December 2017 – That Time for Guitar Lists and Stuff

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

So, yet another infernal year draws to a close. Why infernal? Well, I was never going to like 2017 on principle, as 2,017 is a prime number. My dislike of prime numbers is one of my weird traits – I have no idea why – at least I’m not primonumerophobic, i.e. fearful of the darned things. At least the next prime year is 2027, which is a whole decade away yet. Fun Trivia: while many people fear the prime number 13 (triskaidekaphobia), many primonumerophobes fear the number 2, it being the only even prime number.

 

Anyhoo… I digress, as is my wont. In tried and tested (and predictable) fashion, it is time to reflect on the year now departing from platform 2017, re-assess the way things are now, as well as to look forward to new opportunities in the year ahead. One cannot change the past but one may be able to influence both the here and now as well as the future, so it’s a time to take a deep breath, muster up one’s energy and be both positive and forward thinking.

 

2017 in retrospect

Well, 2017 was certainly a year of major change, that’s for sure, with events during 2017 definitely impacting on CRAVE Guitars.

 

At the equivalent point last year, the relocation was looming and structural works were underway to make the ‘new’ (90‑year old) place safe, if not fully habitable. The move has now taken place but that is just the start. The structure still needs considerable work before even the basic works can be described as complete. At the time of writing, it is even now only barely habitable with little in the way of what many people expect of basic ‘home’ comforts. Carpets? Nah. Curtains? Nah. Heck, we’ve only just got heating and hot water after 7 months. Getting trustworthy, cost-effective workmen is proving aggravatingly difficult.

 

However, something about the ‘old’ life had to change and along with that realisation came major risks. After weighing up the cons and the even bigger cons, we embarked on the new venture with our eyes wide open. The two main drivers for change comprised basic economics and quality of life due to family health issues, so it had to be done, as the alternatives were simply unsustainable. So here we are in the south west of the UK.

 

As a direct result of the relocation, the major part of the vintage guitar ‘collection’ is currently in temporary storage until I can create safe and secure accommodation for them in the new location. This is why I haven’t been able to update all the photos on the web site. I am very, very concerned about the far from ideal environmental conditions at both the old and new places, so there is no easy answer. However, beggars can’t be choosers and, as ‘they’ say, needs must. The precious (to me) guitars will just have to endure their enforced incarceration for a while longer. I can only hope and pray that they aren’t unduly compromised by the interlude. Until they can be retrieved and re-homed, I just won’t know for sure what condition they are in. They are a couple of hundred miles away and I now have to be at this end, so all I can do is hope for the best. At least I have a few modest vintage guitars available here to pluck in the meantime, whenever I get a few rare moments to spare.

 

CRAVE Guitars – Cases

 

Also back in December 2016, I declared my hand and stated an ambition to secure two specific vintage instruments during 2017 – a 1970s Fender Starcaster and a 1950s Gibson ES-150. How did that turn out? Regrettably, I have to report that I failed dismally on both counts. In context, it really doesn’t matter a jot. I possibly could have achieved what I set out to do but circumstances and timing didn’t align to make it possible. Now, in the absence of sufficient lucre, I need to reassess and reprioritise my aspirations.

 

At the start of 2017, I was about to embark on a culling of the (guitar) herd to strengthen the focus on vintage gear. As a consequence of the clear out, I had the rare opportunity to reinvest some of the proceeds in a small number of ‘cheap’ and unusual vintage guitars (see below). I prefer the term ‘cool and rare’ but let’s be honest, there have been some peculiar budget vintage axes that have crossed my path this year. I wanted to use the funds to invest in maybe 1 or 2 great guitars, as mentioned above, but ‘best laid plans’ and all that.

 

The year hasn’t been without many other significant difficulties, particularly around significantly deteriorating family health. I’m afraid that’s the way our cookies tend to crumble. Don’t expect details; this article is supposed to be about guitars and music!

 

Still, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, at least there remains a way forward on a few fronts, albeit experiencing very slow and frustrating progress.

 

CRAVE Guitars acquisitions in 2017…

On a more positive note, there has been more instruments than I expected to be inducted into the CRAVE Guitars family over these past 12 months. I had anticipated that 2017 was going to be quite a barren year guitar-wise, especially with everything else going on.

 

There were some interesting acquisitions that were intentionally offbeat and not at all what one might have predicted 365 days ago. This unorthodox approach is now kinda becoming CRAVE Guitars’ raison d’être. As it turned out, there were no ‘classic’ models at all, probably because – to be honest – they would have represented ‘more of the same’. If you have followed these monthly articles, you’ll have picked up the conscious rationale for venturing off the beaten track. I must admit that, on reflection, even I have been surprised by the way things have panned out, which was actually a nice surprise. 2017 purchases included…

 

Guitars (7):

 

CRAVE Guitars – 2017 Guitars

 

Given that seven non-vintage guitars left the fold during 2017, there was a net increase of… zero guitars overall. It also represents more than double the number of vintage guitars purchased in 2016 (only 3).

 

Amps(1):

 

1979 Fender Musicmaster Bass

 

That is an overall net reduction of one (non-vintage) amp on this time last year.

 

Effects (6):

 

CRAVE Guitars – 2017 Effect Pedals

 

This represents an overall reduction of seven effects in the year. Just 6 purchases in 2017 compares to 17 vintage effects bought in 2016. Admittedly, I was on a mission last year and limited funds meant that expenditure tended towards effects rather than guitars.

 

All in all, I think that is not bad going under circumstances.

 

Guitarists that departed us in 2017 (9):

As is inevitable, all things come to pass and this year, like every other before it, has seen the demise of some truly inspirational musicians. At this time of year it is customary to take a few moments to contemplate those guitarists that we have lost in 2017 and recall what musical treasures they have left us. Their talents will be sorely missed and it is sad to think that there will be no more distinctive music from these guys (no gals). Rest in Peace ineffable rock dudes and forever rock the big gig in the sky. Sad losses include:

  • Deke Leonard (Man) on 31st January, aged 72
  • Larry Coryell on 19th February, aged 73
  • Chuck Berry on 18th March, aged 90
  • Allan Holdsworth on 15th April, aged 70
  • Gregg Allman (The Allman Brothers Band) on 27th May, aged 69
  • Glen Campbell on 8th August, aged 81
  • Walter Becker (Steely Dan) on 3rd September, aged 67
  • Tom Petty on 2nd October, aged 66
  • Malcolm Young (AC/DC) on 18th November, aged 64

 

Deceased Guitarists 2017

 

New recorded music in 2017 (18):

One of the things I learnt from the late, great British DJ John Peel is to appreciate fresh new music as well as the respected classics. I had expected that access to new releases would have been a bit limited in 2017 but it seems to have been roughly on a par with previous years. There seems to have been a wealth of good music released this year from both established and new artists covering a broad range of genres. 2017 new music album purchases include (in artist alphabetical order):

  • !!! – Shake the Shudder
  • Bonobo – Migration
  • Cats In Space – Scarecrow
  • The Correspondents – Foolishman
  • Dub Pistols – Crazy Diamonds
  • Eric Gales – Middle Of The Road
  • Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
  • The Jesus And Mary Chain – Damage And Joy
  • Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud
  • King Creature – Volume One
  • LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
  • London Grammar – Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
  • Imelda May – Life Love Flesh Blood
  • Prophets Of Rage – Prophets Of Rage
  • Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
  • The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
  • The xx – I See You
  • Neil Young – Hitchhiker

 

Albums 2017

 

I don’t think that I have a single ‘album of the year’ from this modest but diverse bunch, as my tastes change with mood. One wonders if any of these releases will be considered timeless classics in years to come.

 

Live Music in 2017 (2)

As you may know, I am also a big fan of live music of all kinds from street entertainers through pub gigs and concerts of all types and sizes, right up to minor and major festivals featuring a broad range of interesting musical experiences. One great thing about live music is that there is always something new and surprising to discover. I am also regularly amazed at the quality of musicianship exhibited across the board, including by artists that one may never hear of again. The talent out there is phenomenal and sadly puts my playing abilities to shame.

 

Due to constraints imposed by family health, live music attendance has had to be very limited in 2017 with just one major concert (Black Sabbath’s amazing ‘The End’ tour in January) and one boutique festival (Looe Music Festival in September/October, punching well above its weight). Now we are located in the south west of the UK, getting to major music venues is proving more challenging than in previous years.

 

Black Sabbath – The End
Looe Music Festival 2017

 

Social Media

There were a couple of minor achievements during 2017. CRAVE Guitars more than doubled the number of followers it has on Twitter, now standing at over 2,700. The number of followers also now consistently exceeds the number followed, another small landmark. A heck of a lot of hard work went into cultivating this social media audience. Although it earns diddley-squat at precisely £0, it is, I hope, an investment in the brand, at least in terms of time and diligence. Along the way, I have learnt quite a lot, so there is a modicum of knowledge gain. It’s a shame that other social media platforms have proved less successful, so the proportion of effort has to be targeted at Twitter.

 

2018 in Prospect

Looking forward, it looks like 2018 is going to be a really, really tough year. The family health situation that partly precipitated the move is likely to be life changing and VERY challenging during the year ahead. It is all very sad and the inevitable outcome is beyond my (or anyone else’s) ability to change.

 

At least there is not another relocation to manage on top of increasing caring duties. It also looks like the renovation works are likely to take most of the year and all my patience, as well as resources. Of course, it isn’t possible to predict what will actually happen and experience suggests that the unexpected is likely to do its best to derail any reasonable plans. It is therefore best to approach the next 12 months with trepidation and no fixed expectations.

 

As a result of the uncertainties, the operating status of CRAVE Guitars’ is resolutely in ‘ticking over’ mode and I suspect that it is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I intend to maintain a modicum of incremental improvement and will endeavour to keep foundation‑building in the background while I can. The hope is that the venture should be ready to fly, given half a chance.

 

So… being a bit more specific, what music gear tops CRAVE Guitars’ affordable vintage ‘most wanted’ list for 2018? I have relinquished any hope of acquiring last year’s ambition for a Fender Starcaster and/or Gibson ES-150. This coming year, I will have to set my sights at an altogether different level and go for something on a more realistic budget. I am casting the net a bit wider and shallower this time. If I can get just one guitar, one amp and one effect from the following list this coming year, I’ll be content:

 

Guitars:

  • 1960s Danelectro (no specific model)
  • 1970s Fender Bronco
  • 1960s Gibson Melody Maker (type 3)
  • 1970s Guild (perhaps a S-100 or S-300D)
  • 1970s Peavey T-60

 

Amps:

  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Princeton (with or without reverb)
  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Champ

 

Effect pedals:

  • 1980s BOSS CE-2 Chorus
  • 1970s Electro Harmonix Zipper (envelope follower)
  • 1980s Ibanez PT9 Phaser
  • 1970s MXR Micro Chorus

 

In order to achieve even 2018’s moderate ambition (just 3 items over 12 months), a lot of penny pinching is still likely to be required. I also don’t have much leeway to ‘trade up’ existing models. For instance, I wouldn’t mind some selective substitution, i.e. replacing a couple of later-year instruments with examples from earlier years, or to swap out a couple of current guitars for ones that are in better condition or are more original. The intention is really not to grow the ‘collection’ but to consolidate and improve it. All this needs funding of course. I also have to keep options open for those unforeseen, unmissable opportunities that might arise from time to time during the year, i.e. when the dreaded irresistible temptation strikes! We’ll just have to wait and see what transpires.

 

Hopefully, despite constant building setbacks on the residence, I want to try and create a safe home for the majority of the guitar ‘collection’. Currently, while this is top of my personal priorities, it isn’t top priority overall (grrr, argh). The necessity for very basic habitability and adaptation must come first. Finances are either completely used up or committed and now that I’m a full‑time carer, there is no other income on which I can rely, so I really hope there are no (further) unforeseen expensive catastrophes to contend with.

 

Frustratingly, I actually have the physical space earmarked for on-site guitar storage. Unfortunately, in its present‑day state, it is far from suitable. The space currently comprises a small, dark, dank and musty cellar suitable only for severely vertically challenged troglodytes and the occasional adventurous spelunker. Basically, the cellar is mostly underground (built into a solid rock cliff face) and is pretty much as it was when the house was built 90 years ago (single‑skinned concrete block walls with no damp‑proofing), so it needs some pretty extensive work(!).

 

The first step is for the walls and floor to be ‘tanked’ and drained to reduce rampant damp. Once dry, insulation, heating and ventilation are needed to keep the relative humidity and temperature within acceptable parameters for storing vintage musical instruments. Due to the adverse environment conditions, it may also require active de‑humidification. In addition, there needs to be suitable interior access to the cellar so all the guitars can be swapped around regularly but this has implications for the rest of the ground floor. The list goes on and on… lighting and power are essential to provide basic utility. Finally, reasonable security is required to keep pesky scoundrels and ne’er‑do‑wells out. I’m not too bothered about prettying it up to make it presentable; it is far more important that it is functional and fit‑for‑purpose. That’s all!!!!!

 

CRAVE Guitars – Cellar

 

Considering the current condition of the cellar and what needs to be done to make it usable, this is one heck of a project to take on, especially on a shoestring budget with everything else that needs doing. The trouble is that the works can’t really be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks – it currently looks like an all‑or‑nothing exercise. If the project could be phased over a longer period, it would certainly help, although it would extend the current storage compromise – it is something worth exploring though. Despite the obstacles, it is an exciting proposition and something I would really like to take on if I can. If nothing else, it would be a welcome distraction from some of the other difficulties.

 

Even then, because of the adaptations required, it will never be ideal, particularly the limited accessibility and very low headroom. I can only work with what I’ve got. For instance, it isn’t possible to excavate into solid rock and underpin the existing (poor) structure. Financially, it won’t be an investment. If I am going to be making a long‑term success of CRAVE Guitars, it has to be able to work under one roof. It is essentially the only feasible option I have and there is no ‘Plan B’. If I can’t do it, I will have to think again about the viability of CRAVE Guitars and/or its location. If I can embark on this ‘exciting’ venture, I will try to log progress through these regular articles. Wish me luck.

 

If I can liberate all the stored guitars from their enforced confinement, I am pretty sure that I will need to find a local luthier/guitar tech to work through any conservation work that needs to be done to get/keep them in as good a condition as can be expected after their prolonged period of internment. Most of the remedial work is likely to comprise setups and tweaks but I suspect that a few guitars may require some expert intervention. For instance, a couple could have potential truss rod issues, which may or may not turn out to be complicated, and there are probably also some electrical issues that need investigating (scratchy pots, intermittent switches, dodgy sockets, etc.). There may also be some finish or corrosion problems.

 

I have to be honest here – I am not one of those tinkerer types; I hate changing guitar strings, let alone anything more involved. I am wise enough to understand that I should leave anything complex to the specialists, especially if it involves a soldering iron! I am pretty certain that, by attempting to do any serious guitar work myself, I would probably make any problems worse. Where vintage guitars are concerned, a cautious approach makes a lot of common sense – leave it to the experts every time.

 

Changing the subject matter a little bit. Strange as it may seem after 40 years of playing, I would actually like to take some guitar lessons. I am not sure that tuition could do much to improve my technical or theoretical skills (see previous articles) but it might be able to inspire me to make better noises than I do now. It might also motivate me to play with others again and maybe, just maybe, encourage me to play live with a band again. I’m not committing to anything and it looks unlikely that 2018 will be the year that it happens. I’m running out of years though, so perhaps I’d better get a move on if I’m to achieve that particular bucket list item. Even if learning is purely a recreational exercise, my playing could definitely do with significant improvement. Like many musical types, I suffer crippling self‑doubt, so I’d hope that my confidence would benefit greatly as well. If I don’t enjoy the fruits of such hard work, it isn’t worth doing, so I’m a bit dubious. Acquiring skill is as much in the mind as it is in the physical dexterity. The trouble is that I’m very much a loner in my old age and I’m not sure I could collaborate easily with others. I would, however, also like to record some of my guitar music, if only for personal gratification and, perhaps, posterity.

 

At this particular juncture, it really isn’t possible, or advisable, to look any further forward or to speculate more strategically about what may happen either more generally or to CRAVE Guitars. So, it is probably best to let 2018 play out as it sees fit. I must trust that good things will happen and let fate take its course. They say you make your own luck, so I will try my hardest to influence good fortune. Let’s face it, despite my best endeavours, luck hasn’t been on my side for many years but I persevere and try to do the right thing to the best of my abilities and hope that things will work out alright in the end.

 

What else is in store for 2018? Well that depends on many other things. If possible, I would like to improve the CRAVE Guitars web site and enhance the social media content on platforms other than Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. I would also like to spend a little more time researching and writing seriously about my obsession with guitars and contemporary music. However, being brutally realistic, 2018 will simply be just keeping things going on the back burner. I would dearly like to say that it will be a year of exciting new developments but I think I’d be raising expectations beyond what I’ll physically be able to deliver.

 

In terms of recorded music, I have to admit that I am a Luddite as far as streaming and download services are concerned. I like to go into retail stores and purchase a tangible product that I can take home and appreciate visually as well as aurally. My tastes are not stuck in any particular period and I am a big fan of both old and new music alike. Who knows what new recorded music will be released in 2018 but I look forward to finding out.

 

I also don’t think that there is much likelihood of attending many live music events in 2018. However, all other things being equal one of my all‑time favourite bands is playing live in 2018 and tickets are already booked. Indie rock legends Robert Smith and The Cure are celebrating their 40th anniversary by playing London Hyde Park BST concert in July. I also hope to repeat Looe Music Festival in September if I can.

 

The Cure – Hyde Park BST

 

A message of hope for 2018 and the future

Fundamentally, I don’t like to plan things out in great detail for two principal reasons: a) things never seem to work out for me and I would only get downcast when things don’t go as intended and, b) no-one really knows what is going to happen and prescribing a set of immutable circumstances in advance inhibits the potential for the sort of spontaneous opportunity that may make life really worth living (one can hope!).

 

One thing experience has taught me is that life is too short to get hung up on trivial things and maintaining a positive mental attitude is the only way to deal with life’s harsh realities. Perhaps it is the juddering realisation of one’s mortality that hangs over us all (but some more than others) like the proverbial sword of Damocles that makes me so philosophical. One cannot afford to be laid back about life otherwise precious time will be squandered in the pursuit of idle mundanity. So, I will take one day at a time, aim to do the best one can in every situation, make the most of every moment, and see what transpires. If I can be more profound and fundamental, I shall attempt to do so. I hope that I’ll still be here waffling on interminably this time next year (December 2018).

 

I am not a religious person. However, the Buddhist philosophy tends to resonate with my own outlook on life, so I will share the following quotes ascribed to Buddha. I reflect on these (and other) words of wisdom from time to time in an attempt to find internal solace, particularly during difficult times. Perhaps, through sharing, they may make a difference for others too:

 

“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.”

 

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”

 

“I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.”

 

“To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.”

 

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”

 

Buddha

 

What does all this have to do with vintage guitars, you may well ask? Well, if I can get everything else turning out positively, it may increase the likelihood that CRAVE Guitars could prove to become a success. It is, at least, something on which I can focus. Call me crazy but I remain determined to make something of CRAVE Guitars sooner or later, preferably sooner. It may not become a reality in 2018, but, as long as I can keep things moving forward in the right direction, however slowly, it may just happen… eventually. The following quotes are others that seem appropriate…

 

 “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward” – Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)

 

Martin Luther King Jr

 

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion” – Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

 

Jack Kerouac

 

I don’t have any great words of comfort, grace or insight to impart either in retrospect or prospect, other than the obligatory monthly CRAVE quote (see below). Praying for world peace, an end to suffering and justice for all seems trite, given the current poor state of world affairs. So, perhaps, a simple personal message of “I hope that 2018 will be good for you” to all guitar aficionados out there will suffice.

 

That’s it for now. The holiday season should be a time to sit back and plink one’s plank(s), so I’m off to pick up a geetar (or two). Play on. Until next time (and next year)…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Inspiration is everywhere around. Think deeply about what you experience every day and then act on what matters to change some things for the better.”

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

 

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November 2017 – New In: Underdog Vintage Guitars

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

A couple of articles ago (September 2017 – ‘A Map Leads To Some Hidden Gems’ → click here to read the article), I looked at the unlikely significance and influence of the 1983 Gibson USA Map, which was at the time the newest addition to the CRAVE Guitars fold. The Map was an unusual promotional guitar that Gibson produced in very small numbers for a very short period, for a specific purpose.

 

1983 Gibson USA Map

 

→ Click here to read the feature on the 1983 Gibson USA Map

 

In that article, I explored some of the other ‘forgotten’ Fender and Gibson guitars from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s. I suggested that, despite being minor relatives in the guitar family tree, the ‘lost’ models merited greater exposure and recognition. In order to understand the context within which these ‘forgotten’ guitars appeared and subsequently disappeared, it’s worth looking at what was happening during those 10-15 years.

 

Up to the late 1970s, two guitars from the same batch could be quite different and others were cobbled together from what was available at the time. This disparity was a problem for manufacturers, dealers and musicians alike. During the 1970s, the unpredictable variation in materials, processes and standards was seen as a bad thing from a quality assurance point of view. The big corporations that owned both Fender and Gibson at the time (CBS and Norlin respectively) partly tackled the issue by increasing mechanisation and automation, as well as exploring the use of alternative materials. They also sought to experiment and innovate in an attempt to overcome some of the perceived problems in supply and distribution chains, which resulted in a swathe of new models at all price points. By the mid‑1980s, Fender and Gibson had moved mass production of their budget brands off-shore (as Squier and Epiphone respectively) and American manufacturing had become more ‘industrialised’. The benefits of industrialisation included greater construction consistency, as well as improved economy and productivity. Management didn’t understand that the unintended downside for many musicians was that the changes removed some of the quainter charms of experimentation, problem‑solving and hands-on guitar building that players actually valued. I believe that these inherent tensions are integral to current‑day criticism of many American guitars from that period.

 

Due to public demand since that time, the rise of big‑brand custom shops, independent luthiers and computer controlled tooling made it easier to diversify and differentiate, thereby enabling greater innovation, customisation and modification. My current vintage cut-off is actually the end of the 1980s. Don’t get me wrong, many fine instruments have been produced since, and many of them are much ‘better’ made than many of the guitars that I showcase. It’s just that the fascinating manufacturing quirks and parts‑bin machinations became less… well… random!

 

I mentioned at the end of that September 2017 article that the research done to bring some of the ‘forgotten’ guitars to prominence stimulated my interest in some of these marvellous (?!) overlooked, creative ‘mutants’. So, not having really laid my hands on some of these ‘generation-x’ guitars, I put my money where my mouth is and decided to track one down (or, as it happens, three!). So this month also has some ‘new ins’ at CRAVE Guitars that hopefully prove that I am not a vintage guitar snob.

 

Two ‘Forgotten Fenders’

While the age distribution is fairly even across the CRAVE ‘family’, I am well aware of the numerical imbalance between Fender and Gibson models, so my attention was initially drawn in the direction of the big ‘F’.

 

After a couple of bidding battles on eBay (loathe it), CRAVE Guitars has now adopted two fine new baby Fenders, although sadly not quite the bargains thy might have been…

 

1981 Fender Bullet
1981 Fender Lead

 

It’s the first time I’ve owned either of these two models. I have to say that I am not disappointed by either acquisition. Getting both at the same time makes for some interesting (at least for me) comparisons and observations. The two instruments not only look different, they feel and sound very different. Good! That, after all, was one of the points I was making in my previous article, i.e. you can’t easily pigeonhole or generalise about these instruments, let alone disregard them simply because of their ephemeral existence. Another advantage of these ‘lesser’ guitars is that they often haven’t had the hard life of being on‑the‑road like some more workmanlike ‘professional’ models. In addition, many of the ‘forgotten’ vintage guitars don’t sell for big bucks so they can be picked up for a relatively reasonable sum (at the moment). I have to accept that, while they are now attracting moderate collector interest, they will never turn a decent profit should I deem to sell them on at some point. C’est la vie; at least I can enjoy playing them in the meantime.

 

The series 1 Fender Bullet is definitely a low-cost entry‑level model, clearly made to a budget during its short production period (1981‑1982). The Bullet was the brainchild of legendary designer, John Page (Fender R&D, then co‑founder and head honcho of the Fender Custom Shop). Page was tasked by the then new management team at Fender (including Dan Smith who was brought in to rejuvenate the brand) with making a guitar that cost only $65 to manufacture (the retail price was $199). He got it down to $66 through some ingenious engineering, e.g. ‘that’ toy-like bent steel tailpiece extension to the scratchplate, which Fender patented.

 

There seems to be confusion about the source of materials used, with suggestions that some parts were imported from Korea and assembled in the States. Even John Page can’t recall the details with any certainty, so there’s little hope for the rest of us. Strict American trade laws stipulated that it had to have enough genuine American content and added‑value to warrant the all‑important ‘Made in U.S.A.’ decal on the headstock. That’s good enough for me – I am not that much of a vintage guitar elitist to split hairs. I have to say that, of the two acquisitions, the Bullet feels more ‘manufactured’ rather than hand‑crafted but, let’s be honest, that’s not really surprising given its age, target audience and price point. The series 1 Bullet’s body looks to me to be slightly out of proportion compared to its forerunner, the formidable Telecaster. The unusual aesthetic, however, gives it a distinctive indie look which you’ll either love or hate. Its quaintness is all part of the appeal to me – kinda like lusting after the plain redhead girl‑next‑door rather than the pretty blonde prom queen. In fact – confession time – I like the Bullet so much, I think I might try to find an equivalent series 2 Strat‑a‑like version with a maple neck to keep this one company. Watch this space.

1981 Fender Bullet

 

The Fender Lead I on the other hand is quite a different animal. When is a Strat not a Strat? Well, the Lead kind of fits that bill, taking inspiration from both the Strat and the Tele. Like the Bullet, it had a short production period (1979-1982) and, because it has never been reissued, numbers on the vintage market are limited. The Lead was targeted at professional guitarists on a budget, comprising solid wood, a vintage‑inspired Stratocaster neck, natty electronics, etc. If anything, it suffered from being squeezed into a niche between Fender’s budget ‘student’ guitars and the pro‑level ‘classics’. The Fender Lead also seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis, unsure of what need it was trying to fulfil. The Lead I and III had clever Seth Lover‑designed split coil hot humbucking pickup(s), making the guitar pretty unique in Fender heritage. The inspiration for the single pickup Lead I seems to stem from the trend for early ‘superstrats’ around the 1980 period (cheers Mr Halen & co.). The dual‑humbucker Lead III was only made in 1982 and sometimes appears in a nice Sienna Burst finish. Seemingly in contradiction, the Lead II had 2 single coil pickups like a cut-down Stratocaster. In fact the Lead II’s X-1 single coil pickups went on to appear in the Stratocaster. For me, the Lead I is a great single pickup axe and sufficiently different from both the Lead II/III and other Fenders of the time. The Lead therefore has a bit of that cool & rare interest that keeps CRAVE Guitars growing.

 

Once Fender Japan was established, the company played with the original American Bullet and Lead designs to the extent that they lost the essential ingredients that made them American in the first place. The guitar lines were rationalised by Squier and subsequent models basically became a Far Eastern Stratocaster copy.

1981 Fender Lead I

 

One thing is for sure, while I was researching these models both before and after buying them, I was struck that both guitars have a very strong cult following among people who have actually owned and used them. I was prepared to be lemming-like and agree with many vintage commentators that these aren’t serious American Fender guitars but, thankfully, I decided to take the plunge anyway and experience them for myself. I’m glad I kept an open and curious mind. Are they great guitars? To be honest, no, they aren’t up there with the classics that inspired them. Personally, I still have a preference for Fender’s offset ‘student’ guitars like the Mustang but then again, that’s what I grew up using, so I guess it’s not surprising. However, neither are they rubbish (as many might claim) and they acquit themselves well enough to sustain interest as part of the CRAVE Guitars ‘family’.

 

Commercially, neither of these models really caught the public’s imagination on release, which is why they aren’t commonplace now and why Fender hasn’t reissued them. I quite like that they exist under the radar and remain unfamiliar to most players. All of these factors encouraged me to take up the cause on behalf of these cool, underrated, humble and modest ‘forgotten Fenders’. So that’s Fender covered; now what about Gibson?

 

One ‘Forgotten Gibson’

It isn’t only Fender that had some ‘lost’ guitars during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Also in my September 2017 article, I took a look at some equivalent ‘forgotten Gibsons’. The early 1980s was a period of intense R&D activity for Gibson. It amazed me that, while I have a number of Gibson oddities from the period, I have relatively few of the ones that I highlighted. Like with the Fender models above, I started a quest for an all‑original, good condition Gibson to start filling the gaps in the jigsaw puzzle.

 

I decided to start with one of the most unloved models and went in search of what many commentators describe as the lowliest of the low in Gibson’s canon. After yet another bidding battle on eBay (grrr), I secured a lovely example of a much-berated instrument:

 

1981 Gibson Sonex-180 Deluxe

 

While I can appreciate why there is universal criticism of the poor old Sonex-180, it doesn’t mean that I totally agree with it. Now that I’ve played it and reflected on its position in history, I think the mass hysteria about how awful it is, is overstated and unfair. Yes, Gibson were trying to cut corners and reduce manufacturing costs and they even had to bypass their own dealer network (hence ‘The Gibson Company U.S.A.’ on the headstock). However, the approach they took with the Sonex-180 attempted to tackle head‑on a number of other issues facing the guitar industry at the time, such as variable quality and quantity of tone woods (and an eye to future timber sustainability), known drawbacks of wood under extreme stage conditions (humidity and temperature), durability (Gibson’s Achilles heel with neck breaks), and manufacturing inefficiencies in production/finishing processes. The innovation and forward looking creativity backfired big time and the instrument was soon consigned to history as a misfire, as did several other models created during the experimental late ‘70s and early ‘80s, each suffering varying degrees of hostility. In my view, at least they tried to break the mould and we should be thankful for that.

 

If the Sonex-180 had been produced by anyone other than Gibson, it might have had a different reception. When compared with guitars coming from Japan at the time, both Fender and Gibson’s eccentric models could not compete with high quality/low price and mainstream appeal of many far eastern products (often blatant copies of US designs at the time). This polarisation of a competitive market tended to result in exaggerating the consumer’s already negative perceptions of American brand quality.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to put the Sonex‑180 (et al) on a par with the Gibson classics. However, when viewed in isolation and with hindsight, the Sonex‑180 is certainly unique and, despite its reputation, is historically noteworthy within the broader context. I believe that there is a lot to commend this carefully selected Gibson Sonex-180.

 

To lambast the Sonex‑180’s use of composite materials is a touch unfair. Alternative materials have been used in guitar bodies for many decades. Res-o-Glas (fibreglass) used by National, Airline and Supro, Masonite (hardboard) used by Danelectro, acrylic polymer (Plexiglas/Lucite) used by Ampeg/Dan Armstrong, plastic (Lyrachord) used by Ovation, carbon glass/resin used by Parker, as well as laminate (plywood) used by Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Martin and many others. James Trussart has popularised the use of metal in guitar bodies while carbon fibre and plastics (e.g. by 3D printing) are now also being used extensively by luthiers.

 

In addition, many high end Gibsons and Martins now use Richlite, a combination of paper and resin for its fingerboards now that rosewood is a restricted wood and ebony is likely to follow soon (Google CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – for further information). Within this context, I suggest that the degree of animosity directed specifically towards the Sonex‑180 is a bit over‑the‑top. For many, though, ‘resonwood’ was seen as a desperate attempt of a failing organisation unable to compete on price or quality.

 

Furthermore, bolt on maple necks never hurt Fender’s reputation, so why criticise Gibson for using them on the Sonex‑180? Gibson had already used bolt‑on necks on other models including the Sonex‑180s predecessors, the S-1 and Marauder, as well as the Corvus and Ripper/Grabber basses.

1981 Gibson Sonex-180 Deluxe

 

The case for the prosecution (and rebuttals by the defence)

When undertaking the research for this and previous articles, I recently came across an article by an esteemed guitar magazine that looked at ‘guitars Gibson should never have made’ (including the Sonex‑180 and several other CRAVE-owned models!). In the spirit or hindsight, Gibson’s business strategy may have been imprudent but to claim that they should never have been made is to miss the point completely. The world would be a very boring place if companies only made things that someone thinks they should have made. It also seems poor populist journalism to malign the industry in such a negative way simply because of hindsight. This headline was just one of many misjudged rants out there.

 

I also dipped my toe in the unsanitary toilet bowl of Internet forums. As anyone who attempts to uncover any sort of definitive truth on the Internet will know, forum diatribes are a minefield of everything from helpful assistance and utter hogwash. Facts are frequently frustratingly incomplete and/or often aggravatingly blatantly incorrect. Only through rigorous corroboration and an intuitive nose for plagiarism and BS can one hope to get anything resembling fact. As if the ‘horse’s mouth’ of credible web sites (including Fender and Gibson’s own) wasn’t bad enough, many of the forums are extensively riddled with what I can only describe as illiterate hokum, ignorant opinion and inaccurate assertions. Amongst the tripe, there is, however, valuable material to be had. I don’t claim to be scientifically diligent but I do my homework and aim to be objective with a smidgeon of common sense. This doesn’t mean that I am right, as I freely acknowledge how little I actually know.

 

As far as the guitars in question are concerned, I can just hear the Internet rife with mutters of, “there’s a very good reason why these guitars should be forgotten’. I think that’s also a bit harsh and I don’t agree with censoring history, as each one is important in its own right. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and there are offbeat pleasures to be had. It’s a bit like that slightly chubby barmaid you’ve secretly fancied for ages and never had the nerve to ask out. While none of the three guitars I’ve covered here are likely to become my favourite go‑to guitars, they are very playable and they are now part of the diverse CRAVE Guitars’ family for a good reason. It is much easier to slag something off without justification than it is to explain in rational terms the positives. There are many supporters of these guitars but their enthusiasm is generally outweighed by the vociferous minority.

 

You may also well ask, “Why on Earth did you waste all that good money on three pedestrian guitars when you could have got one much better one?” Well, that kind of misses the point of preserving the diversity of guitar heritage, not just the best. Let’s face it, someone has to. History is (or should be) as much about the proletariat as it is about the aristocracy. A viable society needs the peasants as much, if not more so than, the royalty. Had I overlooked the vernacular, I would have missed out on three very interesting and underrated guitars that few other people will have even noticed, let alone considered playing or owning. In any case, I have a few (!) other guitars that fit the ‘better’ bill, so it’s about being able to experience a wider gamut of what’s out there and sharing it with others. Moreover, these new additions certainly fit the criteria for CRAVE Guitars that I covered in last month’s article, ‘What Qualifies As A CRAVE Guitar?’ (October 2017 → Click here to read the article)

 

The Fender Bullet, Fender Lead and Gibson Sonex-180 featured here and on the CRAVE Guitars web site are in my opinion, unsung, underdog guitars resulting from well-intentioned corporate miscalculation. Fender and Gibson may not have grasped the fundamental needs of musicians in a way that the Japanese did in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the results are for us to debate with the benefit of measured hindsight. My hope is that the vintage guitar community will eventually embrace, rather than attempt to eradicate the underdogs. Perhaps, we should be celebrating creative solutions to known problems and applauding innovations to improve the breed, regardless of whether they were commercially successful at the time or not. When considered in context, it is not surprising that there were some unusual evolutionary dead ends along the way. These are esoteric instruments that are very much of their time. As their many fans will attest, give them a go; they are really much better than you might have been led to think.

 

Yes I am, once again, challenging established conventions. My aim is to recalibrate public appreciation by just a tiny amount and do my bit to bring about a new equilibrium between the recognised classics and these disadvantaged orphans. I’m not going to be pompous (!?!?) and suggest these lost souls are the best things since sliced bread but they are certainly fine for making toast! It seems a thankless task and it feels like I’m trying to swim upstream against a relentless torrent. Acquiring the product of these strange evolutionary offshoots is, for want of a better way of putting it, intentionally sticking two fingers up at the ‘snobbish’ conservatism of the vintage guitar establishment. Ultimately, it will be the free market that determines values and, although my ability to influence the market is infinitesimal, I have at least tried to buck the trend. Someone has to stand up and advocate for the poor underprivileged urchins.

 

Forgotten Fender & Gibson Guitars

 

Lessons

The lessons learnt from acquiring these underdog guitars include:

  1. ‘Lesser’ instruments can still have plenty of character to warrant owning and a real plus is that they look and sound different to what everyone else is using
  2. Overlooked non-collectables can provide plenty of vintage ‘bang for your buck’, especially if you are on a modest budget and as long as you do your homework
  3. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of prejudging a guitar just because everyone else has an opinion. Note: they are not necessarily right!
  4. Some of the ‘forgotten’ guitars are actually pretty cool and rare if you look beyond the superficial contradictory rhetoric. It’s OK to be brave
  5. The mission of an obsessed gearhead in pursuit of vintage guitar treasure is never ending. Next!

 

The one advantage of auctions on eBay is that, unless there is a crazy bidding frenzy by determined buyers out there (as there was with my Ovation Breadwinner that went for about double what it was worth), the final selling price will generally reflect the prevailing market value. ‘Buy It Now’ prices generally tend to be over‑inflated and ‘offers’ also tend to result in poor value. The days of getting real bargains from ‘no reserve’ auctions are long gone and there are now usually plenty of savvy people who know what they are doing. All three guitars featured this month were won in auctions and probably represent fair prices on the vintage market. This means that there is little likelihood of a high ROI but that’s for those in competitive business rather than the no‑for‑profit regime of CRAVE Guitars.

 

Perhaps I am fortunate that I am rarely disappointed with a vintage purchase and it is very unusual that I don’t get on with a guitar. Some people seem to have a much harder time connecting with their instruments than I do and, as a result, they seem to have quite a high turnover of guitars that they aren’t happy with. Perhaps I am more diligent and do my homework first, so that there is greater alignment between my expectations and reality. Every instrument has its idiosyncrasies but things that drive other people up the wall don’t tend to get under my skin to the same degree. I tend to tolerate (or even celebrate) a guitar’s unique eccentricities as long as they don’t affect the fundamental purpose of the instrument, which is to translate a guitarist’s intentions into music. I don’t believe it is because I am ultra-selective. I do my research and try to buy all‑original, good condition examples; an approach that usually proves to be worthwhile in the end.

 

Given the sorry state of the world these days, I am frequently reminded how fortunate I am that I have the opportunity to explore my passion. Owning and playing a wide range of vintage guitars is a privilege that I can’t overstate, even though I’m not in the realms of the exotics. There are, of course, downsides of vintage guitar ownership, including rampant poverty to support the addictive cause. There are always new discoveries to be made.

 

For me at least, once a guitar becomes part of the CRAVE Guitars ‘family’, I usually don’t want to let it go again – there is too great a risk of that sense of regret one gets from selling ‘the one that got away’. Been there, done that, don’t care for it. Some people treat guitars as disposable items to be bought and sold on a whim with scarcely a further thought. I don’t, and I don’t really understand those that do. That’s probably just me and I’ll mind my own business on that subject.

 

Conclusion

As usual, I have probably overstated my case to make an unnecessary point. However, in conclusion, don’t underestimate or disregard the ‘forgotten’ Fenders and Gibsons just because some self-appointed guru pronounces that they are “a piece of cr*p” (and that’s a polite quote taken from the forums!), especially if they cannot back up their standpoint with credible evidence and/or rational argument. At the same time, you shouldn’t take my word for it just because I pose a counterpoint to such blinkered doctrine. All I can really ask is that one pauses and thinks before putting finger to keyboard because one might just end up looking foolish. Oops! Too late! Heehee.

 

Finally, I am proud to plough a different furrow from the masses and have the courage to stand up for the vintage guitar ‘losers’ as much as others do for the widely‑recognised classics. I may be in the minority but I believe that there are valid grounds for doing so. The more the naysayers shout and denigrate these bastard offspring, the more I feel obliged to stand up and defend the runts of the litter. In my view, there is a plenty of space in the collective guitar world for all of them. I, for one, will enjoy the occasional walk on the wild side, rather than conforming to the mundane and uniform.

 

I can pretty much guarantee that there won’t be any more guitar purchases this year, meaning that there won’t be any more ‘new old’ CRAVE Guitars in 2017. I wonder what 2018 will bring. In the meantime, I will enjoy playing my newly adopted ‘budget’ Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars. Until next time…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “I have to fight for the underdog because I am the underdog.”

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

 

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October 2017 – What Qualifies As A CRAVE Guitar?

When canvassing ideas for this month’s article, I was asked why I don’t feature bass guitars to the same extent as the 6-stirngers. I did point out that CRAVE Guitars is already home to Fender Precision and Music Man Stingray basses. However, such simple questions tend to switch on my stream of consciousness. Not content with answering just this question, I thought I might as well address the similar query I have been asked about acoustic guitars as well as other instruments, accessories, merchandise and even non‑guitar‑related stuff! There are not many pictures this month, as the narrative is mainly explanatory.

 

The short and simple answer is contained in the acronym C.R.A.V.E. (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars so, if that satisfies your curiosity, you can safely stop reading now. For the masochists out there, a little (!) more exposition is required; sorry.

 

 

Expanding the acronym is, however, probably a good place to start, so let’s begin with perhaps the most problematic letter…

 

C is for Cool (Adj.)

 

For starters, this has nothing to do with temperature. The cool I am talking about is a very subjective, value-laden word with many subtle and indefinable nuances. In its colloquial context, it can mean ‘excellent’ or ‘alright’, as well as ‘fashionable’ or ‘hip’. Slang dictionaries also cite ‘awesome’ or ‘trendy’. These all seem to me to be both superficial and insufficient when trying to convey what I understand cool to mean. To make it easier, perhaps, these adjectives convey a bit more relevance if suffixed with the word ‘dude’.

 

In relation to the world’s favourite musical instrument, there are the mainstream guitars, most of which have an inherent level of cool anyway and, as you are reading this article, I don’t think I need to state the bleeding obvious, especially where vintage is also a contributory factor (see ‘V’ below). It is, perhaps, the more unusual guitars, which to me radiate cool. Cool transcends simple descriptions such as character or quirkiness.

 

How on earth does a guitar become and stay cool, and is there a standardised unit of measurement to quantify just how much cool something has? Quite simply, it simply isn’t that simple. For a guitar to be cool it has to exude some sort of cachet or ooze some sort of wow factor. It may have some quintessential ingredient that makes it irresistibly, achingly desirable to those in the know. Things that are cool are utterly seductive despite any objective rational thinking to the contrary (it may be non‑PC but the same goes for women!).

 

What one person thinks of as cool can be a complete anathema to someone else, while another person may be completely oblivious to it. This suggests that cool is therefore intrinsically a very personal thing. The fascinating thing about cool is when there is an unwritten collective agreement and a shared understanding that something is more than it appears to be on the face of it. Cool, to me, is therefore an unconscious state of mind that has no palpable embodiment.

 

Sustained cool that is appreciated by like-minded people can lead to a cult status amongst a relatively small proportion of the population, which everyone else completely fails to grasp. Cool therefore also has a degree of exclusivity. Cool cannot be a universally accepted characteristic; it will always be appreciated by the few and ignored by the many. If something becomes popular on the mass market, it automatically ceases to be cool.

 

Last month, I mentioned the Fender Bronco, a modest single pickup offset ‘student’ guitar that languished in the vintage guitar doldrums until Alex Turner and Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene. The band was considered cool and the instruments that they used suddenly became cool simply by association. Consequently, the broad appeal for the Bronco coalesced pretty much overnight. Broncos are still cool and attract vintage guitar market values that were unheard of before the band came to prominence. There are plenty of other examples; for instance, would the humble Danelectro 3021 be the icon that it is today without Jimmy Page or the Airline J.B. Hutto be so sought after if not for Jack White?

 

The transferable phenomenon suggests that cool by association can be infectious. Cool is, however, not physical or perpetual, as it can disappear just as quickly and inexplicably as it appeared in the first place. Furthermore, you cannot make cool, sell cool, buy cool, or pass something off as cool if it isn’t. It therefore exhibits an unusual characteristic of being both intangible and valuable at the same time.

 

CRAVE Guitars isn’t about what I think other people may like, it is primarily about what I like. I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to try to tell you whether CRAVE Guitars’ instruments are cool or not, that is for you to decide for yourself. I just hope that I have a certain taste that others can appreciate and relate with. However, just for the record, I think they are pretty darn cool individually and, perhaps more importantly as a ‘collection’. I try to raise awareness of some interesting guitars (and amps/effects) and then pose some questions to challenge broadly held preconceptions. Perhaps you might make the irrational shift of ill‑informed choice and agree with the dude (or not, I sure ain’t gonna argue!).

 

R is for Rare (Adj.)

 

You’d think this would be obvious… but there is more to it than that. Rare in this context doesn’t actually mean that they are all genuinely scarce in absolute terms. By rare here, I mean that they are limited in number and therefore finite because there cannot be any more new guitars for a certain model from a certain manufacturer for any given year. This is an undeniable fact.

 

By rare, I’m also suggesting that each one is essentially irreplaceable. If a vintage guitar is destroyed or dismantled, there is a unit reduction in the total number of that model that will ever be available. Whether there were only ever just a handful or many thousands of a particular model produced, there will only be a certain number of each guitar in existence that can feed the vintage guitar market now or in the future. Newer instruments will eventually become vintage but these will be additional to, not substitutes for, what went before.

 

In addition, each vintage instrument will now be absolutely unique in its own way. Several or many decades of (ab)use bestow certain vestiges of age that are individual to that instrument and which cannot be reproduced (sorry, relic fans). It is this distinctive and natural aging that gives an instrument its uniqueness. Even better if guitars have some sort of genuine story associated with them (or sense of mystery if not).

 

I should also say that rare in this context does not imply value – there are many other characteristics in addition to rarity that dictate whether a guitar is valuable or not. None of CRAVE Guitars’ instruments are truly valuable, sadly, I wish they were. However, some guitars are rarer than others and therefore have a degree of interest associated with them purely because there are not many of them to go around. Others were mass produced at the time and remain plentiful on the vintage market but only for the time being, as attrition will inevitably occur. Just because something is (relatively) abundant, it doesn’t diminish its appeal.

 

& – At his point, I might as well comment on the ‘&’ in the CRAVE acronym. It doesn’t mean that every guitar is Cool AND Rare. These adjectives are not mutually exclusive. To be honest, a title where the ‘&’ means ‘cool and/or rare; possibly one or the other, perhaps both or maybe neither’ doesn’t make any sense. It is therefore not a qualifier; it is simply a necessary vehicle of the English language, so get over it grammar pedants (say I hypocritically).

 

A is for American (Adj.)

 

You might also think that this criterion is straightforward and, of course, it isn’t. Some guitars in the CRAVE family are all-American, which makes things simple. Some, however, have original materials and/or parts imported from other countries. As far as I am aware, none of my guitars (or basses) were wholly manufactured outside America.

 

 

I would actually argue that there have been very few instruments that are actually 100% American so, as with other factors, it is all a matter of degree. So we have to start with the premise that ‘American’ implies a significant but not necessarily total part of the process of producing guitars.

 

It isn’t just that they are designed by American-owned companies. Danelectro, for instance, has its headquarters in the USA, designs its instruments in the USA and manufactures them in China. Other American firms may import the key elements to be assembled and/or QA’d in the States. Does this make them American? I would argue in both circumstances that it doesn’t. To make things easier, I don’t believe that there are any non-American companies that manufacture in the USA for all sorts of political, social, economic, legal and environmental reasons.

 

What about some of the key parts of a guitar that customers demand and expect? For example, could a guitar with a Brazilian or Indonesian rosewood fingerboard or a Honduran mahogany body genuinely be called American? In this instance, I believe that it can, as this refers to the source of raw materials, not the manufacturing process. The same applies to hardware, e.g. German tuners and bridges, Mexican switches and Japanese potentiometers. We have to accept that American guitars are partially imported in one way or another.

 

American trade rules were/are very strict about what items can carry the ‘Made in U.S.A.’ label. I won’t delve any deeper into this thorny issue in this article. Suffice to say that, as far as I am concerned, as long as it complies with the definition imposed by the federal USA government, it is ‘American’.

 

I have often been asked why I don’t go for guitars from other regions such as Europe or Asia. There are some fantastic instruments from non-American territories (see the CRAVE Guitars article from August 2017 – ‘A Peak into the Pandora’s Box of Guitars’ → Read here). For now, to open the flood gates to global guitar collecting would, I believe, dilute what CRAVE Guitars is all about. Also, I just couldn’t cope with it all – it would be way too much for such a small enterprise. For now at least, integrity of the American ‘collection’ is paramount.

 

Where I do consciously blur geographical lines is in effect pedals where European and Japanese pedals qualify as part of the ‘family’. Why? Simply because they are such an integral part of the British/American music scene from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll onwards. Plus, there are so many global cool and rare effects that it doesn’t make practical sense to be strictly exclusive. As effects are not the primary focus of CRAVE Guitars, I can be a little more lenient. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Should I need to liquidate funds though, the non-American effects would be at the front of the queue.

 

At the moment, my vintage amps are strictly American, although I have been tempted by vintage English amps from, for instance VOX, Marshall and Orange, although less so WEM, Hiwatt and Laney. Perhaps it’s because I started playing electric guitar in the 1970s, I also have a soft spot for vintage solid state amps such as H/H from England and Roland from Japan, so I’m not a complete valve snob. I may also be tempted to blur the lines here one day but not for now. There are plenty of great American amps to admire. One difficulty is that they are just too difficult to import and adapt for UK mains supply, let alone maintain. To be honest, I also don’t have space for a lot of amps, so that makes things simpler.

 

V is for Vintage (Noun/Adj.)

 

 

I have covered the various definitions and interpretations of what might constitute ‘vintage’ in relation to guitars before, so I won’t reiterate those discussions here.

 

Essentially, there is no clear start date for what might become a CRAVE Guitar. Perhaps the early‑mid 1930s might be a legitimate starting point, representing the dawn of electric guitars. However, if someone were to offer me an early 1900s Gibson Style O acoustic archtop or a 1920s National acoustic resonator for instance, I am not going to turn either of those down! Hint, hint.

 

The end point is necessarily arbitrary. I tend to think of mid-late 1980s as the general cut‑off for many reasons. Anything from 1990‑on is of personal interest, rather than something eligible for CRAVE Guitars. I have retained a couple of modern Gibsons that I use as modern benchmarks and reference instruments to compare with older guitars (and for sentimental reasons). I no longer have any modern Fenders, although I’d like a modern Stratocaster or Telecaster for comparative purposes. Being purely pragmatic, I generally focus on electric guitars from the 1950s to 1980s inclusive – at the time of writing, the earliest is 1959 and the latest is 1989 – a period spanning just 40 years which, in context of guitar history, is nothing at all and may prove to be too restrictive in the future. For now, though, there are plenty of vintage guitars on the market made in those four decades from which to choose.

 

There is a bigger question about whether vintage is ‘better’ than new. This is not the time for such a complex discussion. However, for instance, in a blind test where touch and sound are the only stimuli, whether a guitar is physically old actually adds anything to the overall music‑making experience or not is debateable. New guitars can be made to look, feel and sound old but, no matter how good the craftsmanship, they cannot actually BE old.

 

Much also depends on the use to which a guitar will be put. For most working musicians, reliability and durability are probably far more important than age, especially in a live concert environment where the subtle nuances of vintage tone can be completely lost. A gigging situation is also environmentally demanding, never mind the practical risks of taking a valuable and irreplaceable vintage instrument on the road. In principle, modern guitars are in so many ways a much more appropriate solution than their vintage counterparts, particularly for the professional musician. Personally though, modern guitar ownership is no longer for me and what I do, so my focus is for older, lived-in but not worn out instruments.

 

E is for Electric (Adj.)

 

As far as acoustic guitars are concerned, sorry, but they just don’t do it for me. I don’t know why. This applies equally to nylon strung classical guitars and steel strung acoustics. Perhaps it’s the sound, perhaps it’s the playability, or perhaps it’s the aesthetics. To be honest, my knowledge of acoustics is very slim compared to their electric counterparts, so I may be missing something obvious in terms of appeal.

 

I acknowledge that without the acoustic guitar, we wouldn’t have electric guitars as we know them, so the historical significance is fully understood. I am interested in the acoustic guitar’s position in musical antiquity and I am writing about that as a separate piece of research. However, given a choice of picking up a comparable acoustic or electric, the latter would win 9 times out of 10. Personally, I like to plug my guitars in and experience the diverse sonic pleasures of an electric guitar being used for its intended purpose. For recording or stage use, I find microphones for an acoustic guitar a complete pain, whereas I can just plug in an electric, so the latter also wins on practicality.

 

I often play electric guitars unplugged when practising or noodling. An unplugged electric gives a good indication of the natural resonance of the ‘old wood’. It also focuses the senses on playability and ergonomics. I might suggest that a good electric guitar will come across as good when it is played either acoustically or plugged in. However, vintage electric guitars really come into their own when driving a vintage valve amp, perhaps with the odd vintage analogue pedal added to the mix. In this setting, electric guitars can feel alive with dynamics, touch‑sensitivity and sensory feedback in a way that an acoustic just can’t match, at least for me. I would argue that an electric guitar is also far more versatile with an array of different sounds and tones that it can produce.

 

OK then, here’s the crux… How many rock guitar gods from the halcyon days of Santana, Green, Clapton, Richards and Hendrix, through the experimentalist era of Page, Beck, Blackmore, Iommi and Zappa to the post-modern virtuosos such as Van Halen, Slash, Vai, Satriani and Vaughan have plied their trade exclusively playing acoustic guitars? None to my knowledge, that’s how many. The truth of the matter is that it’s the cutting, screaming, wailing, sighing, jangling and shredding of the amplified, effected electric guitar in the hands of musical geniuses that has forged the mainstay of the rock (‘n’ roll) paradigm over the last 6 decades or so. There are, admittedly, many acoustic guitar prodigies but they don’t feature on my ‘top guitarists’ or ‘top albums’ lists. I rest my case m’lud.

 

Arguably, it’s the music that matters, rather than whether instruments are amplified or not. In fact, one of my favourite live albums is Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged In New York’ (1994), so I’m not averse to acoustic music, it’s a simple matter of personal preference. I would also contest that, unless one is within a few feet of an acoustic guitar played live, the sound is amplified in one way or another, whether by an amp, a PA, a TV or a hi-fi. I don’t want to get into arguments about which is better; to me, they are just different.

 

There are many superb vintage acoustic guitars on the market and in the hands of collectors. With the usual finite resources (time, money and space), acoustic guitars will, for now, remain outside the scope of CRAVE Guitars. In addition, there are currently no real vintage electro‑acoustics out there to tempt me. Whatever the reasoning behind my bias, I’ll leave acoustics for the many specialists already occupying that particular space.

 

I would, however, like to have a good vintage acoustic to hand, just for those occasions when the mood strikes and one wants to strum or fingerpick a tune for a change. I agree that playing an acoustic brings a whole different outlook on composition, arrangement and performance and they are therefore a great complement to electric guitars. You never know, I might be tempted. Something like an old Martin D28 or Gibson J-200 perhaps? Again… hint, hint.

 

Guitars (Noun)

 

This will, hopefully, answer the original question at the start of this article about basses. Basically (haha), I am first and foremost a guitarist and I therefore focus on 6-string instruments rather than basses. For the record, I like playing bass and I think that it is good for guitarists to be able to play bass effectively, as it can improve rhythmic and timing abilities as well as adding a different perspective to songwriting. As mentioned at the top of this article, CRAVE Guitars actually has 2 vintage basses and a vintage valve bass amp as part of the ‘family’, which is enough as far as my personal need goes.

 

Yes, I’d like a vintage Fender Jazz bass and I’d happily accommodate a short-scale vintage Fender Mustang or Musicmaster bass, mainly because they are so cute, funky and cool. I’d also be quite happy with a vintage Gibson EB-0 or a Rickenbacker 4001 bass if a good one came along at a reasonable price and doesn’t displace a sought‑after guitar. Bridging the gap between guitar and bass, a vintage pre-CBS Fender Bass VI has been on my ‘most wanted’ list for a long time but original ones are becoming way, way too expensive. For the third time, hint, hint.

 

There are many other variations on the stringed instrument theme from diddley-bow guitars with only a single string through cigar box/oil can guitars, tenors and baritones, 12-string guitars, to harp guitars with many strings, as well as double or multi-neck instruments. Then there are are banjos, mandolins, zithers, hurdy‑gurdys, lutes, bouzoukis, balalaikas, not to mention many Asian instruments, as well as numerous European classical and folk stringed instruments. Again, if only for practical reasons, they are all outside the scope of CRAVE Guitars. As with acoustics and basses, there are plenty of specialists focusing on some wonderful exotic stringed instruments from all over the world, so that means I don’t have to.

 

While on the subject of CRAVE Guitars eligibility, there are a few other factors that come into play. NB. All of these conditions apply equally to amps and effects.

 

Condition – Condition is very important for me. This doesn’t mean that a guitar has to be museum or collector-grade, far from it. A well-used vintage instrument will have many visible signs of use that give it much of its charisma. If a guitar is 50 years old but looks as if it was made yesterday, it lacks that unwritten backstory of being used that might make it desirable (at least to me). Conversely, an abused ‘players’ guitar’ is of little interest to me, as it is likely to be in relatively poor condition through misuse – a lack of respect for an instrument is generally not a good sign. Once a guitar has been seriously compromised, it will never be the same again. Even if it is professionally restored, a knackered guitar loses so much of its integrity and originality (see below). The issue of restoration to protect and conserve important musical instrument heritage is another story for another day. Badly damaged guitars are a big no-no for CRAVE Guitars, including major damage like neck/headstock breaks, bad repairs, etc.

 

Originality – Originality is also very important for me. Irreversible modifications are an issue, including refinishes, routing for pickups, holes, adaptations, etc. I have one refinished guitar, my ‘signature’ 1975 Gibson Les Paul, and I regret having it done back in the late 1970s – it had a lot of buckle rash from the previous owner and it seemed the sensible thing to do at the time. I tolerate minor changes such as replacement pots (where there was a fault), tuners, etc. Several CRAVE guitars have had reversible minor modifications and each one is considered on a case‑by‑case basis. In theory, most bits of hardware can easily be put back to original condition if the correct parts are available. If guitars come with original cases, great: if they come with the original tags, manuals and case candy as well, even better. However, it’s the guitar that matters, not the case.

 

Affordable – I am a financially poor enthusiast with very limited funds, so my spotlight tends to fall on ‘affordable vintage’ guitars. Fortunately, the cool & rare criteria often make some relatively inexpensive guitars available, compared to the elite high‑end investment‑grade instruments. Market accessibility is therefore an important factor for me. I sympathise with neophytes who are interested in and want to own vintage guitars but find the whole scene too ‘exclusive’ – we all have to start somewhere. The ‘easy entry’ end of the vintage market is another reason why I like to focus on a wide range of instruments including some interesting oddballs within reach of many wannabes. Just to qualify, ‘affordable’ doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, it means cost‑effective and value‑for‑money, which can mean different things at different price points. Recently, I have paid (considerably) over market value for a couple of instruments in which I had a specific interest, so I’m not a very good businessman with an eye on future profit margins.

 

Other Stuff – Another question I’ve been asked is why I don’t sell ‘other stuff’ to support the core vintage guitar enterprise. Three principal reasons; a) I don’t have the money to spend on ‘other stuff’ even if it could partly subsidise the core ‘business’, b) I don’t have sufficient time or space to achieve the core ‘business’, let alone anything extra‑curricular, and c) I’m generally not that interested in ‘other stuff’. I would like to diversify into CRAVE Guitars merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, plectrums, cards, etc. (orders, please). I might also be tempted into vintage guitar related miscellanea such as jewellery, memorabilia, etc. Diversification also relies on surplus amounts of a) and b) above which, frankly, is looking highly unlikely. The discipline of focusing predominantly on Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars (now that it has been defined) has to remain relatively pure or I will never be able to make a going concern of it.

 

The CRAVE Guitars Brand – Brand identity is essential to back up the umbrella CRAVE Guitars trademark. Strategically, if I had more time, money, energy and space, I would definitely create 2 key partner enterprises for vintage instruments to complement CRAVE Guitars. Despite what I said above, CRAVE Basses and CRAVE Acoustics would be on the cards. The ‘E’ part of the acronym becomes a bit less relevant for acoustics (however, I have thought of a solution to that too) but the spirit remains integral to the original concept. My long‑term intention is to create a further 2 complementary enterprises for CRAVE Amps and CRAVE Effects. I may permit someone else to use CRAVE Drums, CRAVE Keyboards and CRAVE Stage & Studio though (unless I change my mind in the meantime). Just be aware that, in terms of copyright ownership, I thought of these first – royalties in an envelope please! I would consider flexible partnership arrangements with a like-minded obsessive keen to expand the CRAVE franchise into these areas, as long as the necessary resources accompany the mission.

 

Virtual CRAVE Guitars – Social media, predominantly Twitter, takes up a considerable amount of time as does the web site (www.craveguitars.co.uk), including researching and publishing these articles. The social media topics covered are essentially guitar‑related but draw from a very broad interest, encompassing material way beyond the tight C.R.A.V.E. criteria. The problem I have with it is that it is highly resource intensive and the activity intrinsically will never make any money, it is purely about entertaining a diverse audience and raising the profile of what CRAVE Guitars is all about.

 

In Summary

So, to précis all the above, I use a few simple rules to separate out the ‘wheat from the chaff’. Regardless of brand, price or reputation, CRAVE Guitars should be:

  1. Cool – Quirky, unusual, unique or a variation on a theme, preferably with some added character and interest
  2. Rare – All things being relative, supply is limited, including short-lived or small‑run production models
  3. American – Possibly my one hard and fast rule, the all‑important ‘Made in U.S.A.’ mark
  4. Vintage – Manufactured between c.1950 and 1989 – possibly earlier and unlikely to be later
  5. Electric – I’m not really an acoustic guitar fan. Electric archtops, semis, hollow bodies and resonators are fine though
  6. Guitars – Mainly 6-string instruments. Basses are included but they are not the primary focus

 

In addition, being pragmatic, a CRAVE Guitar needs to be:

  • In good condition with no serious damage or alterations
  • All‑original or very close to it with no irreversible modifications
  • Cost‑effective and good value‑for‑money

 

One last pertinent comment before I shut up is to mention the alternative meaning of the word ‘crave’, which is ‘to desire’, ‘to yearn for’ or ‘to want greatly’. This double‑entendre is both important and intentional. Ultimately, it comes down to a simple rhetorical question when looking for vintage guitars (et al), “Is this a really cool guitar that I would want to own and play?” If the answer is “yes”, I would want to showcase it for others to (hopefully) appreciate. However, if I can’t live with a guitar, I wouldn’t dare to presume that it might be of any interest to anyone else. If I don’t hanker after a particular guitar, it doesn’t join the CRAVE ‘family’ no matter how much it is worth.

 

It is only when all these factors come together that a guitar is likely to join the CRAVE Guitars clan. I am not a dealer and CRAVE Guitars is strictly a not‑for‑profit passion project. Once adopted, a guitar tends to hang around for a considerable period of time. I tend to enter into relationships with my guitars, which means that I’m not one to buy and sell instruments on a whim. I would need strong persuasion to part with one of the ‘family’.

 

I am amazed that, reflecting on the ‘rules’, they have hardly changed in over a decade, which is encouraging. 10 years ago, when I started to thin the herd and began to refine the ‘business’ model above, the focus was quite strictly on acquiring vintage guitars made by Fender and Gibson. I now realise that this was too exclusive and the net is now being cast more widely. I do, however, remain selective and anticipate that the mainstays of the ‘family’ will remain vintage instruments from ‘Big 2’. Why? Quite simply, that’s what I grew up aspiring to own one day and I suspect that the same applies for many other guitarists who grew up in the 20th Century. The future may well be different and that will be for someone else to take up the mantle long after I and CRAVE Guitars have faded into posterity.

 

I can put my hand on my heart and swear that I believe that (most of) the guitars that have made up the ‘family’ over the last decade conform to these basic principles. As a core operating model, I think that the principles are helpful and clear, which may become an advantage should CRAVE Guitars become a successful business one day. The principles also differentiate what I do from the competition.

 

You may well disagree with my philosophy and choice of guitars (et al) but, to be uncompromisingly blunt, that’s not my problem. CRAVE Guitars is internally consistent. If you want to do your own thing using your own preferences, that’s entirely up to you and I wish you well.

 

In conclusion, now having defined the objective, justified the criteria and articulated the rationale, I hope that the idea behind CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars makes some (common) sense. I think that I have also provided answers to both of the specific question about bass/acoustic guitars, as well as the bigger picture question of what it takes for an instrument (or amp/effect) to be considered a member of the CRAVE Guitars ‘family’.

 

What’s coming up? Well, I hope to have some ‘new in’ headlines for the November 2017 article. In the meantime, I think that it’s time to warm up those vintage valves and plug in my ‘guitare de jour’… now which one shall I go for? Until next time…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Integrity is doing what you believe to be right and your conviction to stand up for it in the face of concerted opposition.”

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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