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

Introduction

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

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

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

The Story of Modern Music Part IX 1990-1999

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

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

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

Historical Context 1990-1999

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

Year

Global Events

1990

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

1991

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

 

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

1992

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

 

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

1993

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

 

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

 

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

1994

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

1995

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

 

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

1996

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

 

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

1997

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

1998

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

1999

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

 

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

Musical Genre Development 1990-1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musical Facts 1990-1999

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

23

January

1990

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

8

February

1990

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

18

February

1990

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

20

March

1990

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

26

March

1990

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

3

April

1990

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

10

April

1990

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

16

April

1990

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

26

June

1990

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

24

July

1990

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

21

August

1990

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

27

August

1990

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

31

August

1990

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

3

September

1990

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

21

September

1990

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

6

October

1990

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

9

October

1990

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

29

October

1990

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

8

January

1991

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

15

February

1991

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

21

March

1991

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

8

April

1991

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

20

April

1991

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

23

April

1991

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

30

July

1991

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

12

August

1991

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

27

August

1991

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

10

September

1991

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

17

September

1991

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

23

September

1991

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

24

September

1991

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

24

September

1991

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

28

September

1991

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

14

November

1991

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

18

November

1991

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

24

November

1991

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

15

January

1992

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

29

January

1992

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

21

February

1992

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

31

March

1992

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

20

April

1992

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

21

April

1992

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

27

April

1992

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

9

May

1992

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

21

July

1992

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

29

September

1992

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

6

October

1992

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

3

November

1992

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

10

November

1992

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

9

December

1992

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

21

December

1992

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

6

January

1993

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

23

March

1993

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

20

April

1993

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

29

April

1993

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

23

August

1993

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

21

September

1993

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

19

October

1993

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

9

November

1993

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

19

November

1993

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

23

November

1993

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

24

November

1993

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

4

December

1993

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

1

February

1994

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

1

March

1994

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

1

March

1994

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

8

March

1994

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

5

April

1994

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

19

April

1994

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

26

April

1994

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

27

April

1994

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

23

May

1994

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

24

May

1994

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

14

July

1994

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

22

August

1994

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

23

August

1994

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

26

September

1994

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

4

October

1994

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

1

November

1994

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

5

December

1994

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

13

March

1995

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

13

June

1995

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

14

June

1995

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

9

August

1995

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

2

September

1995

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

26

September

1995

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

2

October

1995

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

7

November

1995

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

21

November

1995

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

17

January

1996

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

5

February

1996

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

16

April

1996

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

17

May

1996

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

15

June

1996

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

18

June

1996

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

17

July

1996

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

10

September

1996

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

13

September

1996

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

19

September

1996

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

31

October

1996

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

2

November

1996

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

10

January

1997

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

12

February

1997

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

4

March

1997

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

9

March

1997

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

11

March

1997

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

7

April

1997

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

14

April

1997

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

29

May

1997

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

4

June

1997

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

16

June

1997

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

30

June

1997

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

22

August

1997

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

11

September

1997

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

30

September

1997

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

12

October

1997

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

19

October

1997

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

10

November

1997

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

22

November

1997

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

19

January

1998

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

30

January

1998

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

19

February

1998

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

20

April

1998

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

14

May

1998

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

6

July

1998

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

25

July

1998

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

17

August

1998

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

15

September

1998

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

24

September

1998

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

1

October

1998

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

2

October

1998

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

6

October

1998

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

13

October

1998

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

3

November

1998

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

29

November

1998

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

25

December

1998

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

30

December

1998

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

15

March

1999

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

28

April

1999

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

17

May

1999

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

15

June

1999

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

16

June

1999

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

24

June

1999

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

11

August

1999

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

7

September

1999

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

2

November

1999

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

23

November

1999

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

17

December

1999

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

26

December

1999

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

Tailpiece

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

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

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

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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October 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VIII

Welcome to what is, for now at least, the final part in this series of articles on the history of the world’s most popular musical instrument.

If you wish to recap on any or all of the previous seven posts before starting with this one, the whole ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, can be accessed here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

Having pretty much reached the present day, all that remains is to summarise where we are now and to take a somewhat flippant and imaginative look ahead. The ‘current day’ is a tricky subject, as ‘now’ is at best ephemeral. The future, on the other hand, can only ever be guesswork, even if it can be informed by the past. Perhaps the best way to predict the future is to help to create it, so that means that what happens to the next chapter of the guitar is in our hands. Can we be trusted to behave as responsible guardians of the guitar’s destiny? As Mahatma Gandhi (1869‑1948) said, “The future depends on what we do in the present”. This suggests that what will happen is not predetermined and individually or collectively, we can take action to shape the future.

There are not many images again supporting this article so, apologies to those who like pictures to speak a thousand words. Anyway, without further ado, on with the last part of the chronicle…

The guitar has come a very long way in the last 3,500 years or a road slightly less travelled in the preceding 350 years depending on whose version of the facts you want to believe. The story has finally reached that pivotal moment that lies between the past, which is, on the whole, pretty well documented and the future, which of course isn’t. There is much to be played for and the stakes are certainly high.

It is hopefully of little surprise that the future of the acoustic and electric guitar, as well as all its derivatives and distant relations, is probably well‑assured, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether it survives in the (very) long term or not, the world’s favourite musical instrument is undeniably going to be a hard act to follow, let alone surpass.

As with many industrial and technological revolutions, predictions have proved variable in terms of accuracy. As time passes, change tends to accelerate in both pace and scope. While progress may be inexorable, there is an unseen ‘force’ that tends to counteract unbridled advances and which acts as a bit of a restraint. That set of reins is the very human tendency to hold onto what is familiar while resisting change until it is either inescapable or desirable. This natural ‘drag’ effect has laid waste to many grand ideas and great inventions. Numerous well‑marketed ‘next big things’ have fallen at the hurdle of persuading the general public to take up something new or unfamiliar, especially if one’s respected peers haven’t bitten the bullet of early adoption either. Mankind’s flawed history is littered with countless failed marvels. This phenomenon isn’t, I hasten to add, just a trait of idiosyncratic musicians; it appears to be a fundamental characteristic of the human condition.

Anyway, as usual, I digress. It is time to get back to the point which is basically that whatever you read from here on has absolutely no basis whatsoever in fact and is highly likely to be extremely wrong! My consolation is that few people will regard it as portent or look back to judge its accuracy in a century’s time. There is nothing genuinely prescient here in the vein of Da Vinci or Nostradamus. Apologies if you were hoping for more in the way of a profound visionary insight. Unfortunately, my stock of that ran out last week.

General indicators of change

It is fair to suggest that popular music is often representative of, and in turn is dependent on, broader social, cultural and political movements, and guitars follow in their footsteps. Whether we like it or not, music is integral to our everyday lives, so it is not surprising that it is also inherently powerfully evocative. As a result, it can dramatically affect the way we identify with past events.

One of the key factors that drove guitar evolution has been the trends in popular music, so perhaps musical trends may provide a much generalised hint at parallel guitar developments. Let’s start by considering the (very simplistic) genre movements and the types of instrument used over the last century.  Starting with the post‑classical era, there was jazz (Gibson archtops) and blues (National & Dobro resonators) in the 1930s and 1940s, country and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s (Gretsch & Gibson hollowbodies), pop and rock in the 1960s (Fenders and Rickenbackers), progressive and heavy metal (Gibson solid bodies) and then punk (pawn shop guitars) and hair metal (pointy super Strats) in the 1970s. Then we get to the guitar doldrums of electronica, new age and rap in the 1980s, followed by revitalised guitar music of alternative, grunge in the 1990s, and indie (retro guitars) nu‑metal (PRS) and dance in the 2000s, etc. I struggle to think of a musical genre that so far defines the 2010s or perhaps many distinctive guitars to go with them. So there is some kind of link going on here. Google has attempted to map the progression of musical genres from 1950 to the current day (take from it what you will).

The type of guitars de jour used by famous musicians, including artist associations, during these epochs often reflected the style of contemporary music they played and these have largely been well covered in previous parts of the story. Just think of Chet Atkins with his Gretsch 6120, Buddy Holly with his Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster, The Beatles with their Rickenbacker 300s, or Jimmy Page with his Gibson Les Paul Standard and EDS-1275 double neck. The various interconnections are manifold and too many to mention here, and many have been captured in photographs to become iconic in the annals of rock history.

Cinema and television music regularly use key songs to catapult us back in space and time without the need for narrative exposition to describe what’s happening. Just think about classic movies such as American Graffiti, Stand By Me, Almost Famous, Saturday Night Fever, The Breakfast Club or 8 Mile among many, many others. Those random examples don’t include the numerous biopics (e.g. Sid & Nancy, Walk The Line, The Doors) and musicals (e.g. West Side Story, Grease) or original scores (e.g. Paris Texas) that use familiar, memorable and/or popular music to transport us to another ‘reality’. Then there are the one‑offs like the mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. TV programmes also picked up the strategy for domestic viewing since the 1960s and often featured manufactured artists such as The Monkees or The Archies. The lists of relevant examples are endless. Music is used to draw the viewer into the director’s vision of a certain bygone era. Many of the sound tracks of our lives rely heavily on evocative (guitar) music to manipulate us emotionally and, more importantly, intentionally.

The way that environmental factors affect local communities may spark a genre direction that is then promulgated more widely. For example, one could point to the rise of electric blues in Chicago, soul in Detroit, Mersey beat in Liverpool, punk in New York and London, rap in Los Angeles/Philadelphia, or grunge in Seattle, etc. What we cannot predict is what or where any future musical revolutions (if any) may emerge, from where, and what step‑change responses guitar builders may then make.

As with many other aspects of our 21st Century lives, the nature of music, how it is made, distributed and accessed suggests that anything genuinely ‘new’ will find it much harder to stand out from the mainstream. What is already there will continue in some form and anything new will simply be added to it, often at the margins of existing genres, hence the proliferation of sub‑genres, e.g. thrash or nu-metal in rock; house and techno in dance; raga and dancehall in reggae; dubstep and grime in urban music, etc. One only has to compare and contrast the mind boggling varieties of heavy metal music and then consider how they continuously diverge, converge and cross‑fertilise in order to keep it fresh and vibrant.

While some technological change may be more predictable, social change and the music that characterises it is certainly more unpredictable. When one looks at something as specific and tangible as the guitar, it becomes increasingly risky to anticipate with any certainty what change may occur over an extended period of time, say the next century or so.

One view is that we are powerless and don’t need to think about it, as what will be, will be. Another is that we wait passively and be subject to what transpires with little or no influence over it. A third way may be not to accept the status quo and take positive action to stimulate change, which can happen in oddly random ways. Being of an opinionated sort, I tend to fall into the latter camp. Apologies, that probably actually doesn’t help much!

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the guitar’s supremacy is likely to lie in the digital revolution that really started to make an impression in the 1970s and 1980s. Part of the reason for the guitar’s seemingly unassailable success has been that it is a hugely expressive and flexible instrument, which actually makes its nuances extremely difficult to replicate in a world constructed entirely of binary 0s and 1s. We shall see whether digital advances can fully overcome the difficulties in recreating the subtleties provided by a very analogue instrument in the hands of discriminating (and generally quite conservative) musicians.

The evidence so far suggests that digital is making ever increasing inroads into the analogue guitar’s dominance and the discernible gap between analogue and digital output is decreasing all the time. How long will it be before even the most ardent luddites finally admit that they can’t really tell the difference (despite what they may say outwardly)? However, it isn’t just the sound of guitars that appeals to guitarists; it is also the feel and the look of them that matters, as well as how they allow musicians to communicate with each other in unspoken ways.

New generations of guitarists, however, may be looking for something very different from their predecessors.  What form will ‘the shape of things to come’ take? Will it be all hyper‑modernistic and crammed with tech and flashing lights and built from materials we cannot yet imagine, or will it be the same old bits of tree wood crafted into the familiar shapes of Telecasters, Stratocasters, Precisions, Les Pauls, ES‑335s and SGs that we covet today? Only time will tell how things pan out and it will be for future authors to use the convenient assistance of hindsight to determine and document what path the history of the guitar takes from here on.

Looking and learning from the past, one might simply extrapolate forward. Future guitarists may well be like their ancestors and pragmatically seek to mix the best of the past with the best of what’s to come, regardless of whether it is analogue or digital. My personal prediction is a typically ambiguous ‘sit on the fence’ one, in that guitars will probably become increasingly hybrid if they are to keep ahead of other comparable instruments. Let’s face it, there are not really any threats` to the guitar’s dominant popularity at the time of writing and it has always been a continuously evolving instrument, so it would be of little surprise if this were to continue. While the 1980’s temporary trend for synth and electronica attempted to eradicate guitar music in the minds of popular listeners, the guitar has proved very resilient and difficult to displace.

Since the 1970s, the guitar has been used to trigger digital electronics. However, while both signal tracking and polyphony still present problems, these barriers are gradually being overcome. There have been several attempts to introduce effective guitar synths over the years but they have really been analogue or digital filters activated by either an ordinary guitar pickup or by discrete signals from a hexaphonic pickup. Hex pickups, which output a separate signal for each string, were often added to an existing guitar and used to transform it into a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller while still able to be used as an ordinary guitar. MIDI was a standard specification published in August 1983 by Japanese electronics giant Roland and American synthesizer company Sequential Circuits, and is commonly used to control electronic audio equipment. While attempting to revolutionise guitar music, Roland’s excursions into guitar synths since the 1980s have still relied on a standard guitar as its starting point.

Other Japanese companies specialising in electronics have also experimented with MIDI control of external synthesis engines, for instance guitars from Casio (DG20) and Yamaha (EZ-EG). It seems incredible to think that these early electronic instruments are now being considered as ‘vintage’. Today, there are now plenty of guitars on the market with MIDI capability built in. Technology has moved on and the fundamental concepts of a digital source are now ripe for being reinvestigation and improvement.

Other pioneering companies such as Line 6, now owned by another Japanese giant Yamaha, introduced their ground breaking digital modelling preamp (the Pod) and digital modelling guitar (the Variax) to indicate the direction in which development might go. Line 6’s philosophy inspired and influenced subsequent successful products such as the Kemper Profiler and the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-FX. Computer control of complex parameters, presets, firmware and downloads are commonplace for amps and effects in the 2010s and we can certainly expect this trend not only to become de facto but also to become a requirement in the near future, so a laptop at live gigs is already almost a necessity to keep your rig running smoothly – not a comfort zone for many analogue technophobe musos.

Guitar making cannot stand still and neither should it. Even the companies with a century or more of history, such as Gibson, Gretsch and Martin, have to keep moving forward or risk being overtaken. However, the tightrope of appealing to customers who appreciate the heritage is also key to the future success of long‑established manufacturers. Newer, smaller companies, though, are not constrained by the time capsule factor.

It is probably safe to say that the future is likely to be a practical symbiosis of both the familiar to satisfy the conservative traditionalists and the whizzy new gizmos to appeal to the technologically savvy experimentalists and neophytes… just as it always has been if fact. Even Gibson has been toying with the addition of digital features into its guitars, including the Les Paul HD.6X Pro and the Firebird X models. Intriguingly, Fender and other major brands have yet to declare their hands. It will be the fine balance between the opposing forces that will enable lasting incremental change, via ‘chimera’ guitars, rather than a number of fundamental radical shifts. That eventuality could prove a bit boring though, don’t you think? However, sadly, it also seems to mirror the way that modern popular music is going as well?

Leaps of unadulterated conjecture:

This next section is pure fantasy and should not be relied on as authentic in any way. It came from an idea that it can sometimes be fun to imagine what things might be like in some near or distant future. One hopes, though, that what follows doesn’t come to represent some form of self‑fulfilling prophecy.

It may be that the guitar itself could become superseded by something completely different from what musicians (rather than video game players) use today. Could it be possible that something along the lines of the PlayStation ‘Guitar Hero’ controller may someday make inroads into real instruments to create real music? I would anticipate that the majority of guitarists would sincerely hope not.

There are already some very modernistic looking instruments out there, such as the HTG Hyper Touch and the Misa Kitara (note the use of the Greek name kitara from Part I of this long story). Are these all‑electronic ‘guitars’ the sorts of instruments that will replace our beloved classic designs and become de rigeur in the near future? Alternatively, perhaps the electric guitar could somehow morph into some form of fully digital instrument via the route of hybridisation. As a logical conclusion, is the ‘Digital Guitar’ with analogue playability a holy grail and, if so, for whom? Here are some current digital guitar innovations from the 2010s…

So… suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and take a tentative look ahead to the scary world of AIs, AAs, AVs and AM (spoiler alert – these acronyms may seem familiar but in this context, they don’t mean what you think they mean today). You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Read on…

10 years’ hence (c.2028):

Analogue vs digital – Digital technologies will be used increasingly to enhance the analogue signal chain rather than usurp it completely. We have already seen many examples of this appearing in effects and amps, so there isn’t really any clever insight in mentioning it. Digital control of analogue signals is already becoming commonplace especially in delay and modulation effects where digital manipulation gives much more precise control over what happens in the analogue domain.

It remains unpopular to sample the original signal through an analogue to digital converter (ADC), mess around with it and then put it back through a digital to analogue converter (DAC) to turn it back into a signal for further processing. Many purists say that the act of conversion using today’s chips taints the original signal. It will be a while longer before we make that bold step of a fully digital signal chain from fingers to ears but it is getting ever closer. It will happen but possibly not by 2028, mainly because of the difficulty in engineering effective fully digital instruments and loudspeakers.

Research will continue to develop a truly digital guitar ‘pickup’ that could compare to current electromagnetic pickups and provide the first step to more complex processing in the future. Digital modelling using DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chips will continue to improve and will become almost indistinguishable from analogue electronics in effects, amps and digital audio workstations (DAWs). There will be a hardcore fan base that remains wedded to the old school stuff for many, many years to come. The guitar itself is highly unlikely to become fully digital in the next 10 years, if only because there are far too many dogmatic people invested in preserving the status quo. Auto‑Tune for the guitar anyone?

Guitar Making – In the near future, it is highly unlikely that wood will be superseded by any other material as the primary input for the majority of guitars. Wood has proved over millennia to be a very flexible, durable renewable material. Let’s face it, it can also look wonderful. One major advantage of wood is that it contributes towards the organic tone and touch of an individual musical instrument. Many alternative materials have been used in the construction of guitars since at least the 1920s, including plastics, metals, carbon fibre and a wide variety of composites. To‑date, though, wood has prevailed in terms of structural integrity allied to inherent musicality. What will change, though, is the shift away from the use of endangered exotic hardwood species such as rosewood, ebony and even mahogany to more sustainable species. For instance Pau Ferro (Libidibia Ferrea, a.k.a Bolivian rosewood) is rapidly replacing the CITES‑restricted rosewood (varieties of the genus Dalbergia) as a popular fingerboard material. Quite how fussy musicians will accept unfamiliar wood substitutes, will be determined in due course. What is clear is that guitarists really have no choice but to go with the ecologically acceptable flow in the long‑term.

Like their classical musical counterparts, the guitar itself (whether acoustic or electric) will remain very much a natural instrument for a good few years yet. The guitar will still be supremely popular and will be making great music all over the world. Guitars will be made by a broad range of entities from one man band local custom luthiers up to multinational mass manufacturers. Competition, particularly from China, will be a threat to many established western companies until their economic bubble bursts, which it eventually will at some point.

Recorded music – The vast majority of recorded guitar music will be produced on digital equipment with a few retro studios still using analogue equipment including valve preamps and tape machines. The relative accessibility of convenient digital recording equipment will continue to provide openings for all sorts of artists from the home musician to the professional mega bands using famous dedicated studio facilities such as the famous Abbey Road Studio in London. Recorded music will be increasingly distributed and accessed online, although legacy formats will maintain a solid niche popularity.

Live music – Live music will continue to grow in popularity to become the cornerstone for many successful artists, provided that they do not price themselves out of live appearances and that over‑zealous regulations don’t stop large live events from taking place. PA and monitoring systems will continue to improve significantly and sound pressure levels at venues will be severely restricted, removing some of the visceral excitement of the live music experience.

30 years’ hence (c.2048):

Analogue vs digital – Digital will be the primary domain in which music will be made, recorded, distributed and accessed. The guitar will remain analogue, although it is likely that the entire chain from the pickup onwards will be predominantly digital. However, as with current classical instruments and music, there will still be an important place for traditional analogue guitars. Amps and effects are likely to be almost totally digital. Successors to the analogue electromagnetic pickup and the loudspeaker will be introduced to a point that digital sound will be common if not universal. ‘Old fashioned’ guitars will remain very popular and will experience regular revivals and rejuvenations, even if the overall battle will be won by the digital technologies of the 2040s. New digital connectors will proliferate, as the currently ubiquitous USB port will long since have been superseded, and the jack pug/socket will be purely of vintage interest.

Guitar making – Most of the large manufacturers will be producing some sort of digital instrument as the norm, even if the vital interaction between fingers and strings will remain as it is now. All guitar tone woods will be derived from sustainable sources by strict regulation and use of rare species tightly controlled (outside the unavoidable black market). The use of alternative materials will be in full swing, reducing the reliance on today’s natural materials. New guitars will be built to be recyclable. Automated manufacturing will be the norm and the demand for traditionally made guitars will be catered for by numerous specialist guitar builders. Pure wooden analogue guitars will be vintage only and regarded with the same respect as classical instruments are now. Guitar development will be relegated to refinements around the margins, rather than core revolutions. Hybrid instruments will be fighting a rear‑guard action, with digital beginning to win the final battle. Competition to the guitar will continue but will not succeed… yet.

Recorded music – Digital will almost totally dominate recorded music production, distribution and access. Diehard analogue fans will be regarded as geeks and nerds. Vinyl albums will, however still persevere… just.

Live music – Like recorded music, live music will be, apart from the musicians themselves, almost universally digital. ‘Loud’ live music will be a thing of the distant past. Music venues will begin to disappear as discrete locations, with personalised performance content delivered direct to the individual.

50 years’ hence (c.2068):

Analogue vs digital – Analogue guitar music will be like classical music is today, a popular, niche and a largely historic pastime. All other aspects will be digital.

Guitar making – Standardisation and construction will be largely prescribed. Hybridisation will just about have peaked and on its way out. The majority of guitar production will move towards making AIs (Artificial Instruments). The focus will be on the technical facets of music making, rather than subjective, emotive ones. Guitars as we know them now will be of heritage interest.

Recorded music – Music will be manufactured in the digital domain with just a few maverick analogue‑obsessed musicians beavering away in the minority. The vast majority of contemporary recorded music will be created electronically, with few outmoded musical instruments as we know them now being used. Many artists will be AAs (Artificial Artists), rather than by artistically inclined human beings – the latter will concentrate on performing historic pieces from the golden heyday of guitar music.

Live music – There will no longer be a need to travel to a discrete venue where music is performed in person to a collective audience. ‘Live’ music will be created in computers, customised to an individual’s tastes and accessed in the home, in a domain known as an AV (Artificial Venue) giving the sight, sound and feel of a venue.

100+ years’ hence (c.2120):

Analogue vs digital – Analogue guitar music will be an historic vocation and largely a lifestyle pastime. All other aspects of ‘modern’ music will be entirely digital. Some authentic old‑style music will be recreated on historic instruments for research purposes, rather than as entertainment.

Guitar making – Even the last few old‑school luthiers will be migrating to alternative materials, automation and digital electronics. Hybrid instruments will be seen as a thing of the past. AIs will be commonplace and there won’t be a need for human musicians to learn the art or skills needed to make any type of contemporary music.

Recorded music – Popular music will be artificially created without the need for accomplished musicians. Music will be constantly morphing on a second‑by‑second basis, known as AM (Artificial Music).

Live music – Performance capture will be produced electronically and experienced direct by the listener’s visual and audio receptors, bypassing the unreliable eyes and ears altogether. Finally, the digital signal path from computerised source to the recipient’s brain will be complete and will require no human intervention whatsoever.

Alternative Reality

Or… in some alternative, perhaps more desirable dimension, the unwritten future could well be pretty much as it is today, with new generations doing just what we do now, rocking to good old electric guitar music. To many guitarists, the tactile and synergetic relationship between musician and his/her guitar in full flow with other musicians is unbreakable and simply cannot be usurped by some dystopian digital future scape.

One trusts that there will always be a place for creative artisans and a desire or the musically minded to enjoy the fruits of their vision for the guitar of the future. It is encouraging that many well‑known guitar makers are actually stepping back in time in order to move forward. This isn’t the paradox that it may first seem. Savvy guitar builders are investigating in great depth what made great guitars great in the first place and identifying what musicians actually want from their instruments today. Much of this current R&D is leading to a number of findings that indicate that what was important 100 and 200 years ago (and probably longer) is still important today but with modern consistency and reliability.

Perhaps the past masters did get it largely right in the first place and that is why their products, new or vintage, are still desirable artefacts today. While traditional manufacturers like C.F. Martin use modern production methods for some parts of the building process, they are also still using tools and equipment employed by successive cohorts of luthiers, as well as relying on many of the basic techniques and skills refined and passed down from one generation to the next. Most of the top flight guitar builders also work very hard to ensure long-term supplies of precious tone woods to make into future guitars. This focus on the best‑of‑the‑best perhaps suggests that guitars may well remain, for the large part, relatively familiar in 10, 30, 50 and 100 years from now but with improvements to the detail. Perhaps it takes that bold flight of fancy to realise that we already have what we and future generations of musicians actually need. Owning inspiring guitars inspires guitar playing and results in inspiring guitar music.

There really is no point in speculating any further ahead. The likelihood is that, even with advances in medical technology, most if not all of us reading this in 2018 will not be around to see anything beyond c.2020. The guitar is dead, long live the guitar. The passage of father time will inform just how accurate these flights of fantasy (or descents into nightmare) really are. Clearly, the further one looks into the future, the less precise any predictions become. Welcome to tomorrow’s very scary ‘brave new world’.

I, for one, am certainly not laying any bets. I’d like to think that there is something about our very personal instruments that will endure for many decades, if not centuries. If we lose that quintessential ‘something special’ about making guitars that make guitarists that make music, it will all have been for nothing. Watch this space.

Conclusion

So, that’s it. The long‑running and on‑going story of the guitar has finally reached a logical stopping off point, at least for now… However, it not the end of the story by any means. Somewhat disappointingly, the denouement to ‘A Potted History of the Guitar’ series seems to be a bit more of a whimper than some almighty bang. After so much history and so much personal investment in researching it, it seems a bit of a let‑down to leave the guitar’s evolution ‘hanging’ without some sort of definitive resolution to the script and with the various loose ends neatly tied up. Nevertheless, remember that this is not a fictional piece and let us not forget that this is definitely not the epilogue.

‘They’ say that a picture speaks a thousand words. So, to sum up the 3,500‑year, 8‑part journey in a single image that tells the story of the guitar from its origins to the possible near future, here is a fitting 27‑picture montage that possibly speaks approximately 50,000 words. Basically, I could have saved 9 months of my life and just posted this one composite picture. That, I guess, is one of the benefits of hindsight. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the expedition with me and that, like me, you have learned a little something about the guitar along the way. You wanted a potted history of the guitar? Well, how about…

From this point in time onwards is the start of the future and, whatever happens next. It will be fascinating to experience the on‑going next instalment of the long story and to observe with trepidation and excitement what is to unfold. Let us try to make it a bright and positive outcome for everyone who loves The Guitar and Great Guitar Music. Thank you for reading. Enjoy the future, whatever it holds for us guitar aficionados.

End of Part VIII and the end of this series

Now… I need a break from the relentless rigmarole of the research and write routine, which has, for the best part of a year (or more), been on top of everything else. As mentioned previously, at some point, I might adapt the eight separate ‘Guitar History’ parts into a more coherent and accessible feature set on the CRAVE Guitars’ web site.

Very shortly, I will try and start to prepare for 2019’s (hopefully slightly less) epic partner piece to this year’s gargantuan opener. For the rest of this year, it is back to opinionated hum‑drum ‘normality’ with stand‑alone observations of a more topical and transient nature.

One thing I have noticed is that I haven’t been playing enough guitar in recent months, hardly any at all in fact, which is deplorable. So perhaps now that this particular endeavour is over for now, it’s time to practice what I preach, pick up a lovely vintage guitar and plink away for a bit of cathartic enjoyment. At least, in doing so within the context of the past, I now have an enhanced appreciation of the history that led to it coming into my hands and why it is so important to conserve the heritage for that future. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Let’s be honest, the future is all we really have and it is the only thing we can do anything about”

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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