June 2020 – Whazzup at CRAVE Guitars

Prelude

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

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

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

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

2019 CRAVE Guitars’ Purchases

An Introduction to the 2019 CRAVE Guitars

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

1982 Fender Bullet H2

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

1975 Fender Starcaster

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

1979 Fender Stratocaster Anniversary

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

1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite

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

1983 Fender Telecaster Elite

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

1947 Gibson ES-150

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

1965 Gibson Melody Maker

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

1989 PRS Classic Electric

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

1959 Silvertone 1304

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

2019 CRAVE Amps? What Amps?

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

An Introduction to the 2019 CRAVE Effects

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

1987 BOSS RV-2 Digital Reverb

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

1969 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face

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

1982 Ibanez PT9 Phaser

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

1981 Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro

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

1980 MXR Micro Amp

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

Help Needed

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

Tailpiece

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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November 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part IX

Introduction

Welcome to the end of the 20th Century. Not actually, of course, that was 20 years ago now. I mean, in the ‘Story of Modern Music’, having covered almost 350 years so far, welcomes you to the very end of the century that really transformed mankind’s potential and bestowed opportunities hitherto unforeseen and unthought‑of, including musically.

If you would like to (re)visit any of the first eight chapters of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

I did think of trying to compress the last three decades into a single article and then thought better of it on the grounds that doing so might diminish the impact of the period within the overall picture. So, just for now, the millennial years will have to wait. The result is that the 1990s will have its own dedicated article, although it will be a slightly more diminutive read compared to the previous five decades/articles.

The Story of Modern Music Part IX 1990-1999

It is quite tricky to pinpoint exactly what the ‘90s meant to music devotees. It seemed to depend where you lived, your age and, perhaps, what socio‑economic ‘class’ you belonged to. Whether it was grunge, alternative, Britpop or dance music that floated your boat, there was a new and exciting scene to associate with and belong to. The psychological attachment to a musical style was important to many, especially young people who were looking for some structure to life while the old order of social and political systems seemed to be disintegrating around them. Although not quite as disobedient and defiant as previous musical archetypes, there was still an underlying seething resentment of ‘the man’, which various groups saw as attempting to control their chosen form of exuberant self‑expression. In a sense, they were tapping into the anger of the marginalised.

With previous decades, it was notable that births of familiar artists outnumbered deaths, while the ‘90s saw that trend beginning to reverse. Many future artists that may well achieve sustained fame may have been born in the ‘90s but not yet discovered, while the stars of previous eras are getting, let’s be honest, a bit long in the tooth.

Similarly, it is becoming difficult to distinguish what definitive musical gems will rise from the seeming homogeneity of releases to become revered as ‘classic’ in years to come. Arguably, the 1990s marked the last vestiges of milestone singles and albums. From then on, listening habits began to change fundamentally and that, in turn, changed the way we regard significance, at least through the traditional lens of sales figures.

Historical Context 1990-1999

Some commentators called the 1990s as the ‘best decade’, although that clearly depended on your circumstances and point of view! The dawn of the 1990s experienced widespread international political restructuring, especially in Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War and the fracturing of the communist Eastern Bloc. The 1990s also saw the growth in environmental consciousness based on dire scientific predictions about global warming and climate change. Ironically, scaremongering about ‘greenhouse gases’ led to an expansion of ‘green’ industries in developed countries. Similarly, many commentators observed signs of societal dysfunctionality, leading to prescient dystopian novels such as ‘Generation X’ by Douglas Coupland (1991), ‘Random Acts Of Senseless Violence’ by Jack Womack (1992), and ‘Prozac Nation’ by Elizabeth Wurtzel (1994). The wealth gap between the haves and have‑nots was striking; a morally unjustifiable trend that would only worsen from the 1990s onwards. The increase in the pace of technological change in post‑industrial countries fuelled the migration towards ‘digitocracies’ and resulted in manufacturing being outsourced to low‑cost developing countries on a massive scale. A period of unprecedented growth in the use of the Internet fuelled unsustainable speculation in the value of high‑tech companies, known broadly as the ‘dot‑com bubble’, a phenomenon that was bound to burst, which it ultimately did. Many companies that had become reliant on IT during the decade were fearful of the impact of Y2K on computer systems that were not prepared for the turn of the millennium.

Year

Global Events

1990

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of soviet communism, East and West Germany were reunited as the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

Political internee and equal rights campaigner, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years. His return to freedom effectively marked the end of apartheid in South Africa.

 

The ground breaking American cult TV series Twin Peaks burst onto screens. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and starring Kyle MacLachlan. It is considered a landmark in television drama.

 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, named after American astronomer Edwin Hubble, was launched into low Earth orbit. The telescope was designed to look into deep space.

 

The first Middle East Gulf War started after Iraq invaded and annexed neighbouring Kuwait. A U.S.‑led coalition of 35 countries responded with Operation Desert Storm resulting in a coalition victory.

1991

Communist rule of the soviet USSR ended, resulting in a break up into a number of separate countries. The dismantling of the communist state effectively ended the 45‑year old Cold War between Russia and America.

 

British computer scientist and engineer, Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project, effectively launching the Internet, initially to research institutions and then to the general public.

1992

The infamous Los Angeles riots took place after 4 LAPD officers were acquitted of using excessive force in the arrest of African-American Rodney King the previous year. The incident had been videotaped and broadcast widely on TV, sparking renewed civil rights activism.

 

Founded in 1918, Central European country Yugoslavia descended into bitter civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a devastating military conflict that lasted until 1995.

1993

Democrat politician Bill Clinton became the 42nd president of the U.S.A.

 

Another massive American cult TV series, The X-Files was first broadcast, created by Chris Carter and starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

 

The European Union (EU) succeeded the European Economic Community (EEC) when 12 countries signed the Maastricht Treaty, signalling a process of closer political and economic union.

1994

The trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico came into effect.

 

Anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician Nelson Mandela was elected as president of South Africa. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.

 

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) declared a cease fire in Northern Ireland, paving the way for de‑armament and the subsequent peace process.

 

The 38Km (23.5mile) Channel Tunnel rail link beneath the English Channel from Folkestone in England to Calais in France was opened for business.

1995

The phenomenally successful multi‑national online auction and e‑commerce website eBay was launched, founded by entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar and based in San Jose, California.

 

Former professional American footballer O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the double murder of former wife Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The criminal trial, held in Los Angeles, was widely broadcast on TV.

1996

Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell by using nuclear transfer in Scotland, UK. Dolly died in 2003 at the age of 6.

 

Heir to the British throne, Prince Charles was formally divorced from Diana, Princess of Wales in London.

1997

The British crown colony of Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China after 156 years of British rule.

 

Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, France at the age of 36. Her lover, Egyptian socialite Dodi Fayed, was also killed in the crash, sparking many conspiracy theories.

 

Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and humanitarian missionary Mother Teresa died of a heart attack in Rome at the age of 87.

 

The Pacific Rim countries were hit by the major Asian Financial Crisis, starting in Thailand and spreading rapidly across east and southeast Asia, resulting in an international financial contagion that threatened a severe worldwide economic meltdown.

1998

The male virility drug Sildenafil, commonly known as Viagra, became available for use in America. It was originally discovered by pharmaceutical company Pfizer as a treatment for heart‑related chest pain.

 

The Internet search engine Google Search was launched. It is the most widely used search engine on the World Wide Web, with over 90% market share in 2019, handling more than 5 billion searches per day.

 

Multinational technology giant, Apple Inc. launched the highly successful iMac computer.

 

The multilateral Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast by the Republic of Ireland and Britain as part of the on-going Northern Ireland peace process.

 

The first module of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched into low Earth orbit. The ISS has served as a multinational microgravity research laboratory.

1999

The Euro became the official single currency for the majority of European Union (EU) countries, known commonly as the Eurozone. The security of the Euro is overseen by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.

 

Politician, Vladimir Putin became President of Russian Federation, succeeding former president, Boris Yeltsin.

Musical Genre Development 1990-1999

The 1990s was a decade of sometimes dysfunctional music set against a background of major political change and social polarisation/alienation.

One phenomenon of the 1990s that isn’t genre‑specific but which built on the perennial success of pop music was the ‘boy band’ and its all‑girl equivalent. Artists included Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, Take That, Westlife, All Saints, S Club 7, Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. The record company ‘manufactured’ bands didn’t have it all their own way; solo pop music artists were also highly successful during the 1990s, including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore.

American heavy metal saw a resurgence including bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Pantera achieving massive popularity. Meanwhile, British heavy metal was also prospering with NWOBHM bands such as Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

Hip‑hop became increasingly divisive, inciting gang warfare, gun violence and drug use, fuelling rivalry between east and west coast artists, and resulting in a number of high profile deaths including Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

The English ‘Manchester movement’ (or ‘Madchester’ as it was often called) was strong in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The scene centred on venues like the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, run by post‑punk band New Order and led by local bands such as Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and The Charlatans, although the latter were actually based in the west midlands. The music isn’t necessarily a genre per se, it was more of a loose social and cultural grouping that also encompassed fashion, art and media. The OTT craziness of the Manchester scene was faithfully represented in the film ’24 Hour Party People’, made in 2002, directed by Michael Winterbottom. Other artists associated with the vital hotpot based around the UK’s North West were The Verve, Inspiral Carpets and James, as well as Scottish band Primal Scream. The Manchester ‘baggy’ zeitgeist would be important in the growth of the drug‑fuelled rave scene later in the decade.

A fusing of genres led to the emergence of trip hop as a discrete genre that grew from its roots in Bristol, UK and was pioneered by artists like Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Morcheeba and Sneaker Pimps. Sometimes referred to as ‘downtempo’, it is typified by taking electronica, hip‑hop, house, funk, dub, soul and psychedelia and creating something altogether different and fresh. While its roots were clearly experimental and atmospheric, trip hop was influential in that it led to other popular mainstream forms that became subsumed in the electronic dance craze (see below) of the 1990s and early 2000s, including breakbeat, bigbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, IDM, dubstep and acid jazz. Like the Manchester movement, trip hop was very much a UK‑led genre, which had little mainstream success in the U.S.

Like punk before it, alternative rock and its counterpart, experimental noise rock, is a musical genre that railed against the major record corporations that ran the music business and the mainstream pop and rock products they marketed. Independent producers and record labels that existed outside the studio system were very much part of an active underground movement, particularly in America, and this is where a number of bands came to public attention at the start of the 1990s. Compared to the mainstream, alternative artists found it relatively difficult to garner wide audience appeal, so word of mouth, radio and record releases were the way that the message got out. The alternative moniker is more of an umbrella term relating to artists’ status in the system, rather than having definitive identifiable genre characteristics. Notable alternative artists include Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies. Before they signed to a major label, R.E.M. were seen as alternative and this started a broadening of the definition that included other major artists such as Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age, Radiohead and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The start of the new millennium saw other alternative rock artists emerge including The Strokes, Interpol and The Rapture, extending and ensuring alternative rock’s destiny into the 21st Century.

Grunge is a specific genre of music that developed in the Pacific North West of the United States and more specifically its epicentre in and around Seattle in Washington State. Like alternative/noise rock, grunge was an underground movement centred on an independent record label, in this case, Sub Pop records based in Seattle. Grunge is influenced by punk, metal and alternative styles resulting in something altogether different from all of them. Grunge is characterised by slow, raw arrangements and a distinctly distorted lo‑fi sound. Compositions often followed a quiet‑loud‑quiet structure. Lyrics tended to be downbeat, melancholic, anti‑consumerist and often depraved with a focus on cultural alienation and social isolation. While all of the following rejected the term ‘grunge’ as defining their music, especially after signing to major labels, the early pioneers of Seattle’s grunge scene included Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Alice In Chains. The core grunge scene had largely fizzled out and diversified by the end of the 20th Century. A revival of the grunge ethic evolved in the 2010s to include artists like Courtney Barnett, Wolf Alice and Yuck.

Britpop was essentially an upbeat and positive British reaction to the dark and depressing American grunge scene. The music and its cultural background (nicknamed ‘Cool Britannia’) lasted approximately from 1993‑1997 before fizzling out. The major bands of the Britpop period included the ‘big four’; Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede. Collectively they expanded popularity to include other artists such as Supergrass, Cast, The Lightning Seeds, Sleeper and Elastica. The so‑called ‘Battle of Britpop’ between Oasis and Blur around 1995 was a media‑fuelled highlight catching the public’s imagination at the time. Britpop was important for influencing many quintessentially British bands that came along for the ride including Coldplay, Travis, Feeder, Stereophonics, Elbow, Snow Patrol and Keane. Further influences included Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys in the 2000s.

Dance music (in this context, Electronic Dance Music – EDM) was a phenomenon that had its roots in the late 1980s but exploded in the early 1990s and lasted well into the 2000s. Dance music comprises largely electronically produced progressive dance music intended for use at nightclubs, festivals and (often illegal) raves by DJs who mixed and re‑mixed heavy beats through loud PA systems to audience rapture. In fact, many record labels and DJs became far more celebrated than the musical artists they played in their DJ sets. The predominant sub‑genres of dance music include house, techno, trance, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep, although these only represent the tip of the dance sub‑genre iceberg. Dance beats generally comprise programmed synthesizers, samplers and drum machines to produce buoyant, insistent 4/4 dance rhythms. Dance music also became synonymous with recreational drug use such as ecstasy (MDMA) as well as party holiday destinations such as Ibiza and Mykonos islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the famous artists of the dance scene include The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Underworld, Orbital, KLF, The Shamen, The Future Sound of London, 808 State, Groove Armada, Aphex Twin, Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk. Later artists built on the foundation, include Pendulum, SBTRKT and Skream. DJs became pivotal in promoting the dance craze and became famous in their own right, including Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Pete Tong, Paul Van Dyk and Armin van Buuren. There are many sub‑genres of dance including acid house, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), ambient, breakbeat, downtempo, jungle and UK garage, all ensuring that dance music remains up‑to‑date and relevant in the 21st Century.

Musical Facts 1990-1999

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

23

January

1990

American guitarist and co-founder of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allen Collins died from pneumonia in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 37.

8

February

1990

American country and rock & roll singer and songwriter, Del Shannon committed suicide as a result of depression at his home in California at the age of 55.

18

February

1990

English singer Freddie Mercury made his final public appearance with other members of pop/rock band Queen at the Brit Awards ceremony, held in London.

20

March

1990

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their career-defining classic 7th studio album, ‘Violator’ in the UK.

26

March

1990

Northern Irish blues/rock guitarist, Gary Moore released his classic studio album, ‘Still Got The Blues’.

3

April

1990

Highly acclaimed Grammy award winning American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan died from cancer at her home in Hidden Hills, California at the age of 66.

10

April

1990

American East Coast rappers Public Enemy released their politically charged 3rd studio album, ‘Fear of a Black Planet’.

16

April

1990

Indie rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their 6th studio album, ‘The Good Son’.

26

June

1990

Prolific American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their successful and significant 6th studio album, ‘Goo’.

24

July

1990

American heavy metal rock band Pantera released their classic 5th studio album ‘Cowboys From Hell’.

21

August

1990

Legendary American blues guitarist and singer B.B. King received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6771 Hollywood Boulevard.

27

August

1990

American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others died tragically in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin at the age of 35.

31

August

1990

The funeral service of American blues/rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan took place at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.

3

September

1990

English heavy metal rock band Judas Priest released their 12th studio album, ‘Painkiller’.

21

September

1990

American thrash metal rock band Megadeth released their superb classic 4th studio album, ‘Rust In Peace’.

6

October

1990

American Heavy metal band Metallica began recording their massive studio album ‘Metallica’ (aka the ‘black album’) in Los Angeles, California.

9

October

1990

American thrash metal band, Slayer, released their mega 5th studio album, ‘Seasons In The Abyss’.

29

October

1990

Legendary award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

8

January

1991

English guitarist and songwriter, Steve Clark of hard rock band Def Leppard died of alcohol poisoning at his home in London, at the age of 30.

15

February

1991

Successful English pop singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, and actor Ed Sheeran was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

21

March

1991

Legendary American inventor and founder of Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, Leo Fender died from Parkinson’s disease in Fullerton, California at the age of 81.

8

April

1991

English trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack, released their successful debut studio album, ‘Blue Lines’ in the UK, including the dance anthem, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.

20

April

1991

English guitarist and front man of rock bands Small Faces and Humble Pie, Steve Marriott died in a house fire at his home in Essex at the age of 44.

23

April

1991

American guitarist, singer and songwriter with New York Dolls, Jonny Thunders died in mysterious circumstances in a hotel room in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 38.

30

July

1991

American heavy metal rock band Metallica released their massively successful single ‘Enter Sandman’.

12

August

1991

American heavy metal band Metallica released their career-defining 5th studio album, ‘Metallica’, often referred to as ‘the black album’.

27

August

1991

American alternative rock band from Seattle, the home of grunge rock pioneers, Pearl Jam burst onto the scene with the release of their astonishing platinum-selling debut studio album, ‘Ten’.

10

September

1991

American grunge rock pioneers Nirvana released their ‘90s anthem for disaffected youth, the near perfect hit single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

17

September

1991

American hard rock band, Guns n’ Roses, released their 3rd and 4th studio albums ‘Use Your Illusion’ parts I & II on the same day in the U.S.

23

September

1991

Scottish alternative rock band, Primal Scream released their massive 3rd studio album, ‘Screamadelica’.

24

September

1991

American grunge rock pioneers Nirvana released their career-defining classic 2nd studio album ‘Never Mind’ in the U.S. Well over 30 million copies have been sold so far.

24

September

1991

American alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers released their 5th studio album, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, produced by Rick Rubin.

28

September

1991

American jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis died of complications from a stroke, pneumonia, and respiratory failure in a hospital in Santa Monica, California at the age of 65.

14

November

1991

Legendary American guitarist and singer Jimi Hendrix received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6627 Hollywood Boulevard.

18

November

1991

Massive Irish rock band, U2, released their storming 7th studio album, ‘Achtung Baby’ in the UK.

24

November

1991

English singer with pop/rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury died of pneumonia resulting from AIDS at his home in London at the age of 45.

15

January

1992

Rock band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and country music legend, Johnny Cash were both inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

29

January

1992

Influential American blues singer, songwriter, upright bass player and guitarist, Willie Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank, California at the age of 76.

21

February

1992

American heavy metal rock band Pantera released their classic 6th studio album ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’.

31

March

1992

English heavy metal rock band Def Leppard released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Adrenalize’.

20

April

1992

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their upbeat, commercial 10th studio album, ‘Wish’.

21

April

1992

American rap rockers, Beastie Boys, released their 3rd studio album, ‘Check Your Head’.

27

April

1992

Indie rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their great 7th album, ‘Henry’s Dream’.

9

May

1992

American guitarist, singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen made his live American TV network debut on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with show host Tom Hanks.

21

July

1992

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their cult, cool, classic 8th studio album, ‘Dirty’.

29

September

1992

American alternative rock band Alice In Chains released their sophomore studio album, ‘Dirt’.

6

October

1992

American rock band R.E.M. released their classic top‑selling studio album, ‘Automatic For The People’.

3

November

1992

American rock band Bon Jovi released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Keep The Faith’.

10

November

1992

American rock band Rage Against The Machine released their outstanding and career defining eponymous debut album ‘Rage Against The Machine’.

9

December

1992

Although not officially announced until January 1993, English bass guitarist Bill Wyman left The Rolling Stones.

21

December

1992

Legendary American blues guitarist, Albert King died from a heart attack at his home in Memphis Tennessee at the age of 69, just 2 days after his last concert.

6

January

1993

English bass guitarist Bill Wyman officially announced that he was leaving The Rolling Stones after more than 3 decades with the band.

23

March

1993

English alternative/electronic rock band Depeche Mode released their 8th studio album, ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ in the UK.

20

April

1993

Emerging English alternative rock band Radiohead released their debut album, ‘Pablo Honey’ in the UK.

29

April

1993

English session guitarist, songwriter and producer who played extensively with David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars among others, Mick Ronson died from liver cancer in London at the age of 46.

23

August

1993

English new romantic band Duran Duran received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1770 Vine Street.

21

September

1993

American alternative grunge rock band, Nirvana released their 3rd and final studio album, ‘In Utero’.

19

October

1993

American rock band Pearl Jam released their major 2nd studio album, ‘Vs.’.

9

November

1993

American East Coast rappers Wu-Tang Clan released their incendiary debut studio album, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’.

19

November

1993

American grunge rock band Nirvana recorded their classic live acoustic concert and album, ‘MTV Unplugged In New York’ at Sony Music Studios.

23

November

1993

American rock band, Guns N’ Roses, released their 5th studio album, ‘The Spaghetti Incident?’

24

November

1993

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist, nicknamed The ‘Master of the Telecaster’ and ‘The Ice Man’, Albert Collins died from lung cancer at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 61.

4

December

1993

Non-conformist American guitarist and composer extraordinaire, Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 52.

1

February

1994

American pop punk rock band Green Day released their breakthrough 3rd studio album, ‘Dookie’.

1

March

1994

American grunge band Nirvana played their last ever live concert, interrupted by a power cut, in Munich, Germany.

1

March

1994

American alternative rock artist, Beck released his 3rd studio album, ‘Mellow Gold’.

8

March

1994

American alternative rock band, Nine Inch Nails released their career-peak 2nd studio album, ‘The Downward Spiral’.

5

April

1994

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and member of grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain died from a self‑inflicted shotgun wound in Seattle, Washington at the age of 27.

19

April

1994

Alternative rock band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their classic, career-defining 8th studio album, ‘Let Love In’.

26

April

1994

American country music legend Johnny Cash embarked on a whole new period of his career with the release of his classic studio album, ‘American Recordings’.

27

April

1994

The famous San Francisco music venue the Fillmore reopened its doors at 1805 Geary Boulevard. It had been closed since 1989 after being damaged in an earthquake.

23

May

1994

Influential American virtuoso jazz guitarist, Joe Pass died from liver cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age 65.

24

May

1994

American rappers, Beastie Boys, released their classic 4th studio album, ‘Ill Communication’ in the U.S.

14

July

1994

English rave band The Prodigy released their breakout 2nd studio album ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’.

22

August

1994

Pioneering English trip-hop band, Portishead released their ground breaking debut studio album, ‘Dummy’.

23

August

1994

Acclaimed American singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Buckley released his first and only studio album, ‘Grace’. A modern classic.

26

September

1994

English trip-hop outfit, Massive Attack, released their great sophomore studio album, ‘Protection’ in the UK.

4

October

1994

Versatile American ‘redneck jazz’ guitarist Danny Gatton died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds at his home in Newburg, Maryland at the age of 49.

1

November

1994

American grunge band Nirvana released their impressive award-winning live album, ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’, 6 months after Kurt Cobain’s death.

5

December

1994

English indie rock group The Stone Roses released their sophomore studio album, ‘Second Coming’.

13

March

1995

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their breakout 2nd studio album, ‘The Bends’ in the UK.

13

June

1995

Canadian singer, songwriter, musician and producer Alanis Morissette released her classic 3rd studio album, ‘Jagged Little Pill’.

14

June

1995

Renowned Irish blues/rock guitarist Rory Gallagher died of MRSA following liver failure caused by medication and alcohol in London at the age of 47.

9

August

1995

American guitarist Jerry Garcia of psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead died from a heart attack while at a rehabilitation centre in California at the age of 53.

2

September

1995

12 years after it was founded, America’s homage to contemporary music, the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio and was celebrated with an all-star concert.

26

September

1995

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their great 10th studio album, ‘Washing Machine’.

2

October

1995

Australian artists, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue released the haunting and elegiac duet single ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’.

7

November

1995

American alternative rock band Alice In Chains released their eponymous 3rd studio album, ‘Alice In Chains’.

21

November

1995

American rock legend, Bruce Springsteen released his 11th studio album, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’.

17

January

1996

Music greats, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground were all inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

5

February

1996

Australian alternative rockers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their dark 9th studio album, ‘Murder Ballads’.

16

April

1996

American alternative rock group Rage Against The Machine released their sophomore studio album, ‘Evil Empire’.

17

May

1996

American blues, soul and funk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson died of a heart attack after collapsing on stage in Yokohama, Japan at the age of 61.

15

June

1996

Legendary American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald died of complications from diabetes in Beverley Hills, California, at the age of 79.

18

June

1996

American alternative rock artist, Beck, released his classic, top-selling 5th studio album, ‘Odelay’.

17

July

1996

English bass guitarist with R&B band The Animals and Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler died of an aneurism in Newcastle, at the age of 57.

10

September

1996

American alt-rock group R.E.M. released their classic 10th studio album, ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’.

13

September

1996

American rapper Tupac Shakur died of gunshot wounds following a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 25.

19

September

1996

American jazz guitarist George Benson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7055 Hollywood Boulevard.

31

October

1996

English/American guitarist Slash announced that he was leaving rock band Guns N’ Roses after a relationship breakdown with the group’s lead singer Axl Rose.

2

November

1996

Sublime American singer and guitarist, known as ‘the songbird’, Eva Cassidy died from cancer in Bowie, Maryland at the age of 33.

10

January

1997

American soul legend James Brown received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street.

12

February

1997

English singer and songwriter David Bowie received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.

4

March

1997

Alternative rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their classic 10th studio album, ‘The Boatman’s Call’.

9

March

1997

American rapper Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.) was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California at the age of 24.

11

March

1997

English former member of The Beatles, Paul McCartney was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, London.

7

April

1997

British dance/electronica/big beat duo, The Chemical Brothers, released their massive studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ in the UK.

14

April

1997

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their classic 9th studio album, ‘Ultra’ in the UK.

29

May

1997

Renowned American singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Buckley died tragically from accidental drowning in Wolf River Harbor, Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 30.

4

June

1997

English bass guitarist and founder of rock band Small Faces, Ronnie Lane died from pneumonia resulting from multiple sclerosis in Trinidad, Colorado at the age of 51.

16

June

1997

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their top-selling 3rd studio album, ‘OK Computer’ in the UK.

30

June

1997

British rave band, Prodigy, released their massive zeitgeist‑defining 3rd studio album, ‘The Fat Of The Land’ in the UK.

22

August

1997

German industrial metal rock band Rammstein released their massive 2nd studio album, ‘Sensucht’ (translated crudely as ‘Desire’).

11

September

1997

American blues legend John Lee Hooker received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

30

September

1997

English trip-hop band, Portishead released their eponymous sophomore album, ‘Portishead’ in the UK.

12

October

1997

American folk singer, songwriter and guitarist John Denver died tragically in plane crash in Monterey Bay, California, at the age of 53.

19

October

1997

American guitarist, best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Glen Buxton, died of complications from pneumonia in a hospital in Mason City, Iowa at the age of 49.

10

November

1997

Highly-regarded American session guitarist and one of the most recorded musicians in popular music history, Tommy Tedesco died of lung cancer in Northridge, California at the age of 67.

22

November

1997

Australian singer and front man of the rock band INXS, Michael Hutchence committed suicide in Sydney, Australia at the age of 37.

19

January

1998

American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Carl Perkins died from throat cancer in Jackson-Madison County Hospital, Tennessee, at the age of 65.

30

January

1998

English pop singer and songwriter Sir Elton John received his knighthood from Her Majesty The Queen.

19

February

1998

Legendary American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7060 Hollywood Boulevard.

20

April

1998

English trip-hop outfit, Massive Attack, released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘Mezzanine’ in the UK.

14

May

1998

American singer and actor, Frank Sinatra died from a heart attack at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at the age of 82.

6

July

1998

Legendary American singer, guitarist and actor, nicknamed the ‘King of the Cowboys’, Roy Rogers died of heart failure in Apple Valley, California at the age of 86.

25

July

1998

American virtuoso jazz guitarist, Tal Farlow died of oesophageal cancer in New York City at the age of 77.

17

August

1998

Mexican-American guitar legend Carlos Santana received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

15

September

1998

American heavy metal rock artist, Marilyn Manson released his massively successful classic 3rd studio album, ‘Mechanical Animals’.

24

September

1998

American icon and rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

1

October

1998

American guitarist, singer and songwriter and founder of rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.

2

October

1998

American country & western ‘singing cowboy’ Gene Autry died of lymphoma at his home in Studio City, California at the age of 91.

6

October

1998

American rock band Queens Of The Stone Age (QOTSA) released their self-titled debut album, ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’.

13

October

1998

The Crossroads Centre in Antigua, founded by English blues/rock guitarist and singer Eric Clapton, opened its doors to help clients with drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

3

November

1998

American alternative rock singer, songwriter, musician and producer, Beck, released his 6th studio album, ‘Mutations’, the follow up to the massive ‘Odelay’.

29

November

1998

American jazz pioneer of the 7-string guitar, George Van Eps, died of pneumonia in Newport Beach, California at the age of 85.

25

December

1998

English pop/rock band, The Beatles, received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

30

December

1998

American surf rock band The Beach Boys received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

15

March

1999

Legendary American singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

28

April

1999

American rock band Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7018 Hollywood Boulevard.

17

May

1999

Award-winning American singer, songwriter, guitarist, electronica musician and producer Moby released his mega-successful 5th studio album, ‘Play’.

15

June

1999

After a long break, American Latin rock band Santana released their highly successful 17th studio album, ‘Supernatural’.

16

June

1999

English rock singer, drummer and member of progressive rock band Genesis, Phil Collins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard.

24

June

1999

English blues/rock guitarist, Eric Clapton auctioned many of his guitars in New York City. The proceeds were used in support of the Crossroads Centre he founded in Antigua as a residential treatment centre for alcohol and chemical dependencies.

11

August

1999

American rock band KISS received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

7

September

1999

American virtuoso guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Steve Vai released his astonishing 5th studio album, ‘The Ultra Zone’.

2

November

1999

American alternative rock band Rage Against The Machine released their 3rd studio album, ‘The Battle Of Los Angeles’ in the UK.

23

November

1999

American alternative rock artist, Beck, released his adventurous 7th studio album, ‘Midnite Vultures’.

17

December

1999

American smooth jazz, funk and soul saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. died of a heart attack in New York City at the age of 56.

26

December

1999

Highly acclaimed American soul singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Curtis Mayfield, died from complications of diabetes in a hospital in Roswell, Georgia at the age of 57.

Tailpiece

The 1990s was certainly a strange decade both musically and culturally, notably as a segue to the 21st Century. While it seems very recent, it is actually receding into long‑term memory, thereby affecting our perceptions of what it meant to us at the time. Still to come, the new millennium is temptingly beckoning and it will prove as frustrating as it was liberating.

Now… we have a minor problemo. I was hoping to conclude this series of articles conveniently in December at the very end of the current decade. However, there are still one, two or maybe even three articles still to write before we are done. December 2019’s article will therefore, ceteris paribus, interrupt the sequence in that it will cover a summary of 2019 through the eyes of CRAVE Guitars, meaning that the ‘History of Modern Music’ will resume early in 2020, all being well. This series has been a gargantuan task thus far, so perhaps a short break in proceedings won’t do any harm. Heaven knows what will follow after it has been concluded though. Looking into the crystal ball of the future is largely futile, so I’ll have to start thinking hard about the ‘next big thing’ very soon. However, that can wait for next year/decade. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “It is a moral travesty that, if you have got everything, you think you can get away with anything.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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February 2019 – A General Update

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Hello again guitar fans and welcome to anyone else who may be curious about the big wide world of guitar addiction and obsession. As the great Jimi Hendrix once proclaimed, “Music is a safe kind of high”, so I’m happy to admit my perennial affliction. I trust that 2019 is treating you all well as we begin the move from dreary winter into nascent springtime.

I don’t have any particular theme for this month, so apologies in advance are probably due for what seems to be a generally incoherent rambling round up of various bits and pieces thrown together. One beneficial consequence is that this is a shorter tome than some.

State of Guitarville 2019

In the grand scheme of things, the guitar‑centric sector of the wider music industry is a relatively small but vibrant arena. While the general shrinking and decline of the ‘business’ continues well into the post‑recession era, the core elements seem in fairly good health overall. There is cautious optimism out there within the context of an unpredictable and challenging operating environment. There has been some progress since this time last year but not as much as many commentators might have wished.

Even though I wasn’t at the event, Winter NAMM 2019 held at the end of January in Anaheim, California saw a lot of activity and relatively good business was done. There were few ground‑shaking announcements at the convention but there was the usual excitement about shiny new gear from established brands. It was reassuring to see Gibson back at NAMM after their absence in 2018 and their new CEO is making all the right noises about what to expect from the company. Let’s hope that good intentions translate into achieving the right balance between quality and price, along with appropriate innovations alongside traditional instrument manufacturing. It is interesting that some of the more contentious technologies that were being used to reposition Gibson as a lifestyle company are now likely to be jettisoned in order to re‑establish confidence about, and a focus on, what really matters to their customers.

It is hardly a surprise that digital continues to make significant inroads into the analogue domain that has been the bedrock for so many generations of musicians across the globe. With the influx of ever more convincing digital inventions, one really does have to wonder how long analogue will remain the force it has been up to now. At some point, even the most hardened of luddites will be lured to make the jump either by the metaphorical lure of the carrot or the fear of the stick. There is still some way to go before all the components in a guitarist’s signal chain provide everything that the working professional musician needs for writing, rehearsal, live and recording settings.

The advantage for CRAVE Guitars and many other vintage enthusiasts is that we generally don’t need to worry about learning the operational demands and subtleties of this new‑fangled complex digital stuff and we can stick with what worked for us when we started out, complete with all its charming analogue idiosyncrasies (?!?!). One day, soon, digital will be the default and vintage gear will become a bit like vinyl records in there will be a market for it, even if it ultimately becomes a niche for nerdy specialists. For up‑and‑coming musicians who may not know any different, though, the current‑day smorgasbord of choice is phenomenal and, although the value‑for‑money equation on some equipment can be debated, the benefits are there to be discovered and exploited.

My sense, at the beginning of 2019 is that there is a degree of consolidation in design, manufacturing, marketing and distribution. The on‑going battleground between ‘brick & mortar’ retail and Internet business is still bitterly being fought out. At some point, an equilibrium will be reached where both channels will co‑exist, even if it means that the retail experience will be different from how it is now. Many consumers still greatly value going into a physical store, looking at, trying out and talking about equipment, so they will endure, even if those establishments have to offer other value‑added services on top of the traditional mainstay of shop floor sales. Companies that rely heavily on Internet operations will find overheads increasing, margins tightening and profitability harder to come by, thereby impacting sustainability and beginning to level the playing field a bit.

As far as guitars are concerned, as mentioned above, Gibson is poised for resurgence and Fender seem to be on their game and producing some very competent and attractive models at all price points. PRS are on a creative stretch of their own and doing OK judging by headlines. Gretsch, Rickenbacker and Danelectro also seem to be faring well, perhaps needing a bit of additional cool vibe to secure their future. Rejuvenated brands like Supro and Harmony are aiming to join the ranks as ‘go to’ guitars, while many other familiar names are managing to stay afloat. Acoustically, Martin and Taylor are both actively vying for top dog status with new innovations, which ultimately means some great guitars for the consumer. The last 12 months has seen some small‑scale luthiers go under or simply disappear, which is regrettable but, sadly, not surprising given the volatile international economics of the industry.

In the amp arena, there are three major directions of travel; a) the relentless digital onslaught from the likes of Fractal, Kemper and Line6 among others, b) ranges of very good valve and solid amps from the mainstream names such as Fender, Marshall, Vox, Orange and others, including some faithful reissues of classic models, and c) the continued rise of boutique builders catering for individual tastes in small numbers. We guitarists are, though, a conservative breed. It seems that the valve is dead, long live the valve!

One area where digital is revolutionising sound is on the pedalboard, which is a current ‘big thing’. There are some astoundingly inventive ways of mangling your guitar tone, both in variations of established FX types and some intriguing all‑new creations that take advantage of digital technology. Some exciting products are appearing from the likes of Catalinbread, Strymon, Eventide, Fulltone, Thorpy, Keeley, Electro‑Harmonix and Wampler, to name just a few. If you prefer multi‑effect pedals, then you are likely to have stalwarts like Line6, Boss and Zoom in your sights. Then there are pedalboard switching systems to help you organise your complex myriad of stompers, e.g. the Gig Rig 2 and Headrush. Likewise, the ever‑improving pedalboard power supplies derive from companies such as Truetone, Voodoo Labs and MXR. Looking from the outside, there are some tremendous bits of alluring kit becoming available, way beyond the vision of manufacturers and musicians back in the 20th Century when digital was just starting out. Whatever your budget, the choice, it seems, is yours.

Music publications across the board, including the trade press, are still suffering a seemingly unstoppable shrinkage of their market. Sales of paper magazines continue to dwindle and digital subscriptions are not filling the gap. As a result, high street transactions along with the advertising revenue streams they need to survive are decreasing. As the absolute size of the readership reduces, the risk of becoming uneconomic goes up disproportionately. Strategically, there are few options available and quite what will remain once an inevitable shake‑out occurs remains to be seen. The consequence of this is that the quality of content is likely to suffer in the long term. Music industry journalism needs to adapt, although there are major challenges ahead as people find alternative ways of acquiring the information they need (or, perhaps more worryingly, not bothering at all). Although referring to something slightly different, one is reminded of a whimsical quote from Frank Zappa who suggested that, “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” Discuss…

Another area of stagnancy appears to be in the quality of music pervading distribution channels. Video/TV, radio and physical media sales are stagnant at best, while digital streaming is becoming the dominant force. This re‑jigging of supply channels, though, isn’t the issue. Although a sweeping generalisation, it seems that since the turn of the millennium music output has increased in volume and decreased in quality. While this is a highly subjective observation, it is borne out by (vaguely) reliable anecdote across generational divides. There is no doubt that there is some extremely good music being made. However, finding the glittering gems amongst the deluge of dross is difficult and, as a result, the good stuff is constantly battling to reach a mass market, thereby making success a tough task for genuine aspiring talent (rather than vacuous celebrity wannabees!). Financial rewards for artists from streaming services is a travesty and needs addressing before it’s too late. Quite how the tide can be turned to reveal new genre twists and identify the next swathe of outstanding musicians will be a challenge for the 2020s. One can hope that something will happen, as it has always has, it just remains to be seen who, what, when and where it will pop up. Another consequence of generic music produced by generic people is that the desire for genuine instruments will decrease, thereby ultimately affecting sales of guitars.

Getting back to the point, core consumer demand for music gear continues to be resilient, although customers are understandably more discerning and, as a result, potentially more fickle. Reliance on past sales and brand loyalty are continually being chipped away at by targeted marketing and tough rivalry. However, strong competition and the downward pressure on street prices can prove to be a double‑edged sword for price sensitive customers. On the whole, one thing I can easily predict is that the popularity of the guitar will persist no matter what, despite regular prognoses that ‘guitar music is dead’. Quite what the musical landscape will be like in years to come is best left for others to forecast. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an exciting time in Guitarville.

As CRAVE Guitars is based in the UK, it is incumbent on me to mention ‘Brexit’ at this point. There are NO scenarios where leaving the European Union can benefit the country or its citizens. Prices are already increasing, not only because of increased costs and perceptions of risk but also as a result of exploitative selling practices by the unscrupulous trying to secure and bank revenue before the catastrophe strikes. Things are bad enough as they are (remember ‘Rip off Britain’?) and we don’t need any further unnecessary pecuniary pressures. After the severance has occurred and whatever the outcome is of the disastrous ‘deal or no deal’ shenanigans, import barriers, tariffs and currency speculation will affect Britain’s international trade relationships without question. The risk of further recession and national isolation rank high on the concerns of many British businesses. Given the fragile nature of the UK music industry, any weaknesses and threats will be heightened and only those that are able to adapt will survive. Hypocritical UK politicians, pedalling their own prejudices while protecting their personal interests should be ashamed of the damage that will result in the short‑term and aftershocks will continue to impact on the prosperity of the country for generations to come. What is regrettable is that there will be recourse to hold the inept self‑seeking minority accountable for engineering this chaos in the first place and having no idea about how to deliver it successfully. On this basis, I am not optimistic in the slightest. I hope, however, that I am proved wrong. Personally, my view is that there can be no backtracking and we need to get on with making the most of a bad situation. End of whinge!

Repatriation Update

I covered the long‑overdue reunion of a significant proportion of CRAVE Guitars’ vintage instruments in the last article. What I didn’t do is say much about what actually came back. So… if only for completeness, here is the full list of the (42) returnees:

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

Some of the guitars have only been ‘stored’ for a short period of time but many have been incarcerated for nearly 8 years!!! It is these ‘long‑termers’ to which I will probably need to pay most attention in the coming weeks and months. While they were safe and secure, a domestic loft space is definitely not an ideal environment in which to keep vintage guitars for any length of time. The fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity over an extended period are far too great to do them any good at all. Given the circumstances at the time (back in 2011), it was a necessary urgent solution borne out of a severe predicament and I had no practical alternative. I never anticipated that it would take over 7 years to get them all back – I was clearly naïvely deluded in thinking that it would take ‘about’ 6 months at the most to sort things out! Essentially, completely rebuilding one’s entire life from scratch took considerably longer and it has been an extremely arduous journey. Still, we are where we are, none of us can turn the clock back, so one has to be positive, forward looking and take it from here. At least the precious cargo has been rescued and they are now finally back where they belong and, primarily, that is what really matters.

At the moment, the only tangible evidence of the little treasure trove listed above is several stacks of dusty guitar cases. Excitement about the potential is also tinged with an element of guarded apprehension about what will be found when the contents are properly ‘exhumed’ and examined for need of repair and sensitive renovation. If at all possible, any replacement parts needed during restoration will be of the appropriate vintage. That presents a major quandary in 2019-2020. For instance, finding and procuring period‑correct components will be both time consuming and costly. While one could be practical and use modern replacement parts, I prefer to conserve these precious historically significant instruments with genuine components that are as close as possible to the originals as I can find (and afford). Only if that approach fails will I resort to pragmatic use of new stock items. Back in the pre‑recession boom, there was little difficulty in sourcing these useful bits and pieces. Now, however, it has become considerably more difficult.

Not only are vintage spare parts and accessories hard enough to find on the usual hinterwebby platforms, decent vintage guitars and amps also seem to be increasingly scarce, at least in the UK. I’m not sure why this should be. Perhaps people are hanging onto their instruments, perhaps there’s a mistrust/dislike of the usual web sites and the way they are run, or perhaps the post‑recession/pre‑Brexit uncertainty is still suppressing supply. The laws of economics dictate that continued demand combined with a shortage of (finite) supply means only one thing… increased prices. Wading through eBay is bad enough at the best of times but UK sourcing is particularly hard work at the moment. Disadvantageous exchange rates with the USA now seem to be a permanent fixture and, on top of that, CITES is a real bane. In addition, eBay searches are flooded with Japanese items that you just know are bogus. All round it’s not much as much fun as it should be when hunting down scarce ‘most wanted’ artefacts.

I am not treating the repatriation project with any sort of hysterical urgency. The guitars have been exiled for so long that a few more weeks in their new home before I get round to them won’t do any harm. In the first month, I have only attended to 2 out of 42 guitars (1964 Gibson Melody Maker and 1966 Fender Coronado) and I have to be cautiously optimistic that there is no lasting compromise to their integrity. Phew! I hope I don’t get any nasty surprises lurking in the remaining 40 to be uncovered.

Vintage guitars really need to be played. That may be ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ but the difference after a bit of TLC and playing for a few days is phenomenal. There is a transformational change in their playability, sound, feel and looks. I wonder if this may be one reason why some people pick up a (possibly neglected) vintage guitar and find it dull, lifeless and uninspiring. When they magically come back to life again, it is both a relief and a delight. The journey of rediscovering these instruments may well explain why I’m taking my time and not getting very far very quickly. Well, that and the fact that there isn’t a local guitar tech on whom I can rely when more extensive remedial works are required. I know my limitations and any attempt on my part to mess around with repairs and adjustments that are best left to experts would almost certainly be a regrettable mistake.

Another interesting observation is that, while I wasn’t overly attached to some of the guitars all that time ago – a proportion were originally intended to become the staple of a start‑up business – I have now developed an emotional connection to them because of everything I and they have been through over the intervening years. That may be a good thing because I now value them more for what they are than what they may be worth. Also, I simply wouldn’t be able to afford many of them on today’s market, so I’m just glad to have them now. However, it means that I may well have a struggle with my conscience if CRAVE Guitars does become an economic entity and I have to break those newfound relationships. Until that time, the guitar ‘collection’ is an integral part of the family and they are definitely not for sale in the short to medium‑term. My philosophy and attitude mean that the guitars still represent a not‑for‑profit conservation of the musical heritage, rather than any sort of potential gold mine.

As previously mentioned, a pressing priority over the next few months is to provide them with proper accommodation. This means that I need a competent builder to ‘tank’ the cellar and make a suitable home for the guitars. After that, I can possibly start thinking positively about what the future of CRAVE Guitars might one day become. One step at a time.

New in at CRAVE Guitars

So that I don’t fall into the same trap as last year, here’s a quick ‘new arrival’ section. As I predicted back in December 2018, things got off to a slow start this year. In fact, there has been only one purchase in the first 2 months of 2019. Surprisingly, it was an item that was actually on the ‘wanted in 2019’ shortlist.

CRAVE Effects is a relatively modest side venture that runs alongside the guitars and amps. The Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ acronym doesn’t actually work 100% in this context because CRAVE Effects comprises a diverse selection of stomp boxes from around the world. Whatevs! I can break my own rules.

One of the ‘classic’ effect pedals that was notably absent was the venerable Ibanez TS‑808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro from Japan. This was partly because availability of both the right pedal and the resources needed to acquire it were in short supply. Good ones are few and far between and, when they do come up, they go for silly money. So when an original 1981 TS‑808 turned up on eBay UK for an aforementioned silly price, but arguably not exorbitantly so, it had to be pounced upon. Thus, the notable gap has at long last been duly filled. To think that I could have added another ‘budget’ vintage guitar for the same price as the Tube Screamer puts things into perspective.

As is often the case with vintage Tube Screamers, this example shows typical signs of use (good) but not abuse (bad), so it has just the right amount of mojo, otherwise known as ‘wear and tear’, needed to be confident that it was a safe purchase. Thankfully, apart from a replacement battery snap, it is in all‑original condition and it works very well indeed for a 38‑year old pedal, which is testament to their durability.

As anyone acquainted with my opinionated drivel (or should that be overdrivel in this case?) will know, my heretical views don’t always accord with those of the self‑appointed ‘establishment’. The original TS‑808 is good but I don’t believe it really deserves its insanely elevated and almost mythological status in the minds of many guitarists. Like numerous effects from the late 1970s and early 1980s, it can sound great or grim depending on how it’s used. It is player, guitar, effect and amp dependent, so it needs to be carefully matched in order to make it sound its best. Although new TS‑808 and TS9 reissues are not the same as the old ones, they are still very good overdrive effects. Therein lies a fundamental truth that applies equally for any stomp box made at any time – you pays your money and make your choice. Regardless of my biased view, the much‑imitated and often re‑issued Tube Screamer has become the de facto benchmark for overdrive pedals and there is no getting away from it.

The web site feature on the TS‑808 has already been prepared but, like most gear purchases over the last year, it hasn’t yet been published on the web site. Sigh! Yet another job waiting in the pipeline. Watch this space…

Sign‑off

That’s about it for February 2019. This has been a necessarily short soliloquy compared to many of my verbose outpourings. Inspiration, motivation and time have been in limited supply so far this year and articulating much of any interest at all has been a bit like hard work. Therefore, there is no point in proverbially flagellating a deceased dobbin and it is probably best to stop here for now.

That means that I can get back to the immediate task in hand, which is looking after a few vintage guitars and, hopefully, playing some of them along the way. I’m sure there will be more on this particular topic in coming months. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Conscience dictates that we understand right from wrong. Imagine what mankind might achieve if we could work together rather than conflict, and what good could be done if we stopped the immense and irreparable harm we cause.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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January 2018 – The State Of The Village

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

Welcome to 2018, albeit a tad belated. The previous CRAVE Guitars article (December 2017) was an introspective look back at 2017 and a tentative look forward to 2018. That article looked only at CRAVE Guitars’ personal experiences, apprehensions and aspirations. What it didn’t do was to look more broadly at the music industry landscape and to make some sort of sense of what’s going on out there in the global guitar village, hence the somewhat intentionally ambiguous title of this month’s article. The timing also coincides with the U.S. President’s annual State of the Union Address, so there is some rhyme to the reason. I don’t expect anyone to agree with my assessment (quite the contrary in fact), as it is purely a personal view of the world from the margins of the sector.

Looking across the whole industry, it is in a good enough state considering the severe difficulties experienced by just about every sector of the global economy over the last decade. Business has been, is now, and will remain very challenging and it will only get harder for manufacturers to achieve competitive advantage in rapidly changing markets. Things are looking positive though; maybe not everywhere but there are certainly areas of buoyancy and there is reason for optimism, generally. Yes, there are always ups and downs and it is often a case that firms need to be adapting continuously in order to stay current and relevant. There have been fundamental, structural changes taking place in the way people experience music and the likelihood is that those changes will not only continue but also accelerate as technology enables new and better ways to get into the groove. Generally, the industry is both driving innovation and meeting the needs of musicians, which is a good sign for manufacturers, distributors and consumers.

Music is the law

The thing that I keep being reminded of is that people are still actively making music and people are still listening to music; something that I believe is a universal constant that will not change. I have covered the science of music in previous articles and, as music is subject to the physical laws of the universe, it is essentially necessary for the continuation of the human condition. How and where people experience music changes but the basic (and I believe, elemental) human need for music ensures that demand will be sustained, although I hesitate to use the word ‘forever’.

“Music is a necessity. After food, air, water and warmth, music is the next necessity of life” Keith Richards (1943-)

“Music is the universal language of mankind” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807‑1882)

“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe” Laozi (6th Century BCE)

The challenge for the industry in the developed world is that music, as an artistic and cultural pursuit, is discretionary and people’s ability to access music is a matter of individual choice, subject to inevitable economic constraints and lifestyle priorities. Fortunately, at least in the western countries, personal freedoms mean that music is an integral and essential part of most people’s lives. Furthermore, most post‑industrial societies recognise the value of art and culture to the well‑being of its citizens as well as being a principal contributor to the national economy – music earns a great deal of money and thereby raises a considerable amount in taxation.

An appreciation of this ‘macro’ context is important in order to evaluate what is happening on the ground at the ‘micro’ level.

Shiny, shiny new gear

That’s the ‘big picture’ set out. Now let’s start with what’s happening with new gear out there. At the time of writing, Winter NAMM 2018 in Anaheim, California has just ended and there is plenty to be excited about. NAMM is the trade show where the major manufacturers in the business sport their wares for the coming year.

Although my primary focus and main interest is with vintage guitars, as well as vintage analogue effect pedals and vintage valve amps, it may surprise to you to know that I still have a keen interest in modern gear as well. OK, so I don’t spend my meagre lucre on new musical equipment any longer but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate exciting, shiny new‑fangled stuff. Like most eager G.A.S.-obsessed guitarists (you know who you are and what that acronym stands for), I am not alone in that I have the frequent pangs of lust for whizzy modern gear. I may not have the intimate knowledge of new equipment that others do, so my comments are therefore largely general and observational.

First off, the quality of equipment coming onto the market these days is extremely high and many leagues ahead of the sub‑par stuff that was available in most guitar shops when I was young, eager and willing. For people who are starting the journey of guitar discovery, it is very easy to buy a very high standard of instrument these days, even on a tight budget. The baseline is that there are very few poor guitars in today’s market. That doesn’t mean that poor examples don’t exist, of course they do. Sometimes, though, consumers can be critical of what is on offer, although this may be result of not being clear about what they need and then not making informed choices of gear. This mismatch may cause as much disappointment as bad gear per se. I regularly hear the “piece of cr*p” argument levelled at the tools of our trade and I feel that this is possibly more to do with assertive conceit to cover up a poor experience in the first place, rather than an objective evaluation of the kit itself.

Part of the reason for the bar continually being raised is the influx of mass‑produced equipment from the Far East, particularly the growth in products from China. Chinese output is in turn exerting pressure on other Pacific Rim producers, such as Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and Malaysia to up their game in the face of stiff Asian competition. Japan has suffered economically for many years and is now facing many of the commercial squeezes that America faced several decades ago, including increasing labour, regulatory and raw material costs and increasing inability to compete on price in a saturated global market. Let’s face it, there are only so many guitars that can be sold, so if there is over‑production, this places downward pressure on costs and therefore effectively capping retail prices. Improved quality and low prices are good for the consumer but cause many headaches for many manufacturers trying to earn a living.

As a result of global trading arrangements, established American brands like Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, PRS and Danelectro will continue to take advantage of offshore production in order to compete at the lower‑cost, higher‑volume end of the market.

The over-supply of generic products at the budget end of the market does, however, open up all sorts of opportunities for the niche guitar makers who are small, agile and able to meet individual customers’ needs for something different. The boom in independent luthiers from all over the globe is a healthy phenomenon of the early 21st century. These custom builders are producing innovative and appealing guitars like never before. There are way too many small‑scale builders to mention but just take a look and you’ll discover a plethora of superb bespoke equipment just waiting to be tailored to your individual requirements. There is even a guitar show specifically showcasing small luthiers – the annual Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin, Germany.

The losers in this more volatile and fickle arena tend to be the mid‑sized producers of classic instruments who are constrained by their history and a certain amount of preconceived public expectation.

Gibson, in particular, has had a number of difficulties over recent years. Strategically, they are caught between a rock and a hard place with their traditional customer base being eroded by competition while not being able to create a loyal new following. The introduction of the Modern Double Cut is evidence of how Gibson continues to split opinion (NB. for what it’s worth, I like them). It may seem that Gibson doesn’t know where it is going. I would argue, though, that whatever direction it goes, it is likely to struggle, so I don’t envy the company executives who have very difficult jobs at the moment. Gibson’s custom shop is producing excellent wares but the size of that niche is limited to a relatively few well‑off discerning customers. It is Gibson’s Memphis division though, responsible for its semi‑acoustic products, that is a shining light. The Memphis plant is producing some exciting, beautifully made instruments in relatively low numbers. If they can replicate the success and reputation of their Memphis division in other areas, they may well experience a resurgence in fortunes. In the meantime, Gibson’s absence from U.S. industry trade show NAMM 2018 in favour of CES may be symptomatic of their problems. Sadly, the words ‘shoot’ and ‘foot’ spring to mind.

Conversely, Fender seems to have fared better in keeping things afloat. They have done this by rejuvenating some of their lesser known instruments (e.g. the updated offset Duo‑Sonic and Mustang, as well as the semi-acoustic Coronado) to a customer base that wasn’t generally aware of the originals. The Jaguar and Jazzmaster are also proving to be popular and very cool, especially with alternative and indie musicians. Fender is also tweaking its classics, the Strat and Tele. Fender’s, current ranges have an exciting freshness at keen price points that are attracting young players wanting to differentiate themselves from the old guard. Fender also has an advantage in material sourcing, as they generally use woods that are less exotic and therefore more available and sustainable. Compared with Gibson, Fender also has a highly lucrative amp and bass guitar business, both of which provide industry standard products. The Gretsch brand (part of the Fender empire) is also producing some very fine instruments across its key lines.

Fender therefore seems to have the upper hand of the ‘big two’ at the moment, although this could change easily and rapidly. Like Gibson, Fender could do with some credible, long‑standing all‑new guitar and bass designs to reinforce their reputation and ensure their long-term prosperity.

When this article was published, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) regulations prohibiting, or at least severely limiting, the international trade in rosewood will have been in place for a whole year. The full long‑term impact of this has still to be felt. However, most guitar makers are urgently seeking viable alternatives – easier said than done. Ebony is likely to be next and who can predict what will follow after that (mahogany?). The import burden imposed by CITES has pretty much stopped CRAVE Guitars from purchasing instruments containing rosewood from outside the EU. As if importing from North America wasn’t bad enough (including dire currency exchange rates), Brexit will probably impose further barriers to buying products from the near continent. These burdensome trading restrictions are definitely not good for small enterprises like CRAVE Guitars.

Will online selling result in the disappearance of physical off‑high street guitar shops? Internet sellers will try to gain market share and brick‑built emporiums carrying expensive display stock will struggle in the same way as many other retailers grappling with the same conundrum. However, as with other parts of the retail sector, it will probably result in a mix of retail and online channels providing customers with choice about the way they buy their gear.

I always advocate actually playing something before buying but it doesn’t always suit everyone and sometimes it just isn’t possible. As an example, some of the guitars in CRAVE Guitars’ ‘collection’ simply couldn’t be sourced locally and many had to be acquired over the Internet, usually in eBay or Reverb, many from across the Atlantic or in Europe. There is obviously a risk in doing so but these can be mitigated to a degree by doing one’s homework. Diligence should always rule over desire when making unseen purchases. Even so, I have made many costly mistakes but on the whole, one develops a nous for buying guitars this way, especially when there is no alternative option.

The fad for ‘modding’ guitars is as strong as ever with many 3rd party after‑market companies producing just about anything you could ever want for your guitar, effect pedal or amp. In particular, the evolution of quality after‑market pickup manufacturers seems to have followed the growth of luthiers, focusing on quality, tone, character and individuality. Small changes can have a significant improvement to an otherwise bland, generic instrument (but realise that it may devalue a vintage piece of equipment).

Specialisation and differentiation is increasing in the accessories market as well, which includes anything from strings, leads, picks, pedalboards, cases, straps, merchandise, and just about anything else you can think of. In a similar vein, front‑of‑house concert tech such as mixing, PAs, monitoring and lighting are all evolving very rapidly.

One downside of a market flooded with cheap imported product is the resurgence of copies, knock‑offs and fakes affecting both old and new guitars. Long gone are the days of winnable ‘lawsuit’ cases, so replicas are rife. The topic of 1970s and 1980s ‘lawsuit’ cases against Japanese copies is fascinating (not for this article though). Many cheap lookalikes sail close to infringing trademark violations.

As the value of rare vintage gear rockets, there is a temptation to capitalise on reproductions that are so well done that even experts can be fooled. There have always been fakes of course but the stakes seem to be so much higher now. The origin of fakes seems to be from countries over which there is little or no jurisdiction, therefore bringing those accountable to justice is nigh on impossible. Few companies have the resources to track the forgers down, enforce their rights and drive them out of business. Even if they are successful, it is only a temporary sticking plaster, as the culprits simply disappear underground, only to pop up again somewhere else with an alternative ruse to rid the unwary honest of their cash. Beware!

Another massive growth trend over the last few years is in boutique effects. This is, I believe a reaction to the trend towards multi-effects and digital modelling products where major companies crammed so much versatility and functionality into these boxes that it became difficult to make music without embarking on an engineering degree. The back‑to‑basics approach of the small specialist effect makers has mirrored the boutique guitar and pickup makers. Their tactic was to take the best of the past and bring it up to date without falling into the trap of over‑cramming. The quality is excellent and the only problem for the consumer is possibly the abundance of choice (and sometimes price). Great examples from 2017 include pedals from Keeley, Electro‑Harmonix, Orange, Digitech, Way Huge and Earthquaker Devices. If you want full-featured effects, well you can have that too if you want.

One unforeseen benefit to the explosion of stomp boxes is that it has stimulated a boom in power supplies and clever pedalboard switching systems. Following the established GigRig (now in G2 form), Japanese giant Boss has jumped on the bandwagon with their highly successful MS-3. There is a negative to complexity in that the level of tinkering needed to find THAT killer tone is considerable and it can actually distract us guitarists from actually playing guitar! Not a good thing in my view.

Another idea spun off from effects is for crossover tech such as ‘amps in a pedal’, frequently used in a modern amp’s effects loop to push an amp’s power stage by bypassing the amplifier’s pre‑amp. These intriguing boxes of tricks are just emerging onto the market – expect them to be popular in 2018.

Amp manufactures, like luthiers and effect builders have followed a similar track by diversifying and honing in on specifically what 21st century musicians’ need. Live gigging has changed massively and so has the business that supplies it. Apart from arena bands, the crowded backline of insanely powerful amps and stacked speaker cabs has pretty much gone by the wayside. There is still a place for muscle amps but tone quality has largely replaced volume quantity in the modern gigging environment. The move towards ultra-high quality and often low output boutique valve amps (e.g. Two Rock, 633, Bad Cat) and cute/cool ‘lunchbox’ amps has been particularly notable, with many established amp manufacturers following suit at the next level down (e.g. Victory, PRS, EVH). The choice of amps for the budget conscious is impressive with some great options (e.g. Fender, Vox, Orange, Blackstar, BOSS, Yamaha). The change is revolutionary and on‑going. It will be fascinating to see where it leads. Archaic valves still seem to be beguiling the affection of serious musicians, so we won’t see the imminent end of those pretty glowing glass vacuum tubes just yet. It may well happen, just not soon.

All in all, gear‑wise, it’s been a fascinating 2017 with lots of exciting new product hitting the scene. The growth in small‑scale companies suggests that a shakeout may occur at some point, with larger corporates buying out smaller entrepreneurial companies. The big companies do this to acquire successful new products without having to do all the R&D and testing and the risks that go with it. This process of rationalising the supply chain is quite common in post-recessionary periods of economic growth, so expect some announcements of mergers and acquisitions. The flood of imports from Asia is likely to increase further in 2018 and will continue for the foreseeable future, echoing the massive growth of Japanese brands in the 1970s and 1980s. As long as the standards are good and the prices reasonable, consumers will keep spending money.

Live and recorded music

Live music seems to have overtaken recorded music in terms of significance to the sector. It appears that consumers are increasingly demanding the immediacy and exclusivity of the live concert experience. This also seems to coincide with the fact that it is also where management and bands are making their money. The demands of touring make for a great deal of hard work for professional musicians – it isn’t the endless rock ‘n’ roll party of sex and drugs that naïve outsiders think it is (or would maybe like it to be). The key to success for artists is to achieve longevity, rather than the harsh spotlight of overnight success followed by the abyss of obscurity.

Like many, I am trying hard to work out where the guitar heroes for the next generation are coming from. There are so many very good guitarists out there and it is tricky trying to determine what it will take to stand out from the crowd. Once they do get attention, will they then have the credentials to stay in the frame for decades to come? Personally, I would dearly love to be able to record my music. At the moment, I don’t have the time, patience, resources or equipment to do it.

Like live music, the way that music is recorded and distributed has also been revolutionised with major recording studios being replaced by modest home recording environments using impressively powerful DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). Never has it been easier and cheaper to record music. The quality of the music recorded, though, is another matter. The regretful tendency towards the celebrity‑driven vacuous and generic is an enduring concern. Thankfully, there are still enough leftfield artists with integrity to keep the cauldron of creativity bubbling. Britain and Europe seem to be pushing the boundaries more than America, although this may be a perception based on local exposure, rather than reality.

The abundance of people who believe that they know best how to make, record and sell music also has an effect on what the consumer hears. We have a situation where the OCD can delight in correcting every last flaw in the production process and, perhaps unknowingly, they rob much modern music of its vitality and rawness in the process. There is also a tendency towards uniformity and conformity that I can only put down to ‘artists’ seeking short‑term fame and success, rather than producing excellent new music for the long­‑term. Having said that, the ability to create and distribute music has enabled musicians to get their music heard in a way that they wouldn’t have done in the past, as well as for listeners to find new artists.

The investment in time and effort required to master recording technology is immense. Even then, the technical skills and expertise may dominate over the ability to create something worthwhile. However, this is no different to putting a novice at the controls of a traditional studio desk. Those who can and do master the technology have my respect, not only for learning and being able to do it in the first place but also in keeping up to date, which must be a complete nightmare. Having worked in IT for over a decade, currency of knowledge is essential and it is the same with recording technology.

Distribution of recorded music has been transformed by downloads and streaming services like iTunes and Spotify, rather than tangible product or traditional media broadcasting. The benefit is that it provides greater choice and diversity. The issues around licensing and royalties are lagging behind the technological changes, meaning that predatory lawyers will no‑doubt benefit from the inevitable wrangling over rights ownership and originality for years to come.

So… what of the consumer? UK sales of music in 2017 were higher than for any year in the previous 20 years. Streaming (excluding YouTube) accounted for just over 50% of all music consumption in the UK, equating to 68.1 billion songs and contributing £1.2bn to the economy! Vinyl still accounts for about 3% and grew in absolute terms in 2017. Both CD sales and downloads have been declining in percentage terms for the last 5 years, which is a bit sad. All this indicates that entertainment industry scare stories about the Internet and streaming killing off music have proved quite the contrary, given the evidence.

Unlike music sales, there are some areas where innovation is certainly lacklustre, for instance in music videos. For most bands, music videos are still an essential medium but there is little in the way of ‘must watch’ material, compared to the past (think 1980s video). It’s difficult to see what could rejuvenate the platform. If it were me, I’d be looking to work with successful video game producers for an injection of much‑needed new ideas and talent.

Digital rules… or does it?

The analogue versus digital debate would seem to raise its head at this point but to many observers, the lines are currently reasonably clear. There is a place for both and both have their well-argued positives and negatives. Put bluntly, digital is here to stay; get used to it. However, many musicians remain wedded to analogue gear and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Heck, we can’t even eradicate vinyl records after decades of digital ‘supremacy’, so the best of analogue will be around for a while yet.

Thanks to the likes of the Line6 Pod before it, innovative digital products like the Fractal FX-II, Line6 Helix and the Kemper Profiler have proved hugely successful. This is notable, mainly because of the way these products replicate or emulate the tone and dynamics of decades‑old valve amps. This suggests that new music technology may be more likely to succeed when imitating old technology. The same applies to many new digital effect pedals that strive to reproduce the lo‑fi characteristics of clunky old analogue pedals. Go figure!

I remember back in the 1970s when solid state tried to oust the vacuum tube in amplifiers – it failed. I also remember solid state (analogue) effects replacing, for instance, tape echoes – it succeeded. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of mileage in transistor amps and they are very good at what they do. At the risk of repeating myself, there is a place for everything in the right context. The future will undoubtedly feature a mix of both analogue and digital domains, each suited to their strengths.

I foresee a whole area for growth in hybrid ‘cyber’ guitars, ones that balance traditional characteristics with digital tools that appeal to new age tech‑savvy musical pioneers. While many companies have toyed with the idea, it hasn’t taken off yet but I reckon the flood gates will soon open and they will push the sounds guitarists are able to create to new levels. Where digital excels, for instance, is in the recording environment where it is almost universally standard. Will digital guitars completely replace our beloved instrument? Not in my lifetime.

Guitars will undoubtedly accommodate and adapt to digital technology but digital won’t make what we have now obsolete. After decades of electric guitars, we are devoted to the beauty and tone of our instruments. Will new generations demand an all‑digital guitar and will such an instrument be able to replicate the best of the old tech? I don’t believe that it can but you never know. Counter‑intuitively, electronic music has only made guitar music stronger since the 1980s, when synths and ‘electronica’ attempted to eliminate ‘old‑fashioned’ guitar‑based music. It failed then and it would almost certainly fail again now. I think we’ll be sticking to our traditional woody guitars, the essence of which hasn’t changed since the 1930s (for electric hollow body guitars and the early 1950s (for solid guitars). I think we will see an increase in hexaphonic pickups, i.e. ones that are able to send separate signals for each individual string to external digital processors/controllers. This is actually nothing new!

Therefore, some sort of mutual co-existence will probably exist for many decades to come, without an ultimate resolution to the digital versus analogue debate. In the end, it’s all about compromise. Fine by me, I’m happy to sit on a fence and continue playing my vintage guitars without them becoming totally obsolete.

Trivia: The original ​¼“ (6.35 mm) jack plug and socket, the ubiquitous industry standard for connecting electric guitars to effect pedals and amplifiers originally dates from c.1878. An early type of the humble jack connector was created by George W. Coy and was used for the first commercial manually operated switchboard at the telephone exchange he created in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Note: Other connectors have been tried in the past, including a few companies that attempted, unsuccessfully, to replace the jack plug/socket with the common DIN connector. I will wager that the digital USB port, currently being fitted to a few guitars these days will not endure for the next 140 years in the same way as the jack plug/socket has. You’ll have to wait until the 2120s to collect any winnings on that particular bet.

Mobile devices

Where do our mobile phones and tablets sit in this brave new world? Like other electronic visual interfaces, it is simply a different way of looking at the same thing. They have their place but it will probably remain at the margins of music production, largely due to the effects of continual progress and obsolescence. I would suggest that guitarists, generally being quite a conservative bunch, probably won’t adopt mobile technology in quite the way many companies might like. While portability and convenience is undeniable, standardisation and compatibility need to be established before they become commonplace.

Vintage vibrations

Moving onto things vintage… The ‘investment’ boom years between 2000 and 2008 came to an abrupt end with the financial crash and the subsequent recession that followed it. Many commentators point to a 30% loss in value across the vintage guitar market. The market has just about recovered to the point that it was before the crisis. There are always exceptions to the rule of course. Some aspects, particularly the affordable low end of the market remain very problematic with prices varying wildly and with considerable inconsistency.

The upper end of the market did, and probably always will, ride out short‑run economic fluctuations relatively unscathed. The wealthy are far better equipped to ride out commercial ups and downs and that’s where the big profits are likely to end up. Pecuniary speculation may be rewarding for the well‑healed musician or collector but for everyone else it is challenging and I can’t see that changing for the foreseeable future. My usual bleat of ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ still holds true, especially as I am firmly in the latter category – apologies, this is just the chip on the shoulder of sour grapes talking (no apologies for intentionally mixing metaphors).

Some things still surprise on the vintage front. As a simple example, a relatively modest original early‑1980s Ibanez TS9 overdrive pedal seems to have certainly bucked the trend. I bought one for a reasonable market price about 18 months ago, now you can’t find one offered at less than four to five times what I paid. What the heck is going on there? Crazy. It may be riding on the back of its scarce and collectable predecessor, the venerable TS-808, but that’s no guarantee of anything. Other prices, for instance late 1970s/early 1980s Fender Stratocasters, seem to bouncing along in a very unpredictable fashion compared to similar guitars from the early 1970s, the prices of which are beginning to climb steeply.

I am concerned that the vintage guitar market is increasingly at great risk of repeating the pre‑recession ‘boom and bust’ cycle. Anything ‘classic’ from the 1950s is already at a premium, while most models from the 1960s are likely to increase in value significantly until they are equally out of reach. Gear from the 1970s, 1980s and newer is still not fashionable… for now. If the climate changes dramatically, which it could, the probability of the bubble bursting (again) will increase. It will happen again; it’s a case of when, rather than if. Looking at the long-term, the vintage guitar market will survive for as long as there are vintage guitars to be bought and sold.

One thing I’ve noticed over the decade‑long slump is that sourcing specific guitars, effects and amps has become so much more difficult. The same also goes for vintage parts that are needed to conserve vintage instruments for the future. There used to be much broader choice and availability for punters. Now, particular items are either unavailable or very hard to find. This lack of supply linked to sustained demand would suggest an inevitable increase in market value (one of the basic laws of economics) but that only seems to apply piecemeal. I’ve said it before and it still holds true, the vintage guitar marketplace remains a bit of a minefield at the moment.

Another thing I’ve observed is that my UK online feeds for vintage gear are being flooded by items from Japan, the Russian Federation, China and Australasia. I would urge extreme caution if considering long-distance purchases from these underdeveloped territories. Prices are high, the exchange rates into the UK are poor, import duties, taxes and charges are disproportionately exorbitant, and the regulations are increasingly onerous (CITES again). It is not difficult to deduce that it just ain’t worth the risk.

Moreover, be aware that many Japanese items are not owned by the actual seller. They list the item and only when a customer clicks ‘Buy it Now’ do they then try to source the original and, if it has been sold in the meantime, you may either not receive the item at all or you may get a substitute that can be very different from what you believe you ordered. As if to corroborate this, it is not unusual to see the same item being offered by different sellers. Do you think you’d have any sort of come back in the event of an issue? Nah, forget it. Never has the contract law principle of ‘caveat emptor’ (literally from the Latin, ‘let the buyer beware’) applied more. If you do risk it and end up getting burned, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you are interested in gambling on vintage guitars to make a return on investment (not my thing, I reiterate), the trick is to anticipate what might be ‘the next big thing’ just before it takes off. Do I have any advice on this front? Yep, but I’m keeping it very much to myself. Why? Not because I want to profit from my hard‑earned insights (which would be nice) or because I hate greed (which I do), it’s because of the numerous uncertainties involved. I would hate to suggest something only for that advice to implode (i.e. my sort of luck). I really don’t want to be held to account for giving poor advice… or for pricing myself out of a purchase because I end up competing with someone who took my advice.

Summary and conclusion

So, there you have one person’s view of the ‘state of the village’. The market for new music gear continues to evolve in a positive way. With western economies emerging from the deepest, harshest recession ever, the industry will thrive, innovate and change providing a wealth of choice and options for guitarists of every age, level of competence, income bracket and musical style. The vintage market, while currently erratic, will always remain relatively niche as supply and demand is limited – expect vintage market values to escalate in the year (or two) ahead.

The operating environment for manufacturers and retailers will continue to be challenging and they will need to adapt to meet musicians’ fickle needs while appealing to traditionalists and neophytes alike. The firms that will survive will understand both the external pressures affecting them while also engaging actively with what guitarists most value in their diverse gear-focused world. A much‑needed injection of authentic customer service would be welcome too.

The future looks exhilarating as the technology continues to evolve and challenge existing preconceptions about what music‑making is all about. The business is not going to go away but it will change and do so more rapidly than it has in the past.

I am optimistic that the best of the past and the best of the future will find a sustainable equilibrium where there is something for everyone. More importantly, the products that we use on a daily basis, whether created in the past, the present or the future will continue to inspire, motivate and enable more of us to produce some fantastically creative music. That music will, in turn, hopefully excite and evoke deep emotions for millions of listeners of both recorded and live music all over the world. Music is a wonderfully powerful medium that has the potential to change individual lives, communities and societies to create a better, more peaceful world. Now that’s an ambitious agenda. Sign me up!

CRAVE Guitars Logo

Whatever transpires, I’ll watch with great interest. Wanna play? I do, so I’m off to plink my planks (despite badly hurting my little finger on my fretting hand). Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “The best way to keep music alive is to keep music live.”

© 2018 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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March 2017 – A Time of Change

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Welcome to Spring 2017, guitar aficionados. If there is anyone out there keeping tabs on what’s going on at CRAVE Guitars and wondering about the lack of recent vintage purchases, here’s a quick (and short-ish) update.

I have mentioned previously about a necessary life-changing relocation and the fact that this has (hopefully only temporarily) curtailed my mission to bring you more Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars. You may have noticed that there has been a dearth of ‘new in’ articles and a consequent increase in ‘pretentious monologues’ (or as I prefer to call them, well-researched, in-depth, objective investigations) about guitar-related matters. This shift in emphasis was a conscious decision and directly related to the necessary change in circumstances.

Change is inevitable, positive change needs to be driven. As John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) wisely stated, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. The time is fast approaching when it all happens, at long last. The whole process seems to have taken forever – over 12 months already. By mid-summer, the main move will have occurred (fingers crossed).

In the meantime, I am taking some heart breaking decisions and, to me at least, making some painful sacrifices. To be precise, that means selling guitar stuff. If you suffer the guitarist’s common malady of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (a.k.a. G.A.S.), you’ll understand exactly what I mean. I have accumulated quite a lot of musical equipment over the years and it’s time to be ruthless and rational about what a remodelled CRAVE Guitars actually needs, as well as to concentrate on what it will focus.

So… Why do it? Good question for a self-confessed gearhead. There are basically three factors involved here. The first is that permanent, full-time gainful employment has ceased for now, to become a full-time carer and to concentrate on the relocation. Whether this can be categorised as ‘early retirement’ or not is irrelevant – the fact is that there currently aren’t any sources of income to fund vintage guitar, amp or effect purchases. The second is that the cost of adapting a clunky, structurally unsound, damp (and very modest) old property in a poorly accessible location costs WAY more and takes WAY longer than envisaged. It has taken every last penny of available cash and it hasn’t even happened yet. The third is that the lifestyle change demands a much simpler way of living, away from the self‑seeking, avaricious intensity of the South East of England. I am not underestimating the cultural adaptation that will be required to all the above; it will be difficult and it has to be done. A positive mental attitude is most definitely needed.

So… what exactly does the sacrifice entail, you may ask? Well, at the moment, the vintage guitars, amps and effects are as safe as they can be. However, most of everything else sadly has to go. This means releasing CRAVE’s more modern guitars, non-American guitars, amps, studio gear, effects, accessories, etc. The home studio gear has largely gone and the modern effect pedals are all on their way. At the time of writing, quite a few items have departed for pastures new and there are still a few more bits and pieces to go, so the hurt continues for a while. If you are interested, keep an eye on the ‘For Sale’ section of the web site – all pre-owned items are auctioned on eBay UK and, because they have to go, there are some bargains to be had. http://www.craveguitars.co.uk/home/for-sale/

Sadly, four guitars have already gone (ouch!) and a fifth is likely to go imminently. Amongst those already re‑homed are the sunburst 1999 Fender Stratocaster American Standard and the cherry 1999 Gibson SG Standard. These are superb pro instruments and I’m very sad to see them go after many years of companionship but, as ‘they’ say, needs must. If you’ve looked at CRAVE Guitars’ website home page, these two have been front and centre for a long time, even though the guitars themselves are still a few years off vintage status – time for a new photo! Just for a change, I’m looking to use  CRAVE’s vintage 1962 Gretsch and 1964 Silvertone by Danelectro (see below).

I may try to hang onto a couple of modern guitars as reference instruments but the rest are either on their way or will be shortly. Most of the electronics don’t have such an emotional connection as the guitars but it is still very sad to see such a lot of good quality gear disappearing out of the door at relatively low values. I genuinely hope that the new owners are happy with their purchases.

If I have to excise any of the vintage gear due to circumstances, it will be immensely regrettable. That isn’t to say that I won’t sell some vintage items but the proceeds therefrom can, I hope, be reinvested in ‘new’ vintage equipment. CRAVE Guitars has to continue developing, otherwise it just becomes another stagnant private ‘collection’, the idea of which doesn’t excite or motivate me (in fact it’s one of my bugbears). I need to keep the faith and plough on, otherwise I won’t have anything to write about here!

One thing that struck me is the harsh economic reality of life. Costs of things one has to pay out for end up being far higher than one expects and the residual worth of things previously paid out for is far less than one thinks it should be. It may be stating the bleedin’ obvious that, as avid consumers, the level of depreciation between acquisition and disposal is severe but the recent experience has brought it into stark focus. Let’s just say that the cash flow sits firmly in the ‘outgoing’ column, not the ‘incoming’ one.

Exacerbating the value gap are the fees that eBay and PayPal rake in just for letting people sell stuff online. While I recognise that businesses have to make money, it is clear that everyone except me is making shedloads of lucre at every step along the way!

The economic laws of supply and demand mean that, at least in business terms, straightforward ownership isn’t financially sensible or maintainable without adequate income. Such is the price of an inadequately controlled hobby over a long period of time. It isn’t all bad though. There are positives, of course; one good thing is that we guitarists can get a great deal of enjoyment from using our equipment during the course of ownership. Thankfully, guitars (and everything that goes with them) can be usefully employed and are far more than static assets representing an ‘investment’ to be protected.

While on the subject of economic value, one thing that I’ve learned with vintage guitars is how long it takes before prices bottom out and values start appreciating again (if ever). Many vintage pieces remain in the economic doldrums for a period before regaining a higher proportion of their original retail price. The vintage market is by no means perfect; it only takes a relatively small number of wealthy collectors to intervene in the finite market and to drive prices to stupid levels (don’t get me started!). There is truth in the old adage that ‘if you’ve got money you can make money’. The converse is equally true, and sadly depressing, as I’m finding out. Although it isn’t yet consistent, some post‑recession vintage prices are beginning to escalate rapidly again which, if the trend becomes more predictable, signals the start of another unsatisfactory ‘boom and bust’ inflationary cycle.

Being didactic, if CRAVE Guitars is ever going to become a going concern, the business model needs objective re‑appraisal to ensure it can be adequately sustained as a viable entity. As a closet socialist, it goes against the grain to think about buying and selling to make a ‘profit’. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been a enthusiastic consumer but not necessarily a canny buyer and certainly a reluctantly ineffective seller. My recent experience provides tangible evidence of what I suspected all along. The culture of trading in sufficient volume to make a living is a complete mystery to me and it will be a difficult lesson to learn for someone who is not naturally inclined to commerce. I can safely say that CRAVE Guitars will never earn enough to live on but that has never been the point of the venture. However, whatever happens, I will have to stop losing money hand over fist.

You may well know that, to me, vintage guitars are not just soulless products to be pedalled without any sort of emotional connection with what they represent. I think that, if I harden my attitude to what are, after all, fundamentally just bits of wood, metal and plastic, it would take away a great deal of the beguiling nature of the instruments and the almost mystical vibes they generate.As Richard Branson (1950-), founder of the Virgin empire observes, “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts”.

Guitars, generally, have become an obsession which goes way beyond the core vintage ‘collection’. if you have ever taken a sneaky peak at CRAVE’s Twitter feed, for instance, you’ll see what I mean. I don’t anticipate that the underlying preoccupation that drives CRAVE Guitars ending any time soon.

The proceeds from the sale of the non-vintage music gear will, I hope, contribute towards the monumental costs of change. While it is sad to think that my non-vintage gear is going to fund the change in circumstance, at least the ‘career’ change is for an ethically and morally good cause. The other advantage of thinning things out is that there is less that has to be moved and less that space will be needed to home it all in the future.

It will take some time before the vintage items can be safely and securely relocated and I am looking forward to the time when the ‘family’ is readily to hand again. I am also looking forward to redesigning and updating the web content accordingly. Then, maybe, the mission to seek out more ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ Guitars and bring them to your attention can be resumed. Bring it on – it can’t happen soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

As the likelihood of ‘new in’ articles remains a way off yet, next month may revert back to observational soliloquy, for which I apologise in advance. Until then… back to thinning out CRAVE’s non-vintage gear. Boohoo!

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Wealth is not an absolute. It is what you do with what you’ve got, while you’ve got it that matters. Use it wisely”

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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May 2016 – New Stuff At CRAVE Guitars

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It’s been a few months now since I covered any new CRAVE Guitars’ acquisitions and it suddenly occurred to me that quite a bit has happened since Christmas 2015. So, I’ve put arrogant, pretentious rhetoric on hold in order to get back to the core of what CRAVE Guitars is all about.

In March 2016, I mentioned that I am on a new mission, money permitting, to accumulate a range of classic vintage guitar effect pedals. Progress to-date has largely fallen into 3 categories:

  1. Purchasing a range of cool vintage effect pedals
  2. Recovering a number of older effects from storage that I bought new in the 1970s
  3. Getting out a horde of modern effects, some of which will probably have to go over coming weeks/months to fund further vintage purchases

Only some of the ‘new’ vintage pedals have made it to the web site at the time of writing – I am in the fortunate position of having a backlog of features and galleries to update, so keep an eye open to see newly published material. There is too much to cover in this article, so take a peek at the ‘Amps & Effects’ features pages (click here to see feature menu page…). These particular pedals have been selected because they were the tools of the trade in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, so represent familiar territory for me.

In summary, cool vintage stomp boxes that are ‘new in’ since March 2016 include:

  • 1981 BOSS DS-1 Distortion
  • 1985 BOSS OC-2 Octave
  • 1976 Electro-Harmonix Doctor Q (envelope follower)
  • 1982 Ibanez AD9 Analog Delay
  • 1984 Ibanez CS9 Stereo Chorus
  • 1981 Ibanez FL301-DX Flanger
  • 1982 Ibanez FL9 Flanger
  • 1981 Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer (overdrive)
  • 1980 Jen Cry Baby Super (wah)
  • 1977 MXR Blue Box (octave/fuzz)
  • 1975 MXR Distortion +
  • 1977 MXR Phase 90
Vintage Effects x 8

My personal collection of cool vintage Electro-Harmonix effect pedals includes:

  • 1977 Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi (fuzz)
  • 1977 Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man (echo)
  • 1977 Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress (flanger)
  • 1976 Electro-Harmonix LPB-2 (clean boost)
  • 1977 Electro-Harmonix Small Stone (phase)
Vintage E-H Effects x 5
 

Now, if you know about or even have a passing interest in vintage effect pedals, that’s quite an impressive little haul for starters, albeit from the mainstream brands. Like all CRAVE Guitars items, they will be used (but not, I hasten to add, all at the same time!).

That’s not all folks… Despite my declared ‘temporary change of direction’ I haven’t completely been able to resist the temptation to purchase more vintage guitars. There have been 2 new purchases that are complete polar opposites in almost every respect. Both are great instruments; they are just very, very different from each other. Both guitars have features written on them, so I won’t repeat the detail here, other than to say that they are fabulous additions to the CRAVE Guitars stable. Go take a deeper look:

1962 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins
1981 Gibson RD Artist

The time is coming for a bit of rationalisation at CRAVE. If anyone out there is interested in purchasing any ‘modern’ (i.e. post-1990) guitars, amps and/or effects pedals, let me know and I’ll send a list. I’m not a dealer, so I’m not sure about how much they are worth, so I might just let eBay auctions determine the market value (time permitting). They deserve more use than they’re getting now.

While the stomp box mission is in full swing, I am also mildly interested in getting hold of another vintage valve amp. I’m thinking of one of the smaller ‘student’ models from Fender (black or silver face), probably from the late 1960s up to the mid‑1970s – perhaps an all-original Champ, Vibro Champ or a Princeton in good used condition (and UK 240V).

Guitar-wise, I am also browsing the Internet for some cost-effective vintage guitars to fill gaps, for instance a 1970s Fender Bronco, a 1960s Danelectro and a 3rd generation Melody Maker from the mid-1960s (these are the ‘ugly duckling’ ones with the amateur-looking pointy cutaways, i.e. not the pretty 2nd generation or the SG-like 4th generation ones). I am more pernickety about guitars and these have to be in good-to-excellent original condition (i.e. no refinishes, major modifications or breakages).

I simply can’t afford ambitious ‘retail’ vintage prices for guitars, amps and effects, but we may be able to find common ground around realistic values. What may come my way will be shared on the site.

That’s more than enough for now. Stay cool. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Music is not necessarily the only road to true enlightenment. According to many musicians that’s also what sex and drugs are for.”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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