December 2019 – Out With the Old, In With the Old

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Welcome to the very end of December 2019 one and all. Due to the time of year, there is a short break in the ‘Story of Modern Music…’. After 9 straight months of factoid overload, I have taken the executive decision to take a rest and reflect on the here and now. There are other advantages of a temporary hiatus in that this article is MUCH shorter than the recent monthly detailed dissection of music history. Abnormal service will be resumed as soon as impossible.

So, that was 2019, the year that was. Not only do we end the year with this article, we also see the culmination of the ‘teenies’. Before anyone corrects me, yes, I know that technically the decades don’t change here but pretty much everyone accepts it that way, so just for once – shock, horror – I’m going with the flow. I don’t know about you but the last decade, and indeed the last 12 months, seems to have passed in a blur.

I am sure you’re fed up with the traditional lazy television programming that seems to dwell on retrospectives and lists as is usual for this time of year. You may be displeased that I’m about to do the same, although I doubt that this tangential view of existence will ever get broadcast nationally.

Personally, it’s been a really, really bad year again, with far too much pain, misery and torment, and little sign of light at the end of a (collapsed and blocked) tunnel. I genuinely cannot remember what joy or pleasure feels like. For self‑preservation, I must look to the future with some hope and positivity for a bit of much‑needed karma, justice, salvation and redemption. There, I’ve got it off my chest and I won’t bang on about it again (or maybe just a little!).

Departures in 2019

As ever, we have to say au revoir to some great guitarists who have climbed aboard that spiritual transit van to the infinite jam session with the angels (and possibly the occasional demon). In contrast to recent years, this year’s list is thankfully short, although I expect those who are on it would prefer not to be. They and their music will be missed…

  • Dick Dale, 16 March, aged 81
  • Bernie Tormé (Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne), 17 March, aged 66
  • Boon Gould (Level 42), 30 April, aged 64
  • Leon Redbone, 30 May, aged 69
  • Roky Erickson (13th Floor Elevators), 31 May, aged 71

Non-guitarist departures included:

  • Ross Lowell (the inventor of gaffer tape), 10 January, aged 92
  • Jim Dunlop Sr. (Dunlop Manufacturing), 6 February, aged 82
  • Keith Flint (The Prodigy), 4 March, aged 49
  • Scott Walker (The Walker Brothers), 22 March, aged 76
  • Dr John, 6 June, aged 77 (NB. he did play guitar regularly)
  • Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith, Baker Gurvitz Army), 6 October, aged 80

Old in at CRAVE Guitars – vintage gear acquisitions in 2019

It seems to have been a better year for guitar‑related accumulation than I’d anticipated a mere 12 months ago. This is partly because of delayed house works (ggrrr!).

The trend of the last couple of years seems to be continuing, with a greater focus on the 1970s and 1980s. This is predominantly because 1960s artefacts are rapidly becoming well beyond my modest price range. Rather than pay nonsensical ‘silly money’ for older guitars just because they are old and expensive, I’m looking at what is currently a bit more reasonably priced from later decades, while also being selective about notable and interesting instruments. As you might expect, the purchases had to fit the CRAVE Guitars’ criteria (cool, rare, American, vintage electric) – the only exceptions being effect pedals from Japan and Europe. At least for the time being, some of this year’s purchases are just about ‘affordable’, while others were almost regrettably extravagantly decadent given my borderline financial disposition. Anyhoo, without further ado, time for some introductions…

CRAVE Guitars (9)

Before listing new ‘old’ arrivals, let’s just backtrack for a moment…

Example #1 – In 2016, I looked ahead and mentioned a couple of guitars on the ‘most wanted’ list. One was a 1970s Fender Starcaster and the other was a 1950s Gibson ES‑150. Perhaps not surprisingly, I failed dismally in 2017… and again in 2018.

Example #2 – In 2017 and again in 2018, I speculated about the possibility of getting a 1965 Gibson Melody Maker and… yup, failed again.

Example #3 – In 2018, I thought about finding a 1970s Fender Stratocaster and… guess what? Fail.

Remarkably, that has now changed and I managed to lay my grubby mitts on all four of the above during the last 12 months. I also went overboard just a little bit with some other spontaneous impulse buys.

So, 2019 actually saw 9 vintage guitars, covering 42 years from the 1940s to the 1980s, with at least one from each decade joining the CRAVE Guitars family. Herewith, the profligate plethora of pulchritude (apologies for the pompous alliteration)…

  • 1982 Fender Bullet H2
  • 1976 Fender Starcaster
  • 1979 Fender Stratocaster Anniversary
  • 1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite
  • 1983 Fender Telecaster Elite
  • 1947 Gibson ES-150
  • 1965 Gibson Melody Maker
  • 1989 PRS Classic Electric
  • 1959 Silvertone 1304
CRAVE New Guitar Arrivals 2019

CRAVE Amps (0)

Despite intensive but unsuccessful searches, there were no amplifiers that joined the family during 2019. Like with guitars, in both 2017 and 2018, I set out to find a 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Princeton. To‑date, that lustful ambition remains unrequited… for now, the search goes on.

CRAVE Effects (5)

As it turned out, 2019 was a funny year for effect purchases. It was a case of quality over quantity and I did manage to lay my hands on two highly sought after iconic (and therefore exorbitantly expensive) pedals. These weren’t just gap‑filling, they have been on the ‘to do’ list for some time but considered them to be way out of my price range. Consequently, fewer budget purchases made them just about possible. They were…

  • 1987 BOSS RV-2 Digital Reverb
  • 1969 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
  • 1982 Ibanez PT9 Phaser
  • 1981 Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro
  • 1980 MXR Micro Amp
CRAVE New Effect Arrivals 2019

Once the full ‘Story of Modern Music…’ has been published, I may well return to 2019’s purchases and explain the rationale behind what is a relatively diverse range of acquisitions.

Repatriation update

In addition to the newcomers, it was way back in January 2019 that I was pleased to welcome home 42 guitars, 40 of them vintage, from an extended period of enforced storage (long story!). I set out on an ambitious mission to re‑home them with respect and to lavish upon them some much‑needed overdue TLC. The aim is that they can once again be used for their intended purpose, which is to be played regularly. I wasn’t going to rush the exercise, so it has been a bit of a long haul. I wanted to ensure that each one was given the sensitive treatment it deserved. For some, it was just a clean‑up and a tweak here and there to set them up before they were re‑strung – job done. For others, some more intensive care was necessary and I have worked on them as far as I can take them, due to my lack of ability in the practical side of things. There are a few, however, that need more expert skills than I have to sort them out properly. Thankfully, I know my limits and don’t pretend to be a proficient technician.

So far, 32 of the 42 returnees have been tended to, which means that there are still 10 repatriated guitars still to work on. Six of these are vintage guitars and are next on the to‑do list. Another two are vintage bass guitars which I suspect both need some neck work, so they will be near the back of the queue. The privilege (?) of going last will go to the only two non‑vintage guitars which I own. In theory, being the newest, they won’t need as much remedial work done on them. Fortunately, none so far have been ruined. Some have degraded a bit more than I would have liked but there is nothing serious to be concerned about. Phew!

Once the ‘conservation’ work has been completed and they are once again in good playing condition, they have been/will be photographed and documented. Feature articles have also been drafted on each one. The intention is to update the web site to exhibit them at their best. Then, it will be just a case of playing and enjoying them.

Building works

I cannot let the dastardly year dissolve into history without making a comment about the long overdue building works to convert the house’s dark, dank cellar into a safe, secure accommodation for the guitar members of the family. Due to egregious actions of spiteful and vindictive neighbours, it had to be deferred yet again. Basically, this means that no progress whatsoever was made during 2019.

Music albums released in 2019 (40-ish)

Surprisingly, after a (very) slow start it actually seems to have been a pretty good year for new music. I was quite sceptical up to about two thirds of the way through the year, despairing that the musical landscape was becoming ever more moribund. Then, out of nowhere, there seemed to be a veritable flood of interesting music to close the year out. I bought a shed load of old and new music in 2019 and the following are the diverse highlights of this year’s releases for me. One can hope that there may be some future ‘classics’ among them.

  • !!! – Wallop
  • Amon Amarth – Beserker
  • Beck – Hyperspace
  • Jade Bird – Jade Bird
  • The Black Keys – ‘Let’s Rock’
  • Blood Red Shoes – Get Tragic
  • Cage The Elephant – Social Cues
  • J.J. Cale – Stay Around
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
  • The Comet Is Coming – Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery
  • Cigarettes After Sex – Cry
  • The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
  • Crumb – Jinx
  • The Cure – CURÆTION-25: From There To Here | From Here To There / Anniversary: 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park
  • Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
  • Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  • Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
  • Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2
  • Rory Gallagher – Blues
  • Hawkwind – All Aboard The Skylark/Acoustic Daze
  • Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  • Khruangbin – Hasta El Cielo
  • Trini Lopez – The Very Best Of Trini Lopez (compilation)
  • Membranes – What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away
  • The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears
  • New Model Army – From Here
  • Rammstein – Rammstein
  • Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
  • Joanne Shaw Taylor – Reckless Heart
  • Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive
  • Sleater‑Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold
  • Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
  • Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  • Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
  • Robin Trower – Coming Closer To The Day
  • The Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All The Time
  • Underworld – Drift Series 1: Sampler Edition
  • Thom Yorke – ANIMA
  • Neil Young – Colorado

Plus (album-like) EP:

  • Black Stone Cherry – Black To Blues 2

Major concerts in 2019 (1):

Due to personal circumstances, there was just one major live music event in 2019:

  • Hyde Park – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Laura Marling, Cat Power, Sam Fender

Unfortunately, even Cornwall’s local Looe Live music festival wasn’t attended, despite it being right on the doorstep.

Social Media Quotes from 2019:

Over the year, I’ve been posting thousands of snippets on Twitter and Facebook. The following are actual comments from some very nice people about CRAVE Guitars that came this way during 2019. I don’t usually get much in the way of acclaim, and neither do I seek external validation for what I do, so these kind words of feedback felt extra special to me. They are truly appreciated and, frankly, I am humbled and overwhelmed by them.

“I love the variety of artistry you tweet about. Keep it up!”

“Thanks for the history lessons every day from @CRAVE_Guitars”

“Hey you bring it every day, man! You’ve turned me on to things I’d likely not see otherwise! Keep on rocking it!”

“Great people, knowledge, posts and positive vibes to all! 5 star”

“Thank you for expanding my guitar horizons!”

“Once again, I have been enlightened by CRAVE Guitars. They don’t teach this history in college.”

“I finally went to your website and understand you so much better now… Nice collection!!! Very eclectic and impressive! Great website, Crave!”

“You post such cool guitars. Ones that I’ve never seen before. Some truly unique ones too. Keep up the great work friend, you run a great account”

“Thank you! Hats off to crave guitars!”

“Love your photos! Thank you so much!!”

“Thank you for all your fabulous postings”

“…like always Awesome posts and great follow ups I really appreciate it, Respectfully from the USA!!!”

“Crave Guitars is one classy company”

“Thx Crave this is most excellent.”

“… thank you for sharing the great guitars and posts of Rock N Roll truly enjoy checking out your page daily.”

“Love guitars. Love music. Love Crave. <3”

“… I have to give you a separate kudos for the photography. What a picture…”

“I really enjoy these trivia posts as much as the guitar pictures. Thank you”

“That’s wonderful and thank you. Awesome page”

“You should have “A Potted History of the Guitar” as a pinned tweet. I know that you’re modest, but that thing is epic.”

“You have a great Twitter page my friend and always something to learn about with your topics.”

“Congratulations with Continued Success Great Crave Guitars!!!”

“Great stuff on your Twitter page! Love it! Keep it coming!”

“Great Twitter page! Love it. Keep it up. Always great informative and interesting.”

“You have a great Twitter Page. Love it. Great stuff. Keep it up.”

“I really like your collection. it’s very impressive and interesting.

Have a great day, Crave.”

“I totally dig your archives guitars & their players! So great! 100% fan”

Also, during November 2019, Twitter followers exceeded 6,000 for the first time. A huge “thank you” is extended to everyone who has shown interest and support.

CRAVE 6,000 Twitter Followers

So… looking forward… here is what might be coming up in 2020:

There, that’s the obligatory retrospective done, so it is now time to look forward to the coming year and the start of a brand new decade.

Vintage gear for 2020

I have been very cautious over the past few years about ‘most wanted’ gear, believing that circumstances would be very different. So, this year, I’m going to be a touch more ambitious in stating what I’m searching for in 2020, although I guarantee that not everything on the list will be procured. If the building works go ahead, the list will have to be shortened. It won’t be easy but I am back on the quest for some ‘forgotten’ models, which are more difficult to source, especially in good condition in the UK. However, apart from one wild expensive aspiration, the rest should (?!?!) be a bit more ‘affordable’ than some of this year’s purchases. I am not greedy and I don’t expect to achieve the full list, so it is purely indicative and should be considered more of a direction of travel.

Guitars

  • 1960s Danelectro (no specific model)
  • 1970s Fender Bass VI
  • Any one (or more) of the ‘forgotten’ Gibsons from the 1970s or 1980s, e.g.:
    • Gibson Challenger
    • Gibson Firebrand
    • Gibson Marauder
    • Gibson S-1
    • Gibson US-1
    • Gibson Victory MVX
    • Gibson Les Paul DC XPL 400
  • 1970s Guild (S-100 and/or S-300)
  • 1970s Peavey T-60

Amps

  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Princeton Reverb
  • 1970s ‘silverface’ Fender Deluxe Reverb

Effects

  • 1980s BOSS DD-2 Digital Delay
  • 1970s Colorsound/Sola Sound Tonebender (fuzz)
  • 1970s Electro‑Harmonix Bad Stone (phaser)
  • 1970s Electro‑Harmonix Small Clone (chorus)
  • 1970s MXR Micro Chorus

Help needed (x3)

I know my limitations on several fronts. It therefore makes sense to seek outside assistance with a number of up‑and‑coming key tasks. These are NOT New Year resolutions but they are effectively my self‑imposed targets for 2020. All three, however, rely on other people’s expertise.

Task #1 – I would dearly like to make progress with the long‑deferred cellar works. The first step is to understand what may be involved. If that looks promising, I may well finally proceed. I need someone who knows how to ‘tank’ a 90‑year old cellar effectively and to ensure it stays dry, warm and well‑ventilated enough for safe and secure guitar storage.

Task #2 – Routine completion of the repatriation programme should be reasonably straightforward and achievable. In terms of more involved remedial work on a number of instruments, I am looking for a competent luthier/guitar tech, experienced in working on vintage electric guitars, based local to me in south east Cornwall UK, and who would like to work with me on this extra degree of ‘restoration’.

Task #3 – In addition, I would really like to improve my guitar playing. I’m not starting from scratch but I have limited competence and confidence. I am sure I also have a number of bad habits. This means taking up guitar lessons on a one‑to‑one basis, principally for the interaction, as I’ve never got on well with self‑learning books or videos. I have never been formally trained and feel that I could do much better. I would benefit from an additional level of inspiration, technique and knowledge that a tutor could bring.

If there is anyone out there who could either help or knows someone who could help with one, two or all three of the above, please contact me. I shall report back on degree of achievement, if any, during and at the end of 2020.

Major gigs

There will be very few opportunities to see live music in 2020. However, one major concert has been lined up, which I’m really looking forward to:

  • Rammstein (Cardiff in June 2020)

Hopefully, I might get to participate in the local Looe Live festival in September.

Web Site

Another thing that I really, really must get to grips with is a long overdue major overhaul of the CRAVE Guitars’ web site. The material is there, so it will be a case of expunging the procrastination and get on with it.

Proceed to check out

I really don’t think that there is much more that I can add at this juncture, so it is time to wrap things up for 2019 and the ‘teenies’. Roll on the New Year and hope that the (roaring or whimpering) twenties are an improvement on the last 2 challenging decades.

On a broader front, one has to remain optimistic that humankind will come to its senses and live in sustainable peace, equitable prosperity and cordial harmony. One can dream.

On a practical level, ceteris paribus, I will hopefully get back to the ‘Story of Modern Music…’ next month. In the meantime, it’s back to refurbishing and playing some vintage guitars. Result!

Happy New Year/Decade everyone. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “The idea of peace, love and music may not have the power to change the world in the way we might hope but just think about what the world would be like without it.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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February 2019 – A General Update

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

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

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

State of Guitarville 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting back to the point, core consumer demand for music gear continues to be resilient, although customers are understandably more discerning and, as a result, potentially more fickle. Reliance on past sales and brand loyalty are continually being chipped away at by targeted marketing and tough rivalry. However, strong competition and the downward pressure 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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December 2018 – What A [Deleted] Year That Was

posted in: Opinion | 0

Welcome to the 50th monthly article and the inevitable end-of-year roundup and a look back at the last 12 months. As usual with retrospective roundups, it’s a time for lists and reflective hindsight. As one year ends, another is about to kick off, so it is also an opportunity for a tentative look forward. I hope all readers had a great 2018 and have the opportunity to look forward to a positive 2019.

Overall, 2018 was a very difficult and challenging year for CRAVE Guitars. I’m not about to go into personal circumstances; suffice to say that it was immensely testing and an experience I never want to repeat. That said and out of the way, let’s get onto the end‑of‑year summary.

2018 departures:

As is forlornly inevitable, all things come to pass and this year, like every other before it, has seen the demise of some truly inspirational musicians. At this time of year it is customary to take a few moments to contemplate those guitarists that we have lost in 2018 and recall what musical treasures they have left us. Their talents will be sorely missed and it is sad to think that there will be no more distinctive music from these guys (no gals this year). Rest in Peace and forever rock the big stage in the sky. Sad losses over the last 12 months include:

  • ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke (Motörhead), on 10th January, aged 67
  • Danny Kirwan (Fleetwood Mac) on 8th June, aged 68
  • Alan Longmuir (Bay City Rollers) on 2nd July, aged 70
  • Ed King (Lynyrd Skynyrd) on 22nd August, aged 68
  • Otis Rush on 29th September, aged 83
  • Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) on 6 December, aged 63

Plus, there were many notable non-guitarists who are no longer with us, including:

  • Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) on 15th January, aged 46
  • Mark E. Smith (The Fall) 0n 24th January, aged 60
  • Aretha Franklin on 16th August, aged 76

While nothing to do with music, I also wanted to mention that the great granddaddy of comic books, Mr. Marvel himself, Stan Lee passed away on 12th November at the age of 95. We also lost one of the world’s foremost scientists when Stephen Hawking died on 14th March, aged 76.

2018 arrivals at CRAVE Guitars

This may come as a bit of a surprise but, in the background, there were actually a number of music gear purchases during 2018. Normally, I would have covered these under ‘New In at CRAVE Guitars’ articles during the year as they happened. However, with the ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series dominating the output, coverage of their arrival got side‑lined. Depending on how things pan out in early 2019, I may give the new arrivals a bit more of a deserved coverage. In the meantime, here is a flavourless list of what came in over the last 12 months.

Gear purchases:

Guitars (4)…

  • 1971 Fender Bronco
  • 1978 Fender Musicmaster
  • 1989 Gibson Les Paul Standard
  • 1988 PRS Standard
Guitars 2018

Amps (1)…

  • 1978 Fender Champ
1978 Fender Champ

Effects (12)…

  • 1980 BOSS CE-2 Chorus
  • 1986 BOSS PSM-5 Power Supply & Master Switch
  • 1970s Colorsound Swell (volume pedal)
  • 1998 Electro Harmonix Small Stone Phase Shifter (Russian)
  • 1999 Electro-Harmonix Big Muff p (Russian)
  • 1980 Electro-Harmonix Zipper Envelope Follower
  • 1981 Ibanez AF-201 Auto Filter
  • 1981 Ibanez GE-601 Graphic Equalizer
  • 1983 Ibanez SD9 Sonic Distortion
  • 1976 MXR Phase 45
  • 1980 MXR Six Band Graphic Equalizer
  • 1960s VOX Volume/Expression
Effects 2018

Plus… 3 pedals were also replaced during the year:

  • 1979 BOSS PH-1 Phaser
  • 1982 Ibanez AD9 Analog Delay
  • 1975 MXR Blue Box
Effect Replacements 2018

The last two years of planned and unplanned purchases seems to indicate that CRAVE Guitars is increasingly specialising in 1960s to 1980s gear. The 1960s are getting increasingly expensive for me, hence the lack of recent purchases from that particular decade. The 1970s and 1980s are often seen as an unpopular period for vintage guitars, so… for me, that’s a very good reason to focus on this period and prove the naysayers wrong. There are plenty of VERY good guitars to be had from both the 1970s and 1980s. The spotlight still accords very closely with the principle of ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ Guitars, so I’m happy with that as a modest ambition. I’m still not running it as a business, so it is still very much a not‑for‑profit enterprise about conserving the heritage for the future.

I haven’t sold any guitar equipment this year, as is perfectly normal with a deep‑seated guitar‑affliction. However, the plan is that if planned plans go to plan, I will be selling some equipment to reinvest in the heritage, either by trading up to older/better guitars/amps/effects or perhaps just getting something new and unanticipated. Watch this space…

2018 Live concerts (2):

2018 was a sparse year for live music, so the list is short…

  • BST Hyde Park (The Cure, Interpol, GoldFrapp, Editors, Slowdive, The Twilight Sad, Pale Waves)
  • Looe Saves The Day music festival (various)

That’s it. Still, better than nothing at all.

2018 Album releases purchased (20):

2018 has proved relatively moribund at times and searching out great new music seemed harder than it should have been. There was, though, a diverse range of music from all sorts of genres. I’m always looking for cool new music to sit alongside the greats (and not so greats). Quality is variable, which is to be expected in this day and age, but there is much fun to be had discovering music both old and new, good and bad – after all, how do we recognise the greats if we don’t have the rest to compare them to? Here are the new albums from the last 12 months gracing CRAVE Guitars’ iTunes:

  • Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
  • Black Label Society – Grimmest Hits
  • Buddy Guy – The Blues Is Alive And Well
  • Confidence Man – Confident Music For Confident People
  • Gaz Coombes – The World’s Strongest Man
  • The Cure – Mixed Up (Deluxe Edition – original standard release in 1990)
  • Editors – Violence
  • Tommy Emmanuel – Accomplice One
  • Ghost – Prequelle
  • Goat Girl – Goat Girl
  • Jon Hopkins – Singularity
  • Lance Lopez – Tell The Truth
  • Low – Double Negative
  • Nightmares On Wax – Shape The Future
  • Dan Patlansky – Perfection Kills
  • The Prodigy – No Tourists
  • Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
  • Shame – Songs Of Praise
  • Various Artists – This Is Trojan Dub (reggae)
  • Wilko Johnson – Blow Your Mind

Plus… Black Stone Cherry – Black To Blues (E.P.)

These weren’t the only purchases. They are only the 2018 album releases – I also bought quite a few albums from previous years, not included above.

Social Media

Over the last 4 years, CRAVE Guitars has posted almost 29,000 posts on social media. On 12th September 2018, CRAVE Guitars reached (and exceeded) 4,000 followers on Twitter (4,515 at the time of writing), which has taken an immense amount of hard work doing the research and building up reputation and credibility.

A big shout out to everyone who has shown an interest in the lighter entertainment side of CRAVE Guitars’ social media output. THANK YOU all! In addition to Twitter, CRAVE Guitars also has guitar‑related content on Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr and Tumblr. Check it out.

Here are some genuine comments from Twitter followers that made me think that all the effort has been worthwhile…

“I love Crave Guitars !!!”

“… there are many who greatly appreciate your expertise and your encyclopaedic knowledge around your calling. Thank you for sharing your passion.”

“… thanks for the inspiration CRAVE Guitars.”

“Thank you for sharing your knowledge & all the beautiful guitars”

“… you post great stuff. Thanks, makes my day”

Plus… there are the usual dicks that populate the various platforms. They go with the territory I guess.

Over the year, CRAVE Guitars has showcased guitars by over 200 different guitar manufacturers working hard every day and from around the globe. The brands covered range from the famous global brands right down to individual luthiers who you may not have heard of because they make very small numbers of guitars in home workshops. I will continue to highlight the diverse range of craftsmen and women, all of whom deserve exposure in today’s highly competitive and challenging economic climate.

‘A Potted History of the Guitar’ Articles

The ‘Potted History’ series of articles took over the blog in 2018, using up 9 of the 12 months, leaving little room for other ramblings. Still, it was different from previous years and probably unlike future ones too. Variety is good.

During the year, I got some really nice unprompted testimonials on the series, so a big “Thank You” to everyone who read the blog articles and made all the research and writing meaningful. In addition, I learned a lot from doing it too. Here are some genuine comments received – thanks for your feedback…

“Thanks a million for the personal gift of your writing and pics of gorgeous guitars… You’re cool. Thanks!”

“Brilliant article, I have learnt so much.”

“Really epic article.”

“Finally read the whole series yesterday. You should turn this into a book… It was certainly worthwhile, one of those reads when you’re sorry when it ends. Hat off to you Sir for the effort.”

The ‘Potted History’ was originally intended as an entertainment piece for those that might have an interest in the general subject matter, while also having enough detail for the keen enthusiast but not so dry that it would only appeal to the clinical expert (whimsically described as ‘someone who knows more and more about less and less’). It wasn’t a forensic academic thesis, so it may not have had the requisite degree of nerd‑fodder for some. I didn’t allow comments on the articles, as I simply couldn’t cope with the interaction needed to respond to them properly.

In order to make the series more accessible and coherent, I may try to turn them into a feature on the web site. I don’t have the resources to publish them as a ‘book’, so that seems the best format, at least for the time being.

CRAVE Guitars Web Site

The CRAVE Guitars’ web site has, unfortunately been neglected this year and has hardly been updated at all, a failing that really needs to be rectified. About 15%-20% of the content needs something entirely new and about another 60% of it warrants considerably updated material. In most instances, most of the basic feature narrative has already been written and just requires finessing and the time to do it. New photos are needed for around 50% of the guitars but that requires them firstly to be relocated to ‘here’ and secondly, many of them will require essential refurbishment after a prolonged period of storage. That’s before I even begin to think about creating exciting new and creatively different ways of doing things. It’s all on the ‘to do’ list for 2019.

CRAVE Guitars Website

[Deleted] Whinge

Now that the web site is generating a lot more traffic and social media is picking up, I am getting overwhelmed by [deleted] idiots deluging my CRAVE Guitars’ e‑mail inbox with [deleted] spam and other [deleted] rubbish. I don’t [deleted] care who the [deleted] you are, if you are not interested in Cool and Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars and you are just trying to sell me your [deleted] rubbish, I will not even acknowledge your pathetic [deleted] existence so, if you [deleted] are stupid enough to read this, you know who you are, [deleted] stop wasting my life you [deleted] [deleted]. I have one very short message to you all, [deleted] off!

*Insert your profanities of choice to suit.

Home renovation

As 2018 was an extremely difficult year, no progress was made on converting the dark, damp and grotty cellar into a safe and secure home for CRAVE’s guitars. Most of the other serious structural work has, however, now been completed, so improving the cellar is the next major job on the priority list, funds permitting of course. Converting the cellar into a ‘guitar room’ is still an intention, so maybe in 2019 some headway can be made.

Looking forward to 2019

Overall prospects for 2019, sadly, look even bleaker than for 2018 with little in the way of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Quite what this means for CRAVE Guitars, I have no idea and, frankly, I do not wish to speculate. I will, however, endeavour to continue as long as possible and trust that things will one day turn around.

On a more positive note, what music gear tops CRAVE Guitars’ affordable vintage ‘most wanted’ list for 2019? This coming year, I will once again have to go for something modest and realistic on a tight budget. I don’t expect to get what’s on the list but, just for the sake of putting it out there, it includes…

Guitars:

  • 1960s Danelectro (no specific model)
  • 1970s Fender Stratocaster
  • 1960s Gibson Melody Maker (type 3)

Effect Pedals:

  • 1970s Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone
  • 1980s Ibanez PT9 Phaser
  • 1980s Ibanez TS-808 Tubescreamer Pro
  • 1970s MXR Micro Chorus

Amps:

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

I may have to sell one or more existing bits of gear in order to fund any purchases in 2019, which looks like it’s going to be another financially challenging 12 months.

Perhaps more importantly, many of the guitars in the ‘collection’ have been stored with a close friend for far too long while I got our act together. I am hoping that the ones that are not already here may get repatriated very soon. Even if the cellar may not be ready for them yet, the intention is to bring them home and reunite the ‘family’ again early in 2019.

Music

For 2019, I have managed to secure tickets to see Bob Dylan and Neil Young co‑headlining at Hyde Park in London for July 2019, assuming that it will be possible to go. I’ve seen Neil Young before, and very impressive he was too, but this will be my first time for Bob Dylan. The pair may be rock’s ‘old guard’ but it should still be a unique event worth witnessing.

There are no specific albums that are eagerly anticipated for 2019, so let’s just see what happens.

Musings

Much depends on capacity and resources but I am still contemplating an appropriate companion piece to the ‘Potted History’ series for 2019. All will, I hope, be revealed at some point in the New Year, ceteris paribus (but I’m not committing to exactly which New Year!). Such endeavours take up an incredible amount of time and effort. Is it really worth it? I really don’t know and it is probably not up to me to judge. The prospective audience is very limited, not only in total numbers who might read and get something from it but also whether it is pitched at the right level on the right medium to make it popular.

Conclusion

So, that just about wraps it up for another year of CRAVE Guitars’ enthusiastic and obsessive approach to conserving underdog vintage heritage guitars and generally promoting the world’s favourite instrument. It was, on the whole, a [deleted] year but one has to remain thankful for what one does have and make the most of it. Wishing you all a healthy and prosperous 2019.

If you and I are still around and still interested in 12 months’ time, why not pop back this time next year to find out if there’s been anything noteworthy to report.

I really ought to spend more time playing guitars, so perhaps it’s time to pick one up and make some noise. Until next time/next year…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “What is so wrong about believing that peace, love and music are essential ingredients for ensuring humanity’s successful future?”

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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June 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part IV

Without further ado, let’s get stuck into Part IV of the history of the guitar. As the story was left at the end of the last article during the 1920s and early 1930s, something new was needed to ensure that guitars would not only be able to compete with other instruments in a live situation but also become the catalyst for a musical revolution to mirror what was taking place in wider society. Just in case you were lulled into a sense of coherent continuity, this month’s article is a bit different from what has been covered so far.

This part is presented as part of a whole. If you wish to recap on previous articles in the ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, you can access them here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

Please remember that this is written purely for entertainment purposes and is not intended as an academic tome. While I have tried to be diligent in my research, there are undoubtedly improvements that could be made, so corrections and clarifications are genuinely welcomed. This is quite a long article, so I hope you are sitting comfortably.

Needing to be heard

The problem for guitarists in the 1920s was a simple but fundamental and frustrating one. The amount of volume that could be attained from purely acoustic guitar designs had got as far as it was likely to get at the start of the 1930s. Guitarists were still struggling to be heard in noisy live music environments as part of jazz, swing, big band and dance orchestras. Despite the strengths of steel strung folk guitars, archtop guitars and resonator guitars, the lack of volume continued to be a problem for guitarists throughout the early part of the 20th Century. A number of clever innovations attempted to help acoustic guitarists cut through the mix but they didn’t really capture mainstream attention and passed into obscurity, leaving demanding musicians still yearning for louder instruments.

Creative inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs were determined to find a workable solution. Perhaps the biggest game‑changing watershed in the entire history of guitar building was about to take place in America in the 1930s. The transformation depended on coincidental and mutually dependent developments; the magnetic pickup, the portable valve amplifier and its associated loudspeaker(s). Undoubtedly, the amplifier came first, simply because it could be driven by other inputs, such as early microphones, while the pickup followed to take advantage of the opportunity. Logic suggests that the converse would make little sense, as a pickup without some means of manipulating the signal s essentially redundant.

By the end of the 19th Century, early microphones were being used in telephone, broadcasting and recording industries. In 1916, the first condenser microphone was invented and in 1923, the first moving coil and ribbon microphones were developed. Given the timing, it seemed logical to experiment with microphones to capture the sound from acoustic guitars. However, the results weren’t particularly successful and the microphone proved to be a dead end for guitarists at the time. A more practical and reliable alternative was required to capture the physical energy produced by a stringed instrument and convert it into a usable electrical signal that could then be amplified and output.

Before starting to look at the early electric instruments that changed modern guitar music forever, it is worth taking a temporary detour to look at the catalysts that led to the step change. Once the technical inhibitors had been overcome and the various elements combined, electric guitars became a realistic and achievable proposition.

The electro magnetic guitar pickup

By the 1920s and 1930s, the science of using magnetism and wire coils to induce an electric current had been understood for several decades. It would, however, take some ingenuity to apply the various scientific principles involved to overcome the specific practical problems experienced by guitarists of the time. Within this context, we need to go right back to basics as a starting point.

An electromagnetic guitar pickup is basically a passive transducer that uses Faraday’s law of induction, named after English scientist Michael Faraday (1791‑1867), to produce an electromagnetic force. The physical movement of the vibrating steel string of a strummed or plucked guitar disturbs the magnetic field and induces a small voltage of between 100mV and 1V through the coil. This differs from a simple microphone, which works by converting pressure variations in the air (sound waves), into the mechanical motion of a diaphragm, which in turn produces an electrical signal (depending on the type of technology used).

A simple electromagnetic guitar pickup is generally constructed from one or more permanent magnets, wrapped many thousands of times in a coil made of fine copper wire. Most early guitar pickups comprised only one magnet and coil, hereafter referred to as single coil pickups. The weak electrical signal is then passed down an electrical lead to a separate amplifier where the signal is multiplied many times to drive a passive loudspeaker that reproduces the original signal at greater volume.

Unlike a microphone, the electromagnetic pickup does not reproduce the actual acoustic sound waves emanating from the guitar. The natural resonance of the instrument may cause the strings to vibrate in a certain way and this variation is picked up by the transducer, which may explain the differences in sound between two instruments using the same pickup, electrics, amplifier and speakers. As a result, at least in the early days, the characteristics of the pickup combined with the rest of the signal chain probably had more to do with the sound that audiences heard, rather than that of the actual instrument itself. There are innumerable permutations in which the basic components of magnets and wire can be configured to produce different outputs and over the years, pickup designers have used these variations to differentiate their pickups from those produced by others.

Gibson employee, Lloyd Loar had experimented with stringed instrument pickups as early as 1924, shortly before he left the company. Loar attempted to produce an electrical signal from vibrations passed from the strings through the bridge to the magnet and coil. Loar’s work did not lead to a successful product and guitarists had to wait a while longer.

American inventor and musician, George Beauchamp, who had been involved with the National String Instrument Corporation and the development of their resonator guitars, was also involved with another resourceful enterprise at the beginning of the 1930s. He teamed up with Adolph Rickenbacher to form the company was originally called Ro Pat In Corporation, which later became Electro String Instrument Corporation and later still, Rickenbacker, a name that most guitarists will recognise. Ro-Pat-In was instrumental in taking a fundamental new approach to electric guitar design.

Through Electro String, Beauchamp filed a patent in June 1934 setting out his pickup design as part of a complete ‘Electrical Stringed Musical Instrument’. Beauchamp’s ‘horsehoe’ pickup design comprised two ‘U’‑shaped magnets encircling the strings. Beauchamp’s application was granted by the U.S. Patent Office in August 1937. The patent was important because it was for a solid body electric guitar using a magnetic pickup, not just the pickup on its own – the development of the instrument will be covered in the next part of the story so, for now, the focus is solely on the pickup.

Ironically, in February 1936, Guy Hart filed a patent on behalf of Gibson for an ‘Electric Musical Instrument’ and this was awarded by the Patent office in July 1937, just 28 days before Beauchamp’s earlier patent application was confirmed.

Although unknown at the time, another single coil guitar pickup patent was filed in September 1944 by American inventor and entrepreneur Leo Fender. That application was for a ‘pickup unit for instruments’, which was awarded in December 1948. Although not as historically significant as other pickup patents, it was a clear indication of the direction that Leo Fender was heading prior to founding the company that would bear his name.

Another important principle of basic physics caused a significant problem for early pickup designers, and it still does even today. In addition to the desirable characteristic of electrical induction for guitar pickups, electromagnetic coils also act as directional antennae. As far as musical instruments go, this unwanted ‘feature’ means that single coil pickups not only pick up string vibrations but they also pick up interference from alternating mains current used by electrical appliances. Depending on position of the pickup in relation to other electrical equipment, of which there are usually many in a live music venue, the interference manifests itself as a continuous and insistent hum, which is then in turn amplified by a guitar amplifier.

One ingenious solution to the problem of mains‑induced hum was to invent a guitar pickup that still produced a signal from string vibrations while eradicating the interference from nearby electrical equipment. The clever answer was the invention of the ‘humbucking’ pickup, which uses two magnets, each with a coil of wire wound in opposite directions. Electrically induced mains interference affects both coils equally and, because each one is wound in opposing directions, the interference is cancelled out, thereby eradicating (or ‘bucking’) the hum. More importantly, not only do the coils still induce a voltage, they output a stronger signal because there are two coils instead of one. As the problem is all but removed at source, there is no hum to be amplified.

Arguments persist as to who invented the humbucking guitar pickup. Many commentators give the accolade to Seth Lover (1910‑1997), who was an electronics designer working for Gibson at the time and filed a patent in June 1955. Lover’s closest competitor in the race to be recognised for the humbucking pickup came from Joseph Butts, who later worked for Gretsch. Butts filed another humbucking pickup patent some 18 months later in January 1957. It was Butts’ application that was awarded first in June 1959, while Lover’s patent was awarded in July 1959. As far as many working musicians were concerned, the invention was successful and that was all that mattered.

Generally speaking (but not always, especially if obscured by a cover), it is relatively easy to spot the difference between slim single coil pickups and their larger dual‑coil humbucking counterparts. The latter normally have two coil bobbins traditionally mounted side‑by‑side. Within these two broad types, there are many, many different makes and styles of pickup to suit most needs.

Hum is not the only affliction that electric guitar builders have to deal with. All electromagnetic pickups, even those produced today, are prone to audio feedback, which is often heard as an undesirable high pitched shriek or howl. Feedback is a phenomenon called the Larsen Effect after the Danish scientist Søren Absalon Larsen (1871-1957) who discovered it. Audio feedback is caused by a sound loop that exists between an audio input such as a pickup or microphone and an audio output such as an loudspeaker fed by an amplifier. The electrical signal from the input is amplified through a loudspeaker and is then picked up again by the input and so on, continuously. The sound of the feedback is shaped by the resonant frequencies and proximity of the various components in the loop, including room acoustics. Most of the time, feedback is considered problematic and often unpredictable. However many guitarists have learned to harness and control feedback in a positive musical way to create additional sounds.

Some contemporary pickup manufacturers go to great lengths to replicate the authentic tonal characteristics of vintage pickups. One of those widely imitated pickups is also probably the most famous of humbucking pickups. Used on Gibson guitars from the late 1950s, the PAF (Patent Applied For), named after the black sticker on the baseplate, has come to define Gibson’s sound for many guitarists. The PAFs are particularly revered, as they were used in sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standards from 1958‑1960, often regarded as the ‘golden years’ for Gibson.

Today, many independent pickup builders not only pay homage to vintage designs but also strive to create their own distinctive reputation. Third party pickup builders may make OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and aftermarket pickups in a huge range of types. Such companies include Seymour Duncan, Di Marzio, EMG, Lollar and Bare Knuckle, among many others. Pickup choice in the 21st Century is very much down to personal preference and the options are nigh on infinite – very different from the 1930s.

The sounds generated by single coil and humbucking pickups are noticeably different. Not only do single coil pickups tend to produce a weaker signal, they sound thinner and cleaner, while more powerful humbucking pickups tend to sound fatter and warmer. Guitarists noticed this variation and took advantage of the differences to shape their own playing style and develop their distinctive tone. In addition, humbuckers are often considered better suited to overdriving pre‑amplifiers, thereby adding some controllable, distinctive and desirable harmonic distortion, making them popular in higher gain rock music.

By the 1950s manufacturers were commonly using two or more pickups on a guitar for added tonal versatility, initially adding a second or third pickup of the same type, for instance commonly used configurations include 2 humbuckers (e.g. Gibson Les Paul) or 3 single coils (e.g. Fender Stratocaster). Many guitar makers today mix different types of pickups on one guitar to broaden the range of sounds available.

Some pickup arrangements also allow pickups to be engaged in series or parallel or in/out of phase to give musicians a greater number of tonal options. Since the 1970s, pickup designers have enabled the signal from the two coils of a humbucking pickup to be ‘split’ (NB. not ‘tapped’). By using a switch, guitarists may enable a split humbucker to sound either like a traditional humbucker or to emulate the distinctive sound of a single coil pickup. All these various techniques provide guitarists with greater flexibility from their pickup(s).

Simplistically, guitar pickups may also be described either as passive or active. Passive pickups are the basic devices that have been described so far, while active pickups incorporate some form of electronic circuitry in the guitar to modify the signal, normally powered by an on‑board battery. Outwardly, there is often little to distinguish whether pickups are active or not. Putting active electronics into a guitar has been around since at least the 1960s and can range from a simple pre‑amp to boost the pickup signal to elaborate on‑board effects or even low powered amplification.

Since its inception 1930s, the humble guitar pickup has been adapted into many diverse forms. The majority of pickups in the early 21st Century remain passive single coil or humbucking types. However, there have been other pickup innovations along the way diverging from the norm. These alternative technologies include, amongst many other pickup types; hexaphonic (that feed individual string signals to MIDI/synthesizer controllers), piezoelectric (using crystals to induce current), microphonic (converting sound wave vibrations to electricity), electrostatic (using a capacitor to vary electrical capacitance), optical (interrupting a beam of light detected by a sensor), etc.

The understanding of the science behind pickup materials and dynamics between the components has been improved and refined significantly since the 1930s. However, the basic principles behind the passive transducing electromagnetic pickup remain pertinent today and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Magnetic pickups are, by far, the most common type used by electric guitars in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. This may be about to change.

With the digital revolution, there are numerous innovations occurring today that will lead to radical new pickup designs in the future. Future musicians can expect many new ways of converting the vibrations from humble plucked guitar strings into electrical signals that can be manipulated in ways we cannot yet contemplate. The possibly unstoppable migration from analogue to digital technology will continue. We can only speculate as to how far digital processes will encroach into the hitherto staunchly analogue domain of the guitar. Already, we have seen digital devices that enable the output from a guitar’ pickup to ‘model’ other types of guitar and even other instruments by modifying the signal digitally. We have also seen guitars as being a source trigger for external synthesis and various guitar synths have been around since the 1970s. It seems somewhat ironic that the digital age is enabling ever more accurate simulations of the earliest analogue pickups including the original’s crude and accidental inconsistencies.

While this section of the story is about guitar pickups, it is worth remembering that pickups have also been used successfully on many other types of stringed instrument.

Once the concept had been proven, the next step was to apply actual real‑world pickups in a practical way. There were essentially two methods of implementing an electromagnetic pickup for use on a guitar. One way was to add a pickup to existing acoustic instruments and the other was to invent an entirely new type of guitar with the pickup as an integral part of the design. How these two approaches came about will be covered in the next part of the story.

The pickup on its own, however, is of little use in isolation. Another crucial part of the equation was to take the weak signal from the guitar’s pickup and manipulate it electronically to make it much louder, which is where a completely different solution was needed.

The electric guitar amplifier

Possibly the major challenge with introducing guitar pickups was to turn the tiny voltage produced by the pickups into a sound that provided practical real‑world volume and tone for working musicians playing in noisy bands on the road.

The essential piece of equipment actually comprises two crucial components, the electrical amplifier and one or more loudspeakers. Amplifiers largely fall into two broad categories – either as discrete units comprising the electronics in a ‘head’ unit with loudspeakers installed in a separate cabinet, or with both amplifier and speaker(s) integrated into a single ‘combo’ amp. It is worth looking at the origins of both the electronics and the loudspeaker separately.

For travelling musicians from the 1930s on, amps also needed to be portable, so size and weight were particular considerations, as was electrical safety, durability and reliability. In addition, some degree of industry standardisation to enable interchangeability between instruments, electronics and venues was important.

The Amplifier

In the early days, amplifying a signal from a pickup was all that a guitar amp was really required to do. Controls were very basic, usually just a single input channel with a volume and, maybe, a tone knob. It would take some time before more flexible electronics were added to these basic amplifier circuits. Nowadays, the diversity of amps ranges from the very simple to the incredibly complex. The latter often including, just for starters, multiple switched channels, gain controls, effects loops, digital modelling alongside advanced EQ, flexible on‑board effects and digital interfaces. However, the fundamental principles of amp utility haven’t really changed that much since amps were first invented in the 1920s and when guitarists started to use them in the 1930s.

Put very simply, an amplifier is made up of active electronics that are designed to take an input signal, multiply it many times in strength and output it to a loudspeaker at a volume that is considerably louder than the original input. The electronics of an amplifier comprise essentially two discrete parts, a pre‑amp that controls the incoming signal and shapes it ready to be boosted and output by the power amp section that then drives the loudspeaker(s). It is these two amp sections that determine the overall character and volume of the audio output.

Amplifier output is usually measured in watts and provides a crude indication of power output (volts x amps = watts). The relationship between watts and sound pressure levels heard by the human ear is logarithmic. Generalising, it takes ten times the output power in watts to double the perceived audio volume. In addition, it takes considerably more amplifier power to reproduce low-frequency sound, especially at high volume, so bass amps tend to have higher power output ratings.

While early amplifiers were configured to the environment in which they were most likely to be put, such as practice, studio or stage amps, many modern amps use various techniques to minimise this artificial distinction, such as master volume controls, power attenuators or circuits used to modify amplifier stages to suit.

Up until the 1970s, thermionic valves – also known as vacuum tubes – were a principal electronic component and one that contributed significantly to both the power and sonic character of the amplifier. A valve is a relatively simple device used to control electrical current between its electrodes. The first valve was invented in 1904 by English electric engineer John Ambrose Fleming (1849-1945).

At its most basic, a valve comprises an external glass container used to maintain a vacuum is attached to the valve base. Inside the valve there is a heater, an electron‑emitting cathode/filament and an electron‑collecting anode/plate. Electrical current, in the form of negatively charged electrons, flows through the vacuum in one direction only from the cathode to the anode. An electrical grid can be used to control the current and is the one often used for amplification because the grid can be used to vary the number of electrons reaching the anode and, thereby, controls the amount of gain. Valves are often described by the number of electrodes, for instance; diode, triode, tetrode  or pentode valves (2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively). The humble valve has been used in many applications, such as amplification, rectification, switching, oscillation, and display.

Valves come in many shapes and sizes and vary according to the function they are required to perform in the amp stages. Generally speaking, pre-amp tubes tend to be smaller, while power amp valves tend to be larger.

There are numerous alternatives and variations of valves and there isn’t room to cover the range of technical differences. Thankfully, there has been a degree of commonality in amplifier design over the decades. Typical valves used in pre‑amps include models such as the 12AX7/ECC83. Typical valves used in power amps include models such as the EL-34, EL-84, KT66/77/88, 6L6/5881 and 5150. Valves impart a characteristic ‘natural’ sonic signature and tend to be sensitive to a guitarist’s playing dynamics, which is why they are still widely favoured by many musicians to this day. While technically outdated and obsolete, there is a notable modern‑day industry built around valve production, amp manufacturing and valve amp maintenance.

The valve is the technological precursor to modern semiconductors. Semiconductors are often made of silicon, although they can be made from other materials, such as germanium. A transistor is a solid‑state semiconductor that roughly performs the same function as a valve and is commonly used for amplification. Transistors are smaller, cheaper, lighter, run cooler, are more reliable and more resilient than valves. Some manufacturers produce hybrid amps that aim to take the best characteristics of both valve and transistor technologies.

Taking things even further away from archaic valve technology, electronics using complex digital microprocessors are commonplace. Not only can DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chips produce their own sounds but also they enable a single unit to model a multiplicity of amplifier models that would be impossible using traditional technology. In addition, they can also emulate multiple effects, speaker cabinets, microphone placements, studio interfaces, and so on. Reliable and robust digital processing amps able to be used equally well at home, in the studio and on stage are once again attempting to usurp territory previously held by archaic analogue amps.

Specialist amps are made to make the most of other, albeit similar, electric instruments. For instance, electro‑acoustic guitars (acoustic guitars with pickups) produce a wider frequency range and tend to be ‘cleaner’ sounding than electric guitar amps, which has led to increasingly elaborate amp electronics to cater for the particular needs of acoustic guitar players. Bass amps and speakers are also engineered specifically to provide for the demanding amplification used by bass guitarists. There are no hard and fast rules, the lines are not always clearly drawn and there is inevitably some interchangeability between the general types.

One of the keys to success is to match the characteristics of the amplifier stages to the loudspeakers, so it is worth looking next at the humble loudspeaker and the important part it plays in the guitar sound’s signal chain.

The Loudspeaker

The latter part of the 19th Century was ripe for invention in the field of sound reproduction. As with other sections, only a few of the key milestones can be covered here. Prior to the invention of the modern loudspeaker, megaphones and bulky ‘radio horns’ had been used to increase acoustic volume. However these proved impractical because of their size and weight, limited frequency range and low sound pressure levels.

German teacher, Johann Philipp Reis was, perhaps, the first to develop a rudimentary type of experimental electric loudspeaker in 1861. Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent his loudspeaker design in 1876 for use in his telephone, shortly followed by Ernst W. Siemens who patented his ‘magneto-electric apparatus’ in 1874. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were also experimenting with sound around the same time. By 1898, Horace Short was working with compressed air drivers and Oliver Lodge was developing a ‘dynamic’ speaker using magnets and moving coils with horns to amplify sound. Danish‑American engineer Peter L. Jensen (1886-1961) is often cited as co‑inventor of moving coil speakers in 1915 and he started applying the technology for use in real world situations. Jensen founded his company, Magnavox, in 1915 to market products for telephones and public address (PA) systems. Magnavox is now part of the massive Philips corporation.

Things changed considerably in the 1920s with the introduction of the first amplified moving coil loudspeaker using a conical paper speaker diaphragm, which was invented in 1925 by Edward W. Kellogg and Chester W. Rice, both of whom worked for General Electric in New York, USA. Their research was important as it established both the principle of the amplifier to boost a signal and a speaker able to reproduce a wide and uniform frequency range. Rice filed a patent for the electrodynamic direct radiating ‘loud speaker’ in 1925, which was awarded in April 1929. Their speaker was introduced to the market under RCA’s Radiola brand in 1926.

Early speakers used powered electromagnets, as permanent magnets were scarce at the time, although Jensen released a fixed magnet speaker in 1930. Lightweight Alnico alloy magnets became available after WWII, making the technology more accessible enabling further innovations to take place. Other inventions along the way included, for example, 2‑way systems using a crossover to separate frequency bands (1937) and coaxial speakers (1943). Once the concept of the moving coil speaker had been proven in practical applications, it has become the de facto standard within the music industry for nearly a century.

The loudspeaker, as we know it today, is essentially a mechanical electroacoustic transducer that serves the opposite function to a microphone in that it converts an electrical signal into sound waves. A traditional moving coil speaker is passive in that it relies on an already amplified signal being fed to it and it doesn’t require its own power supply. The incoming amplified signal is fed into a coil of wire, known as the voice coil, suspended between the poles of a permanent magnet. The voice coil is attached to the apex of a conical diaphragm known as a speaker cone, originally made of paper. The outer edge of the cone is mounted within a fixed metal chassis, usually within a cabinet. The electrical signal makes the voice coil move back and forth rapidly within the magnet thereby pushing on the cone to produce sound waves. The more air that the moving speaker cone displaces, the louder the perceived sound is. Different sizes and types of speaker are used to deliver different sound frequency ranges. Generally, larger speakers are used to deliver lower bass frequencies and smaller ones used for higher treble frequencies.

Loudspeakers are usually attached to a flat panel (baffle) with circular holes cut into it such that the sound waves produced by the speaker cones can escape directly into the listening environment. The baffle with its speaker(s) is normally mounted inside either an open‑back or closed‑back wooden cabinet.

Like amplifier outputs, speaker output is usually measured in watts, which is the electrical power needed to drive the speaker. More watts generally, although not always, indicates greater volume. Like all electrical devices, a speaker provides some opposition to the signal being fed into it, called impedance, measured in ohms. Some speakers are ‘hard to drive’ and have a low impedance, which means that it requires greater current from the amplifier to result in the same output level than a high impedance speaker. As a result, it is important to match a speaker’s characteristics to the amp that is driving it.

Most loudspeakers, even those produced today, are relatively inefficient devices with only about 1% of the electrical energy being converted into acoustic energy. Most of the remaining energy is converted into heat. The sensitivity of the speaker describes how much relative electrical energy is converted into sound pressure level, measured in decibels.

The other important factor for loudspeaker performance is its frequency response. Human hearing generally covers the range 20-20,000 Hertz (cycles per second). People’s sensitivity to frequencies is not uniform and it varies depending on pitch. Human hearing is usually most sensitive in the 2,000-4,000 Hertz range.

Famous names in the field of loudspeaker manufacturing today include Celestion, Jensen, Weber, Electro Voice, JBL, Bose, Fane, Altec Lansing, Mackie, and Peavey amongst many others.

Despite its many drawbacks, the moving coil loudspeaker was (and generally still is) the most effective mechanism for the job and they remain in very wide use today. Speakers come in a multiplicity of shapes and sizes and are used in so many different ways. However, like the pickup and amplifier, the basic principles of speaker design can be traced back to the early part of the 20th Century.

 

Guitar Amps

Initially, bulky battery‑powered valve amps and speakers were used in PA systems and in movie theatres of the time. Because of their bulk and relative fragility, these early systems tended to be fixed installations. From c.1927, portable AC mains‑powered amps became available and musicians started to adopt the technology.

In 1928, Stromberg‑Voisinet advertised the first electric instrument and amplifier package. However, it was not a commercial success and no verified examples exist today. In 1929, Vega introduced a portable amplifier to be used with banjos.

It wasn’t until 1932 when the Electro String Instrument Corporation – later to become Rickenbacker – was formed to bring the electric guitar to market that things really took off. Electro launched a ‘high output’ guitar amp to accompany their new solid body electric lap steel guitars, as Hawaiian music was highly popular at the time across America. The first commercial solid bodied electric guitar and amplifier made by Electro String essentially established the format for early combo amps comprising an electronic amplifier mounted inside a wooden cabinet along with a speaker. The new combo amp also had a carrying handle to make it portable and, shortly after, the company added metal corners to protect the cabinets in transit.

In 1933, Dobro introduced the first guitar amp combo with twin 8 inch speakers. By around 1935, the demand for amplified electric guitars became unstoppable and the electric guitar music revolution had begun. Other companies such as National, RCA Victor, Audio-Vox, Vivi‑Tone, Premier, Vega, Kay, Valco and Volu‑Tone, promoted their own amps to musicians, with varying degrees of success during the 1930s and 1940s. Gibson was also experimenting with amplifiers in the early 1930s although none were made commercially available at the time. Most of the early valve amplifiers were low powered by today’s standards, usually less than 10-15 watts and using small speakers, often of 10 inches or less in diameter.

In 1938, American electronics technician, Clarence Leonidas ‘Leo’ Fender (1909-1991) established Fender Radio Service to repair a wide variety of electronic equipment. He found that musicians would come to him for PA and amplifier repairs and rentals. Seeing the potential of the music industry and started to focus more on musical equipment manufacture. Fender began a short‑lived venture in 1944 with Clayton ‘Doc’ Kauffman, a former employee of Rickenbacker called K&F Manufacturing Corporation with the intention to build Hawaiian lap steel guitars and amplifiers.

In 1946, after Kauffman and Fender parted company, Leo founded the company with which he will forever be associated, Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, based in Fullerton, California. Shortly thereafter, they introduced the first guitar amps carrying the Fender name. Early Fender combo amplifiers included the Fender Princeton (1947-1979) and Champion 800 (1948-1982).

In 1952, shortly after Fender introduced their Broadcaster guitar which would become the legendary Telecaster, the company introduced what would be, perhaps, its most celebrated combo amp, the famous Fender Twin. The Twin moniker derived from its dual 12 inch speakers. The Twin has been released in many versions over its long history, with its power output ranging from its original 25 watts to a high of 135 watts in the late 1970s. The perennial Fender Twin remains in production today and has become an industry standard.

Meanwhile, based in Kent, England Tom Jennings (1918-1978) founded British company Vox in 1947 to produce musical equipment. It wasn’t until 1958 that Vox released its first guitar amp, the 15‑watt AC15. A year later, at the request of The Shadows’ guitarist Hank Marvin, Vox introduced its most famous model, the AC30, intended to compete with America’s powerful Fender Twin amp. The AC30 proved to be a very successful product and in updated form, it remains in production today.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that mass produced guitar amplifiers really became commonplace and incorporated many of the features now expected from an amp including, for instance, multiple tone controls, tremolo and reverb.

In addition, contemporary popular music of the time was developing rapidly and guitarists began to experiment by overdriving their amplifiers to distort the guitar’s sound at much higher volumes. From the mid‑1960s guitarists sought to control the level of overdrive and distortion (also known as clipping) as a creative tool. One particular characteristic of natural valve distortion is that clipping also tends to compress the signal as the volume is increased, meaning the output tends to sound ‘thicker’, rather than louder, emphasising the guitar’s sustain.

Guitarist Dave Davies of English band The Kinks is often credited with popularising guitar distortion. On one occasion, Davies himself admitted to slashing the speaker cone of his Elpico AC55 ‘little green amp’ with a razor blade out of frustration and in the process of doing so, he made it sound distorted and nasty. The Kinks’ song, ‘You Really Got Me’ (1964) is often cited, rightly or wrongly, as the first hit record featuring heavy guitar distortion (using a Vox AC30).

The search for new guitar sounds in the 1960s helped to ignite the drive for compact guitar effect pedals, initially with simple fuzz and wah effects. A whole industry developed during the late 1960s and 1970s including brands such as Electro‑Harmonix, MXR, Maestro, Boss and Ibanez, amongst many, many others. Effects have ever since been used to complement guitars and amps as an integral part of a musician’s signal chain. The market for effect pedals has grown into a massive industry in its own right.

The development of guitars, amps and popular musical styles of the 1950s defined the template on which succeeding generations of guitarists would build incrementally. Many modern amps and amplifier innovations hark back to the best examples of this ‘golden’ period. Driven by the success of the 1950s, particularly the popularity of Fender amps, the quest for more volume seemed unquenchable. The first 100 watt amps were made by Leo Fender for surf guitarist Dick Dale, while Jim Marshall of legendary British amplifier manufacturers Marshall did the same for Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of rock band The Who.  Dr. Jim Marshall OBE was affectionately nicknamed, ‘the father of loud’.

High power, high gain valve guitar amps became the norm at the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was not uncommon to see large stages filled with gargantuan ‘stacks’ of loudspeaker cabinets powered by banks of high powered amps. Marshall is the brand most associated with the classic guitar stack, which at its simplest comprises a 50 or 100 watt amp on top of two 4×12” closed back speaker cabinets, thanks again to Pete Townshend of The Who as well as the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. The guitar stack has since become inextricably linked with hard, heavy and metal rock music. Music and its essential components very much reflected the cultural and social changes of the times.

There have been several technological challenges to the humble valve. A concerted trend away from vacuum tubes towards solid state transistor amps occurred in the 1970s, led by companies like Roland, Peavey and H/H. Other manufacturers adopted a best‑of‑both‑worlds approach by making hybrid solid state/valve amps, led by Leo Fender during his time with Music Man.

Arguably, Fender, Marshall remain the two predominant and recognisable amplifier brands and, respectively, have come to define the ‘American sound’ and ‘British sound’ respectively. Notably, unlike Fender, Gibson has never had much commercial success with building guitar amps, despite producing some credible models along the way. There are now a myriad of other amplifier manufacturers including famous brand names such as Mesa Boogie, Peavey, Ampeg, Randall, Rivera, Bogner, PRS and Supro in America, and Vox, Orange, Blackstar, Victory, Hi-Watt and Laney in the UK. Outside the USA and UK, there are many successful brands including Hughes & Kettner, Engl, Line6, Roland, Yamaha, BOSS, etc. In order to keep production costs down, many budget models are now produced in the Far East, while the majority of small boutique amp builders cater for the high‑end, being manufactured in limited numbers in America and Europe.

Many other famous brand names have passed into history, such as Traynor, Sunn, Multivox Premier, Univox, WEM/Watkins, Sound City, H/H, Selmer, Cornford and Carlsbro although, to be fair, some of these continue to operate in some form or other and may well be rejuvenated at some point. There are far too many brands, past and present, to mention here.

Ironically, there is increasing interest in capturing the retro sound and looks of the earliest guitar amplifiers. Many companies are now recreating classic analogue models of the past, often incorporating modern adaptations for reliability, safety and convenience to meet the demands of today’s guitarists. There are many boutique amp builders looking to take the best of old and new and present something different from the current mainstream manufacturers.

At this point, no article focusing on guitar amps would be complete without mentioning Dumble amplifiers. Dumble amps are made in very small numbers by Alexander ‘Howard’ Dumble in L.A., California, often by request of well‑heeled professional musicians. The Dumble Overdrive Special is widely regarded as the zenith of limited production boutique amps and, as a result of their quality and rarity, new or used examples have gained almost mythical status and demand extremely high values on the open market.

Despite the remarkable sustained popularity of valves, digital modelling technology is now making major inroads into the tube’s traditional territory. As the technological advances behind digital modelling processors that began with the iconic Line 6 Pod through to ever‑improving digital advances from companies like Fractal and Kemper. The audible difference between the ‘antiquated’ originals and modern digital recreations is rapidly diminishing to the point where professional musicians see a competitive advantage in moving to a digital platform.

Despite stiff competition from solid state and digital circuits, the valve guitar amp currently remains the de facto standard for many discerning professional guitarists, despite the decidedly old-world technology involved. It will be interesting to see how long genuine valve amplifiers will continue to prosper in the face of the digital revolution. Only time and hindsight will tell. It is likely that valve, analogue solid state and digital technologies will be able to coexist for many years yet.

Get connected

Guitars need to be connected to an amp in order to work, often with effect pedals in between. Before wireless and/or digital technology takes over completely, the venerable guitar lead has been the necessary link between input and output since the 1930s. At each end of a traditional interconnecting lead is a remarkable piece of analogue kit that most guitarists rarely think about but cannot live without. Similarly, guitars, amps and effects also have the other part of the same connection.

The essential connector in question is the ¼“ (6.35 mm) jack plug and its associated socket, which originally dates from c.1878. The first jack connector was invented by George W. Coy and was used for the first commercial manual switchboard at the telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. It is astonishing that, after nearly 1½ centuries, this enduring piece of industry standard equipment is still in ubiquitous use today, long after it became obsolete in telephone systems.

End of Part IV

This has been a self‑contained article that departs from the usual topic of guitars per se. While it might seem a lengthy, in‑depth examination, it only just scratches the surface. As I don’t have the space, knowledge or resources to write comprehensively on the subject, I highly recommend that readers wanting to delve into the historical detail take a look at the innumerable resources available on the ever‑present hinterwebby thing. NB. Credit to all original photographers for images used from Google Images.

Arguably, without the complementary inventions of the electromagnetic pickup, the dedicated valve amplifier and the moving coil loudspeaker, the revolution in guitar technology that started in the 1930s and which really took off in the 1950s would not have been possible. It is notable that the scientific principles underpinning today’s electric guitars are still relevant nearly a century later. It is, at least to me, remarkable that, technically, we haven’t really evolved a great deal over the intervening decades. Advances have been incremental refinements, rather than ground breaking. Digital technology may change all that. Watch this space.

At long last, in Part V, the story will finally unleash the breakthroughs that led directly to the early electric archtop and solid body guitars. The next revolution in guitar music making was about to happen. Who could possibly have anticipated the impact that the congruence of the three seemingly innocuous bits of music technology covered above would have when brought together.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey thus far and thank you for reading. I also hope that you’ll come back and join me on the next part of the guitar’s long journey to the current day. Time to get some vintage gear out and plug in. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Excess in any form does not indicate wisdom; rather it evidences the lack of it”

© 2018 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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December 2017 – That Time for Guitar Lists and Stuff

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

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

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

2017 in retrospect

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

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

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

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

CRAVE Guitars – Cases

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

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

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

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

CRAVE Guitars acquisitions in 2017…

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

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

Guitars (7):

CRAVE Guitars – 2017 Guitars

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

Amps(1):

1979 Fender Musicmaster Bass

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

Effects (6):

CRAVE Guitars – 2017 Effect Pedals

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

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

Guitarists that departed us in 2017 (9):

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

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

New recorded music in 2017 (18):

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

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

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

Live Music in 2017 (2)

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

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

Social Media

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

2018 in Prospect

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

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

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

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

Guitars:

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

Amps:

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

Effect pedals:

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

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

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

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

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

CRAVE Guitars – Cellar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A message of hope for 2018 and the future

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

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

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

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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June 2017 – At Last… New in at CRAVE Guitars

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Finally, the much-heralded and eagerly(!)-awaited relocation (see March 2017 article → click to read) has taken place and the work really starts on making the new crib habitable first, and then liveable in. This has to be completed before CRAVE Guitars can be properly resurrected, so it is still some way off before ‘normality’ returns.

More importantly within this context, CRAVE Guitars’ ‘collection’ of vintage instruments is in temporary storage until I can create safe, secure and environmentally appropriate musical equipment space. Providing them all with a home will take both time and significant funds. In the meantime, the availability of vintage instruments, effects and amps to hand is limited, as only 4 made the initial expedition. Eek!

The recent thinning out of the guitar herd means that CRAVE Guitars is now substantially smaller (by about 15%) than before the move. In addition, a load of studio gear, modern amps and a plethora of modern, far eastern effects pedals, have now found new homes.

The advantage of marginal rationalisation is that CRAVE Guitars’ operating model has become better focused. For instance, after the cull, the only instruments and amps remaining are American-made, of which only two that are newer than 1989 (mainly for reference comparisons). In comparison, vintage effects are a bit more diverse. While the most modern was in 1988, the pedals come from America, Japan and Europe. Stomp boxes are, and always have been, a justifiable exception to the ‘made in USA’ rule simply because they are so integrated into our musical culture.

Another advantage of the pre-relocation clear out is that it released some limited funds for reinvestment. A modest injection of cash enabled the acquisition of a few interesting vintage bits and pieces, including:

Guitars:

1977 Gibson L6-S Deluxe
1970s Ovation Breadwinner 1251

Amp:

1979 Fender Musicmaster Bass

Effect Pedals:

1981 BOSS PH-1r Phaser
1981 Ibanez CS-505 Chorus
1985 BOSS TW-1 T Wah
1978 Ibanez PT-909 Phase Tone
1976 Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplexer
1978 MXR Envelope Filter

Features and galleries on all these items can be found on the web site, so I won’t repeat the content here. Both of the ‘new’ guitars, the amp and two of the pedals were made in the USA, with the remainder of the effects coming from Japan. I think that they are all great additions to the CRAVE Guitars fold.

While keeping the core spotlight on Gibson and Fender guitars, the diversification into other brands is intended to broaden interest and appeal, recognising that there is more to musical heritage than the mainstream. Economics also plays a part, with vintage values rapidly increasing for the big brand’s desirable models. There are some fascinating cool and rare vintage instruments to explore.

It seems opportune to make no apology for the emphasis on 1970s and 1980s gear. Primarily, it was during these decades when my youthful obsession with music and, specifically, guitars began and probably peaked. Those new or second-hand guitars of that period are now becoming sought-after collectables, so I have a soft spot for them.

There are plenty of well-moneyed collectors scavenging 1950’s and 1960’s vintage pieces, hiking up the prices to ridiculous levels (again) while at the same time vociferously criticising some very credible 1970’s equipment in the process. The result is that many of us ordinary, enthusiastic mortals are increasingly becoming excluded (again) from instruments made in the ‘golden years’ by greedy investors and speculators.

I agree that there was some poor quality manufacturing from large conglomerates in the 1970s and 1980s, often caused by commercial pressures, manufacturing techniques and essential cost-cutting. However, progress needed to be made, especially in the face of far eastern competition. We shouldn’t forget that, during and the 1970s in particular, a swathe of innovation and experimentation took place that enabled the brands to sustain and rejuvenate. These strategic business factors are often overlooked or downplayed. The thing about innovation is that only some of it becomes successful, whenever it takes place. Let’s be honest, there has been plenty of dire output at other times too.  We do need to take care that we don’t fall into the trap that old is automatically good. So… my point is that the situation isn’t clear cut and, with careful selection, there is some really fine stuff out there, whatever the period.

Furthermore, and being a tad heretical, if it wasn’t for those major corporations rescuing and then keeping the failing brands going through lean years, they might have been lost to us altogether. Had they totally disappeared, we wouldn’t have the modern classics being made now by companies that care about the heritage. It is too easy to jump on the bandwagon and criticise the ‘70s and ‘80s without a thought for the practical. Wait a few years, see what happens and you decide whether my appraisal has some merit. It will be interesting to see what the long-term effect will be as a result of the exemplary output produced by the ‘boutique boom’ of the current decade.

Picking and choosing can lead to some fine vintage instruments being acquired at reasonable prices, if only because the avaricious vultures haven’t looked to make a big profit from them yet. Inevitably, it will happen and then, almost overnight, what these ‘experts’ call uncool now will suddenly become cool in order for them to make a buck. In the meantime, CRAVE Guitars is hopefully redressing the balance a bit and bringing some common sense to the debate. It is for these reasons that CRAVE Guitars is actively celebrating these guitars, amps and effects and stewarding as much as I can for future generations to enjoy.

Right… rant over (for now), so time to change the subject. While the ramifications of the relocation are working through, I am trying to keep CRAVE Guitars’ going as best as I can.

The CRAVE Guitars web site has been spruced-up. While on the surface, it doesn’t look very different, about a quarter of the site has been updated in one way or another. There is so much that I want to do with it. Hopefully, the opportunity will arise to improve it over coming months.

CRAVE Guitars Website
CRAVE Guitars

I am trying to sustain CRAVE Guitars social media output, as it is one area where one can’t take one’s eye off the ball. The platform is notoriously fickle and inactivity leads to being forgotten very quickly. During June 2017, CRAVE Guitars surpassed 2,000 Twitter followers (@CRAVE_Guitars). It took 2½ years of ceaseless hard work and over 11,000 Tweets to get there. I doubt that there is any tangible value other than global exposure for the brand (it is more a reputation than a business). One can only hope the investment in time and effort will be worth it in the end.

CRAVE Guitars – 2,000 Twitter Followers

Since the last article, Glastonbury Festival 2017 has come and gone. For the second year running, attendance wasn’t possible for family health reasons. It was very frustrating being relegated to an armchair/TV viewer. Nevertheless, this year’s festival which, even though I wasn’t there, got substantial CRAVE Guitars social media coverage. I have to say that the absence of the traditional festival quagmire was galling – mud-free Glastos are a rare thing and it would have been nice to experience a dry one. Even worse, there is no Glastonbury Festival in 2018, as it’s a fallow year to allow the dairy farm to recover. Furthermore, it isn’t clear whether the next one in 2019 will be held at Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, UK. The farm is its spiritual, historical and, to me, only home. I hope that this year does not turn out be the last ever ‘real’ Glasto. If it moves away, it risks becoming just another bland event amongst a plethora of other generic music gatherings. I watch with interest and a touch of trepidation.

To compensate (a little) for missing Glastonbury, I’m looking forward to the local Looe music festival taking place at the end of September, almost on the doorstep. The Jesus And Mary Chain, Lulu and Happy Mondays are headlining. Interesting variety for a small regional event held towards the end of the festival season.

Note to self: Time to unpack and get back into plinking my planks. Until next time…

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2016 – A Year of Gains, Change, Losses and Optimism

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It’s that time of year again when it seems to be the ‘in’ thing to reflect on the departing year and look ahead to the future whatever it may hold (along with a few obligatory lists along the way). So, in the spirit of seasonal laziness, here is my take on the year just about to leave platform 2016 and to wait for the 20:17 train to who knows where.

A Retrospective

In the music world, the grief that ended 2015 (e.g. Lemmy) continued into 2016. Let’s begin by remembering some of those great artists and guitarists who sadly departed and left us mere mortals behind during the year. I hope they play eternally at the ‘great gig in the sky’…

  • David Bowie on 10th January, aged 69
  • Glenn Frey on 18th January, aged 67
  • Merle Haggard on 6th April, aged 79
  • Prince on 21st April, aged 57
  • Lonnie Mack on 21st April, aged 74
  • Scotty Moore on 28th June, aged 84
  • Leonard Cohen on 7th November, aged 82
  • Greg Lake on 7th December, aged 69
  • Rick Parfitt on 24th December, aged 68
  • George Michael on 25th December, aged 53

Farewell and Rest In Peace cool dudes, you will be forever remembered for your tremendous legacy… and will be greatly missed for potential works not completed. Kudos. I am not looking forward to 2017 and the inevitable demise of more stalwarts of the music industry. Who will be next? We can only conjecture at this stage.

It has certainly been a year of change. I won’t delve into the controversial world of global politics, even though it affects our lives fundamentally every day. As English guitarist Eric Clapton said, “One of the most beneficial things I’ve ever learned is how to keep my mouth shut”. At a personal level, it has been a complete change of employment, if not lifestyle (yet). I am still working for ‘the man’ but in a different way. After 30 years as a paid employee, I was made redundant and am now self-employed. The massive drop in disposable income has affected CRAVE Guitars by forcing a, hopefully temporary, hiatus in its mission to accumulate more vintage guitars. In fact, only 3 guitars were purchased all year, but what terrific guitars they were in their different ways…

  • 1962 Gretsch 6120 Double Cutaway Chet Atkins Hollowbody (March)
  • 1964 Silvertone 1449 ‘Amp-in-Case’ (October)
  • 1981 Gibson RD Artist (January)

Bizarrely, there was not a Fender amongst them. Note to self… must try harder!

Out of curiosity, I had a look back at my ‘most wanted list’ of guitars from this time last year and I’ve only been able to knock one off the ‘plan’ during the last 12 months (and probably not the one you’d think!). Oh well.

The change, however, was an opening to refocus a bit, without straying too far from the chosen path. Rather than just stop altogether, it enabled me to look at things in a fresh way. As it turned out, a more affordable and modest vintage guitar-related ‘hobby’ filled the sizeable gap. The result was that I was able to build up a modest collection of classic vintage guitar effect pedals, starting with a ‘small box’ Pro Co Rat and ending 5 months and 16 pedals later with a Made in Japan’ Boss PH-1 Phaser. I also resurrected a number of my classic owned-from-new pedals from the ‘70s. These classic pedals can still hold their own in terms of tone and, while not necessarily ergonomic, are well worth the effort.

This cool diversion had its pitfalls, including transit damage, missing bits and difficulty finding vintage parts to refurbish a couple of cool but ‘adapted’ player-grade effects. What I learned is that, while I’m OK at buying guitars, my knowledge of vintage stomp boxes just wasn’t as strong. At least my focus was on the lower end of the vintage market, rather than the overpriced collector end (original Ibanez TS-808s anyone? Gasp!). It will take a while to build up reliable experience and make better‑informed purchases. In total, there were 17 vintage effect pedals purchased during 2016, including (by brand)…

  • Boss (x5) – CS-1, DS-1, OC-2, OD-1, PH-1
  • Electro Harmonix (x2) – Little Big Muff pi, Doctor Q
  • Ibanez (x5) – AD9, CS9, FL301-DX, FL9, TS9
  • Jen (x1) – Cry Baby Super
  • MXR (x3) – Blue Box, Distortion +, Phase 90
  • Pro Co (x1) – RAT

While looking into effect pedals, I also started looking at vintage valve guitar amps again, although I only bought one very cool little loud box during 2016 (not including the Silvertone’s ’amp in case’ above)…

  • 1978 Fender Vibro Champ

What has CRAVE sold during 2016? B*gger all of any significance! I just don’t have the ‘killer instinct to sell effectively, which is why I’m not a dealer. So, the ‘collection’ continues to grow, which isn’t good news, either financially or space-wise.

Turning to recorded music, picking something special out from the ubiquitous, formulaic dross was a bit of a challenge. Here are some of the varied albums (whatever happened to singles?!) released and added to CRAVE Guitars’ playlists in 2016:

  • Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
  • Blossoms – Blossoms
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  • Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
  • Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  • Daughter – Not To Disappear
  • Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
  • Garbage – Strange Little Birds
  • The Heavy – Hurt & The Merciless
  • Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  • The Kills – Ash & Ice
  • Megadeth – Dystopia
  • Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
  • Savages – Adore Life
  • Seasick Steve – Keepin’ The Horse Between Me And The Ground
  • Warpaint – Heads Up

One good point towards the end of 2016 was that I was able to see one of my all-time favourite bands and one that has kept me just about sane over many years. I saw The Cure at Wembley Arena, London on 1st December. It is 8 years since I last saw them live in London and New York. They were, as I’d hoped, awesome and still able to perform at the top of their game. They were supported by Scottish indie band, The Twilight Sad, who I’d also been looking forward to seeing for some time; impressive. As I was unable to make the pilgrimage to Glastonbury Festival this year, this one major gig made up for it. Long may Robert Smith and The Cure continue to inspire – thanks Bob. I can only hope that this tour may herald a new album in the near future (hint, hint!).

While on the topic of live bands, it occurred to me that it is a very ephemeral experience. On quiet reflection, if there is one band that I would have liked to have seen but didn’t and now it’s too late… The Clash. The one band that I haven’t seen yet that I would like to see before it’s too late… Rage Against the Machine. Of course there are many, many mainstream artists that could go on those particular lists. These were just ones that came to mind when I asked the rhetorical question.

A Prospective

Trivia fact: In English etymology, ‘prospective’ is a valid antonym for ‘retrospective’. So, I took the indulgence of looking forward through the looking glass and speculating a little on what may lie ahead.

Firstly, CRAVE Guitars will hopefully be relocating soon. I was hoping it was going to be before Christmas but it will now be in early 2017. Major problems and escalating costs with the new place, including somewhere to store the guitars dry, warm, safe and secure, means that even pedal purchasing has now been put on hold until further notice while some massively expensive but essential rebuilding takes place and (sadly) uses all my remaining (guitar) capital.

Furthermore, my self-employed work ends at Christmas, so unemployment (tactically, I prefer to call it early retirement) looms on the immediate horizon. Ironically, after years of having no time and a little cash has been turned around such that I may soon have a little time and no cash. Hey-ho, story of my life; one can’t have it all, eh?

If there is a way that CRAVE Guitars could be put on a different basis and become a full‑time occupation, I’d like to do it. I need to learn how to sell though (see above). It would be terrific if I could realise my long-held ambition and put all my hard work over the last few years to good use. Harsh life experiences over many years suggest that this won’t happen so, perhaps, it is about time for a meagre sprinkling of ‘good luck’ to come my way for once.

Unfortunately, the prevailing economic climate is not conducive to starting up a professional niche business with next to zero capital, no access to finance, sparse experience, and little reliable entrepreneurial advice, all within the context of political, economic and social turmoil. In the UK, we’ve had a General Election, political meltdown, crippling national debt and the insanity of ‘Brexit’ (what a stupid ‘word’ that is!). In the US we’ve had Clinton being well and truly Trumped (amid much conspiracy theory), which is a scary proposition for the whole world. Mad! Since the EU Referendum, the $USD to £GBP exchange rate has fallen through the floor, so one of CRAVE’s strengths – importing vintage guitars from homeland U.S.A. – is now next to impossible as the costs have simply become prohibitive (at least on the modest funds at my disposal). As 2017 looks to provide more surprises and yet more change, there is little point in further speculation about exactly what might transpire. I wonder what CRAVE’s December 2017 article will have to say (all other things being equal).

Ever the eternal optimist, or more probably just tragically deluded, 2017 HAS to be better than 2016. I suspect I may be bitterly disappointed… again. As you might imagine, I have no evidence to support this hypothesis, just a desperate but probably forlorn hope that things, both macro and micro, improve in the months to come. I also have to trust that the irrevocable life-changing events of 2016 lead to constructive and positive outcomes in 2017. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist that founded analytical psychology summed it up, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Perhaps the old dude knew a thing or two about people’s ability to influence their own destiny.

I know that one shouldn’t gauge any sort of success by social media activity but CRAVE Guitars is gradually building a solid presence on the hinterweb. A huge “THANK YOU” to everyone who showed some interest in goings on at CRAVE Guitars over the last 12 months. At the time of writing, CRAVE’s Twitter followers (my favoured platform – @CRAVE_Guitars) were standing at over 1,330, which is amazing to me – a massive increase in a year. The majority of CRAVE’s Twitter followers are in the U.S.A., so much appreciation goes out to my transatlantic brethren. Equally, my gratitude extends to everyone inside and outside the UK, across the continents of our increasingly shrinking ‘global village’ for your time and consideration.

CRAVE Website

If CRAVE could buy any vintage guitar in 2017, what would it be? Actually, although unlikely to achieve either, I’m picking one from each of Fender and Gibson to keep things neutral. A 1970s Fender Starcaster has appealed for a long time but they are few and far between and prices are scarily high. As for the ‘big G’, a 1950s non‑cutaway Gibson ES‑150 has also been a longstanding aim, also rapidly increasing in price. So if Santa is listening, I have tried SO hard to be a good boy.

As frequently mentioned in my articles, guitars have only one purpose, as a tool to make music. Music can bring us together and help to heal the often seemingly irreconcilable schisms that inhibit mutual co‑operation and benefit. This brings me neatly onto…

A Hope

For what it is worth, a short Christmas message of redemption for 2017…

I feel that there are even greater seismic shifts ahead in every facet of our small planet. All I can hope is that for every backward step, there are many more steps in the right direction towards the panacea of world peace, ecological sustainability and, let’s face it, survival. We need to magnify the things that we all share and value, and we must strive to diminish the things that cause irreconcilable division and conflict. Ultimately, there is no choice but to work together for the sake of our enduring common humanity. We all have an obligation and a moral duty, individually and collectively, to build a better, fairer world for everyone now and for succeeding generations. As equal citizens, we must demand more from our governments if we are to achieve a viable future for life on Earth. We must respect our diversity, reject greed, protect our environment, have compassion for all living things, and rise above prejudice and hatred, if we are to stand any chance of achieving great things as a species. Strive for utopia and we may just get far enough down the road to justify the effort. It is just common sense after all and the struggle must prevail if it’s worth struggling for. We shall see. Buddha put it far more succinctly, “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace”. Quite right!

I fear that the rise of ignorant extremism under the guise of ‘populist anti‑institutionalism’ will trigger further anarchic, nihilistic and blindly destructive tendencies when, what the world really needs right now is more ‘peace and love’. Beneath the superficiality of the naïve desperation of the ‘60s hippy movement, the counter‑culture ‘uprising’ of the time had it right all along and we should seek to realise the latent potential of their philosophical idealism and belief for good and fairness. As John Lennon sang, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” One can hope beyond hope, however unrealistic it may seem. Concerted action, though, is needed.

May you play guitars, or at least listen to the magical music that all guitarists – great and meek alike – create on our beloved instruments. People need the therapeutic qualities of music now, more than ever before. It is a cathartic way to deal with the harsh vagaries of our capricious, chaotic, dysfunctional world. As the German philosopher and scholar, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wisely said, “And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be insane, by those who could not hear the music.” On that final contemplative note, it is goodbye to a weird 2016 and I hope to be back in 2017. In the meantime, I’m off to ‘plink my plank(s)’. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “If I had a pound for every perfect guitar solo I’ve ever played, I’d still be stone broke.”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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June 2016 – What Does the (Digital) Future Hold?

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

CRAVE Guitars is returning to pretentious opinionated pontification (POP for short) for June 2016. The starting point for this month’s article is to have a bit of fun speculating about the future, especially given that musicians by and large tend to be a pretty ‘old‑school’ bunch. We tend to resist change and frequently pay considerable homage to the past as a reason to maintain the apparent status quo (not the band). The cause and effect fallacy that is past=good therefore future=not-so-good may be enhanced by selective rose-tinted specs, confusing perceptions about what was actually good with what wasn’t.

Whether you like it or not, we’ve already been experiencing the digital revolution for at least 30 years now. While previous paradigm shifts may have been triggered at a point in time, it often takes a very long period for society to move to a new zeitgeist. The industrial revolution didn’t happen overnight after all; it took decades for the benefits of modernisation to be fully realised as the norm and to become accessible to most.

I recall seeing recently that BOSS released the first digital delay stomp box in c.1984! Line 6 really turned things upside down by bringing acceptable digital modelling to the masses with its iconic POD. Digital recording now provides the mainstay of modern music production and it is generally regarded as a very good thing because it brings massive potential to musicians on a shoestring budget. We’ve also had digital music reproduction and distribution for longer than some probably care to remember. Listening to digital music wherever we are and whatever we’re doing is now the custom for the vast majority of ordinary people.

This fundamental shift raises a question about whether old and new can really co-exist in the long-term? Other than perhaps vinyl, analogue storage has now all but disappeared and unlikely to undergo a popular Renaissance. So, digital is here to stay. Get over it. It’s not clear from here on what music technologies will survive and which will be cast aside as minor entries in the history books. That natural filtering process will be down to us and whether the timing is right for a particular product.

Our obsession with musical history, whether conscious or subconscious, is likely to endure and may well influence our purchasing decisions for a very long time yet. Despite digital’s best attempts, we remain stubbornly wedded to certain bits of obsolete technology – the vacuum valves and moving magnet speakers in our amps for example. So what does digital do to capture our interest? It tries to sound just like the old stuff we had to put up with all those years ago – go figure! There is no doubt that digital provides quality, economy, reliability, consistency and convenience, as well as releasing a massive amount of dynamics, power and storage that was previously seen as unattainable. The benefits of digital music-making enable considerable freedom and choice, as well as providing new opportunities to experiment that would have been seen as ‘magic’ just 100 years’ ago.

There is no point in fighting advancement per se; the organised luddites didn’t succeed against the industrial revolution, so you won’t hold back the digital one. Individual resistance in the face of a mass movement will prove utterly futile. My supposition is sort of symbiotic relationship, with both old and new technologies relying on each other for their existence and with neither eradicating the other, i.e. we are likely to embrace the best of both worlds.

Technology isn’t what makes real music, it is musicians. We should not forget that unpredictable artistic creativity adds a crucial spark into the mix and it’s that which ultimately drives technological change (along with a sprinkling of economics). You can’t buy or make talent but you can make it easier for talent to thrive. To quote Keith Richards, “To make a rock ‘n’ roll record, technology is the least important thing”.

Neither can we ignore the benefits of innovation. The best of digital modelling allows most of us to get pretty close to experiencing rare and/or vintage equipment that we would otherwise have no hope of ever playing, let alone owning. Unless you’re a multi-millionaire, where on earth would you put all that gear even if you could afford it? Technology recreates great gear spookily well, all in a tiny box that doesn’t need much in the way of maintenance either. The rest is up to you.

However, where will it all end? Manufacturers in the digital world are continually trying to compete by leapfrogging in terms of functionality and features. Jump forward 20, 50, 100 or more years and try to think about it. A digital audio workstation of the 22nd century may well be connected directly into your brain, providing an infinite array of variables and you will adjust the tone for the minutest variation in pseudo-relic condition. No doubt, we will have digitally sampled ‘pops’, ‘crackle’ and ‘hum’ added back to a pure binary signal, just so that it sounds ‘authentic’. I would, however, assert that such a bewildering range of options can actually begin to act as a barrier to adoption, rather than an enabler. Being overwhelmed by complexity may not be good for the simpletons among us (like me).

There are also constraints on progress. For example, we guitarists have a massive dependence on the humble and archaic analogue jack plug (and socket). I’m not sure when it was invented but it is a great example of standardisation that has endured essentially unchanged since at least the 1930s. This is astounding endurance for what is actually not a very good connector. The industry has tried to move on but I’ll wager that, if you go into your local guitar store tomorrow, you won’t find a single electric guitar or amp that doesn’t still require one. After nearly a century of use, it will be a difficult item to displace, if only because of global ubiquity. Even if a new industry-wide successor is introduced, there is no way that anyone in their right mind would retro-fit a MIDI or USB port to, say, a ‘59 Les Paul Standard. Will we even still have USBs in the 22nd century and, if we do, will they be backwards compatible? Firewire anyone?

We can influence what happens. We continually tinker with the ingredients. We alter many of the variables on our guitars, e.g. strings, tunings, scale, frets, pickups, materials, etc., all in a quest for something we often can’t clearly define or articulate. Ultimately though, we keep coming back to the core, familiar product while duly tolerating such variations on a theme. A guitar is still a guitar… for now. Currently, most future guitars are still trees today; at least it’s an environmentally sustainable product. In the (nearer than you think) future, guitars may just be synthetic digital controllers, a la PlayStation. A quick Google search can be quite revealing (see the ‘future guitar’ examples throughout this article). Fascinating stuff.

So… looking forward a century to the year 2116, just what will guitar playing be like? Will we still spend our lucre on current major brands? Will we need strings or magnetic pickups? Possibly not. Will guitars colour-change for mood? Maybe – we’ve had illuminated guitars for some time anyway. Will they shape-shift for musical genre or aesthetic taste? I doubt it, but you never know. We’ve actually had guitar synths/controllers/digital guitars (e.g. Roland GK, SynthAxe, Casio DG10/20, Ibanez X-Ing) since the 1980s as well as synth effect pedals from the likes of Electro-Harmonix. Sophisticated sampling has enabled digital guitar modelling to arrive with the Line 6 Variax. Modular instruments have also been attempted and these might finally find their time and become the vogue. No-one really knows the future for sure. I bet ‘we’ will still want but won’t be able to afford that real vintage ’59 Les Paul held in a wealthy collector’s secure vault somewhere, and we will still hanker to recreate the look, feel and sound of one, even though we may never get to see one for real. Not much different from now in fact, with faithful recreations of the past.

The journey isn’t clearly defined and the outcome will evolve through a fascinating mixture of the past, present and future. You, or actually your descendants, will be able to pick up a physical vaguely guitar-shaped instrument (just 3D print a new one?) and it will still be processed through something to affect the signal (probably a cool digital app) and we need some means of being able to ‘hear’ it (sensory implants?). Will we flock to online gigs using VR headsets rather than physically trek to a distant venue to watch a live band in a sweaty beer‑stained crush? No real Glastonbury mud in the future then. Whichever way you look at it, technology will deeply affect our musical experience.

What will our musical tastes be like? Very different I guarantee. Look back at various sci-fi films from the 1950s and ‘60s that depict the then future and see a) how ‘of their time’ the music actually was, and b) how wrong they were about what was yet to come. Look back through the last few centuries to assess the increasing pace of change. The science of music (rather than the style of it), however, remains fixed because we are bound by physical laws that we cannot change or overcome. There will be unwavering and unstoppable progress, and it will be informed by the past (including what we call ‘now’). Will progress render our ability to make real music redundant, to be replaced by computer-generated musical products controlled by technologists rather than artists? I sincerely hope not.

Personally, I look forward to seeing what unfolds. I will enthusiastically grasp those tools that make music creativity quicker/easier/better and I’ll simply avoid those things that make it too difficult to play and work. In the end, I suggest that a recipe comprising pragmatism and diversity will prevail. Advances will occur at a pace that musicians will accept – no faster or slower. We will continue to worship the best of the past (while conveniently disregarding the worst). We will also learn to venerate the best of the future (whatever it may be), maybe not when it first appears but probably with the benefit of hindsight. One thing’s for sure, ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars’ aren’t going to be consigned to a scrapheap anytime soon. Even CRAVE Guitar’s own 1981 Gibson RD Artist had Moog electronics back in the day.

Guitarists strive to be regarded as conservative traditionalists at one extreme while somewhat hypocritically we also desire (or feel obliged) to push the boundaries of what’s possible and acceptable at the other. Putting my highly unreliable predictions aside, a Brave New World beckons. A combination of old and new technologies will enable us to create original music in surprising and exciting ways. Be inspired, not afraid. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Historians in the future will debate the contribution of Guitar Hero to the canon of 21st Century music. Discuss…”

© 2016 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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March 2016 – A Temporary Change Of Direction

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A couple of months (and posts) ago, I mused on the other key elements of a guitarist’s arsenal, amplifiers and effects. While often regarded as 2nd class citizens of the vintage signal chain, they are, however, both essential items as well as intensely personal in terms of shaping musicians’ individual sound signatures. Being fortunate enough to have a number of Cool & Rare Vintage Electric Guitars, it made some sense to explore these other gems that contributed to modern music as we know it.

The first step was to ditch modern transistor amps and acquire a solid, reliable (but small) vintage amp. The early ’70s Music Man 210 ‘sixty five’ (click here to see the amp feature…) designed by Leo Fender was the first of these, and what a great addition this was.

Then, because of a recent change in personal circumstances, I took a strategic decision to stop looking at the pricier (for me) end of the market and start re-exploring the landscape of vintage effect pedals. I have a number of original ’70s Electro-Harmonix (EHX) American stomp boxes, although these are (sadly) in storage at the moment. I also have a range of modern BOSS and Line 6 pedals which, when I started thinking about it, just didn’t get me excited. Don’t get me wrong, they are great pieces of electronics. However, they didn’t inspire my playing in the way I thought they should. So… unless there isn’t a vintage equivalent, I think that they are now going to have to go the same way as modern amps. My first dalliance with vintage effects has resulted in a number of interesting little effect pedals. I have to say that this may be dangerous territory and I might be opening another Pandora’s Box of addiction for me.

The first area to explore was the sonic continuum from compression to add clean sustain at one end to absurdly dirty fuzz at the other extreme. As far as effect pedals are concerned, the top Japanese brands like BOSS and Ibanez deserve as much respect as their American counterparts like EHX and MXR. I therefore make little distinction, as long as they are both vintage and classic (and good!). Recent additions include (in order from serenely subtle, through sensuously sublime, to seriously psychotic):

  • 1980 MXR Dyna Comp Compressor
  • 1980 BOSS CS-1 Compression Sustainer
  • 1980 BOSS OD-1 Over Drive
  • 1988 Pro Co Rat Distortion
  • 1978 Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff π (fuzz)
Vintage Effects x 5

I won’t repeat myself here, other than to say these diminutive boxes provide an infinite range of tonal possibilities (Click here to see features on all these classic pedals…). This is just the start. Over the next few months, I will try to add to the above and also, hopefully, retrieve my original EHX pedals. I have also started looking at the other families of effects, the time delay-based warbles of phasers, choruses, flangers and echoes, as well as other oddball sound manglers such as envelope followers, ring modulators and pitch shifters. When I started looking, I couldn’t believe the prices of some vintage pedals, original Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamers for instance or Roland Space Echoes (OK, the latter is strictly not a pedal but you know what I mean). Even battered and beaten examples can go for eye-watering sums. I am just (re-)learning all about this stuff, so it will take a time to get re-acquainted with the nuances.

By the way, I haven’t completely resisted the temptation of vintage guitars. I have been ‘naughty’ and continued to dabble in my 6-string obsession with some diverse acquisitions. I hope to be reprising these in another ‘What’s New at CRAVE Gutiars’ post soon. Generally speaking though, guitars will have to take a back seat for a while, so I may go on about ‘Amplifiers and Effects’ for a while yet. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Music doesn’t provide answers to life’s complications but it does provide solace for the soul when the questions are asked.”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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