October 2016 – The South of England Guitar Show 2016

posted in: Event, News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Here’s a change of tack for CRAVE Guitars this month and not something I would normally pontificate about. Yes, there is still some pretentious waffling, so October 2016’s article is not a complete volte face on my part. Before I get going, though, a wee bit of background in 3 points…

 

  1. My adult working life started in the music industry many, many years ago with very well-known UK south coast musical importer and distributor, which is still in business (and present at the titular event). The only point in mentioning this is that I’ve seen the world of guitar business from both sides of the tracks for a long time.
  2. I have also been to many trade shows over the years and, like many, they become pretty ‘so what’ after a while, especially those where the big manufacturers predictably roll out their shiny new stock and their professional sellers push to move product to eager consumers (or dealers). This is a necessity in any sector and is just par-for-the-course in the world of music trade. The only point in mentioning this is that, over several decades, I’ve become jaded and the anticipatory excitement of pretty new toys at these gatherings has long-since faded. As a result, I haven’t been to a sales/exhibition event for a very long time.
  3. I have also shifted away from new guitars, amps, pedals, etc. and refocused on older and vintage stuff. This passion for vintage guitars ‘n’ things germinated because I hung on to some nearly-new gear back in the day and it has now, inevitably and rather obviously, became old. New equipment rapidly lost its superficial gleam and, like me, the relic patina gained through years of continual use began to shine through in a very different way. The only point in mentioning this is that what I’m looking for now is very different to what appealed to me as a naïve teenager, when new=good, old=bad.

 

Beyond the cyclical round of big trade shows, I became aware of some regional shows also taking place in the calendar, clearly run by enthusiasts passionate about the subject matter, rather than sterile accountants obsessed with maximising the contribution to the bottom line. These ‘boutique’ events looked much more alluring to me because they encapsulated the desire for guitar music, rather than the drive for mere cash profit. To my chagrin, though, most of these provincial events took place around the north of England. Now, I have nothing against the north other than my own innate laziness to travel and the demands of a full working/family life, so these events came and went without me.

 

I have, though, campaigned for a while on social media to bring guitar shows down south. Let’s face it, the urbanised south east is where a lot of the country’s filthy lucre is stashed away, so the vacuum down here was a bit perplexing. This may be because of the prohibitive costs of putting something on anywhere near London, especially during recessionary times.

 

My ‘prayers’ were to be answered. Roll forward to October 2016. Peter and Gail from Northern Guitar Shows (notice the name) thankfully saw an opportunity to address the issue and hosted the South Of England Guitar Show at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey this year. Even better, they put me on the guest list – so a big “thank you” to them. Now there was an additional incentive to get out of bed and haul my lazy fat arse over the county boundary and go see what was on offer.

 

South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016

Northern Guitar Shows

 

My jaundiced and sceptical view of the music instrument industry (colloquially known as M.I.) has been reinforced by my recent experiences of arrogant vintage and new guitar retailers in both London and the south east. Restoring a little faith, the South Of England Guitar Show was very busy with ordinary folks keen to partake and it looked to be a major success. It also turned out to be an enjoyable experience for a weary, road-worn music veteran. All credit to Northern Guitar Shows for taking the risk with us fickle softy southerners.

 

Yes, there were the usual trade exhibitors, which one accepts, but none of the corporate big boys – no Gibson, Fender, Marshall, etc. For some, that may have been a disappointment, to me it was a blessing. To many stallholders, exhibitors and performers, it was probably run-of-the-mill and part of the annual trade circuit. Again, to me, it was refreshingly ‘intimate’ and, mostly, friendly. There were, of course, the usual dickheads who come out of the woodwork to frequent these things and make their presence known but, like bad weather, one just has to put up with them.

 

I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse range of smaller companies making the effort to extract my (sadly hard-earned, rather than ill-gotten) currency. Of note were some up-and-coming guitar makers presenting their wares, including among many others, Palm Bay Guitars, Stone Wolf Guitars and Flaxwood Guitars, all of whom make very pretty and practical musical instruments.

South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016

 

I was also pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of vintage instruments for sale including some VERY nice, but expensive, pieces – too many to mention here. The mix of new and vintage was something that has clearly come about since the last time I trudged around exhibition halls – thinking about it, there probably wasn’t a mainstream ‘vintage’ market way back then, at least not in the way there is now.

South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016

 

There was also decent live music on offer and a host of fringe stuff to maintain broader interest. Of note was The John Verity Band – to those that remember, he was in the band Argent and is a very good blues/rock guitarist. Also worth a listen was industry veteran Phil Harris commentating provocatively about the obsession with vintage authenticity by suggesting that reproductions can not only be as good as the originals but in many cases better. It was refreshing to hear someone who has profited considerably from the vagaries of the vintage market arguing to the contrary in very pragmatic terms. He is quite a nifty guitarist too. The objectionable high-net worth collector market aberration is something that I have also tried to articulate in my blogs but, heh, who listens to me?

 

South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016

 

Not only did I wander the aisles academically looking for a variety of desirable bits and pieces, I actually shelled out some dosh on a selected vintage item. I had made the effort to be there and so had the sellers, so I wasn’t about to leave empty‑handed. Was I tempted by the usual array of vintage Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, ES‑335s, et al, all going for what I still think is silly money? Hell yes, of course I was – don’t be ridiculous! Even though the art of haggling is still accepted at these events, the prime guitars were all (sadly) way out of my price range, especially during my current period of enforced purchasing abstinence.

 

So, you may ask, what did I come back with? My eye had been caught by a very modest and reasonably priced cute little guitar… a 1964-ish black sparkle Silvertone 1449 complete from Terry’s Guitars. Terry is selling much of his guitar collection and this baby was up for sale. For those who may not know, Silvertone guitars were made by Danelectro in the ‘60s for the American Sears & Roebuck department stores and were sold as a set with their ‘amp-in-case’ as an ‘all-in-one’ solution for beginners. The Silvertone is pure Danelectro, complete with twin ‘lipstick’ pickups and vinyl tape body edging. The 1449’s sweet 5-watt valve amp features a tremolo circuit and 8” speaker, all of which is cleverly integrated into the slim (and heavy) guitar case. While not the first or last, as an offering to the mass market, it was a genius idea from half a century ago and a move that proved very successful for Sears and Danelectro.

South of England Guitar Show 2016
South of England Guitar Show 2016

 

The guitar was very competitively priced because the headstock has a crack in it which, while relatively common, had been poorly ‘repaired’ (with screws – yikes!). This will need professionally seeing to and I feel a trip to see Dave at Eternal Guitars coming on. However, the guitar was otherwise very clean and all-original, and the ‘amp-in-case’ was working (albeit with a new Weber speaker to replace the original). In fact, the valve amp sounds VERY good for what was originally a budget practice amp. So, 52 years after it was made, this particular Silvertone has found a new home at CRAVE Guitars. One wonders where it might be in another 52 years’ time. Who knows?

 

I was interested in this particular guitar because I have been looking for a vintage Danelectro for ages; CRAVE has a 2008 Chinese-built Dano ’63 which is a modern interpretation of the 1449 (but no case), so this seemed an ideal match. The Silvertone also fits with CRAVE Guitars’ core ethos – Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric guitars (that’s what the acronym CRAVE stands for after all) – and the meek little hybrid ticked all 5 essential criteria. After a short haggle, Terry let me have it for  a reasonable price, including the step-down transformer for the amp’s 110V power supply, which all works perfectly. Thanks Terry. What a cool guy! Striking a great vintage deal was the icing on the cake for a Sunday out with a difference.

1964 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case
1964 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case

So, kudos to all concerned. The good news is that the South of England Guitar Show will return to Surrey on 29th October 2017. My advice? Why not give it a go if you like the idea. Until next time…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Age does not stop a guitarist, death does.”

 

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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