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.

 

Fender and Gibson Guitars

 

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.

 

American Guitars

 

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.

 

American Guitars

 

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.

 

American Guitars

 

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.

 

European Guitars

 

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.

 

Far Eastern Guitars

 

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.

 

Eastern Bloc Guitars

 

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.

 

Canadian and Australian Guitars
No-Name Pawn Shop Guitars

 

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.

 

Guitar Founders

 

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.

 

Spin-Off Brand Guitars

 

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.

 

Zemaitis Guitars
Teye and Duesenberg Guitars

 

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.

 

Alternative Guitar Materials

 

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).

 

Boutique Makers to Watch

 

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.

 

Guitar DIY Kit and Project Husk

 

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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June 2017 – At Last… New in at CRAVE Guitars

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Guitars:

 

1977 Gibson L6-S Deluxe
1970s Ovation Breadwinner 1251

 

Amp:

1979 Fender Musicmaster Bass

 

Effect Pedals:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CRAVE Guitars Website
CRAVE Guitars

 

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

 

CRAVE Guitars – 2,000 Twitter Followers

 

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

 

Glastonbury Festival 2017
Glastonbury Festival
Glastonbury Festival
Glastonbury Festival

 

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

 

Looe Music Festival
Looe Music Festival
Looe Music Festival

 

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

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

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

 

A Retrospective

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

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

 

2016 Departures

 

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

 

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

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

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

1962 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins DC
1965 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case
1981 Gibson RD Artist
1981 Gibson RD Artist

See CRAVE Guitars Instruments page…

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

  • 1978 Fender Vibro Champ
Vintage Effects x 8
1978 Fender Vibro Champ
1965 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case

See CRAVE Guitars’ Amps & Effects page….

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The Cure – Wembley 1-12-16

 

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

 

A Prospective

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CRAVE Website

 

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

Fender Starcaster 1976
Gibson-ES-150 1936-1942

 

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

 

A Hope

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

 

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