July 2020 – More Whazzup at CRAVE Guitars

Prelude

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

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

What are we actually talking about here?

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

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

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

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

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

Where they went and how they returned

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

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

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

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

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

Repatriation Guitar Cases

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

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

General Condition

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

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

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

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

1984 Gibson Explorer

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

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

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

Playability

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

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

1983 Gibson Corvus

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

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

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

General TLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1965 Fender Duo-Sonic II

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

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

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

Remedial Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

1975 Gibson Les Paul Standard

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

Parts and Accessories

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

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

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

1977 Fender Stratocaster

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

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

Documentation and Photographs

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

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

CRAVE Guitars – Database

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

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

The one I couldn’t put down

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

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

1965 Fender Jazzmaster

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

What next?

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

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

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

1967 Gibson Melody Maker SG

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

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

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

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

Help Needed

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

Learning points

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

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

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

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

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

Tailpiece

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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January 2020 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part X

Introduction

Well, here we are once again. Welcome to 2020 one and all – a new year and a new decade, well, sort of. After the temporary intermission last month for the obligatory 2019 end‑of‑year roundup, we’re back on the trail ‘History of Modern Music…’ Cast your mind back for a moment. In more than one way, 1650 and the end of the Renaissance, where this story began seems a long, long time ago now. It struck me during the brief interlude just what a conceivably Sisyphean labour it has become, and there is still quite a bit of fun and games to be played out. Getting straight back into the proverbial saddle, Part X of the story is now rounding up the stragglers from the 20th Century and riding into the dawn of the new millennium with all its first world promises and disappointments.

If you would like to (re)visit the first 9 parts (and 350 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Right, now the prelude is over, let’s get into the groove of the shiny new millennium, starting at 2000 and finishing this month at the end of 2009…

The Story of Modern Music Part X 2000-2009

Without the benefit of lengthy hindsight, the question is, how best to describe early 21st Century music? Arguably, the most notable trend of the noughties was the rise in popularity of indie music standing proud and in stark contrast to the seemingly indomitable, yet strangely bland, soulless and non‑descript merchandise of the commercial pop music industry.

Sadly, time and circumstances resulted in many prominent departures during the decade, adding a touch of pathos among the many achievements. While lost to us, at least we still have their music to appreciate.

In the absence of any particularly significant defining characteristics, perhaps it is best to let the facts speak for themselves. Before we get there, though, it is important to set the turbulent global context within which the musical styles of the new age progressed. Although shorter in content than previous decades, the ‘noughties’, and consequently, the ‘teenies’, will still get their own discrete article.

Historical Context 2000-2009

The opening decade of the 2000s has many popular names, one of which is simply, ‘the noughties’. The widely recognised formal name for the first decade of a new century is the less common, ‘the aughts’. Despite the unbridled optimism for the new millennium, the ‘00s heralded a fractious decade during which terrorism and the rise of dangerous radical Islamic ideologies would dominate international relations and drive brutal armed conflict in many territories. An unsustainable rise in living standards and avaricious materialism during the first half of the decade precipitated another inevitable major ‘boom and bust’ event fuelled by rabid financial mismanagement and, ultimately, greed. The result was the most devastating global recession to hit ordinary people since the 1930s in terms of both impact and longevity. Depression drove increasingly profound social, health and wealth divisions between the richest few percent and the vast majority. The digital revolution boomed and the unbridled growth of the Internet facilitated the promise of global democratisation of knowledge and information, while also enabling massive levels of ‘social’ drivel and inanity. There was a continued expansion in environmental lobbying and ‘green’ industries aiming to tackle the impending and still controversial threat of the ‘greenhouse effect’ on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Year

Global Events

2000

An Air France Concorde airliner crashed shortly after take‑off in France, killing 113 people, leading to the suspension of the fleet and effectively ending the era of supersonic passenger flights.

 

The first stage of the world’s largest collaborative biological project, the Human Genome Project was completed, documenting an initial rough draft of the base pairs that make up human DNA.

2001

Republican politician George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the U.S.A. Bush Junior was the son of George H.W. Bush who was the 41st president.

 

Members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked and crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City. A third plane was crashed into the U.S. Department of Defense HQ, the Pentagon in Virginia. A fourth aircraft crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers overpowered the hijackers. The co‑ordinated attacks of 9/11 killed almost 3,000 people.

 

America, supported by its allies, invaded Afghanistan following the unprecedented 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.A. with the intention of dismantling the threat of Islamic terrorist organisation al‑Qaeda at its source.

2002

The Euro was officially introduced in the Eurozone countries, after which the former currencies of those countries ceased to be legal tender.

 

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother of the UK monarchy and the wife of King George VI, died. Her funeral took place at Westminster Abbey in London.

 

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS CoV) outbreak emanated in southern China and the subsequent epidemic caused a global public health crisis.

2003

America and Britain, supported by allies, invaded Iraq to remove the threat of alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to depose the country’s dictator and head of state, Saddam Hussain.

 

The first successful global social networking website, Myspace was founded by Americans Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, based in Beverly Hills, California. Myspace was overtaken in popularity by rival Facebook in 2008 and, while still in existence, usage has declined significantly.

 

American Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re‑entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

2004

The global Internet‑based social media networking web site Facebook was created by American entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, based in Menlo Park, California. Facebook has approximately 2.5billion active users.

 

The European Union (EU) expanded by 10 new member states – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus.

 

A massive 9.3 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra killed over 200,000 people.

 

The tallest skyscraper in the world, Taipei 101, at a height of 1,670 feet (510m) opened in Taipei, Taiwan. It was overtaken by the completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010.

2005

The video sharing web site, YouTube was launched. The platform was created by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, based in San Bruno, California. YouTube is currently owned by technology giant, Google.

 

Polish head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City, Pope John Paul II died. He was succeeded by German national, Pope Benedict XVI.

 

Category 5 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A., killing over 1,800 people and causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

2006

Indian Islamic terrorists detonated seven bombs on trains in the city of Mumbai, India, killing more than 200 people.

 

Discovered in 1930, Pluto was demoted from planet status and was re‑designated the largest known dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt. Caltech researcher Mike Brown led the team that led to the declassification.

 

Former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was tried and convicted by an Iraqi Special Tribunal and was executed by hanging for crimes against humanity.

2007

Three-year old English girl Madeleine McCann disappeared from the holiday resort of Praia da Luz in the Algarve region of Portugal. She remains missing despite massive media coverage.

 

Technology giant Apple Inc. launched the game‑changing touch screen mobile telephone, the iPhone.

 

The Global Financial Crisis began, caused by poor regulation resulted in the failure of a number of large financial and banking institutions. The severe worldwide economic downturn, known as the Great Recession, was the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The economic impact of the slump lasted for more than a decade.

2008

In physics, the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator used to detect the presence of sub‑atomic particles was completed by CERN near Geneva in Switzerland. The pioneering science project became fully operational in 2010.

 

Pakistani Islamic terrorists carried out a series of 12 attacks over 4 days in Mumbai, India, killing almost 175 people.

2009

The decentralised digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin was established by pseudonymous Japanese creator Satoshi Nakamoto.

 

Democrat politician Barack Obama became the 44th president of the U.S.A. and was the first African‑American to be elected to the presidency.

Musical Genre Development 2000-2009

The pop music machine sustained commercial success well into the 21st Century. Large record companies continued to focus resources on the lucrative tween and teen audiences with artists such as Avril Lavigne, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Usher, P!nk, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Also popular were manufactured groups such as Destiny’s Child, Sugababes, Pussycat Dolls, One Direction, 5 Seconds Of Summer and Little Mix. Country music saw another revival with artists like Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood achieving notable success. Soul (nu‑soul) also saw a resurgence of interest, including performers like Joss Stone, Natasha Bedingfield, Corinne Bailey Rae, Estelle, Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy. Hip‑hop broadened out into contemporary R&B and claimed the resurgent urban music territory with artists such as Jay‑Z, Kanye West, Ludacris and 50 Cent building on the popularity of Dr Dre, Eminem and N.W.A.

Indie (rock) music had its origins in the 1970s as a ‘catch‑all’ umbrella term for artists who produced music through independent record labels rather than the large record companies and their subsidiaries. A new breed of bands began to emerge, aided by Internet exposure, coalescing into the indie rock movement on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Emerging rock bands came into their own and reasserted their independence through a rejection of (and by) the structured studio system. One constant characteristic of indie music is the rejuvenated dominance of the electric guitar within a band format. Indie music originated from the punk, alternative and grunge genres of previous decades and represents a very diverse range of musical approaches including dream pop, shoegaze, indie pop, indie dance, garage rock, indietronica, chillwave, hypnagogic pop, lo‑fi, etc. To reflect this diversity, there is a long list of indie artists from varying sub‑genres to give an indication of its broad appeal, including (in no particular order); My Bloody Valentine, Arctic Monkeys, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Eels, Low, The Zutons, Interpol, Charlatans, Slowdive, Ride, Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, The Vines, Snow Patrol, Keane, Pavement, Spiritualized, Blood Red Shoes, The Cribs, Sleater‑Kinney, The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, Razorlight, Editors, Kasabian, Kings Of Leon, LCD Soundsystem, Crystal Castles, Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Paramore, Belle & Sebastian, The Shins, The Kooks, The Killers, The Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Black Keys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Modest Mouse, Ariel Pink, My Chemical Romance, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, White Lies, Two Door Cinema Club and War On Drugs amongst many others. The sheer volume of artists and material led to the term ‘indie landfill’ used to describe generic and derivative music exploiting indie music credentials.

Musical Facts 2000-2009

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

6

March

2000

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2000’ including Eric Clapton, Earth Wind & Fire, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Billie Holiday and Scotty Moore.

27

March

2000

English punk singer, songwriter and poet, Ian Dury died from cancer in London at the age of 57.

23

May

2000

American hip hop artist Eminem released his classic 3nd studio album, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’.

20

June

2000

American blues/rock duo The White Stripes released their 2nd studio album, ‘De Stijl’.

2

October

2000

English alternative rock band Radiohead changed stylistic direction when they released their 4th studio album, ‘Kid A’.

9

October

2000

English alternative rock band Placebo released their 3rd studio album, ‘Black Market Music’.

5

December

2000

American political rap rock band, Rage Against The Machine released their 4th and, to‑date, final studio album, ‘Renegades’.

8

December

2000

English bass guitarist, singer, songwriter and former member of rock band The Police, Sting received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard.

18

December

2000

English singer and songwriter Kirsty MacColl was killed tragically in a boating incident while on holiday in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico at the age of 41.

20

December

2000

Long-running UK music magazine ‘Melody Maker’ published its final issue. It had run for over 74 years since January 1926. Melody Maker was merged with rival music paper, New Musical Express (NME).

6

March

2001

Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley received a posthumous Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

19

March

2001

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2001’ including Aerosmith, Solomon Burke, the Flamingos, Michael Jackson, Queen, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Ritchie Valens and James Burton.

20

March

2001

Renowned Northern Irish blues/rock guitarist, Gary Moore released his classic 15th studio album, ‘Back To The Blues’ in the UK.

2

April

2001

German industrial heavy metal rock band Rammstein released their top-selling 3rd studio album, ‘Mutter’ (translated as Mother).

3

April

2001

American indie rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released their debut studio album, ‘B.R.M.C.’.

10

April

2001

Indie rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their 11th studio album, ‘No More Shall We Part’.

4

June

2001

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Amnesiac’ in the UK.

18

June

2001

English alternative rock band Muse released their breakout 2nd studio album, ‘Origin of Symmetry’.

30

June

2001

American guitarist, nicknamed the ‘Country Gentleman’, Chet Atkins died from cancer at his home in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 77.

3

July

2001

American blues/rock duo The White Stripes released their 3rd studio album, ‘White Blood Cells’.

18

July

2001

American hard rock band KISS introduced a unique, if somewhat sinister, item of brand merchandise, a burial coffin humorously known as the ‘KISS Kasket’.

27

July

2001

American bass guitarist with southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leon Wilkeson died of chronic liver and lung disease in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida at the age of 49.

30

July

2001

Emerging American indie rock band The Strokes released their classic debut album, ‘Is This It’.

18

September

2001

American alternative/indie rock band Wilco released their classic 4th studio album, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’.

23

October

2001

American technology giant Apple Inc. introduced the first iPod solid state portable media player, linked to the iTunes media storage library.

29

November

2001

English former member of The Beatles, George Harrison died of cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 58.

16

December

2001

Scottish guitarist and singer with punk rock band Skids and then Big Country, Stuart Adamson committed suicide in Honolulu, Hawaii at the age of 43.

5

March

2002

MTV broadcast the first episode of their reality TV show ‘The Osbournes’, featuring a portrayal of the Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne’s family life.

18

March

2002

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2002’ including Isaac Hayes, Brenda Lee, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Gene Pitney, Ramones, Talking Heads and Chet Atkins.

26

March

2002

British heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their massive live concert album, ‘Rock In Rio’.

12

April

2002

English heavy metal singer with Black Sabbath and TV reality show celebrity, Ozzy Osbourne received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6780 Hollywood Boulevard.

14

May

2002

Award-winning American singer, songwriter, guitarist, electronica musician and producer Moby released his commercially successful 6th studio album, ‘18’.

5

June

2002

American bass guitarist Dee Dee Ramone of punk rock band Ramones died from a heroin drug overdose at his home in Hollywood, California at the age of 50.

27

June

2002

English bass guitarist with rock band The Who, John Entwistle, nicknamed ‘The Ox’, died of a cocaine‑related heart attack in a Hard Rock hotel room in Paradise, Nevada at the age of 57.

27

August

2002

American rock band Queens Of The Stone Age released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘Songs For The Deaf’.

24

September

2002

American alternative rock artist, Beck released his introspective and highly underrated 8th studio album, ‘Sea Change’.

14

October

2002

English indie rock band The Libertines released their successful debut studio album, ‘Up The Bracket’.

18

October

2002

English pop/rock band Queen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6356 Hollywood Boulevard.

27

October

2002

Highly renowned American record producer who worked for Atlantic Records, Tom Dowd died of emphysema in Aventura, Florida at the age of 77.

3

November

2002

Scottish singer and guitarist, crowned the ‘King of Skiffle’, Lonnie Donegan died of a heart attack in Market Deeping, Lincolnshire at the age of 71.

22

December

2002

English singer, songwriter and guitarist, Joe Strummer of punk rock band The Clash died from a congenital heart defect at his home in Somerset, UK at the age of 50.

30

December

2002

The funeral of English guitarist, singer and songwriter with punk rock band The Clash, Joe Strummer took place in London, UK.

3

February

2003

Famous American ‘wall of sound’ record producer, Phil Spector murdered actress Lana Clarkson in his California Alhambra mansion.

10

February

2003

English trip-hop group, Massive Attack released their underrated 4th studio album, ‘100th Window’ in the UK.

10

March

2003

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2003’ including AC/DC, The Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Police, The Righteous Brothers and Floyd Cramer.

1

April

2003

American blues/rock duo The White Stripes released their highly regarded 4th studio album, ‘Elephant’.

1

April

2003

English alternative rock band Placebo released their 4th studio album, ‘Sleeping With Ghosts’.

18

April

2003

Legendary American blues/R&B, soul and jazz singer Etta James received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

11

May

2003

English bass guitarist with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Noel Redding died of liver disease in Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland at the age of 57.

15

May

2003

American country music singer and wife of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash died following heart surgery in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 73.

30

May

2003

Successful English record producer behind many massive chart hits, Mickie Most died from abdominal cancer at his home in London at the age of 64.

9

June

2003

Acclaimed English alternative rock band Radiohead released their 6th studio album, ‘Hail To The Thief’.

13

June

2003

English guitarist, singer, songwriter and former member of progressive rock band Pink Floyd, David Gilmour was awarded a CBE by Her Majesty the Queen.

30

July

2003

Legendary American record producer Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records and the man responsible for signing Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, died of respiratory failure in Memphis Tennessee at the age of 80.

25

August

2003

American indie rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released their 2nd studio album, ‘Take Them On, On Your Own’.

12

September

2003

Less than 4 months after his wife passed away, American country legend Johnny Cash died of complications caused by diabetes in Nashville at the age of 71.

26

September

2003

English singer, songwriter, musician, solo artist and former member of the pop rock band Power Station, Robert Palmer died of a heart attack in a hotel room in Paris, France at the age of 54.

29

September

2003

English alternative rock band Muse released their successful 3nd studio album, ‘Absolution’.

12

December

2003

English singer and songwriter with The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger received a knighthood from HRH Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace.

9

February

2004

English indie rock band Franz Ferdinand released their successful debut studio album, the self-titled ‘Franz Ferdinand’.

15

March

2004

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2004’ including Jackson Browne, George Harrison, Prince, Bob Seger, Traffic and ZZ Top.

6

May

2004

American virtuoso jazz guitarist and session musician with The Wrecking Crew, Barney Kessel died from a brain tumour at his home in San Diego, California at the age of 80.

10

June

2004

American singer, songwriter, musician, and composer Ray Charles died from complications as a result of acute liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 73.

15

June

2004

Emerging American rock band The Killers released their hugely successful debut studio album, ‘Hot Fuss’.

23

June

2004

American folk/rock singer, songwriter and guitarist, Bob Dylan was made ‘Doctor of Music’ at St. Andrews University in Scotland, UK.

24

June

2004

Exactly 5 years after his first sale, English blues/rock guitarist, Eric Clapton auctioned many of his guitars in New York City. Together, the two auctions raised $11 million for the Crossroads Centre he founded in Antigua, a residential treatment centre for alcohol and chemical dependencies.

21

July

2004

American music composer, Jerry Goldsmith, famous for his many TV and film scores, died from cancer in Beverley Hills, California at the age of 75.

30

August

2004

English indie rock band The Libertines released their successful eponymous 2nd studio album, ‘The Libertines’.

6

September

2004

English indie rock band Kasabian released their classic self-titled debut studio album, ‘Kasabian’.

9

September

2004

Successful American guitar and musical equipment entrepreneur and businessman, Ernie Ball died in San Luis Obispo, California at the age of 74.

15

September

2004

American guitarist and songwriter with punk rock band Ramones, Johnny Ramone died of prostate cancer at his home in Los Angeles, California at the age of 56.

20

September

2004

Indie/alternative rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their epic 13th double studio album, ‘Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus’.

21

September

2004

American post-punk rock band Green Day released their top-selling 7th studio album, ‘American Idiot’ in the U.S.

27

September

2004

German industrial heavy metal band Rammstein released their 4th studio album, ‘Reise, Reise’ (roughly translated as ‘Arise, Arise’).

25

October

2004

Highly acclaimed English DJ and BBC radio presenter, John Peel died from a heart attack while working on holiday in Cusco, Peru at the age of 65.

1

November

2004

American rock band Kings of Leon released their commercially successful 4th studio album, ‘Only By The Night’ in the UK (22 February 2005 in the US).

3

November

2004

English blues/rock guitarist, singer and songwriter, Eric Clapton received a CBE from the Princess Royal at Buckingham Palace in London for his services to music.

8

December

2004

American guitarist, ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott, co-founder of heavy metal bands Pantera and Damageplan was murdered while performing on stage in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 38.

14

December

2004

The funeral of American guitarist with heavy rock bands Pantera and Damageplan, ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott, took place in Arlington, Texas.

10

February

2005

English singer with The Who, Roger Daltrey was awarded a CBE by HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace.

14

March

2005

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2005’ including Buddy Guy, The O’Jays, The Pretenders, Percy Sledge and U2.

22

March

2005

American alternative rock band Queens Of The Stone Age released their 4th studio album ‘Lullabies to Paralyze’.

11

June

2005

Two English rock guitarists were rewarded for their contributions to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was awarded an OBE and Brian May of Queen a CBE.

22

August

2005

American indie rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released their 3rd studio album, ‘Howl’.

30

August

2005

American indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie released their 5th studio album, ‘Plans’.

1

September

2005

American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist R.L. Burnside died of heart disease in a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 78.

4

September

2005

The major feature film chronicling the life of country legend Johnny Cash, ‘Walk The Line’, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, directed by James Mangold, was released in the USA.

10

September

2005

American guitarist and Blues Hall of Famer, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown died from cancer in Orange, Texas at the age of 81.

5

November

2005

Influential American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Link Wray died of heart failure at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark at the age of 76.

23

January

2006

English indie rock sensation, Arctic Monkeys released their debut studio album, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’.

13

March

2006

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2006’ including Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sex Pistols and Herb Alpert.

7

July

2006

English guitarist, songwriter and founder of progressive rock band Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Cambridge at the age of 60.

25

July

2005

British indie rock band Editors released their debut studio album, ‘The Back Room’ in the UK.

30

July

2006

Popular weekly UK music chart TV programme ‘Top Of The Pops’ (TOTP) was broadcast by the BBC for the final time, after running for 42 years.

28

August

2006

English indie rock band Kasabian released their classic 2nd studio album, ‘Empire’.

15

October

2006

After American singer Patti Smith finished her live set at New York City’s famous punk rock music venue CBGB & OMFUG, the club finally closed its doors for good, following a rent dispute and thereby ending an era.

25

December

2006

Legendary American singer and the ‘Godfather of Soul’, James Brown died of pneumonia in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of 73.

28

February

2007

American rock band The Doors received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard.

12

March

2007

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2007’ including Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, R.E.M., The Ronettes, Patti Smith and Van Halen.

23

April

2007

English indie rock band, Arctic Monkeys released their sophomore studio album, ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’.

25

June

2007

British indie rock band Editors released their sophomore studio album, ‘An End Has a Start’.

5

November

2007

English downtempo artist William Emmanuel Bevan (a.k.a. Burial) released his melancholic genre breaking 2nd studio album, ‘Untrue’.

12

December

2007

Controversial American rock ‘n’ roll and R&B pioneer, Ike Turner died from a cocaine overdose at his home in San Marcos, California at the age of 76.

2

March

2008

Extraordinary blind Canadian blues/rock guitarist Jeff Healey died from lung cancer in Toronto at the age of 41.

10

March

2008

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2008’ including Leonard Cohen, The Dave Clark Five, Madonna, John Mellencamp, The Ventures and Little Walter.

1

April

2008

American blues/rock duo The Black Keys released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Attack & Release’.

3

April

2008

American media and technology giant Apple Inc. became the top seller of recorded music in the USA.

19

April

2008

The annual global campaign to promote the importance of independent music stores ‘Record Store Day’ began in California, USA.

28

April

2008

English trip-hop band, Portishead released their 3rd studio album, the originally titled, ‘Third’.

12

May

2008

American indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie released their 6th studio album, ‘Narrow Stairs’.

26

May

2008

English indie rock band Spiritualized released their 6th studio album, ‘Songs In A&E’.

2

June

2008

Legendary American blues and rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Bo Diddley died from heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida at the age of 79.

7

June

2008

The ‘homecoming’ funeral of American blues guitarist and singer Bo Diddley took place in Gainseville Florida.

19

June

2008

American indie rock band The War On Drugs released their debut studio album, ‘Wagonwheel Blues’.

10

August

2008

Acclaimed American soul singer, songwriter, producer and actor, Isaac Hayes died of a stroke at his home in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 65.

19

September

2008

American rock band Kings of Leon released their commercially successful 4th studio album, ‘Only By The Night’.

10

October

2008

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their 7th studio album, ‘In Rainbows’ in the UK.

24

November

2008

Experimental virtuoso English rock guitarist, Jeff Beck released his highly acclaimed live concert album, ‘Performing This Week… Live At Ronnie Scott’s’.

15

December

2008

Hugely influential English folk acoustic guitarist Davey Graham died of lung cancer at the age of 68.

6

January

2009

American guitarist and songwriter with The Stooges and Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton died of a heart attack at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the age of 60.

29

January

2009

Influential British singer, songwriter and guitarist, John Martyn died from pneumonia in Kilkenny, Ireland at the age of 60.

23

February

2009

English rave band The Prodigy released their resurgent 5th studio album, ‘Invaders Must Die’.

4

April

2009

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2009’ including Jeff Beck, Metallica, Run‑D.M.C., Bobby Womack, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana.

13

April

2009

Controversial American record producer Phil Spector was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson at his Alhambra mansion in California in February 2003.

14

April

2009

English former member of The Beatles, George Harrison received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

29

May

2009

Notorious American record producer, Phil Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison for murdering actress Lana Clarkson at his California mansion in 2003.

5

June

2009

English indie rock band Kasabian released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’.

25

June

2009

American superstar singer Michael Jackson died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California at the age of 50.

12

August

2009

Legendary American jazz guitarist, singer, inventor and recording innovator, Les Paul, died from pneumonia in White Plains, New York at the age of 94.

19

August

2009

English indie rock band, Arctic Monkeys released their 3rd studio album, ‘Humbug’.

12

October

2009

British indie rock band Editors released their 3rd studio album, ‘In This Light And On This Evening’.

Tailpiece

Help! We are running out of decades from which to poach pertinent and poignant particulars (pardon the flowery alliteration). Just one more decade and a few hundred facts to be revealed before the chronological timeline has to remain as‑yet‑unwritten for another epoch. The next instalment looking at the 2010s will, by definition, bring us pretty much up‑to‑date. I hope you feel inclined to re-join me in the next enthralling part of the journey.

In the meantime, warmer days and longer evenings of spring beckon. There are plenty of guitars to be played and much music to be listened to. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “It really doesn’t matter what music you play, as long as you play”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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May 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part III

Introduction

Well, my, my, my… Here we are back again with spring just about to morph into balmy summer. I can’t believe that we are nearly half way through the last year of the 2010s already.

This means that we are now well into this year’s major music project with article number three of, well, who knows how many at the moment. Such a venture needs breaking down into digestible chunks or it would be colossal as just one bite at the proverbial cherry. The source data is immense, yet still only manages to brush the surface of a monumental subject matter. As always, if there are errors or omissions that I should consider including retrospectively, let me know via e‑mail or the web site’s contact form.

If you would like to pop in and (re)visit the first two parts of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

The Story of Modern Music Part III 1920-1939

This month, we start at the beginning of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and finish at the end of the ‘Dirty Thirties’ (the latter being a moniker apparently associated with the Dustbowl era rather than something inherently naughty – apologies for that!).

The world had never seen decades like these and hasn’t since. As such, they exhibit polar opposites in human endeavour. These twenty years stand a testimonial to the rapid progress of civilisation while also as a condemnation of the self‑destructive stupidity of the human condition. Hindsight, as ‘they’ say is a wonderful thing, so perhaps we should learn something profound from an examination of our collective past and build a better future for mankind. However, I digress…

This brings us to the format of this article, which follows the same tripartite structure for each 10‑year span as last month. Each decade is given a broad historical context outlining the sorts of global events – good and bad – that occurred, followed by examples of how music genres emerged and changed over the period and, finally, the whole point of this series, some music facts associated with the same years. As a whole, it hopefully provides an interesting insight into what went on. Here we go…

One noticeable trait that comes through strongly this month is the number of births occurring in the 1920s and 1930s of people who would go on to be significant musical icons in the 1950s and thereafter. This means that this month’s ‘facts’ are setting the foundation for future articles, while later ones will see a shift to the other, and rather more mortal, end of their illustrious lifetimes.

Historical Context 1920-1929

The 1920s was a paradigm shift in global affairs. The ‘Roaring Twenties’ and were characterised by post‑WWI optimism, individualism, industrial and economic growth, as well as social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. However, underlying the positivity was an omnipresent political paranoia, fuelled by conspiracy and corruption that stood a portent of the looming storm clouds that were gathering. The rise of radical political doctrines including communism and fascism would ultimately lead to further international conflict. Women were experiencing greater emancipation as a result of the suffragette movement, paving the way for later equalities movements.

Year

Global Events

1920

The United States introduced national legislation to ban the production, transport and sale of alcohol, widely known as the prohibition.

1921

The Irish Revolution led to the partitioning of Ireland into Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom and the South, which is now the Republic of Ireland.

1922

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was created and existed until c.1991 when the political confederation collapsed.

Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician Joseph Stalin became leader, and later dictator, of the USSR.

Danish physicist and philosopher Niels Bohr won the Nobel Prize for his work on atomic structure and quantum theory.

Fascist leader Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister in Italy and proceeded to seize power as dictator espousing an ideology of ‘revolutionary nationalism’.

1923

Egyptian pharaoh King Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened by British archaeologist Howard Carter.

The first Le Mans 24 Hours Grand Prix of Endurance motor race took place in France. It remains the world’s oldest endurance sports car racing event.

1924

The first international Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France.

1925

Author Franz Kafka wrote the novel, ‘The Trial’, the same year that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’.

The first successful black & white television transmission was made by Scottish engineer John Logie Baird in the UK, with the first public demonstration the following year.

1926

The first General Strike took place in Britain after the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called for widespread industrial action to support miners who were locked out by owners demanding longer hours for less pay.

The famous U.S. Route 66 highway from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California was opened, with a total length of 2,448 miles (3,940 km).

1927

Aviator Charles Lindburgh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in his plane The Spirit of St. Louis.

The sprawling epic dystopian science fiction silent film, ‘Metropolis’, directed by Fritz Lang was released.

Russian/American singer and actor Al Jolson starred in the first commercial feature length ‘talkie’ film, ‘The Jazz Singer’.

1928

Scottish biologist, Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the anti‑biotic penicillin, which would go on to revolutionise modern medicine.

American animator Walt Disney introduced Mickey Mouse to the public in the short film, ‘Steamboat Willie’.

Republican politician Herbert Hoover became the 31st president of the United States of America.

1929

Notorious gangster Al Capone allegedly carried out the brutal Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 7 members of the North Side Gang in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois.

American astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the universe is expanding.

The Vatican City became an independent and sovereign state located within Rome, Italy.

The U.S. Stock Market collapsed, known widely as the Wall Street Crash, precipitating the worldwide Great Depression that lasted until the late 1930s.

Musical Genre Development 1920-1929

Blues and jazz continued to be popular during the 1920s, the latter sparking the ‘jazzmania’ craze. These twin pillars of modern musical culture also began to spawn new genre styles and to influence a diverse range of musical expression. Record, radio and film companies started to search out new artists and music to bring to a wider audience. It was in 1925 that the electrical recording and the 78rpm vinyl record became standard, the same year that television began, thereby opening up a whole new market for musicians.

In the 1920s, two separate musical forms emerged from Louisiana in the deep south of the United States, cajun and zydeco. The Cajuns were French colonists, called Acadians, from North Eastern America (Canada and Nova Scotia) who migrated to Louisiana in the late 18th Century, bringing with them Cajun musical traditions. The creole were people descended from the inhabitants of French colonial Louisiana and who developed their own distinct musical style called zydeco. Although often regarded as similar, the two forms developed in parallel and have different cultural origins and styles. Cajun music is often played on accordion and fiddle, while zydeco is usually played on accordion and washboard. Both forms became popular outside insular local communities from the late 1920s when early recordings became available. Stylistic origins derived from blues, jazz, spirituals, traditional folk and country music, as well as regional influences from Europe, Africa, indigenous Americans and the Caribbean. Both cajun and zydeco are often used as dance music, including two‑steps and waltzes. Cajun and zydeco, in turn, influenced other forms of American roots music.

From the 1880s, musical theatre such as vaudeville and burlesque were common and very popular. From around 1920, commercial theatrical Broadway musicals originated in New York and London, becoming widespread and attracting big audiences before ‘talkie’ cinema movies began to adopt musical storytelling as a reflection of popular culture. Successful composers of the time included George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Prior to the 1920s most music distribution was by way of sheet music, piano rolls or live performance. It was during the 1920s that recording and distribution of popular music really took off, giving audiences much greater access to a wide range of music. However, the gramophone had strong competition from the proliferation of wireless radio and commercial radio stations during the 1920s, as well as motion pictures. In 1927, the first commercial feature length film to incorporate synchronised music, singing and speech, ‘The Jazz Singer’, starring Al Jolson was released. Broadway musicals reached their zenith in the 1940s with hits such as Oklahoma (1943). The convergence and crossover between Broadway and cinema musicals became a major launch pad for musical dissemination into the 1950s and beyond, including the development of soundtrack compositions for film and, later, television.

Country music was another genre that emerged from the Appalachian Mountain region of southern and eastern America during the 1920s, particularly in Tennessee but also Oklahoma and Texas. The roots of country music came largely from traditional genres such as folk, blues, hillbilly and western music, and was heavily influenced by Irish, English and wider European immigrants to the American east and south. Early popular country music, including cowboy songs, were often regarded as the music of the American rural working classes. Popular establishments for hillbilly music were the rowdy honky‑tonk bars of the period. Country music comprised of song ballads and dances normally constructed from simple arrangements, lyrics that told a story, and vocal harmonies. In addition country music accompaniment was usually provided by an array of acoustic string instruments such as banjos, guitars and fiddles as well as harmonicas and Jews harps. Early pioneers of country music included Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, followed by other famous artists such as Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Country music is a massive commercial industry, now largely centred on Nashville, Tennessee. Country music is a diverse musical form of expression and continues to evolve, having seen several resurgences of popularity since its early heyday.

Musical Facts 1920-1929

Bert Weedon

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

10

May

1920

English guitarist and a guide for millions of fledgling guitarists the world over, Bert Weedon OBE (1920-2012, 91) was born in London.

29

August

1920

Legendary American jazz/bebop saxophonist and composer, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker Jr. was born in Kansas City, Kansas.

7

June

1921

Virtuoso American jazz guitarist, Tal Farlow (1921-1998, 77) was born in Greensboro, North Carolina.

4

August

1921

Influential and highly renowned American jazz guitarist Herb Ellis (1921-2010, 88) was born in Farmersville, Texas.

7

August

1921

French virtuoso gypsy flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata (1921-2014, 93) was born in Sète.

3

April

1922

American singer and Hollywood actress Doris Day was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

22

April

1922

Hugely influential American jazz double bass player and bandleader Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona.

10

June

1922

Famous American actress, singer and dancer Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

5

January

1923

Legendary American producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips was born in Florence, Alabama. Phillips signed artists including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

6

March

1923

Legendary and hugely influential American jazz guitarist, Wes Montgomery (1923-1968, 45) was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.

25

April

1923

Legendary guitarist and one of the ‘Three ‘Kings’ of blues guitar, the one and only Albert King (1923-1992, 69) was born in Indianola, Mississippi.

29

July

1923

One of the world’s great innovators in modern music, nicknamed ‘The Father Of Loud’, Dr Jim Marshall OBE (1923-2012, 88), founder of Marshall Amplification PLC, was born in London.

17

October

1923

Great American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel (1923-2004, 80) was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

27

March

1924

Highly acclaimed Grammy award winning American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey.

18

April

1924

American blues rock guitarist, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown (1924-2005, 81) was born in Vinton, Louisiana.

20

June

1924

Great American country guitarist and producer who established the Nashville sound, nicknamed ‘The Country Gentleman’ and ‘Mr. Guitar’, Chet Atkins (1924-2001, 77) was born in Luttrell, Tennessee.

6

July

1925

American guitarist, singer and Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer Bill Haley (1925-1981, 55) was born in Highland Park, Michigan.

15

August

1925

Virtuoso Canadian jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson was born in Montreal, Quebec.

6

September

1925

American electric blues guitarist and Hall of Famer, Jimmy Reed (1925-1976, 50) was born in Dunleith, Mississippi.

16

September

1925

Legendary American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer supreme, one of the ‘Three ‘Kings’ of blues guitar, Mr BB King (1925-2015, 89) was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi.

28

November

1925

The famous country music institution, the Grand Ole Opry was founded in Nashville, Tennessee by George D. Hay to promote country music and showcase its history.

8

December

1925

American singer, musician, dancer, actor, vaudevillian and comedian Sammy Davis Jr. was born in Harlem, New York.

2

January

1926

The first edition of the monthly popular music magazine ‘Melody Maker’ was published in the UK, priced at just 3 pence. It ran for over 74 years until 2000.

3

January

1926

English record producer, composer and conductor, Sir George Martin was born in London. He was well known for his pioneering collaboration with The Beatles.

26

April

1926

Hugely influential American blues guitarist J.B. Hutto (1926‑1983, 57) was born in Blackville, South Carolina.

26

May

1926

Legendary and hugely influential American jazz trumpeter and composer, Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois.

17

September

1926

American bass guitarist who played with Elvis Presley in the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll years, Bill Black (1926-1965, 39) was born in Memphis, Tennessee.

18

October

1926

Hugely influential pioneering American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, singer and songwriter, the legendary Chuck Berry (1926‑2016, 90) was born in St. Louis, Missouri.

23

November

1926

Underrated American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, the inimitable R.L. Burnside (1926-2005, 78) was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi.

10

December

1926

Pioneering New Orleans blues guitarist, Guitar Slim (real name, Eddie Jones, 1926-1959, 32) was born in Greenwood, Mississippi.

28

January

1927

English jazz saxophonist and founder of the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club situated in Soho, London in 1959, Ronnie Scott OBE was born in Aldgate, London.

January

1928

American country guitarist and member of Johnny Cash’s band, the Tennessee Three, Luther Perkins (1928-1968, 40) was born in Como, Mississippi.

19

April

1928

Influential English musician and pioneer of the British blues/R&B scene in the 1960s, Alexis Korner was born in Paris, France.

5

May

1928

One of the main men behind the ‘Man In Black’, American bass player with Johnny Cash’s band, the Tennessee Two, Marshall Grant (1928-2011, 83) was born in Bryson City, North Carolina.

6

August

1928

Famous American pop artist, manager of The Velvet Underground, producer, director and album artwork designer, Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

30

December

1928

Massively influential in the development of modern music, American guitarist, singer and songwriter Bo Diddley (1928-2008, 79) was born in McComb, Mississippi.

13

January

1929

American virtuoso jazz guitarist, Joe Pass (1929-1994, 65) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

10

February

1929

Legendary American film and television music composer and conductor, Jerry Goldsmith was born in Los Angeles, California.

17

April

1929

German composer and big band leader of the James Last Orchestra, James Last was born in Bremen, Germany.

2

May

1929

Highly influential American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, Link Wray (1929-2005, 76) was born in Dunn, North Carolina.

23

June

1929

American country singer, songwriter, actress, author, member of the famous Carter family and wife of Jonny Cash, June Carter Cash, was born in Maces Spring, Virginia.

19

December

1929

American blues and gospel guitarist, singer and songwriter, Blind Lemon Jefferson died from a reported heart attack in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 36.


Historical Context 1930-1939

After a period of relative peace during the 1920s, the ‘Dirty Thirties’ followed. The harshness of the global recession set in, resulting in widespread unemployment, hardship, deprivation and poverty. The catalysts for descent of the globe’s major industrialised countries into a second and even more destructive world war had been seeded and, despite progress in other areas of human civilisation such as science, technology and art, the political die was already cast. Expansionist agendas fuelled Fascism in Europe, which coalesced into the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and its Axis power allies, while communism was also on the rise.

Year

Global Events

1930

The first FIFA soccer World Cup was held in Uruguay; the home team beat Argentina in the final.

1931

The Empire State Building opened in Manhattan, New York, reaching 102 stories and 1,250 feet (381m) tall.

1932

English author Aldous Huxley published his famous futurist novel, ‘Brave New World’.

American aviator Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

1933

Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected 32nd President of the United States of America.

After 13 years, the nationwide prohibition of manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol in America was ended.

In Germany, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party became Chancellor and subsequently Führer in 1934, establishing his one‑party dictatorship.

Infamous American bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot and killed after being ambushed by a posse of law enforcement officers in Louisiana.

1934

The worst ever American drought led to severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies, known widely as the Dust Bowl.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, an American maximum security prison island located in San Francisco Bay, California, also known as ‘The Rock’, opened its cell doors for the country’s most notorious criminals.

1935

British publishing house Penguin Books was founded and introduced the first inexpensive paperback books.

1936

The massive art deco style Hoover Dam, spanning the Colorado River in Nevada became operational, with a height of 726 feet (221m) and a length of 1,244 feet (379m).

British monarch King George V died. His successor, Edward VIII was crowned and soon abdicated, and George VI became King.

The bitter Spanish Civil War started after the Spanish army in support of General Franco rebelled against the Republican presidency. The conflict lasted until 1939, resulting in Franco becoming nationalist dictator of Spain until 1975.

1937

The German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed when attempting to dock with a mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 people.

Conservative Party MP Neville Chamberlain was elected British Prime Minister.

1938

Orson Welles’ infamous radio broadcast adapting H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel ‘The War Of The Worlds’ caused mass panic in America.

The first comic book appearance of fictional superhero Superman was published by Action Comics.

1939

The classic ‘golden era’ Hollywood films ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ were released.

The first comic book appearance of fictional superhero Batman was published by Detective Comics (DC).

The Second World War (WWII) began when Britain and France responded to Germany’s military invasion of Poland.

The first successful flight of a jet-propelled aircraft was undertaken by a Heinkel He178, developed for the German Luftwaffe, in Rostock, Germany.

Musical Genre Development 1930-1939

Music of the 1930s was largely characterised by social events such as the Great Depression and the growth in popularity of radio and Hollywood cinema, which began to replace Broadway musical theatre. Established genres such as jazz continued to evolve to reflect changes in social culture, giving birth to swing and big band music. Jump blues music began to appear in the 1930s, adapting the grand swing and big band music for smaller venues, performed by small bands. The 1930s also saw the introduction of the electric guitar, which began to play a part in evolution of popular music of the decade.

Hawaiian music was popular with mainstream audiences in America during the 1930s, even though it had been a major genre in the mid-Pacific since the late 19th Century. Hawaiian music was important because of its influence on country music, including the introduction of the lap steel guitar, often played horizontally and using a slide. It also helped to shape Polynesian music across the Pacific islands.

Traditional folk music has been an enduring form of musical expression throughout the centuries, in many nations and regions across the globe. Historically, folk music is often regarded as an oral tradition being handed down by word of mouth over many generations. During the 1930s, contemporary folk music, an Anglo‑American acoustic style, experienced a revival, often commenting about social issues including war, work, civil unrest, economic hardship, as well as love songs and non‑topical comedy themes. As the roots of folk music predate many modern musical genres, influences came from all over the world, imported by immigrants to America from Europe and Asia, as well as traditional songs used by African slaves. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, America in particular experienced a booming folk scene. The record industry began to exploit folk songs as an alternative to other popular genres. One of the most significant folk singer/songwriters of the generation was Woody Guthrie, whose work in the 1930s and 1940s was often seen as a protest against rural injustice, and which has influenced many artists since. Other famous artists from the 1940s to the early 1960s included Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in America, Donovan, Ralph McTell and Martin Carthy in the UK, as well as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Buffy Sainte-Marie in Canada.

Swing music is a close relative of jazz and has its roots as early as the 1920s, becoming a dominant genre during the 1930s and 1940s, predominantly in urban cities such as Chicago, New York and Kansas City. It is notable because music with a strong ‘swing feel’ became popular dance music, especially in lively clubs that could accommodate swing ensembles. Swing was popularised by big band swing orchestras such as that led by Benny Goodman. Other famous swing artists included Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. The ‘swing era’ lasted for about 10 years from 1935 to 1946, when popularity began to fade during and after World War II. Swing was also hugely influential in popular music with artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Dance crazes of the swing era included the jitterbug and the shag, which would evolve into dances later associated with genres such as R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Swing and its derivatives have experienced a number of revivals in subsequent years.

Musical Facts 1930-1939

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

15

January

1930

American Chicago blues guitarist working either solo or with other artists, Earl Hooker (1930-1970, 40) was born in Quitman County, Mississippi.

17

June

1930

American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist who played with Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps in the 1950s, Cliff Gallup (1930-1988, 58) was born in Norfolk, Virginia.

3

July

1930

Highly regarded, prolific American session guitarist, Tommy Tedesco (1930-1997, 67) was born in Niagara Falls, New York.

30

August

1930

American entrepreneur, musician and innovator of guitar equipment, Ernie Ball (1930-2004, 74) was born in Santa Monica, California.

29

April

1931

Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist, often referred to as the ‘King of Skiffle’, Lonnie Donegan (1931-2002, 71) was born in Glasgow.

17

September

1931

Record company RCA-Victor first demonstrated the 331/3 rpm Long Playing (LP) record. Astoundingly, the vinyl ‘album’ is still going strong, even now.

5

November

1931

Controversial American R&B/soul guitarist, songwriter, producer and rock ‘n’ roll innovator, Ike Turner (1931-2007, 76) was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

16

November

1931

Influential American blues guitarist, singer and long-term member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011, 80) was born in Greenwood, Mississippi.

27

December

1931

Influential rock ‘n’ roll legend, American guitarist Scotty Moore (1931-2016, 84) who played with Elvis Presley in the early days was born in Gadsden, Tennessee.

26

February

1932

The great American country legend that is Mr Johnny Cash (1932-2003, 71) was born in Kingsland, Arkansas.

9

April

1932

Great American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Carl Perkins (1932-1998, 65) was born in Tiptonville, Tennessee.

1

October

1932

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist and singer, ‘the master of the Telecaster’ and ‘the ice man’, Albert Collins (1932-1993, 61) was born in Leona, Texas.

14

March

1933

Multi-award-winning American musician and record producer Quincy Jones was born in Chicago, Illinois.

29

April

1933

Legendary American outlaw country legend, guitarist, singer and songwriter, Willie Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas.

3

May

1933

Legendary American singer, songwriter and producer, often proclaimed as the ‘godfather of soul’, James Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina.

15

July

1933

English virtuoso classical guitarist and one of the very best musicians of his generation, Julian Bream was born in London.

3

November

1933

English composer of film and TV scores, including 11 James Bond film soundtracks and numerous theme tunes, John Barry OBE was born in York, Yorkshire.

29

November

1933

Legendary English blues/rock guitarist, singer, songwriter and founder of the Bluesbreakers, John Mayall OBE was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

7

February

1934

American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Earl King (1934-2003, 69) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana.

28

April

1934

Renowned American delta blues guitarist Charlie Patton died from a heart disorder in Sunflower County, Mississippi at the age of 43.

3

September

1934

Hugely influential American blues guitarist and one of the ‘Three Kings’ of blues guitar, Freddie King (1934-1976, 42) was born in Gilmer, Texas.

21

September

1934

Legendary Canadian guitarist, singer and songwriter, Leonard Cohen (1934-2016, 82) was born in Montreal, Quebec.

1

December

1934

American blues and ragtime guitarist Arthur ‘Blind’ Blake died from tuberculosis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the age of 38.

8

January

1935

American singer, guitarist and cultural icon that would become ‘The King’, Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977, 42) was born in Tupelo, Mississippi.

3

February

1935

Flamboyant American soul, blues and funk guitarist, singer and songwriter, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (1935-1996, 61) was born in Houston, Texas.

29

April

1935

Influential American Chicago blues guitarist and singer, Otis Rush, (1935-2018, 84) was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

6

June

1935

American virtuoso jazz guitarist and composer Grant Green (1935-1979, 43) was born in St Louis, Missouri.

17

October

1935

English dairy farmer and founder of the world famous Glastonbury Music Festival from 1970 to date, Michael Eavis was born in Pilton Somerset.

22

April

1936

Great American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Glen Campbell (1936-2017, 81) was born in Billstown, Arkansas.

30

July

1936

Legendary and highly influential American Chicago Blues guitarist and singer, George ‘Buddy’ Guy was born in Lettsworth, Louisiana.

7

September

1936

Legendary American rock ‘n’ roll star, guitarist, singer and songwriter, Buddy Holly (1936-1959, 22) was born in Lubbock, Texas.

24

October

1936

English bass guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, former member of rock band The Rolling Stones and bandleader with The Rhythm Kings, Bill Wyman was born in London.

6

April

1937

Acclaimed American country singer, songwriter and guitarist, Merle Haggard (1937-2016, 79) was born in Oildale, California.

4

May

1937

Influential American surf rock guitarist often referred to as ‘the king of the surf guitar’ Dick Dale (1937-2019, 81) was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

15

May

1937

Renowned American guitarist, singer and actor, Trinidad ‘Trini’ Lopez III was born in Dallas, Texas.

15

June

1937

Influential American country guitarist and singer, Waylon Jennings (1937-2002, 64) was born in Littlefield, Texas.

13

January

1938

Australian guitarist, singer, songwriter and co-founder of psychedelic rock bands Soft Machine and Gong, Daevid Allen (1938-2015, 77) was born in Melbourne, Victoria.

25

January

1938

Grammy award-winning artist and Hall of Famer, legendary American songstress, Etta James was born in Los Angeles, California.

26

April

1938

American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist who became famous for his signature ‘twang’ guitar sound, Duane Eddy was born in Corning, New York.

16

August

1938

Legendary American blues guitarist Robert Johnson died in mysterious circumstances in Greenwood, Mississippi at the age of 27. The bizarre mythology surrounding Johnson’s life and demise continues to deepen with time.

3

October

1938

Legendary American singer and guitarist, Eddie Cochran (1938-1960, 21) was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

5

December

1938

Highly influential American guitarist, singer and songwriter, J.J. Cale (1938-2013, 74) was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

18

December

1938

English bass guitarist with The Animals, record producer and manager of both Slade and Jimi Hendrix, Chas Chandler (1938-1996, 57) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne.

2

April

1939

American singer, Motown soul legend and multi-award winning artist, Marvin Gaye was born in Washington DC.

4

April

1939

Incomparable English double bass guitarist who has collaborated with artists like John Martyn and Richard Thompson to great effect, Danny Thompson was born in Teignmouth, Devon.

28

July

1939

American singer and actress, Judy Garland recorded the perennial all‑time‑favourite song, ‘Over The Rainbow’ from the classic feature film, ‘The Wizard Of Oz’.

21

August

1939

Hall of Famer and prolific American guitarist and collaborator extraordinaire, James Burton was born in Dubberly, Louisiana.

23

September

1939

Influential American blues/rock guitarist Roy Buchanan (1939-1988, 48) was born in Ozark, Arkansas.

26

November

1939

American-born Swiss soul/R&B/pop singer, songwriter and actress Tina Turner was born in (where else?) Nutbush, Tennessee.

26

December

1939

Famous but volatile American ‘Wall of Sound’ record producer Phil Spector was born in New York. He is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence in California for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.

Tailpiece

Phew! That was a bit of a 20‑year roller coaster. However, this still hasn’t got us to point at which ‘modern music’ arguably really begins, i.e. from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and will ultimately bring us up‑to‑date. However, it is a fascinating insight into not only what the rapidly growing global population got up to but also how this was inextricably linked to how music was also progressing. Social culture and music are symbiotically interdependent – culture shapes and stimulates music and music reflects and influences culture. The 20 years covered in this article are therefore fundamental building blocks of the unstoppable development that will lead us to rock ‘n’ roll and beyond. The next article will, hopefully, bridge the gap from the start of WWII to the ground-breaking events that would take place in the 1950s.

Watch this space and make sure you tune in, same time same place next month. I can’t wait… can you? Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Don’t try to learn from geniuses how to be a genius. They are unique. Think for yourself and you are a genius, even if no-one else notices. That is also integrity.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VII

Welcome back to the latest in a long series of articles chronicling the history of the world’s favourite musical instrument. Last time, we covered the advent of production solid body electric guitars during the guitar’s ‘golden era’ from c.1950-1965. That article also covered some relevant later events, but the essence was about a period of intense invention and creativity, hence why it deserved a separate article dedicated to it, even though much of the content would be familiar to many.

This month’s article mostly focuses on ‘what happened next’ between c.1965-1987, although it does also cover the subsequent period up to the current day, albeit in less depth than the earlier years. Depending on how the rest of the story is covered, this 7th part is likely to be the penultimate episode.

If you’ve been following the various twists and turns along the way, you’ll know that I have tried very hard to strike a balance between light entertainment for the general reader and the level of detail that would appeal to the needs of the nerdiest of guitar geeks out there. As previously stated, this is not an academic thesis – I just don’t have the time or resources to reference every element along the way, so it probably will never make it into book form, which is a bit of a shame but ç’est la vie. However, once the 3,500 year history has been finished, I may try to bring it all together as a ‘box set’ feature on the web site, so it will be easier to find and come back to than monthly instalments. It also provides the opportunity to correct the content. I may also add a bit off the original longer version back in (!!) and to balance the various parts as a more coherent whole.

You may wish to recap on previous articles before starting here at Part VII. If so, the previous segments of ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, can be accessed here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the journey so far and will stick with it for just a little longer. For me, it has certainly involved a huge amount of hard work researching and learning along the way. There is an enormous amount of information that had to be excluded in order to make it digestible in an online format. As always, while I have been diligent, some errors and omissions will inevitably have crept in. Not only do I apologise if that is the case but also, I welcome feedback from readers in order to correct or clarify. I would also encourage readers who might wish to look at things either from a different perspective or with a different level of detail to explore the fascinating world of guitars for yourselves.

There are not many pictures this month, as the subject matter is largely narrative‑driven. Sorry about that, photo fans.

Post-Modern Reconfiguration, Rejuvenation and Consolidation

It has become generally accepted that the electric guitar’s so‑called ‘golden era’ started at the beginning of the 1950s with the introduction of Fender and Gibson’s solid body electric guitar models and ended in the mid‑1960s around the time that Leo Fender sold up in early 1965, followed by Gibson in 1969.

On the face of it, the years immediately after the mid‑1960s would appear to be of little historic interest, particularly as far as investors and ‘serious’ collectors are concerned. While the 1950s and early 1960s have been very well documented in countless learned tomes, the subsequent years have tended to be characterised by vociferous opinion and anecdote in a relative vacuum, rather than subject to objective scrutiny.

The Internet has, perhaps unsurprisingly, encouraged many already polarised opinions to become even more extreme. Assertive and often throwaway hyperbole of many self‑appointed ‘experts’ has possibly been consistently exaggerated to the point that they have gained some sort of historical validity. Widely read ‘unpopular opinion’ is often misinterpreted as indisputable definitive evidence. It isn’t gospel; there was more to it than what many would have you believe.

This version of the ‘facts’ is arguably simply that and, while every effort has been made to remain impartial, it should be read with a degree of realistic scepticism. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some ‘smoke without fire’, just that the flames may have been fuelled by circumstances and intensified by ill‑informed prejudgment.

The music industry wasn’t alone in coming in for acerbic over‑criticism; the American automotive industry was also subject to similar issues during 1960s and 1970s. The parallels extend beyond the superficial with the demise of many historic car brands and the inexorable rise of Japanese competition. As with guitars, some of these old models are now becoming highly sought after. The guitar industry during the latter part of the 20th Century, it seems, was symptomatic of wider deep‑seated socio‑political problems in the world’s largest capitalist economy.

Actually, ‘what happened next’ is an equally fascinating tale and one that is worth spending a little while looking at. At the same time, it’s also worth standing back and looking at the bigger picture as events unfolded. While it’s all a matter of degree, what transpired was rife with intrigue and machination. The appeal of these transitional years is one of the reasons that CRAVE Guitars tends to focus on ‘forgotten underdog’ and quirky cool American electric guitars from between around 1960 and 1989, although not exclusively.

Was that all‑too‑brief 15‑year ‘golden era’ the end of the story? Will guitars built in the ‘dark ages’ between 1965 and 1987 remain ignored most as gross errors of judgement? Will there be another defining period of electric guitar evolution or will musicians spend their lives experiencing mediocrity by default while harking back to that unobtainable time viewed through rose‑tinted spectacles? Perhaps digital technology will deliver the next step‑change with some Darwinian mutation that future writers will look back upon and write about. OK, enough of the rant, on with the story…

The Catalysts

The trouble really started once both Fender and Gibson been acquired by faceless corporations used to running commercial businesses, rather than important customer‑led operations. Despite post‑war prosperity and growth, the period between the mid‑1960s and the mid‑1980s could possibly be described aptly as eventful and tempestuous. In hindsight, whichever way you look at it, the sale of the industry’s ‘big guns’ was a 20th Century watershed for guitar building.

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at what actually happened immediately after the ‘golden era’ drew to a close circa 1965. The subsequent corporate merger & acquisition activity impacted directly on American musical instrument manufacturing up to the end of the 1980s. A few choice examples may help to illuminate the significant strife that befell the industry for a couple of decades (in rough chronological order)…

Rickenbacker – The only one of the major American brands that didn’t ‘sell out’ during the 1960s was Rickenbacker. They had, in some ways dodged that particular bullet, as Adolph Rickenbacker had already sold his company to music industry businessman Francis C. Hall in 1953. In retrospect, the move to transfer the undertaking and to keep it in safe hands seemed both pre‑emptive and positively prophetic. Arguably, the timing enabled Rickenbacker to capitalise on 1950s creative growth and become more resilient to what was to come. RIC (short for Rickenbacker International Corporation) has remained under the ownership of the Hall family since 1953 with John C. Hall as CEO at the time of writing.

Fender – After Rickenbacker, Fender was the first of the big names to capitulate to big business ambition. In 1965, Leo Fender sold his company to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) for just over $13m. The reason often given for the sale was Leo Fender’s health, although an injection of capital funding probably was also contributory. Other perspectives cite Leo Fender’s desire to pursue new ideas, which he possibly couldn’t do while running the company. CBS started making changes almost immediately and expanded capacity at Fullerton to increase supply. By agreement, Leo Fender was prohibited from setting up another music instrument company for 10 years, after which he went on to found Music Man (1974) and then G&L (1980). After 20 years under CBS control and on the brink of total collapse, division president William Schultz bought the company, forming Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) in 1985. What followed was a period of intense restructuring, with guitar production temporarily moved to Japan for approximately two years before resuming full American manufacturing with the launch of the American Series guitars in 1987. U.S. manufacturing was moved from Fullerton to Corona, California and its headquarters were relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. Fender was once again back on the path to success as an independent company and has remained so ever since.

Danelectro – Danelectro was originally formed by entrepreneur Nathan Daniel in 1947. Daniel built his business on the back of large scale, low cost department store and mail order demand for electric guitars, often branded as Silvertone and Airline. This enabled him to start building instruments under the Danelectro brand from 1954. By 1966, Daniel sold Danelectro to industry giant MCA (Music Corporation of America). MCA tried unsuccessfully to introduce the Coral brand and to restructure its distribution network. The outcome was that Danelectro ceased production altogether just 3 years later in 1969. The brand was resurrected by the Evets Corporation in the late 1990s and, after several faltering attempts to recapture market share, Danelectro remains in operation as a successful American company with overseas manufacturing based in China and Korea.

Gretsch – Gretsch was originally founded by Friedrich Gretsch in 1883. Two years after Fender and one year after Danelectro, Fred Gretsch sold the family business to the Baldwin Piano Company in early 1967. After many organisational troubles including relocation, factory fires, Chet Atkins withdrawing his endorsement, and misjudged model decisions, Baldwin finally ceased production of Gretsch instruments by 1981. Fred W. Gretsch acquired what little remained of the company in 1985, basically just the Gretsch name and rights ownership. After a number of abortive efforts, consistent output was eventually re‑established in Japan. Rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer became a key endorsee for Gretsch in the 1990s and consumer interest in the brand was rekindled. Retaining family leadership, Gretsch has been under the patronage of Fender since 2002 and the famous brand is once again a significant player in the guitar industry.

Gibson – Gibson was really the last of the large American names to succumb to corporate ownership. Gibson’s parent company, Chicago Musical Instruments Ltd (CMI) followed the competition in 1969 when Gibson was taken over by a South American brewing company called ECL and then subsumed by Norlin Musical Instruments in 1974. Gibson survived cost‑cutting, relocation to Nashville and general mismanagement largely intact, although its hard‑earned reputation was severely tarnished. Gibson eventually returned to private ownership in 1986 through a consortium management buyout. Despite a major financial crisis and bankruptcy protection initiated in May 2018, there are signs of a positive future for the company.

These were just some of the big players who were able to weather the economic storms during the second half of the 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In addition to the big names, plenty of other well‑known American companies failed to survive, including:

  • Valco merged with Kay in 1967; a move that included familiar names such as Supro and Airline. However, the newly combined company went bust in 1968
  • National Dobro merged with Mosrite before the latter went bankrupt, also in 1968
  • Harmony lasted until 1975 before it ceased trading

Those that survived the volatility would continue to fight for survival at best. Overall, when viewed in hindsight, it proved a disastrous phase for American guitar making and collectively one that isn’t widely documented, other than in individual circumstances. The ‘golden era’ was, seemingly, definitely over.

As is often the case, the causes of American guitar manufacturing woes between the mid‑1960s and the mid‑1980s are quite complex, based on deep‑seated structural flaws. Looking at the circumstances strategically, there were probably, amongst many other contributory factors, five key issues…

  1. Industry structure and stability – Inward investment and backing of large business should have provided a positive commercial injection to guitar companies who were either struggling with financial difficulties or were unable to grow quickly enough with existing management structures. What actually happened was that big businesses, as is their wont, were looking to cut costs and increase profit, seemingly unaware of the impact that they were having. The large companies tried to stimulate demand by experimenting and introducing new products without assessing whether what they were making was adequately meeting consumers’ needs. For small agile companies, risk taking was a vital part of the creative process, while the bigger firms focused on large scale, efficient production methods, conversely heightening the risks of failure. Remote and disconnected governing bodies tended to dictate business decisions based on balance sheets and shareholder return, rather than customer satisfaction. Arguably, though, the businesses were in dire need of ‘better’ rather than ‘different’ management both before and after takeover.
  2. Industrial relations – Strict operational disciplines, controlled production processes and rigorously applied policies are a fundamental requirement of larger bureaucratic organisations. These management styles were generally not part of the music industry’s ‘way of doing things’ at the time. Companies needed to be managed effectively rather than efficiently and, unfortunately, the pendulum swang too far towards the latter. Business managers exhibited a flagrant disregard for the expertise and skills required to make consistent, high quality musical instruments. Production facilities were relocated, often giving long‑term highly experienced luthiers a ‘move or go’ ultimatum. In addition distribution and dealership networks were changed with little regard for what went before. Unhappy employees and belligerent trade unions led to heated industrial disputes (and worse), thereby causing significant leadership and management problems. Decades of accumulated knowledge, skills, expertise and, perhaps importantly, attitude were lost to the industry in a short space of time – something that would take years to rebuild. The outcome was that quality fell, exacerbating existing deficiencies elsewhere in the industry.
  3. Industry culture – New corporate owners did not fully appreciate or take the time to understand why the guitar industry worked as it did, resulting in fundamental mistakes internally and externally. The latter disenfranchised those involved in the supply chain from distributors to dealers and, ultimately, impacting on paying customers. Crucially, working musicians’ requirements were not being met and, with that dissatisfaction, brand loyalty diminished as professional guitarists looked elsewhere for alternatives. In addition, musical tastes were rapidly changing and short‑lived fads required nimble organisations that knew how to adapt to changes quickly and appropriately. Smaller companies that were better‑tuned into what was going on could flex more easily. The larger corporations, however, were unable to spot change and respond, leading to mismatches and time lags between demand and supply. Many commentators suggest that it was because musicians weren’t running the show. However, guitarists don’t necessarily make good business people (or vice versa!), which might have contributed to the difficulties. Significantly, two of the most influential guitar innovators – Leo Fender and Ted McCarty – didn’t play the guitar at all. Nevertheless, they were effective leaders because they ensured that professional artists were closely involved with business decisions. Importantly, the time when musicians were listened to and relationships were actively cultivated had fallen by the wayside.
  4. Supply problems – Availability of consistent materials, particularly the all‑important tone woods, created challenges for large‑scale American production. Variable density and therefore weight of some imported tone woods meant that it was difficult to manufacture to dependable standards. Depending on the combination of materials, the shortage of quality inputs affected builders to different degrees. Around the same time, sustainability and environmental factors were becoming an issue, leading to further supply issues. Manufacturers started looking to alternative materials including metal (e.g. Kramer, Travis Bean), plastics (e.g. Ampeg/Dan Armstrong) and composites (e.g. Gibson) that were intended to improve consistency and streamline manufacturing processes. Other moves included building guitars not from single pieces of difficult to acquire, expensive wood but from cheaper, smaller, more available cuts. Consumers saw such actions as negative and symptomatic of other perceived underlying problems. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, customers were not impressed by ‘good intentions’ and the changes were seen as cost‑cutting measures taken a step too far. Many consumers saw through superficial claims and resented the big companies for making what they felt were false marketing claims.
  5. Far Eastern competition – Enterprising Japanese companies, revitalised by post‑WWII recovery and able to observe from outside, spotted that American labour and manufacturing costs were contributing to a combination of poor quality and high prices – an equation that would present opportunities to penetrate a previously U.S.‑dominated market. Companies such as Ibanez and Yamaha did two crucial things. The first was to use their structural advantages to make high quality instruments at lower cost, and to produce them in large enough numbers to compete with American products on their own ground. The second thing they did was to brazenly copy iconic American designs, presenting consumers with recognisable products built to (generally but not always) higher standards and sold more cheaply than the American ‘classics’. There is more on the Japanese competitive assault on American guitar makers below. They also used rapidly changing music trends to create openings for entirely new products, including their own designs, thereby beginning to build a strong and more ethical reputation of their own. When the inevitable backlash came (see below), the marketplace had already changed fundamentally.

Lawsuit Guitars and Trademark Protection

During the post‑1965 period, sales of major American brand guitars was in decline and the home industry was in disarray. This provides a broad background against which American companies had to contend. Generally speaking, the way in which the industry and marketplace was organised was not favourable for the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacker and many others.

The takeovers and general (mis-)management of American firms left the U.S. industry weakened and susceptible to aggressive business manoeuvres. American labour, tooling and material costs didn’t fall, so prices for finished instruments generally remained high for guitars that were increasingly poorly made. It is relatively easy to understand why the 20‑year period between approximately 1965 and 1985 was crucial to reshaping the global guitar making industry.

One particular Japanese guitar maker, Hoshino Gakki Gen, saw an ideal opportunity to enter the fragile American market. Cleverly, Hoshino recognised the potential animosity towards Japanese‑sounding products after WWII and adopted the Ibanez moniker. Incidentally, the Ibanez name was derived from Spanish guitar maker Salvador Ibáñez, who made classical guitars and sold them to Japan from the 1920s. When Ibáñez, failed during the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra 1936-1939), Hoshino acquired the rights to use the name, dropping the accents in the process. Hoshino’s next step was to take over an American company, Elger, which had already been importing Japanese guitars into the U.S. This move gave them ready access to the American territory, initially as Hoshino USA and then Ibanez USA. From 1970, Ibanez began systematically targeting and imitating popular American guitar models, particularly from Gibson, Fender, and Rickenbacker.

Initially, Fender and Gibson chose not to challenge these foreign copies unless they were identical to the originals, i.e. deliberate forgeries. Perhaps they didn’t see the early copies arriving in relatively small numbers as a significant threat and therefore not worth the lengthy and expensive battles through the American court system with no guarantee of success. Perhaps naively, they may have seen the copies as providing entry‑level experience that would lead consumers to trade up and purchase the ‘real thing’. Nobody really knows for sure. However, by taking their eye off the proverbial ball, the already struggling American brands were storing up a hornet’s nest of latent problems.

The relatively cheaply made Japanese copies often used bolt‑on necks, cheap materials and inferior hardware. Having said that, they were often reasonably well made for what they cost the consumer. The slavish copies appealed to many novice guitarists wishing to have guitars that, at least visually, looked like the more expensive American counterparts without the accompanying high price tags. Notably, and perhaps pertinently, Fender’s own low cost ‘student’ guitar lines (the Mustang ‘family’) and Gibson’s budget models (the Melody Maker) didn’t resemble their upmarket pro‑level instruments, further exacerbating the weaknesses in the eyes of customers.

The Japanese picture at the time is typically complex and confusing, particularly when trying to differentiate the production companies from the brands they made and the importers they used. Some of the companies such as Tokai, Greco, Yamaha and Suzuki followed Ibanez’s lead and jumped on the cloning bandwagon, making relatively faithful copies of American guitars.

The huge Kawai Teisco company was a mass producer that made guitars under many names, including Apollo, Domino, Kent, Randall, Sterling, Victoria and Winston. One brand, Antoria was actually a German company (Framus) that imported Japanese Guyatone (Suzuki) guitars that included replica Stratocaster copies. Others, such as British firm CSL (Charles Summerfield Limited) originally rebranded imported Ibanez guitars. Columbus was another brand that simply imported Japanese‑made guitars under its own name. Hondo was an American company that imported Japanese copies, giving them some home‑grown legitimacy. The Spanish‑sounding Fernandes, on the other hand, was a wholly owned Japanese company that also used the name Burny. Many companies made guitars for other companies, so the picture is further obscured. There were many, many Japanese manufacturers that were largely unknown outside the country but were indirectly contributory to the assault on America and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, including Fujigen Gakki, the aforementioned Hoshino Gakki Gen (who also used the Tama brand), Matsumoku, Moridara and Tombo.

So… just what were all these Japanese companies actually targeting? In particular, Gibson’s Les Paul and SG models, as well as Fender’s Telecaster and Stratocaster came in for ubiquitous copying. Popular Martin, Guild and Gibson acoustics also came in for replication, as they were the world’s most recognisable acoustic instruments at the time. Acoustic copies including names like Takamine, Morris, Pro Martin and Ventura. Even the fonts used for headstock logos often mimicked the original American brand styles.

As volumes increased, the wave of imports understandably caused problems for the original manufacturers and it was only a matter of time before there was a defensive response. That reaction was based largely on Gibson’s famous Les Paul and particularly the outline shape of the headstock.

In June 1977, Gibson’s owners at the time, Norlin, filed a legal case against Ibanez/Hoshino for copying the Gibson ‘open book’ headstock outline. The case was settled out of court by February 1978, by which time Ibanez had already changed their headstock shape. However, since 1974, Ibanez had been astute enough to foresee the complication and had been developing and improving its own unique Artist guitar designs, thereby circumventing any further rights issues. From 1978, once the lawsuit was behind them, Ibanez focused purely on its own designs.

Despite appearances, there was, in fact, only one landmark lawsuit at the time and it only related to the design of the headstock on Gibson guitars. Presumably, other American manufacturers were watching and waiting for the outcome of the Gibson case. Not looking for potentially damaging confrontation in the courts, other Japanese companies sought to avoid the wrath of the American companies and changed their designs just enough so as not to fall foul of further litigation.

Ironically, some of the Japanese ‘lawsuit’ guitars have since become collectable in their own right. Although many copies that claim to be subject to the lawsuit aren’t, they are just guitars made during the ‘lawsuit era’ of the late 1970s. Generally speaking, Japanese guitar making – having made its mark for better or worse – went on to plough their own furrow in the multinational market, establishing a successful business model on which they could build.

The imitation game hasn’t gone away completely though. Many ‘knock off’ guitars in the 21st Century are emanating from China, where there is little effective means of legal challenge. While some of the guitars originating from China replicate American designs and are produced in large volumes, some of the fakes are appearing in small quantities as very convincing forgeries of rare and valuable vintage instruments.

Also, somewhat ironically, the big American brands struck back by strategically shifting manufacture of lower cost instruments off‑shore. Fender made guitars in Japan from 1982, only later changing the name to Squier to differentiate them from the American originals. Similarly, Gibson started Far Eastern manufacture of Epiphone guitars in Japan in the early 1970s, then in Korea from 1983, before relocating production again in 2003 to a dedicated Epiphone factory in Qingdao, China.

In 1984, PRS guitars was established by luthier Paul Reed Smith and has since become one of America’s major guitar manufacturers. To cater for all price points, PRS also introduced Korean production facilities for its SE‑branded guitars in 2003. While on the subject of lawsuits, after PRS had released the PRS Singlecut in 2001, Gibson filed a trademark infringement claim against PRS for allegedly copying the Les Paul design. Gibson’s lawsuit failed at appeal and PRS resumed production of the Singlecut, albeit slightly altered, from September 2005.

Fender now actively defends its trademarks, which exist in perpetuity, unlike patents that have a limited duration. To illustrate the issues, Fender’s defence of its trademark headstock design reads as follows, “The headstock is the key source-identifying feature of the modern electric guitar. In particular, the shape of the headstock (which, in the types of guitars at issue here, is part of a single piece of wood that also includes the guitar neck) is nonfunctional and primarily serves to identify the brand and model of the guitar. Fender owns trademark rights and federal registrations for the shapes of its headstock designs. These marks are instantly recognizable to generations of musicians and music fans as indicators of the source of Fender’s products and of the immense history and goodwill associated with Fender.”

Furthermore, Fender lost a 2009 application to trademark its guitar designs retrospectively. Opponents stated that consumers had had decades of unopposed exposure to those shapes from a wide variety of other guitar makers. This particular ruling opened the door to many look‑alike guitars, bar the familiar and distinctive headstock shapes.

Rickenbacker, unlike many of its counterparts, trademarks its important designs and vigorously protects them through the courts, hence why there are generally fewer Rickenbacker copies on the market compared to Fender and Gibson clones.

The whole issue of who owns what and how owners’ rights can be protected in a global market rife with replicas is a hugely complex issue and the nuanced legal debates are not for this story, so it is time to close this particular case and move on.

The Fallout and Time for Objective Re-assessment?

The Gibson law suit was, however, a wakeup call for American guitar building, as it proved beyond doubt that they were vulnerable to competition. While it may seem a relatively small isolated incident, it was contributory to the way in which guitar making, distribution and sales had to change. It was time for a shake‑out. By getting back to the basics, the rebuilding of American production that took place from the mid‑1980s resulted in vastly improved fortunes, even though it would take years for several companies to return to prosperity. Gibson and Fender were back in private ownership, Rickenbacker had sustained its business and, although Danelectro and Gretsch would find success, it took some time to regenerate historic popularity.

Despite what naysayers, respected journalists and wealthy vintage guitar collectors will delight in telling anyone who will listen, not all guitars built between 1965 and 1987 (when Fender introduced the landmark American Standards) are bad. Yes, there are many examples of poor quality instruments produced during those ‘dark ages’ but, let’s be honest, that has always been the case. Just look at some of the cheap and nasty instruments from the 1950s and early 1960s produced during the ‘golden era’.

Being a bit provocative and controversial, it is the author’s considered belief that there were many very good instruments built in the 1970s but these tend to be overlooked and caught up in the sweeping generalisation that ALL instruments from that period are sub‑standard. Some unique and interesting models only appeared during the 1970s and 1980s as part of the drive for experimentation. Some of these experiments were often made for relatively brief periods before they disappeared again. As a result, many of these rare examples are highly likely to be of interest to collectors in the future. As vintage prices of 1950s and 1960s guitars are rapidly increasing beyond many enthusiasts’ ability to purchase them, 1970s and 1980s guitars are also creeping up in value and are likely to become the ‘next big thing’ in the vintage marketplace. When they do eventually become desirable, which they will, that critical labelling of ‘poor quality’ is likely to be conveniently forgotten as the wheat is separated from the chaff.

Generally speaking, with the introduction of automated and computer controlled construction technologies, instruments from c.1990 onwards are generally consistently well‑made. This means that poor quality instruments are fewer and further between. Value‑for‑money since the 1990s has never been better with some very good guitars available at relatively low prices compared to the past. Broadly categorising the ensuing years between, say, 1990 and 2000 as a period of rejuvenation, resurgence and consolidation in the face of significant and multifarious challenges including economic downturn. The dawn of the new millennium saw further change including diversification, growth and a degree of reconfiguration. The reality, perhaps obviously, isn’t simply a case of general classification though, so such broad descriptions may best be regarded as a bit of artistic licence on the author’s part.

It may seem strange but it was often the inherent manufacturing variations and inconsistencies that have led to the handmade ‘golden era’ guitars becoming so desirable in the first place. As the idiosyncratic traits of the past have been ironed out, consumers have had ready access to consistent, reliable and higher quality guitars at virtually all price points. However, the increase in standardisation means that many modern mass‑produced guitars are often described as ‘generic’, samey and bland. It is also that lack of variation that has led to the boom in boutique, custom and modded guitars in the 21st Century.

Only time will really tell whether some of these maligned 1970s guitars will be re‑evaluated and achieve better recognition. Good examples will undoubtedly become increasingly sought after and collectable.

Recovery and Rejuvenation

Musical tastes continued to change and the 1980s and 1990s were no different. One trend was a move away from guitar music to highly produced electronic keyboard music. Japanese giant Roland (owner of BOSS effect pedals) tried to popularise the guitar synthesizers on the back of the electronica trend, as did consumer electronics company Casio who were more famous for calculators rather than guitars.

Another trend in musical taste was the explosion in popularity of glam, hard and ‘shred’ rock. Ironically, it was companies like Ibanez, once the scourge of copy guitars, which was ideally placed to cater for the trend with some cleverly designed genre‑appropriate instruments, such as their Destroyer, Iceman and Jem guitars.

Ibanez had cleverly repositioned themselves and continued to do so in order to sustain competitive advantage. In another canny move, Ibanez courted the new breed of virtuoso instrumental rock musicians, which proved successful. American guitarists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani were regularly seen using and advertising the Ibanez brand. Other Japanese companies followed suit, such as Yamaha and ESP/LTD. American brands such as Dean, Jackson and BC Rich also exploited the growing market for pointy rock alternatives to the old‑hat rock shapes such as Gibson’s Explorer and Flying V. Times had moved on and the traditional industry stalwarts were once again looking tired, on the back foot and at a strategic disadvantage.

By the time that some sort of equilibrium was restored from the late 1990s, the music and guitar landscape was very different from the end of the ‘golden era’. There was room for big music companies to grow, such as Peavey and Ernie Ball, the latter having bought out Leo Fender’s Music Man in 1984. The ‘big four’ brands were still there – Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker and Gretsch, who continued to expand their ranges into high‑value custom shop as well as low‑priced models. In addition, once the barriers to entry were lowered, there were many small, opportunistic companies that sought to grow market share on their own terms, such as PRS. There was also a whole thriving boutique sub‑industry that focused heavily on producing custom instruments built to individual guitarists’ requirements; a healthy trend that continues to flourish well into the 21st Century.

The 2000s saw a reversal of fortunes with synth‑based dance and pop music becoming clichéd and well‑worn. This change of fortune facilitated a major resurgence in guitar music across a whole range of musical genres but specifically the burgeoning indie/alternative music scene. Indie music also triggered a renewed interest in retro‑styled instruments often evoking quirky designs from the past. This revitalisation enabled many gone but not forgotten guitars to experience a new lease of life. In addition, metal, progressive/contemporary, alt‑country and blues/rock genres have also seen rejuvenation and/or revivals, together with relevant instruments to suit. Even the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Danelectro and Rickenbacker have benefitted through reissues of previously defunct models. All in all, many guitar‑based musical styles continue to flourish and guitar sales benefit from the 21st Century appetite for diversity.

Interestingly, in the 2000s and 2010s, with the renewed interest in both retro and vintage designs, many of the old American brand names that went out of business in the 1960s have since re‑emerged, including Supro, Valco, Airline, Harmony and Kay.

The global recession that started in 2008 has been the longest and deepest since the 1930s severely dampened demand for discretionary purchases such as musical instruments. However, the desire to own and play the world’s favourite instrument endures, despite regular proclamations of the ‘death of guitar music’.

Music Trades data shows that total guitar sales in America, either by number or value, have shown a general increasing trend per year since 2009:
Year    Number  Value
2009    1.65m     $924m
2010    1.74m     $922m
2011    1.94m     $921m
2012    2.34m     $903m
2013    2.34m     $821m
2014    2.50m     $839m
2015    2.49m     $935m
2016    2.47m     $1,001m
2017    2.63m     $1,070m

In comparison, the number of electric guitar sales in America has remained largely steady since the start of the recession. Where these figures will go in the future and whether sales will regain pre-crash levels anytime soon is a betting man’s game. The market is, judging by these indicators, likely to stay challenging for some time to come.

One very positive trend is that research by Fender in 2018 shows that 50% of new guitarists in the U.S. and the UK are females, suggesting that equality is finally making progress in the music industry.

Modern‑day guitarists have learned to become fickle and much more discerning. No longer could a few privileged brands expect musicians to be loyal or for their products to be accepted as the default ‘go‑to’ solution. While slower to adapt, the American ‘big four’ fought back and, although often constrained by their past, were forced to innovate and compete or die. Not all of those experiments have been successful but the point is that they are trying to adjust to the inevitability of the brave new world.

Looking at the bigger picture, the diverse structure of the guitar industry is healthy for both producers and consumers. While things will change again, the fragmented nature of the marketplace in the 2010s means that risks of major step change are reduced. For the long‑established brands, the asset value of the ‘classics’ is now cemented and, to some extent, can once again be relied upon in terms of quality and value. The reliance on industry standards also creates a problem for the likes of Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Rickenbacker, as it inhibits what they can do in a way that consumers will accept, witness Gibson’s failed attempt to move into consumer and lifestyle electronics.

Ultimately, nothing is set in stone and there is very little that can be considered genuinely ‘new’. The only certainty is that change will be continuous and necessarily incremental. Digital music technology will continue to be both a threat to, and an opportunity for, manufacturers. The hybridisation of analogue instruments and digital technologies is still in its infancy and only time will tell, which companies will respond positively and which will fail to adapt and fall by the wayside (again).

That brings us pretty much up to the current day, at the time of writing (2018). As English punk rock pioneer Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, “The future is unwritten” and how true that is. We are nearing the end point of the guitar’s long story… except that the story will continue in perpetuity. All that is really left to do is to describe the current position (again at the time of writing) and to speculate, somewhat idly, about what that unwritten future may hold.

End of Part VII

Here we are at the end of yet another episode in the guitar’s extended tale. We are pretty much up‑to‑date and therefore almost at the end of the journey, with (I think) just one more article to go. I hope that you’ll join me, hopefully next month for the conclusion… as far as there can be one.

I am now beginning to deliberate about a companion series of articles for next year (2019). Before that happens, I need a rest from this massively resource intensive exercise. I can’t yet reveal what that new series is, as I am thinking about things I haven’t thought of yet (if you get my drift). I will have to consider how it might be done in a way that I haven’t seen elsewhere up to now – I need to bring something new to the subject matter, otherwise it is just regurgitating what others have already done. Watch this space… In the meantime, I have to start planning what I’m going to fixate upon for the remainder of this year.

Right now though, it’s time to stop writing about guitars and to start playing one of the darned things, so I’m off to plink my plank! Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Whatever was pre-modernism like?”

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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August 2017 – A Peak into the Pandora’s Box of Guitars

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

Over the last 30 months or so, I’ve been going on and on about the mainstay of CRAVE Guitars ‘work’, which is to share with you not only stuff about music and stuff about guitars generally but also specifically stuff about Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars. If you’ve taken a look at the web site, you’ll know that the focus tends to be on mainstream U.S. brands and, within that, if possible, some cool variations of well-established guitar models. However, perhaps stating the bleeding obvious, the guitar world is much bigger than that.

This month I’m dipping a toe in the water of some of the other guitar treasures out there. When one looks across the whole guitar landscape, antique, vintage, old, used, new, American, European, Eastern bloc, Asian, mass manufacture, boutique makers, unique luthiers, home‑made, traditional, basic, hi-tech, innovative and whacky, there is infinite variety and a veritable cornucopia of interesting and wonderful instruments to appreciate. The same goes for amps and effects of course (as colleagues into those things keep reminding me) but there’s not enough room in a single article for those as well. Besides, although I don’t claim to be an expert on guitars, I’m even less well‑acquainted the minutiae of amps and effects – that’s another ballgame altogether. The focus of this article is essentially on electric instruments.

When researching this article, it became ridiculously clear that I simply can’t do justice to every aspect of this enormous topic. I can only mention a figurative iceberg’s tip of what’s out there and I apologise in advance for the probable monumental omissions herein. Before we get going, none of the guitars covered in this article are part of the CRAVE Guitars’ family. In order to illustrate the diversity, I’ve resorted to using pictures sourced from Google Images – I acknowledge all guitar owners and photographers.

Let’s face it, love them or loathe them, the centre of the guitar universe remains occupied by the American ‘Big Two’, Fender and Gibson, along with their subsidiary companies including, respectively, Epiphone and Squier that concentrate on the budget end of the market. Incidentally, Fender and Gibson also own a number of other iconic brands that come under their wing. For instance, did you know that Fender own Gretsch, Jackson, Charvel, DeArmond and Tacoma, and Gibson own Baldwin, Kramer, Steinberger, Tobias and Wurlitzer? Until the mid-2010s, Fender also owned Guild and Ovation guitar brands.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Fender and Gibson are massive multinational industrial giants, but in actuality, they are pretty modest business concerns compared to the sheer scale and scope of some truly global companies. Fender and Gibson are, above all, very successful brands with a strong identity, whose reach extends well beyond the music industry. This general public awareness helps to shield them from some of the economic, social and technological pressures facing them. Business fortunes, however, go in cycles and the ‘Big Two’ have had their ups and downs. Both companies, along with many others, were taken over in the 1960s, leading to a period of corporate complacency and weakness that opportunistic competitors were able to exploit. While they have been able to rejuvenate their image, they are now dealing with a radically different global context.

While the ‘Big Two’ are fortunate to have genuinely iconic products including Fender’s Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision bass, and Gibson’s Les Paul, SG and ES-335 (among others), this otherwise enviable position can also constrain them operationally. It has proved very difficult for them to innovate and stretch too far from the proverbial straightjacket imposed by their core instruments. Existing models are scrutinised minutely and often face intense criticism if they move away from the accepted recipe. At the same time, it is difficult for them to introduce all-new models, as they are often compared unfavourably with the classic mould. Without sustainable growth in a finite market, these companies are commercially vulnerable and their potential success is increasingly limited by their past. This strategic conundrum for Fender and Gibson actually creates fertile ground for other smaller firms to grasp opportunity to enter the market through differentiation, diversification and innovation, as well as imitation.

Circling around the ‘star’ of the Big Two, there are the other recognisable brands such as Rickenbacker, Danelectro, Guild, Ovation, Music Man (now part of the Ernie Ball corporation), G&L, and, as well as the aforementioned Gretsch (the Gretsch family retains major influence as part of Fender) and relative newcomers such as PRS. There are other companies that don’t immediately spring to mind but which have enormous presence in the industry. I include Peavey here, as one of the world’s largest musical manufacturing company. Then there are the other recognisable ‘independent’ American manufacturers that tend to focus on niche markets, such as BC Rich, Dean, Jackson, Alembic, Carvin, Schecter, Steinberger, Suhr, Parker, Heritage, etc. At the same time, some major US guitar companies focus predominantly on acoustic guitars, such as Martin and Taylor.

There is an incredible history surrounding brands that have either disappeared completely or those that have gone, some of which have now been resurrected, e.g. Supro, Airline, National, Dobro (acoustic, now part of Epiphone), Bigsby, D’Angelico, D’Aquisto, Silvertone, Kalamazoo, etc. American guitar manufacturers suffered particularly badly in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of multiple pressures including falling production quality, increasing manufacturing costs (including union labour), and hostile competition from high quality cheap imports from the Far East.

As you might expect, the history of many of the brands already mentioned goes back to the early-mid 1900s (or even further), which means that there are plenty of very cool vintage guitars floating around. In the guitar world, age doesn’t mean valuable – it is the combination of age, rarity, quality originality and current condition that matter for those with an eye on the dollar value. While the Big Two tend to command the premium prices, pretty much across the board, there are plenty of bargains to be had by looking more broadly at these, sometimes ephemeral makes. I recently come across an early 1960s U.S. Airline in all‑original clean condition that went for a little over £300GBP. These never were top‑of‑the‑range instruments back in the day, and they can be picked up as bargain vintage instruments now. Some of these leftfield guitars present low-risk options for entry into the vintage market if you research carefully and don’t expect too much. History suggests that, in all likelihood, they won’t accumulate vintage value very quickly without major artist association. Look around and there are gems to be found from under-the-radar guitar makers. Some are very nice, including Washburn, Hondo (mainly copies), Mosrite, Harmony, Kay, Valco (maker of a number of other brands), etc.

Moving away from the American continent, Europe also has a long tradition of great musical instrument manufacture, with brands such as Vox, Höfner, Baldwin, Burns, Watkins, Framus, Hagstrom, Hohner, Shergold, Hoyer, Wandre, Bartolini, Levin, Goya, Welson, along with newer entrants such as Warwick, Duesenberg and Vigier, Some of these were prolific during the ‘golden years’, capitalising on the rapidly moving musical paradigms of the 1960s and 1970s. A post-war embargo on American guitar imports certainly helped European brands (and bands) get a foothold and to prosper up to the early-mid 1960s. While, as in other markets, the quality of European guitars varied considerably, many models have become synonymous with the period and, as a result, highly collectable, for instance, the teardrop Vox guitar used by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones or the Höfner violin bass used by Paul McCartney of The Beatles.

Even further away from America, the Japanese companies competed head on with the American brands in the 1970s. Plenty of the budget guitars were blatant copies of American guitars, which resulted in protracted litigation to protect U.S. patents and trademarks. Many ‘older’ guitarists may remember copies from the likes of CSL and Columbus, as well as Ibanez. Japanese firms didn’t just replicate American designs; some also produced original designs and have retained a credible reputation over time for quality and consistency, including their dominant brands – Yamaha and Ibanez. Takamine, which focuses predominantly on acoustic guitars, is also Japanese. There have been plenty of Japanese names that are or have been familiar, including ESP (and subsidiary LTD), Roland, Italia, Aria, Tokai, Teisco, Greco, Guyatone, Apollo, Kawai, Kent, Westone, etc. Many of the instruments made by Japanese companies in the 1960s and 1970s (including some copies) are now becoming very collectable in the off‑the‑beaten‑track vintage niches. If you want some truly whacky vintage designs at reasonable prices, take a look at Japanese guitars. Plenty of people now specialise in conserving these vintage Japanese/Asian instruments.

The old Eastern Bloc countries have also produced a wide range of brands catering for home-grown musicians. The strategy of government-owned manufacture was partly nationalistic, in that they were required to protect their home market from capitalist imports from both the west and east. Many of these guitars were typically utilitarian with little in the way of flamboyance. Many of these brands will be little known in the western world, even now. As you might expect, there are experts who concentrate on collecting these communist bloc guitars for posterity. The ones that have penetrated the western markets offer something different from, and cheaper than, the mainstream names. Look out for names like Aelita, Elgava, Formanta, Migma, Musima, Odessa, Stella, Tonika, Marma (East Germany), Jolana (Czechoslovakia), etc.

There are a few other territories that have developed their own guitar manufacturing, including Godin and Eastwood in Canada and Maton in Australia. In addition, there are a large number of unmarked guitars out there with no means of identifying age or source. Some can be traced back to similar designs by known manufacturers while the creators of others are lost in the mists of time and geography. These ‘pawn shop’ guitars are often poorly made and may be considered curios, although, there are aficionados looking to conserve the more vernacular heritage.

The modern-world picture is far more complicated and can’t be talked about in terms of familiar regional territories. Some multi-national companies, including Fender and Both Fender and Gibson have their headquarters in the US and produce large numbers of their subsidiary ranges in other countries. Some brands are designed in the US and constructed offshore. Some are assembled and quality checked in the US from parts made elsewhere. Larger companies have international distribution operations that channel product to dealership networks within economic regions, e.g. Fender UK servicing the European Union (at the moment!). Others have to manage distribution through networks of independent dealers. Some smaller companies have to rely either on local markets or alternative methods of distribution, direct or indirect. Some companies make instruments that are branded by one or more retail chains. A classic example is Silvertone whose instruments were made by Danelectro, Kay and others, sold through Sears & Roebuck department stores and mail order (remember that?). Similarly, many of the diverse Japanese brand names were actually made by a relatively small number of manufacturers, e.g. Kawai and Teisco.

Another feature of new millennium guitar building is the explosion in bespoke guitar building, either by small specialist companies or individual luthiers. Low volumes, creative designs, alternative materials, custom features, and high quality tend to characterise the sub-industry but there are always exceptions to the rule. There have, pretty obviously, always been bespoke builders catering for the well‑heeled or professional musicians’ need and this has led to further opportunities that are difficult for the mass manufacturers to match. In response, the larger manufacturers, including Fender and Gibson, created custom shop operations to provide tailored services for individual clients. Custom shops also heralded the explosion in vintage-styled recreations and the more recent craze for relic finishes, both building on the growth of interest in vintage guitars.

Remember, even the (now) big companies had to start somewhere, usually with an inspirational leader, visionary pioneer or commercial entrepreneur at the helm, often working on their own or in a small workshop. Many of today’s big brands started out with some names you might just recognise, including Friedrich Gretsch and son, Fred Gretsch Jr, Orville H. Gibson, Christian Frederick Martin, Adolph Rickenbacker, Nathan Daniel (Danelectro), Epaminondas Stathopoulo (Epiphone), and one Clarence Leonidas ‘Leo’ Fender. More recently, Paul Reed Smith has earned a place amongst this exlusive group. Even these industry giants relied on other key individuals and their skills including John Dopyera, George Beauchamp, Lloyd Loar, F.C. Hall, Les Paul, Ted McCarty, George Fullerton, Ray Dietrich, Roger Rossmeisl, etc.

Other well-known names span out of larger companies, for instance, Travis Bean, well known for metal-neck guitars, split from Kramer. Kiesel Custom Guitars is another example, producing some astounding instruments having been formed following the splitting up of American company Carvin in 2015. Perhaps the most successful modern entrepreneur is Paul Reed Smith of PRS Guitars, based in Maryland USA since 1985. While growing his reputation, Smith wisely sought advice from Gibson’s ex‑president Ted McCarty to mentor him, and several PRS models now proudly bear McCarty’s name. The tradition continues with renowned luthier Joe Knaggs setting up his own prestigious guitar company after leaving PRS, producing some wonderful instruments in relatively small numbers.

One of the most celebrated and influential craftsmen to exploit niche demand in the 1960s was Lithuanian immigrant to the UK, Tony Zemaitis who made some very remarkable guitars for some very remarkable guitarists. Zemaitis’ legacy can clearly be seen in other current models from the likes of Duesenberg and Teye, as well as the Japanese company that currently carries on Zematis’ illustrious name.

There have been many excursions into the application of alternative materials to wood. The use of metal in guitar production was pioneered by the likes of National and Dobro in their resonator guitars as a means of producing more volume from acoustic guitars in the pre‑electric era of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1960s, Valco used fibreglass (coined Res‑o‑Glas) for futuristic designs in the 1960s, such as the stunning National Newport. More recently, acoustic maker, Ovation, used a variation of fibreglass (lyrachord) on its bowlback instruments. Zemaitis experimented with other materials in his guitar construction and many others have followed suit, including the aforementioned Kramer/Travis Bean. Around the same time, there was a ‘fad’ for acrylic guitar bodies, perhaps the most well-known proponent being Dan Armstrong who used acrylic for parent company Ampeg.

On this side of the Atlantic, another luthier has set the bar for innovative use of metal; French luthier, James Trussart, Italian company XoX Audio are making some nice instruments out of carbon fibre. 3D printing also presents opportunities for greater use of plastics and metals in guitar production. Some luthiers have experimented with stone as part of the construction but it is not common – or very practical. With ever increasingly stringent restrictions on sourcing, use, sale and movement of hardwoods commonly used in guitar production, expect wider use of alternative sustainable materials in the future.

There are hundreds if not thousands or even tens of thousands of guitar makers out there, all wanting a proportion of the overall demand for great guitars. Here are a very few notable names from all around the world to keep an eye on, including (in no particular order); Collings, Stone Wolf, Flaxwood, Palm Bay, Hutchinson, Emerald, Ed Roman, Suhr, Mayones, Nik Huber, Matt Artinger, Tom Anderson, Patrick James Eggle, Fano, Gus, Goulding, Prisma, Frank Hartung, Michael Spalt, Michihiro Matsuda, TK Smith, Rick Toone, Carillion, McSwain, John Backlund, Reverend, Ron Thorn, John Ambler, Mule, Tony Cochran, Walla Walla, Ezequiel Galasso, Langcaster… The list could be endless as there are just too many great guitar buillders out there to mention and apologies to those I’ve left out and, sorry, I can’t post pictures of every one – I wish I could. The point, I guess, is to broaden one’s perspective and perhaps open one’s mind to a wide range of other possibilities beyond the obvious in-your-face guitar shop fare. I don’t usually proffer advice but on this occasion, I would simply just say, take a look out there and you might just find something weird and wonderful that you probably didn’t know existed. I regularly feature some of this wonderland of goodies on Twitter for those that may want to take a look (@CRAVE_guitars).

For the amateur hobbyist or artisans with aspirations of becoming the next notable designer, there are now plenty of DIY kits for everything from generic product to some quite fancy customised guitar construction. Access to information the Internet provides plenty of plans and specifications for people to design and build almost any type of instrument without the need to track down books or luthiers willing to share their knowledge. Experimenting in this way can present all sorts of opportunities to be taken. What about you?

Renovation ‘husk’ projects are probably best avoided unless you really know what you’re doing, as there’s probably a reason why they are in that state to begin with. For some, though. a ‘bitsa’ guitar may make an ideal low cost player’s guitar. My lack of practical skills prevents me from trying out a DIY (re-)build beyond my limited capabilities. Besides, given CRAVE Guitars’ fundamental raison d’être, I simply can’t create an authentic American vintage guitar.

I hope that this article has given a tiny indication of the beauty and multiplicity of guitars out there. That’s without going into oddities with unconventional string configurations, double (or more) necks, hybrid instruments, etc. It is this fascination with making things different while also keeping things the same that is quite inspirational and, I think, pretty unique to guitars, at least on this sort of scale. We are blessedly spoilt for choice and there are some ridiculously good guitars out there for very reasonable prices without experiencing the diminishing returns associated with esoteric exotica. Ultimately, this clearly indicates that there is something for everyone with an interest in the world’s favourite musical instrument.

So… you may ask… what’s my favourite out of everything covered here? Truthfully, I can’t say; I find guitars endlessly beguiling and preferences vary continuously. It would be unfair to single any one brand or model from the others. As my obsessive quest for ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars’ continues, the CRAVE name gives a hint of bias but that is not so dogmatic that I can’t appreciate all aspects of the luthier’s art and craftsmanship. MY position is firmly ‘on the fence’. If any of the names mentioned wish to persuade me off the fence with a prime example of their product(s), I am more than happy to accommodate them (f.o.c. of course!). I optimistically await a swathe of e-mails to that effect (hint, hint).

Me? I’m off to plink a new CRAVE Guitars’ plank. The new addition to the family is something both very recognisable and very unusual at the same time. All being well, I’ll try to cover it in next month’s article. All I’ll say at this juncture is that it is definitely one that fits the Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitar bill very aptly while also strongly dividing opinion. Intrigued? The lengths we go to, to bring you guitar ‘stuff’. Watch this space…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “There is a finite limit to the amount you can know, there is no limit to the amount you can imagine.”

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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May 2015 – More ‘new in’ at CRAVE Guitars

posted in: News | 0

CRAVE has had some serious IT issues, which have made it difficult to keep up with things – apologies. Following on from my last post, saying that I’d been surprised by purchasing a cute 1959 Fender Musicmaster. Well, that trend of ‘leftfield’ acquisitions has continued into spring 2015. At first glance, these new old guitars may seem inconsistent with CRAVE’s philosophy but bear with me – “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t” as a certain Brit Bard wrote in Hamlet. Methinks, he would have been a wicked guitarist.

The first recent purchase is a really nice original 1976 Music Man Stingray I purchased from Ross Godfrey, founder and guitarist of Morcheeba, who bought it from its original owner in New Mexico. I used to work for the importer of Music Man in the late ‘70s (Strings & Things) and the 1978 Stingray bass that I still own came from there, so they make a good pairing.

1976 Music Man Stingray 1
1976 Music Man Stingray I

This Stingray is a lovely all-original early example with the white pickguard and retro knobs. The Stingray, designed and built by Leo Fender at Music Man after his 10-year post-CBS exile from the industry, showed where his prolific innovations in guitar design were going at the time. Sadly, for a number of reasons, the guitar didn’t survive into the Ernie Ball era like the bass did. However, in my opinion, it is a greatly underrated and underappreciated guitar. While some critics jump on the bandwagon of knocking it simply for the sake of it, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate it on its merits, which are many. They have a lot going for them and there is a lot of virtue in conserving these cult models for posterity. The connection between this guitar and Fender is therefore strong and credible. In my opinion, the MM represents a different and really cool instrument (and a relatively rare one – only 500 of these early examples were made).

The second recent purchase is a really cool 1966 Epiphone Olympic in lovely condition. Epis at that time were made by Gibson and, while some other models were Gibson clones, this particular Olympic has all the key hallmarks of Epiphone’s independent early ‘60s design.

1966 Epiphone Olympic
1966 Epiphone Olympic

I imported this one from Canada and it had to have a little bit of respectful restoration to the electrics on arrival (thanks to Dave at Eternal Guitars). Now it’s in perfect order, just as it should be. Taking all costs into consideration, I’m unlikely ever to make any profit on the Epi but that’s not the point of CRAVE Guitars. It is a lovely little vintage instrument, very light, beautifully made, easy to play and the single, often belittled and misunderstood, ‘60s Gibson Melody Maker pickup sounds great. As you may have noticed by now, CRAVE really likes stripped down back-to-basics guitars that the snobs (thankfully) tend to bypass. Dig that neat ‘batwing’ headstock too, SO cool. This Olympic model is undeservedly overlooked by collectors in favour of the Epiphone Coronet, Crestwood and Wilshire models of the same era, despite sharing many characteristics (especially the body and neck).

So… with Fender and Gibson DNA running strong through the veins of both the Music Man Stingray and the Epiphone Olympic, they typify the CRAVE Guitars’ niche ethos perfectly. The Epiphone is a real contrast to the Music Man but that’s kinda the point of what CRAVE does. Both cool and uncommon, both deservedly earning a CRAVE Guitars endorsement. Until next time…

© 2015 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars

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