pickups give the Melody Maker a distinct tone, which is very underrated by purists. Melody Makers are unique in the Gibson history books and unmolested examples deserve much more credit in my view. They are made from the same materials in the same Kalamazoo factory by the same people as other highly prized models and should be regarded (and treated) as worthy vintage instruments in their own right. They are very light and resonant, making them really easy to pick up and play. Compared to many Gibsons from the 1960s, Melody Makers are still relatively affordable on the vintage market and represent a good starting point for people interested in collecting vintage guitars from a major American brand. Personally, I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of this pointy body shape but now that I own one, it is growing on me.

1989 PRS Classic Electric

Having dipped my toes into the world of Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitars with an elegant 1988 PRS Standard, I was looking around for other early hand‑finished guitars that were made in PRS’s original facility in Annapolis, Maryland. These early, so‑called ‘pre‑factory’ models are becoming increasingly collectable, especially as they are now beginning to get to vintage age (and price!). The early PRS Customs are becoming incredibly expensive, so my eyes settled on an early PRS model that was initially called the Classic Electric when introduced in 1989. The model was swiftly renamed as the CE after a legal dispute with Peavey over the original name. NB. The CE is not to be confused with the far Eastern PRS SE (‘Student Edition’) guitars. I also had my sights set on the early solid Electric Blue metallic finish, which I think is stunningly beautiful. This example is a very early Classic Electric, being only the 473rd guitar off the production line, distinguished by its 24‑fret, bolt‑on maple neck and the plain headstock carrying the block ‘PRS Electric’ logo (soon to change to the familiar modern ‘Paul Reed Smith’ signature script logo). There are quite a few marks including one significant ding to the body and the finish on the back of the neck has worn down. The wear indicates that it has been well played, which is often a sign of a soundly put together instrument. OK, it doesn’t have the flashy flame or quilted maple cap, faux binding, bird inlays or set neck but it is still a very creditable guitar that plays very well and sounds great. The CE is one of those under‑the‑radar PRSs that the collectors tend to overlook, although genuine owners praise them very highly. PRS finally got around to re‑releasing the bolt‑on CE model in 2016 but the new ones really aren’t the same as these early ‘handmade’ examples. Despite the wear and tear, it is all‑original and comes with its OHSC but no case candy. You can’t have everything. A vintage PRS Custom to add to the Standard and Classic Electric sadly has to remain on the wish list for the time being.

1959 Silvertone 1304

I had a bit of a mad spell towards the end of the year when I was buying several guitars for the sake of it. I was looking for a vintage Danelectro and came across this funky little 1959 Silvertone 1304 with its single cutaway and dowdy brown finish. It is very similar to the Danelectro U1 (differentiated by pickup position and headstock logo), which is no surprise seeing that Danelectro manufactured Silvertone guitars for the Sears & Roebuck retail and mail order company at the time. The 1304 is actually a pretty rare model being only available in Sears & Roebuck’s ‘Wish Book’ Christmas catalogue and related advertising of 1958, 1959 and 1960. The neck and familiar ‘coke bottle’ headstock is also rare, being finished in natural, rather than colour matched to the body, apparently due to supply shortages at the time. It also has the circular electrics cover on the back and the squared off neck joint that confirms its age and lineage. The ever present Lipstick pickup and body‑edge tape will be familiar to Danelectro fans. It also feels, plays and sounds just like you’d expect a vintage Danelectro from the 1950s, i.e. great. This was the last of the Danelectro single cutaway body shapes before they moved to double cutaways in the 1960s. The single pickup and simple controls let you focus on playing and getting the most out of a very cool and groovy (and lightweight due to semi acoustic construction) instrument. It is a lot of fun to pick up and play and hard to put down. The action is a little high but that resistance actually forces one to play differently compared to a more ‘refined’ guitar. Like others in this résumé, it is in fine all‑original condition, although it sadly doesn’t come with an original 1950s case. These cool Silvertone and comparable Danelectro guitars are still amazingly affordable for vintage guitars from the so‑called ‘golden era’, perhaps because they were (generally) made in large numbers and sold to a largely undiscriminating ‘student’ audience at the time.

2019 CRAVE Amps? What Amps?

Right, that’s the 2019 guitars covered, so what else was new? Well CRAVE Amplifiers didn’t achieve anything at all in 2019 – no new additions and no losses. Nada. As it turned out, I was quite happy running two relatively similar modest little units as daily go‑to amplification during the year, a 1978 Fender Champ and a 1978 Fender Vibro Champ both in ‘silverface’ livery. Don’t underestimate these diminutive 5W Class A valve amps, they are really great for what they are. I acknowledge that I’m not a vintage amp specialist, so they are not hugely abundant here at CRAVE Guitars. Owning vintage valve amps demands space, time and effort as well as oodles of filthy lucre, so I’m not in a huge rush to buy up large numbers of vintage amps.

An Introduction to the 2019 CRAVE Effects

CRAVE Effects did a little better during 2019, although there were only five new pedals to join the clan. Having said that, two of those were outstanding examples of the type. As with amps, because I am not a vintage effect expert, I’m sticking to a few well‑known global brands from the 1960s to 1980s, rather than go too far into the realms of the unique, idiosyncratic and unusual.

1987 BOSS RV-2 Digital Reverb

It may seem heretical to many but this is the first vintage digital effect to join the CRAVE club. This Japanese BOSS RV‑2 was sought out principally because there are few vintage compact analogue reverb pedals out there. Yes there are the bulky (and expensive) vintage valve reverb tanks from the likes of Fender but I wanted something small and convenient to add an extra special dimension to the aforementioned Fender Champs, neither of which have on‑board reverb. So, a digital reverb was the way to go with this rather plain looking but flexible 1987 BOSS RV‑2. It provides a range of reverbs and it sounds quite natural without too many sibilant digital artefacts, although not quite the soft and cuddly warm tones of traditional analogue reverbs. Still, it does its job very well and it is from the right era (pre‑1990s), which is why it’s here. Interestingly, the high current draw of the digital circuitry in the RV‑2 means that it cannot be powered by batteries and requires a BOSS PSA power supply in order to do its ‘0’ and ‘1’ digi‑thing.

1969 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face

This is the first of two iconic classic pedals acquired in 2019. The humble but fabled English Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face rose to stardom mainly because of none other than Jimi Hendrix. This isn’t one of the earliest Fuzz Faces that used germanium transistors but one of the first to use silicon transistors, this one dating from c.1969. It is amazing what a few cheap electronic components can end up being turned into. Truth be told, I didn’t actually intend to get this pedal. It came along via an eBay auction and I decided to take a punt and put on a (relatively) low bid and… what happened? No‑one came along at the last minute to beat me and I ended up getting it. Yikes! Yes, it was hideously expensive but not as bad as it could have been. Therefore, while it was not exactly a bargain, I suppose it was still a reasonable price for what it is. Fortunately, it delivers its fuzzy glory in all the right ways, so that’s OK then. It is in excellent all‑original condition and in perfect working order, so my initial reticence was soon overcome. It actually looks pretty cool in red too. By today’s standards, its circular form factor does take up a disproportionate amount of pedalboard real estate but, c’mon, it is a vintage fuzz pedal – what’s not to like? The original Fuzz Face was definitely a batteries only zone back in the 1960s and neither is there an LED status light to indicate when it’s on. Great though it undoubtedly is, this is clearly not one of those pedals you’d want to gig with down the local pub, that’s for sure.

1982 Ibanez PT9 Phaser

At totally the other end of the value scale from the Fuzz Face, we have a fairly widely available and averagely collectable 1982 Ibanez PT9 Phaser. CRAVE Effects has somehow accumulated more phasers than any other kind over the years and that’s probably because the late 1970s and early 1980s experienced a surfeit of these simple analogue modulation effects. Let’s be honest, your average phaser really isn’t the most exciting of guitar effects compared to what else is out there, especially in these days of ubiquitous boutique eccentricities. The PT9 is pretty utilitarian and sounds OK, but not necessarily exceptional, which is probably to damn it with faint praise. I’m guessing that Ibanez chose to change their colour scheme from the previous blue/white PT‑909 Phase Tone to the orange/black PT9 in order to compete on looks with the all‑dominating and very orange MXR Phase 90 of the time. I had been on the track of a PT9 to fill a gap in the collection for a while, so the gap was duly filled. Original PT9s are still relatively affordable phasers and they are, perhaps, a good entry point for neophytes to get into vintage effects before getting into more exclusive and expensive fare. Time to move on… Next!

1981 Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro

… and here is the second iconic classic pedal procured in 2019. The otherwise ordinary green Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro rose to hallowed status via another guitarist association, this time with the inimitable Stevie Ray Vaughan. Like the Fuzz Face, the original vintage TS‑808s are now inordinately expensive on the vintage effect market, with prices increasing all the time. This was one of those times when I felt a ‘now or never’ moment and bagged a reasonably good one dating from 1981 at just below average price. At this point, I’m going to proclaim ‘emperor’s new clothes’ and say that, while it is undoubtedly a very competent pedal, does it really deserve the unchallenged accolades above all the other competent overdrive pedals out there? Just why we guitarists spend thousands of pounds/dollars on vintage instruments and vintage valve amps and then rely on some dirt cheap solid state components to make them sound ‘better’ is beyond me. To some extent, the same goes for the Fuzz Face but at least that is a down ‘n’ dirty fuzz pedal! I understand all the well‑rehearsed arguments about compensating mid‑boost and clean low gain drive into the front end of an already cooking valve amp. Perhaps I’m missing something else obvious but I really don’t think so. I also know that it goes against the grain to defer from perceived wisdom and to test the TS‑808’s seemingly unassailable reputation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the Tube Screamer and what it does. I just believe it is somewhat overrated for the crazy market prices being asked. Anyhow, one of the green meanies is here now and is part of the growing ranks alongside other Ibanez ‘0’ and ‘9’ series pedals. At least I no longer have to keep scanning the market endlessly for a good one at a reasonable price.

1980 MXR Micro Amp

… and right back to the other end of the value scale again with a humble 1980 MXR Micro Amp. Essentially, all a boost pedal does is to increase the signal level hitting the front end of a (valve) pre‑amp, therefore not only adding a bit of volume, but also hopefully some natural compression and a bit of smooth distortion without affecting the underlying tone. Once again, there is something of a question mark about relying on a few cheap bits of electronics to make vintage gear ‘sing’. Having said that, the Micro Amp does its job perfectly well and it can be a really useful tool in the right circumstances. However, let us be clear that it is not exactly the most exhilarating or far out stomp box out there. As an idle observation, it is funny how things come round again given long enough. Outboard pre‑amp pedals are now a ‘big thing’ in the 2020s, albeit a bit more complex than this little MXR. There are many modern‑day compact pedal pre‑amps out there, including the Hudson Electronics Broadcast, Catalinbread Epoch Pre and Fredric Effects 150 Preamp. At least the unassuming little white MXR Micro Amp doesn’t take up much pedalboard space and is oh‑so simple in operation with only a single ‘Gain’ control. Like most un‑modified MXR pedals back in 1980, the Micro Amp only eats batteries for breakfast and doesn’t come with either an LED status light or DC input.

Help Needed

Vintage guitars, effects and amps need attention from time to time to keep them working at their best. While I can undertake basic maintenance, set ups and general TLC, I know that my skills are finite. I am looking for a guitar tech or luthier who can, from time to time, take on a vintage guitar and do some sympathetic remedial work, whether it involves fretwork, electrics, repairs or whatever. I’m also looking for someone who can do occasional work on effects and amps, which is basically electronics, switches, leads, soldering, etc. With over 60 vintage guitars, more than 50 vintage effects and 6 vintage amps, I need some expert help every so often. If there is someone out there with the requisite skillset for any or all of the above, and who is local to SE Cornwall in the UK, I would be interested in making a connection. Anyone interested? Please contact me at the e-mail address at the bottom of every page on the website.

Tailpiece

Actually, I think this is a good place to pause, so I’ll stop there for now. Nine guitars and five effect pedals is enough for one month.

At this point, I must stress that I did not buy any of these items as a pecuniary investment – anyone familiar with CRAVE Guitars will know that is not my motivation. However, given that savings accounts in the UK are currently offering just 0.01% interest rate, I would prefer to be broke and have great vintage guitars, amps and effects to play with and look at. The last recession that began in 2008 apparently saw 30% wiped off the value of vintage guitars, albeit temporarily. To me, it’s still a no brainer, when funds become available, eBay here I come for some vintage gear hunting. The other thing I would add is that all of the new additions are consistent with CRAVE Guitars larger strategic grand plan to conserve ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ guitars, amps and effects as important musical and cultural heritage. Oh, and it’s also an unhealthy obsessive addiction as well but I guess you’ve sussed that out already.

At the top of this article I mentioned that there are three themes to work through and I’ve only covered one of them. I am conscious that the ‘History of Modern Music…’ series resulted in lengthy articles and this is, compared to them, quite short. I’m also a bit fatigued by the demands of lengthy researching and writing exercises. Thus, I’ll leave the rest for future article(s). I reckon that it is best to keep these reflective articles relatively consumable. Besides, there really is no rush, is there? Are we going anywhere, anytime soon? No, I thought not.

Believe me, there is still plenty of stuff to be getting on with here at CRAVE Guitars, so I guess I’ll be getting on with stuff then. Who knows what the world will be like in the coming months. Despite the continuing stresses and challenges of COVID‑19 et al, I hope that you’ll return here in due course for your prescribed diet of diversionary diatribes. Stay home, stay safe and stay (in)sane. Remember this simple but important mantra while civilisation unravels around us, Peace, Love & Guitar Music. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “I can see where this is going because I’ve been where it went.”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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May 2020 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part XIV

Introduction

Hello and welcome back for some more rambling discourse from CRAVE Guitars. It seems the world is still in the firm grip of the deadly COVID‑19 ‘coronageddon’. My thoughts and wishes go out to everyone directly affected. Trusting that you are surviving the latest global health crisis, thank you again for tipping up here for a bit of idle distraction.

Dah, Dah! Here we are, at last. After 14 fun, fact‑filled fragments, it seems that we have, finally, come to the end of this major venture, summing up post‑Renaissance musical development up to the current day. By the end of this article, we’ll not only have brought things pretty much up‑to‑date but also we’ll take a look at the current state of the musical landscape, as well as take a speculative look into the near future.

As is customary, if you would like to (re)visit any of the first 13 parts of the story (and 370 years) to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Loose Ends – 2020 so far

Historical Context 2020

Compared with previous decades, stating the obvious, we are only at the very beginning of the 2020s. There is therefore little to report thus far. However, these early doors events will have profound and long‑lasting consequences for humanity. Behind the stark headlines, the trend for both capitalist and communist systems is one that permits or even encourages a ‘privileged’ elite to implement systematic, cynical and cruel punishment of those in poverty and the oppression of the vulnerable. Meanwhile, the rise of the populist far right seems to be gathering momentum, threatened by on‑going economic migration.

Year

Global Events

2020

Devastating bush fires in eastern Australia, known as the ‘Black Summer’ started in 2019 and continued into 2020. The fires burned 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres, 186,000 square kilometres, 72,000 square miles), killing an estimated 1 billion animals, 34 people and destroying nearly 6,000 buildings.

 

After much political turmoil, the UK formally withdrew from the European Union (EU) after 47 years of membership, triggering an 11‑month transition period to agree trade arrangements between the UK and the EU.

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, the worst since the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. The virus pandemic emanated in China and spread to more than 210 countries. Worldwide confirmed cases exceed 5.8 million with more than 360,000 deaths. Major stock market crashes precipitated an inevitable global economic recession alongside massive social disruption.

Musical Facts 2020

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

7

January

2020

Canadian musician and songwriter, best known as the drummer of the rock band Rush, Neil Peart died of aggressive brain cancer in Santa Monica, California at the age of 67.

1

February

2020

English guitarist, producer and founder of post-punk rock band Gang Of Four, Andy Gill died of pneumonia in London at the age of 64.

29

March

2020

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2020’, including The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Depeche Mode, T.Rex, The Notorious B.I.G. and Nine Inch Nails.

25

February

2020

American guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of alternative rock duo Mazzy Star, David Roback died from metastatic cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 61.

20

March

2020

American country music legend, singer, songwriter, actor, producer and businessman, Kenny Rogers died from natural causes at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia at the age of 81.

3

April

2020

Award-winning American soul singer, songwriter and guitarist, Bill Withers died from heart complications in Los Angeles, California at the age of 81.

7

April

2020

Award-winning and influential American country singer, songwriter and guitarist, John Prine died as a consequence of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 73.

9

May

2020

American rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, singer, songwriter, and musician, Little Richard died from bone cancer in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 87.

The Current and Future of Modern Music

Alrighty, now we are up‑to‑date with real‑world current events, there is one last thing for me to do before formally concluding this long‑running series. Up to now, everything has been retrospective, factual and objective. Now, it’s time to take an off‑road diversion for the rest of this article, which comprises the author’s forward looking and wholly biased subjective value judgements. You have been warned!

To wrap things up, I thought it was worth both a critique of where we are now, as well as a speculative look forward at the short‑term future for modern music. Looking any further forward than the near future is relatively pointless. In the absence of the proverbial crystal ball, we can only venture a few thoughts about what future generations might encounter. Let’s begin with the recent past and where we are now.

A ‘Millennial’ Critique

A number of things seem to be influencing music development in the first quarter of the 21st Century. For convenience, this ‘analysis’ is split into 3 separate but interdependent themes. These themes are not only sequential but also part of a continuous feedback loop that changes the dynamic between the parameters continuously over time. The 3 key factors that are defining our current relationship with music are:

  1. How we make and perform music
  2. How we distribute and access music
  3. How we listen and respond to music

I’d like to say at this point that, while hindsight can certainly aid clarity, it’s really too soon to be conclusive and definitive. It is a pretty ambitious task, so let’s get going and see where it leads us…

1. Making and Performing Music

It is logical to presume that the proportion of the population that creates music is significantly smaller than the percentage that listens to what is created. This hasn’t changed since music began. Likewise, the instruments that musicians use to create music have not changed fundamentally for a long period of time. Taking most modern musical styles as an example, singing is singing, guitars are guitars, basses are basses, drums are drums and keyboards are keyboards… well, you get the drift. However, the way they are used and combined in composing and arranging music has changed significantly since the dawn of the digital age, which started to have a major impact in the 1980s.

The time‑honoured fashion of getting some mates together, forming a band, coming up with some decent songs, playing them live to an audience, hopefully getting a recording contract, going into the studio and laying down an album with a few singles and taking things from there has largely now gone. Yes, it still may be the route for many aspiring musicians but it is no longer the only route. Arguably, the dependence on the old processes has been broken.

Technology has pretty much redefined the landscape. The concept of a ‘band’ has changed, being replaced either by solo efforts or by much more fluid collaborative, collective and cameo approaches.

Similarly, the reliance on large recording studios has also been challenged. Many musicians now never even see each other in person and don’t even have to be on the same continent. The crucial role of session musicians, along with expert audio engineers, is under threat, affecting the livelihoods of many. It has become commonplace to share music files over the Internet, rather than embark on ‘full‑band’ studio recording as was commonplace in the past.

Music can now be created from start to finish in pretty much any location. Digital recording tools have revolutionised the ability to record music pretty much anywhere by anyone. A company called Soundstream developed the first digital recorder back in 1977 and, with the advent of commonplace home computers, Windows-based audio recording came on the scene around 1994. Recognising the potential, digital editing was quickly adopted by professional studios and the user interface has generally become based on replicating the studio mixing desk. The advent of the computer‑based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) means that musicians are no longer restricted to using the large scale recording studios of the past. At its most basic, all that is needed is an audio interface using an ADC (Analogue to Digital Converter) to change sound waves into sampled ‘0’s and ‘1’s that can be manipulated within the DAW software on a PC or Mac and stored on a hard disc or SSD. Examples of today’s high quality DAWs include Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, Reason, Live, Studio One and Garageband.

For musicians, Internet‑based tutorials and digital modelling provide infinite opportunities that were inconceivable for previous generations. Technology now provides virtually limitless choice throughout the creative process. The downside of exploring endless permutations of options is that the technology can become an end in itself, rather than the means. As legendary producer Quincy Jones said, “If you don’t fully understand music, you end up working for the technology instead of the technology working for you”. These opportunities do not, of course (?), necessarily make for better music. Nothing can replace practice and hard work which, along with talent, make for great musicians. On the plus side, it may well mean that talented creative artists can now be heard where in the past they may have struggled in obscurity. However, it also means that there is a great deal of mediocre and often lazy music making to flood our everyday lives.

As mentioned in previous articles, the diversity of (sub‑) genres has proliferated since the millennium. No longer is it easy to talk about the simple and clear divisions between rock, reggae, funk, metal, country, pop, etc. The blurring of genre definitions makes it difficult to articulate what one might expect from an artist. In fact, being intentionally provocative, one might suggest that the homogenisation of modern music output has led to a bland and featureless musical landscape making it tough for talented creative musicians to be noticed. This increasingly diffusive effect is likely to continue and make it harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff. Many modern pieces of music are manufactured without skill and often even without an instrument in the traditional sense being used at all. This is not to suggest that musical ability has been compromised, far from it. Talking from the perspective of a guitarist, there are many, many exceptional musicians out there that it is problematic to stand out from a very capable crowd. It seems counter‑intuitive to say that increased ability is leading to a general stagnation of musical individualism. The technology is not to blame, it is how people use it that may be the culprit.

We will move onto distribution and listening habits in due course. However, I mentioned earlier that the factors are interdependent and there is a constant feedback loop to the start of the process. What I mean here is that, in the past, a band might have created a coherent collection of tracks that formed an album with the intention that those tracks are listened to in sequence from beginning to end in one session. Nowadays the distribution and listening habits have substantially changed the way that musicians are approaching song writing. The focus is increasingly on short soundbites that can be consumed in isolation without context. The lack of discrimination in the end‑to‑end process can lead inevitably to a lack of shrewd production in an ever‑decreasing spiral of unremarkable averageness.

The passionate anger and frustration of youth‑induced music‑making seems sadly lacking, being replaced by indolence, fed by unopposed uniformity and conformity. Previous musical revolutions have often been accompanied by reckless and rebellious behaviour with resentful citizens butting heads with authority and rejecting established shared societal conventions. Music was hard-edged and lyrics often used socially provocative language about sex, drugs and/or anti‑establishment activities. Where music may once have been used to articulate heartfelt protests about political tensions, for instance war, poverty or injustice, it has become replaced by yearnings for selfish privilege, celebrity status and competitive wealth.

Many traditional genres have been straight‑jacketed by conformist ‘rules’ (classical, blues and bluegrass are prime examples) that constrain their evolution unless it becomes fused with other genres in an attempt to create something ‘new and different’, e.g. alt‑country, dubstep, grime or nu‑jazz. Where will the next revolutionary game changers come from, if anywhere, and how will they manifest? Well… if we knew that, we’d be investing in them right now. So… are we predestined to a future of ever‑more standardised mediocrity? I sincerely hope not. We need something spirited to stir up the system and shock us into collective action to support radical change, rather than to reinforce the constantly regurgitated status quo.

Technology also means that the live music experience (and its economic importance) has changed, probably more for artists than it has for audiences so far. Playing live music has altered the way we might listen to an artist’s catalogue. While the stadium bands are still filling massive venues, many of these are either long‑standing industry stalwarts or over‑hyped popular artists pandering to a heavily marketed target audience. Festivals are another matter altogether, where attendees tend to go for a more expansive musical experience, rather than being drawn by a single band. It is hard to see where the future generations of lifelong professional artists is going to come from, able to reinvent themselves in line with changing tastes and consumer demands over the course of a long career.

Venues’ PA systems have become very refined and are much quieter and more ‘hi-fi’, changing the visceral experience of concerts of the past, perhaps appealing more to the head than the heart. A silent stage with in‑ear monitoring and no traditional backline is a very strange environment in which musicians now increasingly play live together. Being contentious again, many ‘live’ performances now feature pre‑recorded (sampled and played back) tracks behind solo vocal artists performing without an apparent backing band. The spontaneous variability of a live performance has been replaced by predictable and faultless replication of recorded music. The audience focus at huge events is increasingly focused on the visual spectacle, rather than the musicians. The Musicians’ Union does what it can to look after working musicians’ interests and to promote live performance within a radically new equilibrium.

We will have to wait and see what happens to concerts and festivals once the worst of the coronavirus is over. Most 2020 festivals have been cancelled and very few are covered by insurance for the impact of the pandemic. This means that many familiar annual outdoor music events may never recover and will fade into history. Arenas and smaller indoor venues that rely on multiple event organisations are likely to fare better, although social distancing measures may curb attendance at gigs, pubs and clubs for some significant time yet.

Interestingly, despite the frequent and fervent proclamations that ‘guitar music is dead’, I firmly believe that the world’s favourite instrument will continue to provide a cornerstone of music innovation for years to come.

Right. Having laid well and truly into the superficial malaise affecting music creation and performance, let’s move onto distribution.

2. Distributing and Accessing Music

Without delving too far back into history, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the how music gets from the musician into the ears of the listener.

Records – American inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison introduced the phonograph in c.1877 before the flat disc 78rpm ‘record’ was launched around 1898. It wasn’t until 1931 that the concept of the 12” 331/3rpm vinyl record was created by RCA Victor, while the LP ‘album’ took time before becoming popularised by Columbia Records from 1948. The monaural, double‑sided 7” 45rpm single was released in 1949 by RCA Victor to replace the ‘78’. The compact cassette, originally seen as a viable alternative to vinyl records was introduced by Philips in 1963. In 1983, Sony and Philips released the Digital Compact Disc (CD) format in a further attempt to usurp old‑fashioned vinyl records.

Radio – Guglielmo Marconi made his first radio broadcast in 1901 and the BBC started UK radio transmissions in 1922. The first experimental radio broadcast of music was made in 1919 in Australia and began to be popularised during the 1920s. Radio Luxembourg began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to the UK and an important forerunner of unlicensed ‘pirate’ radio, including Radio Caroline in 1964. Stereo radio broadcasting didn’t appear until 1962 when the BBC began experimental stereo broadcasting in the London area. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation launched the first Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) radio channel in 1995, shortly followed by the BBC in the UK and Swedish Radio.

Television – The BBC’s television public service began in 1932, based on the system developed by Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. By 1936, Marconi/EMI introduced a ‘high-definition electronic’ television service in the UK. Colour television broadcasts began in Britain in 1967. Digital Satellite TV was introduced by Rupert Murdoch’s News International Sky Television in 1989. The move to digital TV enabled much higher definition video and audio to be broadcast over significantly larger numbers of channels.

Streaming – Digital multimedia streaming is an Internet‑based delivery method that began to appear in the early 1990s. The first widely adopted standard digital format for audio was the MP3, released in 1993, which uses ‘lossy’ data compression to reduce file size by discarding inaudible information. The first successful MP3 player was introduced by AMP in 1997. Streaming (rental) is differentiated from downloading (ownership). The former means accessing an on‑demand electronic resource stored on a provider’s server while the latter involves the actual transfer of a digital video or audio file to the end‑user. Listening to a digital audio stream requires some sort of media player that uses a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to re‑convert digital ‘1’s and ‘0’s into sound waves.

Prior to WWII, broadcasting was predominantly by radio and television while physical media was largely the preserve of vinyl records. Music distribution became considerably more varied in the post‑WWII boom period. Music became routinely available through physical media, whether it was vinyl, compact cassette or many other formats including 8‑track and reel-to-reel. Even wireless radio and television broadcasts largely relied on the profitable sales of physical media to consumers. Since the digital revolution began, other formats have become available including CD, DAT, Mini Disc, SACD and DVD Audio.

Looking back, things seemed ever so simple. Music fans listened to radio or watched TV and latched onto something they liked. In order to access and archive permanently what they wanted to listen to, fans would take their precious money to the record shop and buy the latest release from their favoured artist. They would take it home, treasure it and play it repeatedly as part of a record collection. Music sharing was possible through portable media such as cassette ‘mixtapes’. However the seemingly miraculous resurrection of the outmoded delivery system we know as vinyl by a vehemently Luddite section of the population suggests that archaic channels may be far from dead and buried.

With digital files, there is nothing tangible to see or feel. Modern distribution channels also mean that not as much effort is put into album artwork these days. There are many, many great examples of cover art from the LP era that have become iconic. If the co‑dependency between the album and artwork is lost in the digital age, it will be a loss that will sadly be little noticed. Similarly, the idea of a ‘special edition’ including additional content and merchandise has become the preserve of reissuing material on older non‑digital formats.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was the massively important but relatively short‑lived cable‑TV phenomenon, comprising exciting new music channels such as MTV and VH‑1, based predominantly on the broadcast of highly innovative music videos with huge production budgets. As the medium became mainstreamed, music television has been overtaken by the likes of Internet‑based video streaming services such as YouTube, Vevo, Vimeo, Netflix and Hulu, relying heavily on subscribers for economic viability.

The American music streaming service Napster was founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker in 1999 as a pioneering peer‑to‑peer (P2P) file sharing service that put the emphasis on digital distribution over the Internet. While Napster allegedly infringed many copyright and royalty laws, it played an important part because it started the now‑widespread streaming of audio files (MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc.) including High‑Res Audio. Today, there is an abundance of digital music streaming providers including subscription services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, Roon, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Google Play, Rhapsody, Pandora and Groove among many others.

Musical artists understandably set about exploiting dedicated online digital platforms to get their music heard, such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp. The returns for artists from streaming are very low and rely on massive numbers of listens to earn the sort of money that successful bands of the past might have enjoyed from traditional record sales.

Compare the 20th Century’s collectable commodity with the 21st Century’s disposable produce, where music has become a throwaway commodity that is rarely valued and seldom scrutinised for musical merit. When ephemerally experienced over the Internet’s latest streaming service, music is no longer ‘possessed’ as a prized, tangible asset. Music can be accessed conveniently and added effortlessly to massive libraries of digital files. Perhaps the milestone introduction of the Apple iPod, iPhone and iTunes library in 2001 was a precursor to the current fetish for the random accumulation of quantity over selective quality. Following Apple Inc.’s audio innovations, it became clear that mobile personal media devices were a vitally important way forward for both distributors and consumers.

Furthermore, you can’t sell or donate digital files like you could a vinyl record or CD. This virtually kills the second‑hand market stone dead. It is becoming increasingly hard for record/CD collectors to spend hours thumbing through racks to find and recycle a rare gem, and thereby preserve it for future generations. Talking of browsing, scanning the Internet is not the same as visiting a record shop and discovering something you weren’t looking for and taking a risky punt with your hard‑earned cash. Bricks and mortar record shops are mostly a thing of the past and those that remain are niche independent specialist stores rather than mainstream chains. Familiar retail names such as Our Price, Virgin Records and Tower Records have disappeared from our high streets. In the UK, HMV is the sole survivor, at least for the time being.

Much of the change is being driven by the same giant media corporations that have ‘managed’ the system in the past, including Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. The one thing that is consistent is the role of money as a fundamental incentive. Marketing is now targeting the consumer with what the distributors want you to have. One could argue that nothing has really changed but it has. Aggressive online profiling has replaced passive advertising. Providers limit your ability to explore and be curious, even if you had the time and opportunity to do so. Companies like Apple, Google and Facebook continuously accumulate and analyse ‘big data’, so they know far more about you and what you (think you) want than you do. I guess it depends on whether you believe the conspiracy theorists that this is a threat to individuals’ privacy and freedoms or not.

As consumers, you’d think that we would want to influence the way we are fed with product by remote and faceless corporations. Strange as it may seem, we appear to be sublimely acquiescent to the institutions that increasingly dictate our interests for us. It seems we no longer stop to think deeply about the consequences of our actions and, as a result, we become complicit and no longer able to make conscious decisions about what we really need or want. Perhaps this compliant behaviour has become habitual and has maybe it has actually exacerbated our inability to care about the issues.

So, where is this taking us? Well, it seems that the thin end of the wedge that separated emotion from music began shortly before the turn of the millennium and I cannot see it changing much. Internet streaming and spookily intelligent push notifications are here to stay and we’d better get used to it. The companies that struggled with adapting from the old to new ways have invested heavily in their strategic version of the future that it will be hard to change it now. It isn’t all bad news. There are a few old geeks out there keeping the values of free‑spirited ‘record collecting’ alive and passing on the importance of worthy recorded music to younger generations. Vinyl is resurgent in the 2020s and CDs aren’t faced with oblivion just yet, so there is still a hope for niche physical media and the important sense of joy and ownership that goes along with it… but for how long?

Although we’ve already covered some of the ground, let’s move onto the end user of music and how listening habits are changing.

3. Listening and Responding to Music

The human psyche, it seems, is hardwired to respond to music in a similar way as for other forms of artistic expression, such as literature, art and film. It almost seems that we have little or no choice in the matter. As a sweeping generalisation, we have largely become overloaded and desensitised to many external stimuli to the point that we filter it out of our consciousness. Musicians of the future will need to find ever more creative ways of catching our attention and tapping into our deepest emotions. At its slightest, our involuntary reaction to powerful music is when the hairs on your neck stand up and/or your heart rate increases. At its strongest, music can evoke physiological and behavioural responses such as foot‑tapping, dancing, anger, smiling or anguish. It also gives us plenty to talk about.

However we might sense it, music is a universal language based on the mathematical and physical laws of the universe. Scientifically, human physical audio receptors are restricted to a narrow perceptible spectrum (around 30hz‑20khz), meaning that we are prohibited from hearing or using infra and ultra sounds. While it is true that the possible permutations of the notes within the constricted auditory spectrum is finite, optimists might suggest that different forms of musical expression are only limited by our imagination.

Enthusiasts might contend that humankind as a species cannot thrive without music in some form or other. Artistic endeavour and appreciation is a necessity that sets Homo sapiens apart from other species. Music is, however, far from just a collection of scientific rules systematically moulded into a structured format, it is a crucial way of conveying feelings and emotions in ways that words alone cannot. Music is not something that we just hear. At its most powerful, it is something fundamental that we experience and something that stays with us throughout our lives. This reliance means that music will endure in some form or other.

One way to look at what’s happening is to consider the human experience of music as a continuum. At one extreme, the vast majority of output becomes increasingly homogenised and artificial, consumed with little effort and even less emotional connection. Commercially produced music has and will become increasingly commoditised, driven by fervent capitalism. At the other extreme, musicians continue to experiment with innovative ways to communicate with anyone prepared to listen, often demanding the listener to pay close attention in order to appreciate its merits. For those in search of something fresh, discovering meaningful music will require greater effort in order to reap subsequent rewards. In between these polar opposites will be all manner of output that revives and recycles existing material in some form or other.

One human trait is that we try to compartmentalise what we listen to, so we tend to seek convenient categories into which we fit, prioritise, communicate and share our preferences. As we exhaust the opportunities to create something profoundly new, we will continue to try and fit new music into pre-determined pigeonholes – it is just that the pigeonholes increase in number but decrease in capacity. In the last 10‑20 years, there has been a distinct blurring and fusing of genre definitions and the proliferation of sub-genre archetypes. The human capacity for radical creativity will, however, continue to flourish around the margins as sub-genres become ever more fragmented. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to predict what our future selves will regard as classic mould‑breaking music. In the same way that traditional genres are becoming less fertile, the concept of the landmark ‘album’ will become increasingly less relevant, if indeed there will be such things in the future.

We should, perhaps, remember that most music listeners are not musicians and therefore measure experiential value by completely different criteria. I have long wondered why people listen to the music they do. What makes one person a hardcore metal head, while someone else will politely appreciate classical music or another goes clubbing? There is an element here of both nature (what our brains might be hardwired to like) and nurture (as a result of upbringing, experience and environment). That debate is for another article at another time. However, diversity does tend to factor into the discussion about how and why the same people listen to music, yet differ in their preferences.

As with the earlier parts of the musical supply chain process, there has been a consequent shift in listening habits. Firstly, it seems that many people don’t actually ‘listen’ to music as a discrete activity like they used to. More likely they consume it while multi‑tasking and listening to compressed digitised files through low‑quality audio devices. The historical infatuation with pricey high fidelity equipment has, perhaps, been overtaken by a quest for convenience and affordability. The ‘hi‑fi’ system is now generally something that older generations consider an essential delivery system and they tend to use outmoded physical media to feed their serious listening activities. For many, though, music has become just a background soundtrack to their lives.

It is unclear whether the current trend for idle digestion as a tertiary activity is going to change significantly any time soon. I don’t see any signs of a reinvigoration of the passion that music can command of the human spirit and the way it can deeply impact on our mood and behaviour. It will take some profound discontent with the way things are to make people consciously change their behaviour. This sounds like the disgruntlement of a ‘grumpy old man’. Well, if there is some basis for truth in these dissatisfied observations then, yes, I’m guilty of being angry for the sake of it. However, I would like to think that there are sufficient numbers of people somewhere out there that might just agree with this jaundiced world view and want to change things for the better. It is clear that change won’t come about by accepting things as they are and it will take conscious action to motivate a desire for a new musical revolt. Goodness knows, we need it. It happened with blues and jazz at the beginning of the 1900s, rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, rock in the 1960s, punk in the 1970s, electronica in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s. Since then? Nada, zilch. I look forward to seeing what the next act of social insurrection is likely to be.

If given the opportunity, do people actually enjoy the activity of listening to music in the way previous generations did? The answer is, I think, yes they do. The mechanics are very different from the past and that in itself is probably a good thing. Just because older generations see modern trends as divergent, it doesn’t mean that change should be regarded as bad. The willingness to adapt continually is fundamental to mankind’s future. I do believe that we are going through a phase where people are comfortably content to take what they are given, rather than make the effort to search actively for something they might actually prefer. I believe that, given an appropriate impetus, many people actually want something to stir the emotions more than the plain fodder of casual acceptance. Is this bland optimism? Possibly.

As a musician, I am concerned that the average person doesn’t care enough about the value associated with the years of hard work and practice that goes into trying to create something for others to listen to and appreciate. It is frustrating when this effort is ignored. This stuff matters, it really does. However, it seems that I am in the minority. I would like to take some sort of stand here but it feels like a pointless exercise, which I guess makes me part of the problem, not the solution!

After researching 370 years of music and global history over the last year‑and‑a bit, I have learned that music will keep adapting and changing to reflect the prevailing culture. Musicians will buck the trend and push the boundaries and people will respond positively to those changes. Whether the change is good or bad really doesn’t matter, as long as real change takes place. While I cannot foresee what the next uprising will be, I predict that there will be one at some point and it will change the way people perceive and react to music once again.

As both an avid listener and the aforementioned ‘miserable old git’, I will probably object to the way it goes but, let’s be honest, wasn’t it ever thus? That seemingly inevitable generational disconnect actually has to be a good thing and something to embrace. Fortunately I don’t fall into the trap of considering anything made in the last 10 years as ‘just noise’ (even if it is), so hopefully the next 10 years will be pleasantly noise free. It has become commonplace to refer to music that one doesn’t like as crap or dismiss it as rubbish, whereas more likely, the music just doesn’t resonate with one’s beliefs, norms and value system.

Personally, I am constantly searching for something that moves me and makes me think. Alongside the old classics, there are plenty of emerging and aspiring new artists trying to convey their version of reality into our eardrums. I lap up new music just as eagerly as I can enjoy the familiar old stuff. My inherent curiosity will keep me vainly searching hard for the next thing to surprise and intrigue me. As ever, the journey of discovery includes as much music that I don’t really like as much as the music that I do. One thing is absolutely for sure; there is some fantastic music being made out there by some great musicians, it just takes a bit of hard work to discover it, own it and enjoy it.

The Future of Modern Music

Right, after a great deal of introductory exposition, let’s get right to the crux of the last article in the series. Below, I present to you, 8 thought‑provoking and potentially contentious ‘visions’ of the future of music, spanning the next few years/decades:

  1. Simulated artists – The fictional band was popularised by The Archies way back in 1968 and the virtual band has been around since Gorillaz animations emerged in 1998. The truly simulated pop singer that is not human behind the scenes is actually already here. One of Japan’s biggest pop stars, Hatsune Miku, is – shock horror – not a real person. ‘She’ is a Vocaloid software voicebank developed by Crypton Future Media, visualised as a strikingly pretty 16‑year old female avatar with long turquoise twintails. Expect more of the same until we can’t tell the difference between synthesis and reality. We have also seen holographic ‘tours’ with dead artists seemingly being resurrected for new concerts. Artists such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and Roy Orbison have all performed from beyond the grave. The next step may well be for these (and other) long‑since‑passed artists to interact in real time with an audience and a live band as if they were alive. Already, a frighteningly high proportion of music is currently recorded electronically without musical instruments, why not take it a stage further and interact purely with digitally created musicians playing digitally produced music? If you think that replacing (and paying) musicians with computer code is new, think again. Researchers have been using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to experiment with creating synthetic music for some time, being carried out by technology giants like IBM and Google among others.

  1. Virtual concerts – Once again, it’s already with us. Artists are already performing in one location and streaming video and audio of the ‘live’ concert to the audience’s far-flung locations. Watching your favourite band play live in your living room is a reality, if not yet routine. Currently, the medium is mainly delivered through via traditional TV or cinema. Using remote technology means removing the limits to venue capacity, reducing health & safety restrictions and improving environmental sustainability. VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and AR (Augmented Reality) may extend the creative possibilities considerably, including 3D, starting around now. With coronavirus shutting down the commercial live concert experience, VR is likely to be used to fill a gap in the market. Companies like NextVR, Oculus, Facebook and Sony are already well on the case and are rapidly refining the technology for mainstream mass consumption.
  1. Tokenising content – Tokenising intellectual property rights is on the verge of becoming commonplace using Blockchain technology. The concept of tokenising content means a creating a direct experiential connection between the artist and the consumer through cryptocurrency monetisation such as Bitcoin. The technology results in sharing of exclusive limited personalised content and merchandising opportunities. It seems that, where there is music, there will be large commercial corporations and empire-building individuals wanting to strip money from you in exchange for that ‘special relationship’ with your music idols. You may not have heard about some of the pioneering R&D companies, including Ujo, Choon, Viberate, Musicoin, Emusic, Voise, Mycelia, MusicLife, Bitsong, DigiMark, Blockpool, Audius and Inmusic, but expect the most promising candidates to be swallowed up by the acquisitive multinational tech giants very soon.
  1. Neuralinks – The term Neuralink was unveiled by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk as a means to bypass biological visual and auditory receptors (i.e. our eyes and ears). Taking the experience well beyond mobile devices and smart systems, we will dispense with speakers and screens to be replaced with direct computer‑to‑brain interfaces. The technology uses AI to curate music on the fly to suit mood, physiology, biometrics and taste. Consumers will potentially be able to create their own music in real time, initially consciously but potentially entirely unconsciously. Eventually, the technology may be used to ‘push’ instructions to control human actions rather than a means to ‘fetch’ content for entertainment. Physicality as we know it may ultimately become irrelevant before too long. Don’t believe me? Be careful what you wish for and watch this space…
  1. Death of physical media – It seems unlikely that any new physical media formats will be released now that the technology is focusing on broadband and digital transmission as the way forward. Experience has, however, shown us that some forms of tangible media have proved very hard to kill off. However, with technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, we may well see vinyl, CDs and the like finally disappear, as will the retail outlets that sell them. While the future will be 100% digital, fans of analogue media will resist bitterly until the very end but obsolescence is finally a foreseeable outcome within, say, 20‑30 years. New generations will readily adopt a digital ‘new normal’ and archaic physical media will ultimately meet its long overdue demise. Like records, record labels and record companies may well cease to exist as we know them today, becoming replaced by technology companies that care more about return on investment than creative purpose.
  1. Artists and genres – The idea of the rock superstar as a brand in its own right and dominating a discrete genre for years will pass into history. The will be fewer billionaire artists with 50+‑year careers, prestigious awards and numerous multi‑platinum albums to their name. Expensive artist relations will come and go as the corporate investment shifts to the predictable music product rather than volatile celebrity artists. Music is likely to be increasingly recycled and reused, rather than revolutionary. While the threat of moving into a world of ‘fake music’ (see above) is still someway off, the transition is likely to be gradual and therefore insidious. Music as a meaningful reflection of culture and society is likely to become more tenuous than it has been, without real modern‑day troubadours to tell the relatable stories of our generation. Music may well become a passive and uncritical description of the status quo, rather than a positive force able to change the world.
  1. Crossovers – We tend to think of music as discrete from other art forms. Arguably film/TV and video gaming are closest mediums to music and there are many instances of the visual/audio lines already becoming blurred. Although music soundtracks have been with us for over a century, the major change actually began with music videos 30 years ago and the trend will carry on. The cross‑fertilisation will continue to expand our experiential boundaries considerably as the technology develops. Think this is new? Inventor Major General George Owen Squier was credited with inventing a system of telephone carrier multiplexing in 1910, which was developed into the original technical basis for environmental Muzak (a.k.a. elevator music). Background music is now everywhere around us, so much so that we rarely even notice it, and it will continue to encroach subliminally into new areas of our lives.
  1. The real thing – Although one can predict the direct physical disconnection of the artist from the consumer, the natural inclination of human beings to congregate and participate in collective activities is strong and there will always be a place for performing live music to a live audience. Currently, no virtual experience can compete with live concert or festival attendance. Think of attending a massive music festival like Glastonbury without the rain, mud, tents, food, jostling to be ‘down at the front’ and queuing for toilets! VR hasn’t quite got that whole ‘being there’ side things solved just yet. The inimitable dynamics of a gigging experience will undoubtedly change but any short‑term falloff in live performances will hopefully rebound… eventually.

There you go. Does this represent a dream come true or a nightmare scenario? Does anyone want to bet against any of these eight ‘visions?’ of music’s ‘Brave New World’ (ref. Aldous Huxley)? Well, firstly, I don’t wager and secondly, I won’t be around long enough to collect if I’m right, so the question is largely moot. Whether the future is utopian, dystopian or, more likely, an uncomfortable compromise somewhere in between is largely down to us as creative musicians and willing audience members to determine. When discussing any future possibilities, it is unwise to ignore the ingenuity of human beings to invent something new when it really matters. Ultimately, it all depends on how much we care. Paraphrasing Clark Gable’s character, Rhett Butler in the 1939 film epic, ‘Gone With The Wind’, frankly, my dear, I do give a damn!

As far as musical instruments are concerned, the technology will continue to develop unbounded by the strictures of the past. However, real instruments will endure for some considerable time yet. Just as humans need to make music, we need the best tools to undertake the challenging task. Back to ‘guitars are guitars…’, etc.

The ‘teenies’ ended with 3 predominant major genre groupings; electronica, rock and hip‑hop. In terms of genre dominance in the early 2K20s, pop music is likely to retain its pre‑eminence, largely due to commercial factors, with urban hip‑hop, rock and soul/R&B all contributing to sales. Nu‑jazz and alternative rock are currently on the rise. Everything else will circulate around the periphery. Despite annual proclamations from the loyal that classical music will be resurgent, it will probably be limited to influencing other neo‑classical sub‑genres. The UK and U.S.A. will remain the central driving forces, although influences will become far more cosmopolitan and representative of music from cultures around the world.

On the good news front, global demand for music is growing in the early 2020s and I predict that the sector will continue to grow for some time. Streaming, rather than downloads, will dominate global music channels for the foreseeable future, although I would like to believe that some form of cultural democratisation has to take place in order for freedom of expression and consumption to succeed in the long‑term.

What actually is just over the visible horizon? Who knows? I am genuinely excited by the potential prospects and hope I’m not disappointed by the grim reality. Perhaps more importantly, why should we invest our souls in the musical experience? Arguably, music is inextricably bound to mankind’s existence and it has a profound connection to our human emotions and memories.

Final thoughts

I hope that you have enjoyed this very long journey. I also hope that it hasn’t gone out with a whimper but has motivated you to think about music as an important and integral part of humanity’s existence. Whether music evokes joy, sorrow, anger or passion doesn’t really matter, as long as it stimulates a primeval emotive response. Discuss…

You will probably be relieved to hear that, yes, this rambling soliloquy is the conclusion of the ‘Story of Modern Music’… for now. There are no more episodes, not even another epilogue.

The two companion volumes (history of the guitar and history of modern music) have covered a total of 23 articles in just over 2 years! The total number of musical facts in this series finally exceeded 1,750, never mind the 330+ quotes and several hundred global events to provide historical context. Due credit is given to all photographers for images sourced on Google Images for whom I could not find proper accreditation.

In terms of acknowledgements, I would like to thank my long‑serving (and suffering) wife who has to put up with me through thick and thicker. I dedicate this series to her and thanks for her patience in taking an interest in my anally retentive diatribes.

I have been asked whether all the content should be published in book form. Frankly, if I could be bothered with all the additional demands of publication, they might constitute a good book (or two). However, the benefits of doing it really don’t warrant the additional work required. Anyhow, as soon as books are published, they become out of date and would need constant revision to remain relevant – something to which I cannot readily commit.

Ideally, if I have time and inclination, I would like to condense the two major works into more accessible features on the CRAVE Guitars web site but that in itself is a mammoth task. It is on the ‘to do’ task list but, then again, so are many other things.

Tailpiece

Phew! For now, I really need to take a break from major research and writing projects. This means that there are no imminent intentions to bring you any further serialised projects in the pipeline. In fact, I don’t have any immediate ideas for one, so that’s a relief.

Please remember that facts, quotes and opinions featured in these articles are posted daily on both Twitter and Facebook, so everything in this series will remain alive and used, albeit in a different format.

You may (?!?!) also be pleased to hear that I shall, at least briefly, be going back‑to‑basics and writing some stuff about ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ Guitars’ and related other gubbins for a while. Remember vintage guitars? Stay safe during the ‘coronapocalypse’. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Music makes a fine lifeboat for the long journey over the choppy waters of life.”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2019 – Out With the Old, In With the Old

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Welcome to the very end of December 2019 one and all. Due to the time of year, there is a short break in the ‘Story of Modern Music…’. After 9 straight months of factoid overload, I have taken the executive decision to take a rest and reflect on the here and now. There are other advantages of a temporary hiatus in that this article is MUCH shorter than the recent monthly detailed dissection of music history. Abnormal service will be resumed as soon as impossible.

So, that was 2019, the year that was. Not only do we end the year with this article, we also see the culmination of the ‘teenies’. Before anyone corrects me, yes, I know that technically the decades don’t change here but pretty much everyone accepts it that way, so just for once – shock, horror – I’m going with the flow. I don’t know about you but the last decade, and indeed the last 12 months, seems to have passed in a blur.

I am sure you’re fed up with the traditional lazy television programming that seems to dwell on retrospectives and lists as is usual for this time of year. You may be displeased that I’m about to do the same, although I doubt that this tangential view of existence will ever get broadcast nationally.

Personally, it’s been a really, really bad year again, with far too much pain, misery and torment, and little sign of light at the end of a (collapsed and blocked) tunnel. I genuinely cannot remember what joy or pleasure feels like. For self‑preservation, I must look to the future with some hope and positivity for a bit of much‑needed karma, justice, salvation and redemption. There, I’ve got it off my chest and I won’t bang on about it again (or maybe just a little!).

Departures in 2019

As ever, we have to say au revoir to some great guitarists who have climbed aboard that spiritual transit van to the infinite jam session with the angels (and possibly the occasional demon). In contrast to recent years, this year’s list is thankfully short, although I expect those who are on it would prefer not to be. They and their music will be missed…

  • Dick Dale, 16 March, aged 81
  • Bernie Tormé (Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne), 17 March, aged 66
  • Boon Gould (Level 42), 30 April, aged 64
  • Leon Redbone, 30 May, aged 69
  • Roky Erickson (13th Floor Elevators), 31 May, aged 71

Non-guitarist departures included:

  • Ross Lowell (the inventor of gaffer tape), 10 January, aged 92
  • Jim Dunlop Sr. (Dunlop Manufacturing), 6 February, aged 82
  • Keith Flint (The Prodigy), 4 March, aged 49
  • Scott Walker (The Walker Brothers), 22 March, aged 76
  • Dr John, 6 June, aged 77 (NB. he did play guitar regularly)
  • Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith, Baker Gurvitz Army), 6 October, aged 80

Old in at CRAVE Guitars – vintage gear acquisitions in 2019

It seems to have been a better year for guitar‑related accumulation than I’d anticipated a mere 12 months ago. This is partly because of delayed house works (ggrrr!).

The trend of the last couple of years seems to be continuing, with a greater focus on the 1970s and 1980s. This is predominantly because 1960s artefacts are rapidly becoming well beyond my modest price range. Rather than pay nonsensical ‘silly money’ for older guitars just because they are old and expensive, I’m looking at what is currently a bit more reasonably priced from later decades, while also being selective about notable and interesting instruments. As you might expect, the purchases had to fit the CRAVE Guitars’ criteria (cool, rare, American, vintage electric) – the only exceptions being effect pedals from Japan and Europe. At least for the time being, some of this year’s purchases are just about ‘affordable’, while others were almost regrettably extravagantly decadent given my borderline financial disposition. Anyhoo, without further ado, time for some introductions…

CRAVE Guitars (9)

Before listing new ‘old’ arrivals, let’s just backtrack for a moment…

Example #1 – In 2016, I looked ahead and mentioned a couple of guitars on the ‘most wanted’ list. One was a 1970s Fender Starcaster and the other was a 1950s Gibson ES‑150. Perhaps not surprisingly, I failed dismally in 2017… and again in 2018.

Example #2 – In 2017 and again in 2018, I speculated about the possibility of getting a 1965 Gibson Melody Maker and… yup, failed again.

Example #3 – In 2018, I thought about finding a 1970s Fender Stratocaster and… guess what? Fail.

Remarkably, that has now changed and I managed to lay my grubby mitts on all four of the above during the last 12 months. I also went overboard just a little bit with some other spontaneous impulse buys.

So, 2019 actually saw 9 vintage guitars, covering 42 years from the 1940s to the 1980s, with at least one from each decade joining the CRAVE Guitars family. Herewith, the profligate plethora of pulchritude (apologies for the pompous alliteration)…

  • 1982 Fender Bullet H2
  • 1976 Fender Starcaster
  • 1979 Fender Stratocaster Anniversary
  • 1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite
  • 1983 Fender Telecaster Elite
  • 1947 Gibson ES-150
  • 1965 Gibson Melody Maker
  • 1989 PRS Classic Electric
  • 1959 Silvertone 1304
CRAVE New Guitar Arrivals 2019

CRAVE Amps (0)

Despite intensive but unsuccessful searches, there were no amplifiers that joined the family during 2019. Like with guitars, in both 2017 and 2018, I set out to find a 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Princeton. To‑date, that lustful ambition remains unrequited… for now, the search goes on.

CRAVE Effects (5)

As it turned out, 2019 was a funny year for effect purchases. It was a case of quality over quantity and I did manage to lay my hands on two highly sought after iconic (and therefore exorbitantly expensive) pedals. These weren’t just gap‑filling, they have been on the ‘to do’ list for some time but considered them to be way out of my price range. Consequently, fewer budget purchases made them just about possible. They were…

  • 1987 BOSS RV-2 Digital Reverb
  • 1969 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
  • 1982 Ibanez PT9 Phaser
  • 1981 Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro
  • 1980 MXR Micro Amp
CRAVE New Effect Arrivals 2019

Once the full ‘Story of Modern Music…’ has been published, I may well return to 2019’s purchases and explain the rationale behind what is a relatively diverse range of acquisitions.

Repatriation update

In addition to the newcomers, it was way back in January 2019 that I was pleased to welcome home 42 guitars, 40 of them vintage, from an extended period of enforced storage (long story!). I set out on an ambitious mission to re‑home them with respect and to lavish upon them some much‑needed overdue TLC. The aim is that they can once again be used for their intended purpose, which is to be played regularly. I wasn’t going to rush the exercise, so it has been a bit of a long haul. I wanted to ensure that each one was given the sensitive treatment it deserved. For some, it was just a clean‑up and a tweak here and there to set them up before they were re‑strung – job done. For others, some more intensive care was necessary and I have worked on them as far as I can take them, due to my lack of ability in the practical side of things. There are a few, however, that need more expert skills than I have to sort them out properly. Thankfully, I know my limits and don’t pretend to be a proficient technician.

So far, 32 of the 42 returnees have been tended to, which means that there are still 10 repatriated guitars still to work on. Six of these are vintage guitars and are next on the to‑do list. Another two are vintage bass guitars which I suspect both need some neck work, so they will be near the back of the queue. The privilege (?) of going last will go to the only two non‑vintage guitars which I own. In theory, being the newest, they won’t need as much remedial work done on them. Fortunately, none so far have been ruined. Some have degraded a bit more than I would have liked but there is nothing serious to be concerned about. Phew!

Once the ‘conservation’ work has been completed and they are once again in good playing condition, they have been/will be photographed and documented. Feature articles have also been drafted on each one. The intention is to update the web site to exhibit them at their best. Then, it will be just a case of playing and enjoying them.

Building works

I cannot let the dastardly year dissolve into history without making a comment about the long overdue building works to convert the house’s dark, dank cellar into a safe, secure accommodation for the guitar members of the family. Due to egregious actions of spiteful and vindictive neighbours, it had to be deferred yet again. Basically, this means that no progress whatsoever was made during 2019.

Music albums released in 2019 (40-ish)

Surprisingly, after a (very) slow start it actually seems to have been a pretty good year for new music. I was quite sceptical up to about two thirds of the way through the year, despairing that the musical landscape was becoming ever more moribund. Then, out of nowhere, there seemed to be a veritable flood of interesting music to close the year out. I bought a shed load of old and new music in 2019 and the following are the diverse highlights of this year’s releases for me. One can hope that there may be some future ‘classics’ among them.

  • !!! – Wallop
  • Amon Amarth – Beserker
  • Beck – Hyperspace
  • Jade Bird – Jade Bird
  • The Black Keys – ‘Let’s Rock’
  • Blood Red Shoes – Get Tragic
  • Cage The Elephant – Social Cues
  • J.J. Cale – Stay Around
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
  • The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
  • Cigarettes After Sex – Cry
  • The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
  • Crumb – Jinx
  • The Cure – CURÆTION-25: From There To Here | From Here To There / Anniversary: 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park
  • Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
  • Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  • Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
  • Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2
  • Rory Gallagher – Blues
  • Hawkwind – All Aboard The Skylark/Acoustic Daze
  • Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  • Khruangbin – Hasta El Cielo
  • Trini Lopez – The Very Best Of Trini Lopez (compilation)
  • Membranes – What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away
  • The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears
  • New Model Army – From Here
  • Rammstein – Rammstein
  • Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
  • Joanne Shaw Taylor – Reckless Heart
  • Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive
  • Sleater‑Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold
  • Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
  • Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  • Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
  • Robin Trower – Coming Closer To The Day
  • The Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All The Time
  • Underworld – Drift Series 1: Sampler Edition
  • Thom Yorke – ANIMA
  • Neil Young – Colorado

Plus (album-like) EP:

  • Black Stone Cherry – Black To Blues 2

Major concerts in 2019 (1):

Due to personal circumstances, there was just one major live music event in 2019:

  • Hyde Park – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Laura Marling, Cat Power, Sam Fender

Unfortunately, even Cornwall’s local Looe Live music festival wasn’t attended, despite it being right on the doorstep.

Social Media Quotes from 2019:

Over the year, I’ve been posting thousands of snippets on Twitter and Facebook. The following are actual comments from some very nice people about CRAVE Guitars that came this way during 2019. I don’t usually get much in the way of acclaim, and neither do I seek external validation for what I do, so these kind words of feedback felt extra special to me. They are truly appreciated and, frankly, I am humbled and overwhelmed by them.

“I love the variety of artistry you tweet about. Keep it up!”

“Thanks for the history lessons every day from @CRAVE_Guitars”

“Hey you bring it every day, man! You’ve turned me on to things I’d likely not see otherwise! Keep on rocking it!”

“Great people, knowledge, posts and positive vibes to all! 5 star”

“Thank you for expanding my guitar horizons!”

“Once again, I have been enlightened by CRAVE Guitars. They don’t teach this history in college.”

“I finally went to your website and understand you so much better now… Nice collection!!! Very eclectic and impressive! Great website, Crave!”

“You post such cool guitars. Ones that I’ve never seen before. Some truly unique ones too. Keep up the great work friend, you run a great account”

“Thank you! Hats off to crave guitars!”

“Love your photos! Thank you so much!!”

“Thank you for all your fabulous postings”

“…like always Awesome posts and great follow ups I really appreciate it, Respectfully from the USA!!!”

“Crave Guitars is one classy company”

“Thx Crave this is most excellent.”

“… thank you for sharing the great guitars and posts of Rock N Roll truly enjoy checking out your page daily.”

“Love guitars. Love music. Love Crave. <3”

“… I have to give you a separate kudos for the photography. What a picture…”

“I really enjoy these trivia posts as much as the guitar pictures. Thank you”

“That’s wonderful and thank you. Awesome page”

“You should have “A Potted History of the Guitar” as a pinned tweet. I know that you’re modest, but that thing is epic.”

“You have a great Twitter page my friend and always something to learn about with your topics.”

“Congratulations with Continued Success Great Crave Guitars!!!”

“Great stuff on your Twitter page! Love it! Keep it coming!”

“Great Twitter page! Love it. Keep it up. Always great informative and interesting.”

“You have a great Twitter Page. Love it. Great stuff. Keep it up.”

“I really like your collection. it’s very impressive and interesting.

Have a great day, Crave.”

“I totally dig your archives guitars & their players! So great! 100% fan”

Also, during November 2019, Twitter followers exceeded 6,000 for the first time. A huge “thank you” is extended to everyone who has shown interest and support.

CRAVE 6,000 Twitter Followers

So… looking forward… here is what might be coming up in 2020:

There, that’s the obligatory retrospective done, so it is now time to look forward to the coming year and the start of a brand new decade.

Vintage gear for 2020

I have been very cautious over the past few years about ‘most wanted’ gear, believing that circumstances would be very different. So, this year, I’m going to be a touch more ambitious in stating what I’m searching for in 2020, although I guarantee that not everything on the list will be procured. If the building works go ahead, the list will have to be shortened. It won’t be easy but I am back on the quest for some ‘forgotten’ models, which are more difficult to source, especially in good condition in the UK. However, apart from one wild expensive aspiration, the rest should (?!?!) be a bit more ‘affordable’ than some of this year’s purchases. I am not greedy and I don’t expect to achieve the full list, so it is purely indicative and should be considered more of a direction of travel.

Guitars

  • 1960s Danelectro (no specific model)
  • 1970s Fender Bass VI
  • Any one (or more) of the ‘forgotten’ Gibsons from the 1970s or 1980s, e.g.:
    • Gibson Challenger
    • Gibson Firebrand
    • Gibson Marauder
    • Gibson S-1
    • Gibson US-1
    • Gibson Victory MVX
    • Gibson Les Paul DC XPL 400
  • 1970s Guild (S-100 and/or S-300)
  • 1970s Peavey T-60

Amps

  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Princeton Reverb
  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Deluxe Reverb

Effects

  • 1980s BOSS DD-2 Digital Delay
  • 1970s Colorsound/Sola Sound Tonebender (fuzz)
  • 1970s Electro‑Harmonix Bad Stone (phaser)
  • 1970s Electro‑Harmonix Small Clone (chorus)
  • 1970s MXR Micro Chorus

Help needed (x3)

I know my limitations on several fronts. It therefore makes sense to seek outside assistance with a number of up‑and‑coming key tasks. These are NOT New Year resolutions but they are effectively my self‑imposed targets for 2020. All three, however, rely on other people’s expertise.

Task #1 – I would dearly like to make progress with the long‑deferred cellar works. The first step is to understand what may be involved. If that looks promising, I may well finally proceed. I need someone who knows how to ‘tank’ a 90‑year old cellar effectively and to ensure it stays dry, warm and well‑ventilated enough for safe and secure guitar storage.

Task #2 – Routine completion of the repatriation programme should be reasonably straightforward and achievable. In terms of more involved remedial work on a number of instruments, I am looking for a competent luthier/guitar tech, experienced in working on vintage electric guitars, based local to me in south east Cornwall UK, and who would like to work with me on this extra degree of ‘restoration’.

Task #3 – In addition, I would really like to improve my guitar playing. I’m not starting from scratch but I have limited competence and confidence. I am sure I also have a number of bad habits. This means taking up guitar lessons on a one‑to‑one basis, principally for the interaction, as I’ve never got on well with self‑learning books or videos. I have never been formally trained and feel that I could do much better. I would benefit from an additional level of inspiration, technique and knowledge that a tutor could bring.

If there is anyone out there who could either help or knows someone who could help with one, two or all three of the above, please contact me. I shall report back on degree of achievement, if any, during and at the end of 2020.

Major gigs

There will be very few opportunities to see live music in 2020. However, one major concert has been lined up, which I’m really looking forward to:

  • Rammstein (Cardiff in June 2020)

Hopefully, I might get to participate in the local Looe Live festival in September.

Web Site

Another thing that I really, really must get to grips with is a long overdue major overhaul of the CRAVE Guitars’ web site. The material is there, so it will be a case of expunging the procrastination and get on with it.

Proceed to check out

I really don’t think that there is much more that I can add at this juncture, so it is time to wrap things up for 2019 and the ‘teenies’. Roll on the New Year and hope that the (roaring or whimpering) twenties are an improvement on the last 2 challenging decades.

On a broader front, one has to remain optimistic that humankind will come to its senses and live in sustainable peace, equitable prosperity and cordial harmony. One can dream.

On a practical level, ceteris paribus, I will hopefully get back to the ‘Story of Modern Music…’ next month. In the meantime, it’s back to refurbishing and playing some vintage guitars. Result!

Happy New Year/Decade everyone. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “The idea of peace, love and music may not have the power to change the world in the way we might hope but just think about what the world would be like without it.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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February 2019 – A General Update

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Hello again guitar fans and welcome to anyone else who may be curious about the big wide world of guitar addiction and obsession. As the great Jimi Hendrix once proclaimed, “Music is a safe kind of high”, so I’m happy to admit my perennial affliction. I trust that 2019 is treating you all well as we begin the move from dreary winter into nascent springtime.

I don’t have any particular theme for this month, so apologies in advance are probably due for what seems to be a generally incoherent rambling round up of various bits and pieces thrown together. One beneficial consequence is that this is a shorter tome than some.

State of Guitarville 2019

In the grand scheme of things, the guitar‑centric sector of the wider music industry is a relatively small but vibrant arena. While the general shrinking and decline of the ‘business’ continues well into the post‑recession era, the core elements seem in fairly good health overall. There is cautious optimism out there within the context of an unpredictable and challenging operating environment. There has been some progress since this time last year but not as much as many commentators might have wished.

Even though I wasn’t at the event, Winter NAMM 2019 held at the end of January in Anaheim, California saw a lot of activity and relatively good business was done. There were few ground‑shaking announcements at the convention but there was the usual excitement about shiny new gear from established brands. It was reassuring to see Gibson back at NAMM after their absence in 2018 and their new CEO is making all the right noises about what to expect from the company. Let’s hope that good intentions translate into achieving the right balance between quality and price, along with appropriate innovations alongside traditional instrument manufacturing. It is interesting that some of the more contentious technologies that were being used to reposition Gibson as a lifestyle company are now likely to be jettisoned in order to re‑establish confidence about, and a focus on, what really matters to their customers.

It is hardly a surprise that digital continues to make significant inroads into the analogue domain that has been the bedrock for so many generations of musicians across the globe. With the influx of ever more convincing digital inventions, one really does have to wonder how long analogue will remain the force it has been up to now. At some point, even the most hardened of luddites will be lured to make the jump either by the metaphorical lure of the carrot or the fear of the stick. There is still some way to go before all the components in a guitarist’s signal chain provide everything that the working professional musician needs for writing, rehearsal, live and recording settings.

The advantage for CRAVE Guitars and many other vintage enthusiasts is that we generally don’t need to worry about learning the operational demands and subtleties of this new‑fangled complex digital stuff and we can stick with what worked for us when we started out, complete with all its charming analogue idiosyncrasies (?!?!). One day, soon, digital will be the default and vintage gear will become a bit like vinyl records in there will be a market for it, even if it ultimately becomes a niche for nerdy specialists. For up‑and‑coming musicians who may not know any different, though, the current‑day smorgasbord of choice is phenomenal and, although the value‑for‑money equation on some equipment can be debated, the benefits are there to be discovered and exploited.

My sense, at the beginning of 2019 is that there is a degree of consolidation in design, manufacturing, marketing and distribution. The on‑going battleground between ‘brick & mortar’ retail and Internet business is still bitterly being fought out. At some point, an equilibrium will be reached where both channels will co‑exist, even if it means that the retail experience will be different from how it is now. Many consumers still greatly value going into a physical store, looking at, trying out and talking about equipment, so they will endure, even if those establishments have to offer other value‑added services on top of the traditional mainstay of shop floor sales. Companies that rely heavily on Internet operations will find overheads increasing, margins tightening and profitability harder to come by, thereby impacting sustainability and beginning to level the playing field a bit.

As far as guitars are concerned, as mentioned above, Gibson is poised for resurgence and Fender seem to be on their game and producing some very competent and attractive models at all price points. PRS are on a creative stretch of their own and doing OK judging by headlines. Gretsch, Rickenbacker and Danelectro also seem to be faring well, perhaps needing a bit of additional cool vibe to secure their future. Rejuvenated brands like Supro and Harmony are aiming to join the ranks as ‘go to’ guitars, while many other familiar names are managing to stay afloat. Acoustically, Martin and Taylor are both actively vying for top dog status with new innovations, which ultimately means some great guitars for the consumer. The last 12 months has seen some small‑scale luthiers go under or simply disappear, which is regrettable but, sadly, not surprising given the volatile international economics of the industry.

In the amp arena, there are three major directions of travel; a) the relentless digital onslaught from the likes of Fractal, Kemper and Line6 among others, b) ranges of very good valve and solid amps from the mainstream names such as Fender, Marshall, Vox, Orange and others, including some faithful reissues of classic models, and c) the continued rise of boutique builders catering for individual tastes in small numbers. We guitarists are, though, a conservative breed. It seems that the valve is dead, long live the valve!

One area where digital is revolutionising sound is on the pedalboard, which is a current ‘big thing’. There are some astoundingly inventive ways of mangling your guitar tone, both in variations of established FX types and some intriguing all‑new creations that take advantage of digital technology. Some exciting products are appearing from the likes of Catalinbread, Strymon, Eventide, Fulltone, Thorpy, Keeley, Electro‑Harmonix and Wampler, to name just a few. If you prefer multi‑effect pedals, then you are likely to have stalwarts like Line6, Boss and Zoom in your sights. Then there are pedalboard switching systems to help you organise your complex myriad of stompers, e.g. the Gig Rig 2 and Headrush. Likewise, the ever‑improving pedalboard power supplies derive from companies such as Truetone, Voodoo Labs and MXR. Looking from the outside, there are some tremendous bits of alluring kit becoming available, way beyond the vision of manufacturers and musicians back in the 20th Century when digital was just starting out. Whatever your budget, the choice, it seems, is yours.

Music publications across the board, including the trade press, are still suffering a seemingly unstoppable shrinkage of their market. Sales of paper magazines continue to dwindle and digital subscriptions are not filling the gap. As a result, high street transactions along with the advertising revenue streams they need to survive are decreasing. As the absolute size of the readership reduces, the risk of becoming uneconomic goes up disproportionately. Strategically, there are few options available and quite what will remain once an inevitable shake‑out occurs remains to be seen. The consequence of this is that the quality of content is likely to suffer in the long term. Music industry journalism needs to adapt, although there are major challenges ahead as people find alternative ways of acquiring the information they need (or, perhaps more worryingly, not bothering at all). Although referring to something slightly different, one is reminded of a whimsical quote from Frank Zappa who suggested that, “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” Discuss…

Another area of stagnancy appears to be in the quality of music pervading distribution channels. Video/TV, radio and physical media sales are stagnant at best, while digital streaming is becoming the dominant force. This re‑jigging of supply channels, though, isn’t the issue. Although a sweeping generalisation, it seems that since the turn of the millennium music output has increased in volume and decreased in quality. While this is a highly subjective observation, it is borne out by (vaguely) reliable anecdote across generational divides. There is no doubt that there is some extremely good music being made. However, finding the glittering gems amongst the deluge of dross is difficult and, as a result, the good stuff is constantly battling to reach a mass market, thereby making success a tough task for genuine aspiring talent (rather than vacuous celebrity wannabees!). Financial rewards for artists from streaming services is a travesty and needs addressing before it’s too late. Quite how the tide can be turned to reveal new genre twists and identify the next swathe of outstanding musicians will be a challenge for the 2020s. One can hope that something will happen, as it has always has, it just remains to be seen who, what, when and where it will pop up. Another consequence of generic music produced by generic people is that the desire for genuine instruments will decrease, thereby ultimately affecting sales of guitars.

Getting back to the point, core consumer demand for music gear continues to be resilient, although customers are understandably more discerning and, as a result, potentially more fickle. Reliance on past sales and brand loyalty are continually being chipped away at by targeted marketing and tough rivalry. However, strong competition and the downward pressure o