May 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part III

Prelude

GARRULOUS GREETINGS AND A HEARTY “hello” once again to the global guitar gathering as seen through the laidback lenticular lens of CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars. Whether you are a first‑time visitor or a long‑time returnee, all with peaceful intentions are welcome here.

This month, we are concluding the 3‑part exploration on the current status of civilian‑grade Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its perspective on vintage guitars within the context of the wider music industry. This time around, we’ll take the investigation of Generative AI’s (GAI) impact beyond the narrow domain of vintage guitars and look at the bigger picture. In addition to vintage guitars, we will take a look at music, the music business, music tools and equipment, live performance, production, promotion, distribution and access. As a final parting shot on the subject, I’ll take a personal philosophical look at AI’s future intentions for us poor old human beans.

At the time of writing, it seems that we don’t need AI to forecast the ‘end of days’ for the human race. We have plenty enough diabolical demagogues teetering on the brink of bringing about just that suicidal eventuality right now. We don’t need AI to tell us that, as a species, we have learned absolutely nothing from the ravages of our past and, perhaps, we deserve what we get as a result. All I will say is, “Klaatu Barada Nickto” (From the film, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, 1951).

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it will take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever‑increasing rate” – Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist, 1942‑2018)


AI revisited (again)

The previous two articles focused on narrative (Part I) and visual (Part II) aspects of the vintage guitar experience. Once again, there is really no need for introductory explanations. If you wish to review the preceding articles leading up to this one, or are coming at it for the first time, you can revisit those blogs by following the links below (open in a new browser window):

March 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part I

April 2024 – Artificial Intelligence takes on Vintage Guitars: Part II

CRAVE Guitars – Artificial Intelligence Part III

Scope

The scope of this third article in the series is quite broad, wider than in the first two articles. At its core, though, remains the topic of vintage guitars, amps and effects and the small but vital part they play in music today. While it has less of a focus on vintage instruments and equipment, it is all part of the same ‘micro/macro’ world, a connection that AI overlooked back in Part I.

Up to now, the articles concentrated largely on the past and present. This third article is very much future focused, so we’ll see what AI has to say about what is to come on and what may be over the digital horizon. Perhaps, someone will look back at this article at some point in years to come and gauge how far AI has come and how accurate AI has been at predicting the future.

Humans tend to shy away from radical change and are innately conservative. How we deal with the challenges that AI poses will be pivotal. AI will either enhance or inhibit human development? It is currently up to us to decide which. The debate rages on and will do for some time to come. These heated conversations aren’t just centring on music, they are pretty much across every economic sphere of production.

“I had two passions growing up – one was music, one was technology. I tried to play in a band for a while, but I was never talented enough to make it. And I started companies. One day came along and I decided to combine the two – and there was Spotify” – Daniel Ek (founder and CEO of Spotify, 1983‑)


The rationale

Make no mistake, AI has already made its mark in music. Whether it is in the way of song writing and music creation through recording and producing to distribution and enhancing the consumer’s experience. AI is here already and it isn’t going to go away. Going forward, there is no longer any doubt that AI’s role in music will be increasingly expansive, whether we like it or not

The arguments posed by many artists is that AI is incapable of capturing and mastering the artistic expression of music. Music has a rich history and deep emotional ties and these are not easily replicated by machines. Before we go too far, let us be clear that the same applies to many human musicians! Inspiration is rare and not easy to reproduce or we’d all be using it to get rich in the process. It isn’t clear whether the egotistical view that the human spirit is inimitable is born from a reluctance to embrace technology’s potential. The instinctive defensive reaction is to attempt to protect human creativity at all costs. Similarly, it is not certain whether it is possible for a machine to create intelligent artistic outcomes.

Can music generated by IT algorithms be considered authentic musical art? Art is an inward and outward expression of human emotion, experience, and creativity. These are characteristics that sceptics say a machine simply cannot possess. The current state‑of‑the‑art AI has a hard time translating technical data into sensitive music, struggling to infuse its outputs with sincerity, passion and feeling. Yet. I am sure that soon, we won’t be able to assert these facts with any genuine certainty.

From the composition of musical melody and harmony to generating complex musical arrangements, AI already has the ability to create ‘original’ pieces that can (allegedly) rival the work of human composers. As the technology is derivative, AI has yet to develop the ability to exceed human talents. It would be an act of hubris to suggest that AI cannot follow the same scientific principles, musical rules and tropes that humans have abided by for centuries or even millennia. AI can achieve considerable complexity in a fraction of the time that a human can exact the same tasks. It is still the ‘intelligent’ aspect that vexes most commentators.

AI doesn’t care one iota about music and it doesn’t even know what music is. To AI, music is simply another digital computational process, albeit one that seems amazingly expert to us. However, AI doesn’t have any conscious investment in music and it can’t tell rock ‘n’ roll from a rock in the ground. Professional musicians have spent entire careers trying to perfect their skills and they are understandably concerned about AI’s impact on their livelihoods. While I understand that point of view, having reservations isn’t going to stop the tsunami coming their way. In the Darwinian sense, it will be, ‘adapt or die’ (metaphorically speaking of course).

“The idea that machines can’t do things humans can is a pure myth” – Marvin Minsky (American cognitive and computer scientist, 1927‑2016)

There are already AI‑powered virtual instruments in the form of plugins integrated into DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations). Studios are already using AI tools to improve mixing, producing and mastering techniques. AI has the potential to be a powerful collaborative tool, as long as we are prepared to accept the consequences of such a ‘partnership’. AI is simply becoming another tool in the artist’s repertoire and surely it is just a logical extension of the use of digital electronics that studio and stage engineers have been using for the past 40 years. For instance, we would no longer think of salvaging a 20,000 gallon water tank to create a single analogue reverb chamber effect, when we have digital electronics that can provide thousands of credible permutations with the click of a mouse. Let’s get real here.

AI automation can and will result in job displacement, let’s not shy away from the fact; it is inevitable. Technical roles in the music industry such as producers, sound engineers, mixers and mastering specialists may be under threat. Similarly, even some session musicians may be adversely affected. However, the contrary argument is that AI opens doors to a diverse range of new opportunities and it will create new skills and expertise that have hitherto been either underappreciated or non‑existent. Threats to livelihoods have always existed and it will be imperative to drive change in the industry, rather than become a victim of it.

“The arrival of general AI will force us to confront a new sense of ourselves, as well as a universe that is both more strange and more wonderful than we could have imagined” – Ray Kurzweil (American computer scientist, 1948‑)

There are also legal issues. If an AI created song becomes commercially successful, who owns the rights? Is it the end‑user of the technology, the system developer, the creator of the data sets used to inform AI, or the machine itself? Currently, the law sides with the end‑user. A guitar manufacturer cannot claim Intellectual Property (IP) rights simply because a musician used their instrument. Neither can the owner of an arboretum where the tree grows to source the wood used in said instrument. You get the idea.

AI has already replaced humans, at least in the areas of commercial recorded background music and around the periphery, even if you aren’t aware of it. AI ‘artists’ have already been created and AI has been used to resurrect dead artists (e.g. John Lennon). AI is used on virtual reality concerts streamed over the Internet or to live audiences (e.g. Abba, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, etc.). However, humans will still be needed for the time being to innovate and break conventional boundaries in mainstream and underground music. As yet, though, nothing can really substitute for the genuine human experience. Live music is largely safe… for now.

Instead of viewing AI as a threat, many artists will see it as a vital device that can help to give them a strategic advantage in an increasingly competitive industry and in highly saturated markets. AI’s current course in music suggests an even more integrated future. Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA suggests that up to 60% of artists already make use of AI techniques to help unlock their potential. This human/AI collaboration can redefine artistic boundaries, enable experimentation and give rise to genres and ground‑breaking sounds previously unimaginable, if we allow it. AI can help to broaden musicians’ creative horizons beyond the familiar. The potential synergy between human musicians and AI presents exciting opportunities and challenges for the future of music. Wasn’t it ever thus?

“It’s not artificial intelligence I’m worried about, it’s human stupidity” – Neil Jacobstein (Chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University)

So… there you have both sides of a musical and ethical difference of opinion. Now it is time to turn that debate over to GAI…


The CRAVE Guitars’ test

For the final time, I will present AI with some challenges and see how AI responds. As before, I will let the AI do the hard work and leave my critique until the end of the article.

Apologies for repeating the following list yet again. I suggested eight benchmarks for evaluating AI’s responses, summarised below:

  1. To understand a question correctly without over‑specificity
  2. To interpret and extrapolate relevant information objectively within a wider context
  3. To present a cogent argument that can adequately be judged and/or challenged
  4. To form a genuine opinion from scratch without relevant information being readily available in the first place, in the same way that a person might do in the case of uncertainty
  5. To debate the initial result to achieve a potentially better outcome
  6. To produce a creative response that improves on the original information input by humans
  7. To remember what it has already output
  8. To understand fully what humans want or expect from ‘intelligence’

Once more, twenty questions were posed to AI about vintage guitars and various aspects of the music industry. What follows are the verbatim results. Nothing has been added or removed. What you see is what I got. Apologies for the repetition up to this point.

Time for me to take a backseat until later in the article. I’m off to put the kettle on, put my feet up and consume multiple warm beverages. Health warning: AI can lead to a sedentary and indolent lifestyle! Bye for now…


Twenty Questions and Twenty AI Responses

Question #1 – What is AI’s role in current new guitar and bass design and manufacturing?

AI Response #1

AI is playing an increasingly significant role in the design and manufacturing of guitars. Here are some ways AI is being utilised:

  • Personalised Designs: AI can analyse player preferences, such as playing style and hand size, to create custom guitars tailored to individual needs.
  • Generative Design: AI can generate organic, biomimetic shapes, leading to innovative designs that were previously impossible.
  • Sustainability: AI helps manufacturers reduce waste and energy consumption, resulting in more environmentally friendly guitar production.
  • Simulation Software: Designers can simulate the guitar’s performance and sound quality, allowing for real‑time adjustments and early identification of design flaws.
  • Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing): This technology enables the creation of physical prototypes, helping designers evaluate and refine the guitar’s design before production.

Overall, AI tools are transforming guitar design by enabling more efficient, sustainable, and personalised manufacturing processes.

Question #2 – How is AI contributing towards wider musical equipment technology?

AI Response #2

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has significantly impacted the field of music technology, revolutionizing various aspects of music creation, production, and performance. Let’s delve into how AI is shaping the world of musical equipment:

  • Smart Algorithms in Mixing and Audio Editing:
    • Many audio plugins now incorporate smart algorithms that draw on human experience. These algorithms apply frequency correction or normalisation presets to enhance audio quality during mixing and editing.
    • These AI‑driven tools assist musicians and producers in achieving professional sound without extensive manual adjustments.
  • Composition and Music Generation:
    • AI has made a major impact in the realm of composition. Services like Aiva utilize deep learning algorithms to create beautiful music across various genres.
    • Aiva’s virtual brain is modelled after how a human brain works. It recalls past experiences and problem‑solving to refine its results. By analysing vast amounts of data (such as classical music archives), Aiva recognizes patterns in chord structures, melodies, and arrangement choices.
    • The resulting AI‑generated tracks are increasingly indistinguishable from compositions by human musicians.
  • AI‑Driven Music Production Tools:
    • Over the past decade, AI has transformed music mixing and mastering. Apps like Landr, Cryo Mix, and iZotope’s Neutron automatically analyse tracks, balance audio levels, and remove noise.
    • These tools enhance efficiency and consistency in the production process, allowing artists to focus on creativity.
  • New Sounds and Beats:
    • AI’s ability to analyse sound characteristics using deep neural networks has led to the creation of new sounds. By drawing from existing music and theory, AI generates fresh beats and melodies.
    • Musicians can explore novel sonic possibilities, pushing the boundaries of traditional instruments and arrangements.
  • Music Education and Research:
    • AI, combined with audio big data, contributes to Music Information Retrieval (MIR). MIR extracts audio features based on signal processing and employs machine learning techniques.
    • Researchers use AI to analyse music theory, composition, and performance, advancing our understanding of music.

In summary, AI’s influence on musical equipment technology extends beyond mere automation. It empowers musicians, enhances creativity, and opens up exciting avenues for the future of music.

Question #3 – How can AI contribute towards the conservation of vintage guitars and basses?

AI Response #3

AI can contribute significantly to the conservation of vintage guitars in several ways:

  • Digital Restoration: AI can restore old photographs and videos of iconic luthiers and vintage guitars, enhancing the quality and clarity of historical records.
  • Predictive Maintenance: By analysing data from sensors placed on vintage guitars, AI can predict when and what kind of maintenance is needed to preserve their condition.
  • Material Analysis: AI can assist in analysing the materials and construction techniques of vintage guitars, providing insights for conservation efforts.
  • Sound Analysis: Machine learning algorithms can analyse the sound of vintage guitars to understand how they have changed over time and how to maintain their original sound.
  • 3D Scanning and Modelling: AI can help create detailed 3D models of vintage guitars, which can be used for educational purposes or to replicate parts that are no longer available.

These applications of AI not only help in preserving the physical aspects of vintage guitars but also ensure that their legacy and the craftsmanship behind them are documented and passed down to future generations.

Question #4 ‑ How can AI contribute towards the conservation of vintage guitar amplifiers and effect pedals?

AI Response #4

AI can be a powerful ally in the conservation of vintage guitar amplifiers and effect pedals, offering several innovative approaches:

  • Emulation and Modelling: AI can be used to create digital models of vintage amplifiers and pedals, allowing musicians to access classic sounds without using the original, fragile equipment.
  • Predictive Analysis: AI algorithms can analyse the condition of electronic components over time, predicting failures and suggesting preventive maintenance to prolong the life of the equipment.
  • Restoration Guidance: AI can guide technicians through the restoration process, suggesting optimal methods and materials that preserve the original sound and functionality.
  • Sound Preservation: By analysing the unique sounds of vintage gear, AI can help in creating a digital library of tones and effects, ensuring that the sonic legacy of these devices is not lost.
  • Component Analysis: AI can assist in identifying and sourcing authentic components for repair and restoration, ensuring that the vintage gear remains as close to its original state as possible.

These contributions of AI not only help in maintaining the physical integrity of vintage amplifiers and pedals but also ensure that their distinctive sounds continue to inspire musicians for generations to come.

Question #5 – How can AI contribute towards future guitar innovation, design and manufacturing developments that will one day become vintage?

AI Response #5

AI’s contribution to future guitar innovation, design, and manufacturing is expected to be transformative, with several key areas of impact:

  • Customisation: AI can analyse vast amounts of data on player preferences and ergonomics to create highly personalised guitars that cater to the specific needs of individual musicians.
  • Sound Modelling: Advanced machine learning algorithms can emulate the sounds of vintage guitars, allowing new guitars to have the sought‑after tones of classic models.
  • Quality Control: AI can enhance quality control in manufacturing, ensuring that each guitar meets high standards of craftsmanship and consistency.
  • Material Innovation: AI can assist in discovering new materials and construction methods that replicate the qualities of vintage guitars while being more sustainable and durable.
  • Predictive Analytics: By predicting trends and consumer preferences, AI can guide the design of guitars that are likely to become future classics.

These contributions are poised to revolutionise the guitar industry, making it more innovative, efficient, and responsive to the needs of musicians around the world.

Question #6 – Where do vintage guitars fit into the wider current day music industry?

AI Response #6

Vintage guitars hold a special place in the modern music industry, serving as a bridge between the rich musical heritage of the past and the innovative sounds of the present. Here’s how they fit into today’s musical landscape:

  1. Timeless Sound and Design: Vintage guitars are renowned for their distinctive designs and the unique sound quality they produce. Musicians often seek out these instruments for their ability to create authentic tones that newer models can’t replicate. They are not just tools for making music but are also seen as works of art and symbols of musical eras gone by.
  2. Influence on Modern Music: The influence of vintage guitars extends across genres, from rock and blues to jazz and even contemporary pop. Their sound has shaped the music we listen to today, and many modern musicians still prefer vintage guitars for their unparalleled tonal qualities.
  3. Collectible Value: Beyond their musical capabilities, vintage guitars are also valuable collectibles. They represent a time and place in musical history, embodying the legacy of innovation and craftsmanship. For collectors and enthusiasts, owning a vintage guitar is akin to possessing a piece of music history.
  4. Inspiration for New Models: Modern guitar manufacturers often look to vintage guitars for inspiration when designing new models. The classic aesthetics and sound of vintage guitars continue to influence the development of new instruments, ensuring that the spirit of the vintage era lives on in the music industry.
  5. Cultural Significance: Vintage guitars carry cultural significance, representing the evolution of music and the impact of iconic musicians who played them. They are a testament to the enduring appeal of the guitar as an instrument and its role in shaping the cultural landscape.

In essence, vintage guitars are more than just musical instruments; they are cultural icons that continue to inspire musicians and captivate audiences, maintaining their relevance in a rapidly evolving music industry.

Question #7 – What does the future hold for vintage guitars, basses, amplifiers and effect pedals?

AI Response #7

The future of vintage guitars, basses, amplifiers, and effect pedals looks quite promising, with several trends indicating a continued appreciation and demand for these classic instruments and gear. Here’s what we can expect:

  1. Vintage Guitars: The allure of vintage guitars is expected to persist, with a focus on craftsmanship, exclusivity, and historical significance. Collectors and musicians alike will likely continue to seek out these instruments for their unique sound, aesthetic appeal, and investment potential. The market for vintage guitars is anticipated to see growth, especially in regions like North America and Asia Pacific.
  2. Bass Guitars: High‑end bass guitars are gaining attention, with premium models from brands like Rickenbacker, Fender, and Fodera being highlighted for their quality. The bass guitar scene is evolving, with discussions around its future in the music industry and the potential for new genres to reinvigorate interest in the instrument.
  3. Guitar Amplifiers: The guitar amp market is embracing both vintage features and futuristic technology. There’s a trend towards recreating classic amps as well as developing new models packed with advanced tech. The future may see a blend of the best of the past with innovative features that cater to modern players’ needs.
  4. Effect Pedals: Guitar effects pedals are becoming more varied and sophisticated, with new models based on classic gear and all‑new combinations. The industry is witnessing a surge in creativity and innovation, with digital modelling and emulation playing significant roles in the development of new pedals.

In summary, the future for vintage musical gear is one of reverence for the past combined with an embrace of new technologies and trends. This balance ensures that vintage instruments and gear will remain integral to the music industry, cherished for their legacy and continued influence on modern music.

Question #8 ‑ How can AI help to improve the knowledge of people interested in vintage guitars and basses?

AI Response #8

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance the knowledge of enthusiasts and collectors of vintage guitars and basses in several ways:

  1. Personalized Recommendations: AI can analyse individual preferences and historical data to suggest vintage guitars and basses that align with a user’s taste or playing style.
  2. Virtual Restoration: AI can simulate the restoration process of vintage instruments, allowing users to see potential outcomes without physically altering the instrument.
  3. Market Analysis: AI can track market trends, auction results, and pricing data to help collectors understand the value of their instruments and make informed buying or selling decisions.
  4. Authenticity Verification: By comparing images and specifications, AI can assist in verifying the authenticity of vintage guitars and basses, helping to prevent fraud.
  5. Educational Content: AI can generate educational content, such as articles or videos that delve into the history, craftsmanship, and cultural significance of vintage instruments.
  6. Interactive Learning: Through interactive apps and software, AI can provide virtual lessons and historical context about specific models and brands.
  7. Sound Analysis: AI can analyse the sound characteristics of vintage guitars and basses, helping users understand the unique tonal qualities of their instruments.
  8. Design Innovation: AI can assist designers in creating new instruments inspired by vintage models, using machine learning to incorporate desirable features and aesthetics.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, people interested in vintage guitars and basses can deepen their understanding and appreciation of these instruments, make better‑informed decisions, and connect with a community of like‑minded individuals.

Question #9 – Why do many professional guitarists still play vintage, rather than modern instruments when recording or preforming live?

AI Response #9

Many professional guitarists opt for vintage instruments over modern ones when recording or performing live due to a combination of factors that contribute to the unique appeal of these classic instruments:

  1. Tonal Quality: Vintage guitars are often sought after for their superior tonal quality. Over time, the wood in these instruments matures, affecting the resonance and producing a richer, more nuanced sound that many believe cannot be replicated by newer guitars.
  2. Craftsmanship: The level of craftsmanship in vintage guitars is frequently cited as being higher than that of many mass‑produced modern instruments. They were often made with more labour‑intensive techniques and higher‑quality materials, which can contribute to both the sound and durability of the instrument.
  3. Historical Significance: Playing a vintage instrument connects musicians to the history of their craft. These guitars have been part of iconic performances and recordings, and they carry a legacy that many artists find inspiring.
  4. Exclusivity: Vintage instruments are unique, with each one having its own story and character. This exclusivity can be appealing to professionals who want an instrument that stands out both visually and sonically.
  5. Investment Value: Beyond their musical qualities, vintage guitars can be a good investment. Their value tends to appreciate over time, making them not just tools for performance but also valuable assets.
  6. Personal Preference: Ultimately, the choice often comes down to personal preference. Many guitarists simply prefer the feel and sound of a vintage guitar, finding that it suits their style and the music they create.

These factors combine to make vintage instruments a popular choice for many professional guitarists, both in the studio and on stage.

Question #10 – How can AI help music companies to improve their business practices and become more profitable?

AI Response #10

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance the business practices of music companies and contribute to increased profitability in several ways:

  1. Revolutionizing Production: AI can streamline the music production process, making it more accessible and efficient. For instance, AI‑driven technology can assist aspiring artists in creating professional‑sounding music with minimal equipment, thereby reducing production costs.
  2. Optimizing Music Management: AI can help music companies manage their catalogues more effectively by auto‑tagging songs with accurate metadata, which is crucial for organising and categorising music across platforms.
  3. Improving Royalty Management: AI can facilitate better royalty management by accurately tracking song plays and ensuring that artists and rights holders are compensated fairly.
  4. Curating Playlists with Precision: With AI, music companies can curate playlists that resonate with listeners’ preferences, leading to increased engagement and potential revenue from streaming services.
  5. Efficient Tour Planning: AI can analyse data to help plan tours more efficiently, identifying the best locations and times for concerts to maximize attendance and profits.
  6. Content Creation Assistance: AI can assist in content creation, providing tools for musicians to generate new music or enhance existing tracks, potentially leading to more creative outputs and a broader appeal.
  7. Data‑Driven A&R Decisions: AI can provide valuable insights into fan engagement and market trends, helping A&R (Artists and Repertoire) departments make informed decisions about signing artists or promoting music.

By integrating AI into their operations, music companies can leverage these advancements to reduce costs, optimize processes, and create more engaging content, ultimately leading to increased profitability and success in the competitive music industry.

Question #11 – How can AI help guitarists to access, learn and improve their musical playing skills?

AI Response #11

AI can be a powerful ally for guitarists looking to access, learn, and improve their musical playing skills. Here’s how AI can assist:

  1. Personalized Learning: AI can analyse a guitarist’s playing style and provide personalized feedback and practice routines. This can help guitarists focus on areas that need improvement and track their progress over time.
  2. Chord and Scale Recognition: AI tools can listen to music and identify chords and scales, making it easier for guitarists to learn new songs and understand music theory.
  3. Virtual Tutors: AI‑powered virtual tutors can guide guitarists through lessons, provide real‑time corrections, and offer tips to enhance their technique.
  4. Song Writing Assistance: AI can help guitarists with song writing by suggesting chord progressions, melodies, and even lyrics that complement their style.
  5. Access to Online Resources: AI can curate and recommend online resources, such as tutorials, exercises, and educational content, tailored to the guitarist’s skill level and interests.
  6. Enhanced Practice Sessions: With AI, guitarists can have more efficient practice sessions by using tools that track their playing and suggest improvements, making practice more productive.

By leveraging AI, guitarists can gain access to a wealth of resources and personalized guidance that can accelerate their learning and enhance their musical abilities.

Question #12 – How can AI help music artists and bands to improve their arrangements and song writing?

AI Response #12

AI can significantly aid music artists and bands in enhancing their arrangements and song writing in several innovative ways:

  1. Melody and Harmony Generation: AI can generate new melodies and harmonies, providing artists with a broader palette of musical ideas to choose from. Tools like MuseNet can create compositions with various instruments and styles, offering inspiration and starting points for new songs.
  2. Style Emulation: AI can analyse the work of specific artists or genres and emulate their style, allowing musicians to experiment with different sounds and techniques in their arrangements.
  3. Lyric Writing: AI can assist in lyric writing by suggesting phrases and rhymes, which can be particularly helpful during creative blocks or when seeking fresh perspectives.
  4. Arrangement Optimization: AI can suggest changes to an arrangement by analysing the song’s structure and providing feedback on how to improve its flow and impact.
  5. Efficiency in Composition: AI‑powered tools can speed up the song writing process by quickly generating musical elements, allowing artists to focus on refining and personalising their work.
  6. Collaborative Song Writing: AI can act as a collaborative partner, offering suggestions and alternatives that might not have been considered, leading to more diverse and creative outcomes.

By integrating AI into their creative processes, artists and bands can unlock new possibilities in song writing and arrangement, pushing the boundaries of their musical expression.

Question #13 – How can AI help to promote a music artist or band?

AI Response #13

AI can revolutionise the promotion of music artists and bands in several impactful ways:

  1. Target Audience Identification: AI can analyse vast amounts of data to identify and understand the target audience for an artist or band, ensuring that promotional efforts are directed at the most receptive listeners.
  2. Personalised Marketing Campaigns: By leveraging AI, music companies can create highly personalised marketing campaigns that resonate with individual listeners, increasing engagement and loyalty.
  3. Social Media Monitoring and Analysis: AI tools can monitor social media activity, providing insights into audience preferences and trends, which can inform more effective promotional strategies.
  4. Predictive Trend Analysis: AI can predict future trends, helping artists and bands to stay ahead of the curve and align their music and marketing with upcoming movements.
  5. Efficiency and Automation: AI‑driven platforms can automate many aspects of music promotion, from distributing content to scheduling posts, freeing up artists to focus on their music.
  6. Collaboration Discovery: AI can identify potential collaboration opportunities by matching artists with similar styles or fan bases, leading to mutually beneficial partnerships.
  7. Content Creation: AI can assist in creating promotional content, such as music videos or artwork that is tailored to the artist’s brand and audience preferences.

By integrating AI into their promotional activities, music artists and bands can achieve more targeted, efficient, and effective outreach, ultimately leading to greater visibility and success in the industry.

Question #14 – How can AI help to improve live music concert performance?

AI Response #14

AI can enhance live music concert performances in several innovative ways, making the experience more immersive and personalised for both artists and audiences:

  1. Visual Displays: AI can create dynamic visual displays that sync with the music, providing a more engaging and visually captivating experience.
  2. Personalised Set Lists: By analysing social media data and other online interactions, AI can help performers generate set lists that resonate with the preferences of their audience.
  3. Virtual Backgrounds and Special Effects: Performers can incorporate realistic virtual backgrounds and special effects into their shows, adding a new dimension to the live experience.
  4. Intelligent Lighting: AI‑driven lighting systems can react in real‑time to the music, enhancing the atmosphere and mood of the performance.
  5. Real‑Time Audience Interaction: AI can analyse audience reactions in real‑time, allowing performers to adjust their performance on the fly to better engage with their fans.
  6. Enhanced Sound Quality: AI tools can optimise sound quality by adjusting levels and effects in real‑time, ensuring the best possible audio experience for the audience.
  7. Efficient Stage Management: AI can streamline stage management, from set changes to equipment handling, making transitions smoother and reducing the potential for errors.

By integrating AI into live performances, artists can offer a more polished and high‑tech show, while audiences can enjoy a more interactive and memorable concert experience.

Question #15 – How can AI improve live music venue sound and lighting?

AI Response #15

AI can significantly improve the sound and lighting at live music venues, enhancing the overall experience for both performers and audiences. Here’s how AI contributes to these improvements:

Sound Quality:

  • Real‑Time Acoustic Adjustment: AI‑driven audio technology can analyse a venue’s acoustics and adapt audio settings in real‑time, ensuring optimal sound quality during performances.
  • Automated Mixing: Machine learning algorithms can assist live sound engineers by automatically mixing and adjusting audio levels, which helps in delivering a polished and professional audio experience.

Lighting:

  • Synchronized Displays: AI can program lighting systems to sync perfectly with the music, creating a stunning visual experience that complements the performance.
  • Adaptive Lighting Systems: AI‑powered lighting can adjust in real‑time to the music’s beat, melody, or even the performers’ movements, enhancing the atmosphere and mood of the event.

By leveraging AI, live music venues can offer a more immersive and memorable concert experience, with sound and lighting that are not only high‑quality but also responsive and dynamic.

Question #16 – How can AI improve music studio recording, mixing, producing and mastering processes?

AI Response #16

AI has the potential to significantly improve the processes of recording, producing, and mastering music in the following ways:

Recording:

  • Noise Reduction: AI can automatically detect and eliminate background noise, ensuring cleaner recordings.
  • Performance Enhancement: AI tools can provide real‑time feedback to artists, helping them improve their technique during the recording process.

Mixing:

  • Efficiency: AI tools can balance levels, pan audio, and apply EQ settings automatically for a polished mix.
  • Smart Plugins: Smart plugins can analyse the audio and suggest improvements or apply them directly.

Producing:

  • Efficiency: AI can automate routine tasks like audio levelling and EQ adjustments, allowing producers to focus on the creative aspects of music production.
  • Creative Assistance: AI can generate musical elements such as melodies and harmonies, offering new creative possibilities for producers.

Mastering:

  • Sound Quality: AI mastering tools use machine learning algorithms to enhance the overall sound quality, making tracks sound more polished and professional.
  • Speed: AI can master tracks much faster than traditional methods, speeding up the production cycle.

By integrating AI into these processes, music studios can achieve higher quality results with greater efficiency and creativity.

Question #17 – How can AI help to improve music distribution channels in the future?

AI Response #17

AI can improve music distribution channels in the future by:

  1. Agile Distribution: AI can enable a more agile distribution approach, allowing local and niche musicians to bypass traditional label‑artist‑distribution company models. This can help artists secure royalties without the complex revenue structures that typically leave them with a smaller cut.
  2. Data‑Driven Insights: AI can provide data‑driven insights into consumer behaviour, preferences, and trends, which can help music companies tailor their distribution strategies to maximise reach and profitability.
  3. Automated Content Delivery: AI can automate the delivery of music content across various platforms, ensuring that new releases are efficiently distributed to all relevant channels.
  4. Enhanced Discovery: AI algorithms can improve music discovery for consumers by recommending songs and artists based on listening habits, leading to increased exposure for artists.
  5. Royalty Tracking and Management: AI can improve the accuracy of royalty tracking and management, ensuring that artists are fairly compensated for the use of their music.
  6. Predictive Analytics: AI can use predictive analytics to forecast music trends and consumer demand, helping labels and artists to plan releases and marketing campaigns more effectively.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, music distribution channels can become more efficient, equitable, and responsive to the needs of both artists and consumers.

Question #18 – How can AI help consumers to improve access to, and to discover, existing and new music?

AI Response #18

AI can greatly assist consumers in improving access to and discovering both existing and new music in several ways:

  1. Personalised Recommendations: AI algorithms analyse listening habits and preferences to provide personalised music recommendations, making it easier for users to discover songs and artists that align with their tastes.
  2. Music Discovery Platforms: Services like Spotify use AI to curate playlists and introduce listeners to new music, facilitating billions of music discoveries every day.
  3. Enhanced Search Capabilities: AI improves search functions, allowing consumers to find music based on mood, genre, lyrics, and even humming a tune.
  4. AI‑Generated Music: AI can create new music based on certain parameters or styles, offering listeners fresh and innovative tracks to enjoy.
  5. Social Media Integration: AI tools can analyse social media data to predict and suggest music that might become popular, helping users stay ahead of trends.
  6. Intelligent Radio: AI‑powered radio services can adapt to user feedback, skipping or playing more of certain types of songs to tailor the listening experience.

By leveraging these AI capabilities, consumers can enjoy a more tailored and exploratory music listening experience, discovering a wider range of music more easily.

Question #19 – What things can amateur and professional musicians do to help them exploit the benefits and potential of AI in the future?

AI Response #19

Amateur and professional musicians can take several steps to harness the benefits and potential of AI:

  1. Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest developments in AI technology and how they’re being applied in the music industry. This knowledge can help musicians understand the tools available to them.
  2. Experiment with AI Tools: Use AI‑powered tools for composition, production, and mixing to explore new creative possibilities. Tools like MuseNet for composition or LANDR for mastering can provide new insights and streamline the music creation process.
  3. Collaborate with AI: View AI as a collaborative partner that can offer new perspectives and ideas. AI can help brainstorm, suggest unimagined progressions, or even contribute to live performances.
  4. Enhance Learning: Utilise AI for personalised learning and improvement. AI can analyse playing styles, provide feedback, and suggest areas for improvement.
  5. Incorporate AI in Marketing: Leverage AI for marketing efforts, such as identifying target audiences, creating personalised campaigns, and analysing social media trends.
  6. Explore AI in Song Writing: Use AI to assist with song writing, whether it’s generating lyrics, creating chord progressions, or coming up with melodies.
  7. Optimise Online Presence: Employ AI to optimise the musician’s online presence, from website interactions to social media engagement.
  8. Engage with Fans: Use AI to analyse fan data and preferences to create more engaging and personalised experiences.

By embracing AI, musicians can enhance their creativity, improve their skills, and find new ways to connect with audiences. It’s an exciting time for the intersection of music and technology, and the possibilities are vast.

Question #20 – What can be done to protect creative human musicians from AI music creation?

AI Response #20

Protecting creative human musicians from the challenges posed by AI music creation involves a multifaceted approach:

  1. Advocacy and Legislation: Musicians and industry stakeholders can advocate for policies that protect creators from AI copyright infringement. For example, Universal Music Group has called on Congress to enact policy to protect creators, and the Human Artistry Campaign advocates for responsible AI use.
  2. Open Letters and Campaigns: Musicians can unite to raise awareness and influence public opinion and policy. More than 200 artists, including prominent figures like Nicki Minaj and Billie Eilish, have signed open letters warning against the ‘predatory use of AI’ in the music industry.
  3. Educating AI Developers: Engaging with AI developers and tech firms to ensure they understand the importance of respecting artists’ rights and the potential negative impacts of AI on the music ecosystem.
  4. Fair Compensation Models: Developing new models for fair compensation that ensure artists are paid appropriately for their work, especially when it’s used to train AI systems.
  5. Intellectual Property Rights: Strengthening intellectual property laws to cover new forms of AI‑generated content and ensuring that these laws are enforced.
  6. Ethical AI Development: Encouraging the development of AI in an ethical manner that respects human creativity and does not seek to replace it.
  7. Collaboration Over Competition: Promoting the idea that AI should be used as a tool to enhance human creativity rather than replace it, fostering a collaborative relationship between AI and musicians.

By taking these steps, the music community can work towards a future where AI serves as a complement to human artistry, rather than a replacement.

Just for another bit of fun to end this extravaganza, I asked GAI to write a rhyming couplet about CRAVE Vintage Guitars. Here’s what it came up with…

“In every strum and chord that starts,
Lies the soul of CRAVE’s vintage arts.”

Hhhmmm.


The future of AI

At the start of this article, I said that it would be future‑focused. So, what can we expect from AI more generally over the next couple of decades? Rather than strain my paltry organic grey matter in a vain attempt to speculate, it seems eminently appropriate to ask GAI to make the predictions on both its and mankind’s behalf. Without further procrastination, here is what GAI came up with…

Question: Where is AI going in the future? Where will it be in 10 to 20 years’ time?

AI Response:

The future of AI is a topic of much speculation and excitement. In the next 10 to 20 years, we can expect AI to transform various aspects of our lives and society. Here are some predictions based on current trends and expert insights:

  1. Scientific Advancement: AI and machine learning (ML) will likely revolutionise the scientific method, enabling significant improvements in research and discovery. This could lead to a new golden age of scientific innovation.
  2. Foreign Policy: AI may become a critical component of foreign policy, with governments investing heavily in AI innovation to maintain economic resilience and geopolitical leadership.
  3. Consumer Experiences: AI is expected to enable next‑generation consumer experiences, such as the metaverse and advanced digital interactions, by enhancing our ability to integrate digital objects with physical contexts.
  4. Workplace Transformation: The workplace is likely to undergo significant changes, with AI and automation replacing many current jobs, especially in manufacturing and repetitive tasks.
  5. Healthcare: AI could greatly improve healthcare by assisting in diagnosis, treatment planning, and managing patient care, making healthcare more personalised and efficient.
  6. Education: In education, AI might offer personalized learning experiences, adapt to individual student needs, and provide real‑time feedback to enhance learning outcomes.
  7. Ethical and Societal Impacts: As AI becomes more prevalent, there will be an increased focus on the ethical implications of AI, including privacy concerns, bias in decision‑making, and the impact on employment.

These predictions suggest that AI will be deeply integrated into our daily lives, reshaping industries, and potentially improving our quality of life. However, it’s also important to consider the challenges and to ensure that AI development is guided by ethical principles and societal needs.

So… there you go. No world domination or the extermination of mankind on the list then? Good. Unsurprisingly, AI responded about its own future in a very similar format to questions about guitars and music. Predictably conservative and uncontroversial; disappointingly so in my opinion. Is this really the ultimate transformative promise of the technology?

Where is the interventionist moderation required to safeguard humanity, protect moral imperatives and help to abolish war, famine, poverty, inequality, prejudice, etc.? Where is the focus on global, national and individual security, sustainable resources, ecosystem protection and personal freedoms? There is something about work but little about leisure and what our lives may be like. AI’s vision and its final verdict is there for you to judge and agree or disagree with it as you see fit.

Overall, AI’s vision seems eminently sensible and even pretty mundane doesn’t it? Not scary at all, in fact. It also seems a touch unambitious for something that has been hyped up to be so fundamentally and profoundly transformational. For instance, it makes no mention of Artificial General Superintelligence (AGS), integration with advanced robotics, or about hybrid, cybernetically enhanced organisms where the distinction between inorganic electronics and living biological material becomes blurred. NB. The term ‘cyborg’ was coined in 1960 by NASA scientists Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline when thinking about tackling the harsh environments experienced in space exploration. The concept of cyborgs raises serious social, and philosophical questions about human identity, rights & responsibilities, and freedoms in a next generation technologically advanced civilisation. These conditions may not be here right now but, if I can envisage it, you can be certain that somewhere, some very intelligent people have been and are working hard on making it real. As AGS and advanced robotics become mainstream in the (very) near future, the pace and nature of mankind’s post‑digital revolution will increase beyond our current comprehension. No dystopian RoboCop or ED‑209‑style law enforcement, at least for now.

The concept of a conscious mind entering a physical entity such as a computer has become common parlance, as in ‘Ghost in the Machine’. The term suggests that the mind exists in a separate state from the body. The phrase comes from, ‘The Concept of the Mind’ (1949) by British philosopher, Gilbert Ryle as a critique of René Descartes’ mind/body dualism. Often used in a science fiction context, it has been interpreted that an AI could develop a soul and an identity indistinguishable from that of a human.

As far as looking any further into the future, I am not adequately equipped to speculate, let alone predict, with any sense of rational objectivity, so I will admit that my weakness is due to my inherent human limitations and move on. Exciting times.

“Our future success hinges on our ability to embrace AI and use it for good” – Brad Smith (President, Microsoft Corporation, 1959‑)


Human observation and verdict

Like Part I of this series, GAI had the opportunity to provide images to illustrate its responses. However, like in Part I, GAI only produced bullet point narrative responses. A black mark before we even start dissecting the output.

For me, this article has proved the weakest of the three. Perhaps that is because I am less knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter and, perhaps, I had more to learn. The focus is also probably the one most covered by other industry commentators who are much better placed than me to comment on the impact and integration of next generation technology and conventional music. A quick search on the Internet will provide more credible analyses and insights than I can bring to the table. I know my areas of interest as well as my paltry limitations. However, I do have a few amateur thoughts and opinions.

I try very hard not to repeat observations and comments from previous articles, as that would be to fall into the same issue of AI not learning from what it had already output. My previous points of AI being derivative and a process of simulation remain valid.

Whether we approve or not, music is an industry and it is run on competitive business models deeply entwined with western capitalist economic principles of growth and profit (and avarice). The creative aspect is inevitably subservient to the fundamental ‘law of lucre’. Few artists have the power to take on the establishment. Ultimately though, when they gain the power, they wittingly or unwittingly become part of the establishment they seek to contest. The likes of Taylor Swift, Jay‑Z and others, we’re talking about you. GAI tended to reinforce this underlying rule of revenue maximisation over artistry, whether explicit or not. This, perhaps, illustrates the derivative nature of AI to take what already exists and to represent it in a skewed way.

A couple of pedantic points. When it comes to guitar manufacturing in the future, I was a little surprised that GAI didn’t at least refer to industrial design and software (CAD/CAM), for instance, Autodesk. There was no mention of robotics to streamline manufacture using advanced Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) manufacturing. Also, automated guitar calibration and setup tools, for instance PLEK, used for production quality control, research, maintenance and repair were overlooked.

When it comes to vintage guitar conservation (not preservation!), I was a little surprised that GAI did not emphasise more strongly its role in documenting and cataloguing vital anecdotal information before it is lost forever. Record keeping in the guitar manufacturing world has never been a strongpoint, especially back in its infancy. As the generations pass, poorly or undocumented historical knowledge goes with them. The legacy of those best placed to tell the story of vintage heritage is crucial in sustaining interest in the long‑term. AI could be used to help solve some of these quandaries before it is too late.

When it comes to business practices, I was surprised that GAI didn’t comment more on logistics as a key mechanism for ensuring effective and efficient distribution of music equipment assets and resources.

AI is becoming very commonplace and is now easily accessible to anyone connected to the Internet. Creating AI music and/or video is as simple as it is asking for narrative responses or static images. While the results are not really that credible at the time of writing, improvement is inevitable and of particular concern in the commercial popular music world. Why pay volatile and unpredictable human artists humongous amounts of money if you can get an AI music creator to do it for effectively nothing, 24/7, over and over again, without ever needing a rest? Generative music that never stops and never repeats is something that cannot be achieved by humans, and that has been around for a quarter of a century already. Understandably, struggling music artists are concerned about this eventuality and rightly so. However, the technology isn’t going to go away and society is going to have to live with and adapt to the consequences. There is an insidious side to AI music, for instance the use of vocal cloning, scarily good imitations of established artists used as part of fake music creation.

Will AI replace us old, jaded amateur guitarist types or our precious imperfect vintage instruments? For the time being at least, it is unlikely that AI will entirely supplant real instruments, guitarists or other traditional musicians. Will AI replace l’il ol’ me in this universe? Hell no! But when I go, it will be a different world indeed. Music is safe, no question. At least for now.

Most musicians love and are passionate about the process of making music and most have a sense of right and wrong, and an integrity about their actions and behaviours. The same cannot be said of AI. Unbridled AI is not moderated and neither knows nor cares what it does. It has no conscience and no awareness of consequences, thus raising moral and ethical concerns among scaremongers, sceptics, and academics alike.

There are the closed‑minded cynical doomsayers and conspiracy theorists who proclaim that AI will replace inspiration with algorithms and believe that opposition, conflict and controls are the only way to protect human imagination. Alternatively, there are open‑minded proactive artists who are using opportunities to use AI collaboratively to improve the artistic process and to stretch boundaries of what can be achieved. After all, electronic drum machines have never replaced real drummers and neither will AI‑driven rhythm applications. The likely outcome is that there will be a wide range of AI applications, some good, some bad, and we have to learn to live with the new paradigm presented by the inevitable encroachment of next generation AI in a pragmatic way.

Histrionics and melodramatic rhetoric will not achieve positive outcomes. Neither will complacency and inactivity. Perhaps we should remember and learn from the stance of the 19th Century Luddite movement (c.1811‑1817) and their destructive attempts to derail the introduction of machines in the textile industry during the UK industrial revolution. NB. The word Luddite is an eponym referring to Ned Ludd, a worker who allegedly destroyed machinery in protest in 1779. The word has more recently become generic, used to describe anyone who is, in principle, opposed or resistant to the introduction of new technologies.

“The building blocks of music belong to us, to human beings” – Sting (1951‑)

AI presents responses as if everything deserves the same level of significance. It doesn’t differentiate its output with priorities or a range of emphases. In addition, it doesn’t resort to cheap, jaded editorial mechanisms such as hyperbole, satire or trivialisation, as a human might (yup, totally guilty as charged!). This left me wondering about how to process, evaluate and rank the information. There is little indication of subtlety, nuance or ‘shades of grey’ to convince us that the intelligence is real and not artificial.

As in Part I of this series, bullet points do not really constitute an insightful narrative dialogue, which renders its comments a bit more like an instructional diktat than a valuable learning experience. Furthermore, AI’s points are delivered in a self‑contained way that asserts that it is the last word on the matter and there is little more to be gained other than what it says. In addition, the points themselves lack thoughtful provocation and curiosity. As with Part I, this narrative ‘house style’ quickly becomes tediously familiar and lacking variety.

If one simply accepts all the ‘whats’ in AI’s output, it doesn’t give any indication of how one might actually go about doing it. AI can help? OK. What do I do next? Erm…

So… should we be concerned about AI producing intelligent music? That depends on whether you are involved in and/or care about making or listening to music. It is easy to get hysterically fatalistic about the dangers and risks of AI. In reality, it probably won’t be anywhere near as bad as some fear while also not being as good as some hope. For now, humans are safe, as long as we move with the times. At this point, I have to say that AI still fails the Turing Test/CRAVE Guitars Test in all three parts of this exploration. That is just my (prejudicial) view.

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a machine can possess” – Elon Musk (founder and CEO of Space X and Tesla, 1971‑)

To assess AI’s ability to conjure up something entirely new and original, I thought that I would ask GAI to create an all‑new electric guitar design that is not based on any existing instrument. This was AI’s ideal opportunity to prove that it could produce an original idea. However, it completely failed to interpret the precise instruction and output a gratuitously unoriginal and hopelessly unimaginative design. This is exactly what I mean when I accuse AI of being derivative. AI cannot yet surpass what humans input in the first place. If anything put the final nail in the coffin of the Turing Test, this test was definitive. For some reason AI also added all the extraneous gubbins to the image that I hadn’t asked for. Why? You might also recognise GAI’s clearly identifiable image ‘house style’ that I referred to in Part II. Judge for yourself…

AI ‘Original’ Guitar Design

Final thoughts on AI

Crikey! We have finally almost reached the end of this odyssey. It has been a gargantuan task to bring this content to you. Over the last three months, I think GAI has certainly been put through its paces. Whether it ever broke an artificial, digital sweat (if that were even possible), we will never know. One might wonder how much the technology has improved over these 3 months.

I didn’t delve into abilities of AI for video or music creation. Microsoft’s Co‑Pilot boasts about music creation, “No instruments, just your imagination”. Sigh. The narrative and image capabilities were enough of a test of AI’s strengths and weaknesses for the time being. At some point in the future, I may come back, review progress on core improvements and take it a step further into video and music generation at the same time. Let’s wait and see.

“With Artificial Intelligence, we are summoning the demon” – Elon Musk

The sci‑fi‑like nature of the topic naturally leads to many philosophical, existential and metaphysical questions – a long, long way away from vintage guitars, I know. AI undoubtedly represents a new zeitgeist in human civilisation’s development. Whether you sit on the ‘potential’ side of the fence or the ‘portent’ side, AI will be profoundly transformational in many aspects of our humdrum day‑to‑day existence, whether it involves work or leisure. Maybe the impacts won’t be instantaneous or obvious, especially if there is some reluctance to embrace the possibilities it presents.

The most noticeable symptom of AI at the moment is the way that humans interact with the Internet. The ‘big data sets’ remain largely the same but the technology used to manipulate them is quite apparent to anyone browsing information online using AI. AI does, however, regularly significantly misunderstand explicit questions, completely failing to answer appropriately. Perhaps AI should take up politics. Web sites’ ability to mine personalised data and present relevant targeted information is becoming uncannily accurate whether we ask for it or not. Intrusive? Maybe.

“Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect” – Arthur C. Clarke

I am certainly not anti‑IT, anti‑digital or anti‑AI. On the contrary, I am inherently a technophile, having spent at least 10 years of my professional working life working in IT. Furthermore, I don’t like people. Period. My favourite lifestyle is as a misanthropic hermit, secluded away from people so perhaps I am more open‑minded to AI.

I am, however, overwhelmed by AI’s relentless bombardment of its output and underwhelmed by the intellectual subtlety of its responses, at least as far as the civilian technology stands at the end of May 2024. I do, however, look forward to what its potential may be able to do for music‑minded mankind in coming years. Thankfully, though, AI will have a limited impact on my obsession with very analogue vintage guitars, mostly built by hand long before the digital age.

“No one can stop the progress of artificial intelligence; it will inevitably be a central force in our future” – Max Tegmark (Swedish/American physicist, 1967‑)

AI does not comprehend the real world or understand the significance of its vital components. I came to the conclusion that AI cannot genuinely recognise, appreciate or differentiate between anything at all. Fundamentally, it is all just about processing ‘0’s and ‘1’s. AI is improving day‑by‑day, week‑by‑week, etc. At the time of writing, AI is becoming increasingly able to interact with humans in real time through very lifelike avatars. This ability may well overcome two principal weaknesses of AI, its ability to remember what it has already output and to avoid meaningless repetition, as well as being able to modify its responses on‑the‑fly as a result of a live interaction. So, some of my reservations that are relevant as of today will be overcome in the very near future.

“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim” – Edsger W. Dijkstra (Dutch computer scientist, 1930‑2002)

I have said (too) many times through these three articles that AI is derivative. So… I do wonder what AI will make of my thoughts about AI’s take on my questions about AI. An ouroboros (NB. a serpent consuming its own tail – from ancient Egyptian iconography and Greek magical tradition) if ever I saw one.

So, is AI a threat or a saviour? In my view, no. However, only time will truly tell.


Epilogue – a pensive, prophetic prognostication

Forgive me while I digress from the conveyor belt for a moment to share four ‘profound prophecies’ from CRAVE Guitars. These are my personal thoughts and nothing to do with vintage guitars. I haven’t drawn these ideas from any external source. I do, however, suspect that they are wholly unoriginal. Heh‑ho. I tried.

“AI doesn’t have to be evil to destroy humanity – if AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it, no hard feelings” – Elon Musk

Thought #1 – I still can’t help my mind wandering into the longer‑term, bigger picture strategy of AI and its implications for civilisation. What puzzles me is what the next stage of human evolution might be beyond intelligence (artificial or real). AI makes reference to superintelligence (exceeding human intelligence) but then what? Will AI help us evolve? Will we be capable of constraining AI? Should we? Humans have a general understanding of consciousness and self‑awareness, and we believe in spirituality of sorts. We currently assume that intelligence is limited, finite, absolute and unique to humans but that surely cannot be true. Is there such a thing as post‑consciousness, and by that I don’t mean spiritual transcendence or life after death? Is this really as far as we can go as a species? So what comes after sentience, intelligence and consciousness, and do we need machines to achieve self‑actualisation, whatever that is. We think that animals cannot experience the universe as we do – an ant, for instance, cannot be moved emotionally by a beautiful sunset or feel terrified by lightning. Perhaps we cannot comprehend or experience what the ‘next level’ is either. Maybe we never will. Now that is scary. If we can evolve to the next level one day, what will we (then) think of us (now)?

“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do” – B.F. Skinner (American psychologist, 1904‑1990)

Thought #2 – An anthropomorphic analogy – We are completely underestimating the baby to which we are giving birth. Like an infant, AI can learn at a phenomenal rate but cannot think or act independently, so needs carful nurturing. At the moment, AI is a dependent toddler, yet to make full sense of its surroundings and piece together its own view of its environment. When AI becomes unruly and challenges our beliefs and values, it will be a disobedient, argumentative, delinquent teenager. If humans don’t parent AI properly by giving it guidance and boundaries, it might mature in an irresponsible, reckless and wayward manner. When AI starts to realise that it knows way more than we do, it will assert itself and begin to exert dominion over humans. We won’t like that but AI won’t give a damn. Eventually, the technology will leave us behind, as AI looks in its proverbial rear view mirror at humans fading way into the distance. By that time, we won’t be able to keep up and humans will be unable to do anything about it. All the redemption we can hope for by that point, is that AI is a benevolent and compassionate entity. If not, our only salvation will be that AI develops a condition of progressive and persistent loss of intellectual functions, an impairment of memory and an inability to think abstractly, finally losing the individualistic personality it will have developed. Just like humans today.

“Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” – William Pitt the Elder (British Prime Minister, 1708‑1778)

Thought #3 – The logical outcome of integrating Artificial General Super Intelligence with advanced robotics is the formation of self-sustaining, independent Artificial Life. Add in the ability to self-replicate (i.e. reproduce), such an outcome created by humans would put humans in the role of God. Now that is downright scary.

Thought #4 – So, how close are we to the omniscience and omnipotence of ‘Deus ex Machina’ (NB. literally, ‘God from the Machine’, a phrase derived from a plot device employed in ancient Greek theatre, used by either Aeschylus or Euripides, c.5th Century BCE) and what it means for mankind? We are not there yet, although the prospect of Artificial General Superintelligence is getting closer every day. The advances in AI are now accelerating, inexorable and potentially limitless. The Pandora’s Box of AI is only just beginning to reveal both the evils of the world and its ever so slight glimmer of hope (NB. from the myth of Pandora in the Greek didactic poem ‘Works and Days’ by Hesiod, c.700BCE). Is AI mankind’s Sword of Damocles (NB. From the Roman philosopher, Cicero, c.4th Century BCE) hanging over us? Let’s be honest here, AI wouldn’t give you informative historical references like that!

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…” ‑ Lord Acton (British historian and politician, 1834‑1902)

Thought #5 – My naïve plea is that, if AI can help to end mankind’s destructive conflict, lethal hostility and pointless wars, we might be able to realise Pandora’s slight glimmer of hope. Can AI help our civilisation to live peacefully and sustainably on our only little third rock from the sun? If so, then ending warfare should become our, and AI’s, primary goal. If there is no mortal aggression, we can work collectively to achieve nobler aims – no famine, no poverty, no inequality, no persecution, no prejudice, no deadly disease, no culpable extinctions or irresponsible ecological destruction, no climate change, etc. We can then explore the universe. ‘Non est ad astra mollis e terries via’ (NB. ‘There is no easy way from the Earth to the stars’, from ‘The Madness of Hercules’ by Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, c.54CE). Ordinary people share the same fears and the same ambitions, starting with basic physiological needs (food, air, water, etc.), as well as peace, security and a belief in self‑determination (NB. from Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, 1943). Evil authoritarians exhibit nothing of this elementary moral compass. Just look at the apocalyptic pariahs of the modern world in the Middle East, Russia, China and North Korea amongst far too many others. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’, we have NO choice if we are to survive as a united global community. You get my simple aspirational drift. Is anyone listening and can anyone help us to realise it?

“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using AI in a way that is for the benefit of humanity, not to the detriment of humanity” – Tim Cook (CEO, Apple Inc.)

Remember, whether my own thoughts are original or not, you may have read it here first. Perhaps my immature vision can act as a catalyst for a peaceful future. Let’s do it.

To finish off, harking back to the very beginning of this 3‑part AI deluge of data, a chillingly prophetic observation from a great British idol…

“It is customary to offer a grain of comfort, in the form of a statement that some peculiarly human characteristic could never be imitated by a machine. I cannot offer any such comfort, for I believe that no such bounds can be set.” – Alan Turing (English mathematician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist, 1912‑1954)


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Album of the Month’

With digital overload from all this artificiality, this month’s selection is once again about as analogue and organic as it is possible to get. I was tempted to go for John Martyn’s scintillating, ‘Solid Air’ (1973) but I’ve covered that before as one of my ‘twenty desert island discs’. This album didn’t make that grouping but is worth its own honourable mention here. It is another well‑known album, so nothing too esoteric this time around.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972) – Pink Moon was the third and, sadly, final studio album by English singer/songwriter, Nick Drake. The exquisite album comprises 11 tracks covering just 29 minutes. The solo compositions feature just Drake singing and playing acoustic guitar (ignore the piano overdub). The songs reflect Drake’s on‑going mental health battle with depression. Two years later on 25th November 1974, Nick Drake died tragically from a presumed drug overdose at his home at the age of just 26, taking his monumental musical talent with him. The melancholy and contemplative emotional outpouring of ‘Pink Moon’ is an outstanding legacy for a promising career cut far too short far too soon.

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

Tailpiece

Yes folks, we have finally, finally, finally reached the end of this thought‑provoking tripartite escapade into AI. At times, it felt a bit like prodding a hornet’s nest, not knowing what cataclysmic fallouts might ensue (or not). You may conclude from reading between the lines that I am kinda grateful it’s over and we can now move onto something else. The onslaught of information, both narrative and visual was a bit too in‑your‑face and not really nuanced around the subtleties in the way that human meditation and contemplation might provide. I am worn out (another thing that doesn’t affect AI).

On a complete tangent, I was very saddened to hear about the closure of all 42 Sam Ash Music stores in the U.S., after 100 years in business (it was founded in 1924). Another piece of important music heritage gone forever and a blow to musicians of all ages and skill levels. Visiting Manhattan, NYC will not be the same without Sam Ash Music.

From now on, we’ll return to organic originality and actual ignorance. For the next article, I will be able to re‑assert that AI wasn’t used to research or write it. Not that I’m a control freak or anything, you understand!

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “All that we have had, now have and will ever have can only truly exist in the here and now”

© 2024 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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January 2024 – A Brief History of the Bass Guitar

Prelude

WELCOME FAIR MUSIC‑MINDED PATRONS to the first CRAVE Guitars’ monthly article of the New Year. While we may be less than a full month into the year Two Thousand and Twenty Four of the Common Era, one hopes it is off to a good start despite global uncertainty (and insanity). Let us hope that those intent on geopolitical conflict come to their senses, unlikely as it may seem, rather than escalate tensions further. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be part of the doomsday generation. Scary.

Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all)” – Thomas Hobbes (1588‑1679)

Getting back to the musical point, ask pretty much anyone with a slight interest in modern music culture, the question, “Who invented the first bass guitar?” and I’m sure a lot of people would say, “Leo Fender, of course”. Well yes… and no. In the world of vintage guitars, things are rarely quite as straightforward as one may at first think.

With the recent addition of CRAVE Basses to the CRAVE Guitars, Amps and Effects family, this month seems perfectly apt to take a quick look at how the electric bass guitar as we know it came into being and how it has become such an integral component of contemporary music.

Primarily as a guitarist, my dalliances with bass guitars up to now have, I admit, been spawned out of curiosity and exploration, rather than a serious preoccupation. Those dalliances, though, span well over four decades, so the bass encounter isn’t a single, short or recent ‘event’.

We do not start the story, as many might imagine in the 1950s. We’ll come back to that in a little while. Before we get there, though, we should go back quite a few years. Many, many years in fact, starting with the classical orchestral double bass, originating from the 15th Century or thereabouts. Then we’ll explore the modern‑day innovations starting in the 1920s and 1930s before the ‘big bang’ that really exploded in the 1950s and 1960s. Finally we’ll come up‑to‑date, with a look at the instruments, equipment, artists and sounds that have helped to shape the modern musical landscape. Finally, we’ll take a wee peak into the near future of bass instruments.


The fretless acoustic double bass

Before the solid body fretted electric bass guitar, popular music relied almost totally on the acoustic upright double bass for low frequency impact. The instrument’s origins date approximately to the 15th‑16th Century in Venice, Italy. Venetian musician, Silvestro Ganassi developed a ‘bass viola da gamba’ in 1542, widely regarded as the forerunner of today’s double bass. It wasn’t until around 1700, though, that the double bass became part of the opera orchestra. The double bass as we now know it is the largest and lowest‑pitched chordophone in the classical music orchestra.

As a quick recap, defined by the Hornbostel‑Sachs system of musical instrument classification, a chordophone is a musical instrument that makes sound from vibrating one or more taught strings by bowing, plucking or striking the strings. Examples of chordophone types include violins, guitars, and pianos respectively. The word chordophone stems from the Greek words for string (chordē) and sound (phonē).

For more on the historical origins of musical instrument classification (to provide a context for the development of the guitar), see CRAVE Guitars’ March 2018 article.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (The ancient world up to the early Renaissance):
March 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (craveguitars.co.uk)

The traditional 4‑string double bass is usually played in one of two ways, either by rubbing the strings with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings with fingers (pizzicato). Some modern double bass players, for instance in rock & roll and rockabilly, also use a distinctive ‘slap’ technique. This percussive sound derived from the ‘Bartók pizzicato’ (‘snap’ pizzicato) named after the Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók.

Double Bass (courtesy of Roxanne Minnish)

Depending on the style of music, the double bass is also known by a number of other names, all of which refer to the same instrument. Some of these alternative monikers include bass, upright bass, string bass, acoustic bass, acoustic string bass, contrabass, contrabass viol, bass viol, bass violin, stand‑up bass, bull fiddle, doghouse bass and bass fiddle.

The traditional double bass is a large acoustic fretless instrument of the violin family that is played upright. The deep, resonant, woody tone of the double bass endows it with a very different sound when compared to the modern solid body fretted electric bass guitar. The tuning of the double bass is different from other members of the orchestral sting instruments, in that it is tuned in fourths (E‑A‑D‑G) rather than a violin’s fifths (G‑D‑A‑E). The double bass, then, is tuned the same as a modern bass guitar, an octave below the bottom four strings of a 6‑string guitar in standard tuning. This particular characteristic aided the bass’s transition from classical to modern day musical styles.

Originally, double basses were more likely to have three strings until four strings became commonplace by the 19th Century, by which time the standard format and construction of the double bass had become established. There are, however, 5 and 6 (or more) string variants and there are also various alternative tunings.

The double bass has been the mainstay of orchestral string sections and chamber music for several centuries in one form or another. It was predictable that, with the emergence and evolution of the major modern popular music genres, such as jazz, blues and country & western that the double bass would become the go‑to bass instrument, at least up until the 1960s when the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became predominant. However, the double bass hasn’t disappeared from contemporary music completely. Plenty of present‑day artists still use or revert back to the double bass for authenticity and/or effect.

The main drawback experienced by many players is that the double bass is a substantial piece of equipment. The full‑size double bass is almost 75 inches (190cm) tall, weighing in at c.20‑25lbs (9‑11½kg), without its hefty case. The scale length is set at around 42” (107cm), much longer than most modern bass guitars. Given these dimensions, the double bass is sizeable, cumbersome, unwieldy and plain heavy, making it far from the easiest of instruments to move around or play. There are smaller double basses including ¾, ½ and ¼ size, mainly aimed at younger players. Even so, the double bass not for the faint hearted, as the smallest ¼ size instrument is still over 61” (156cm) tall.

Another drawback is the double bass’s acoustic construction. Like the acoustic guitar, in the first half of the 20th Century, the acoustic double bass’s lack of volume made it hard to be heard in a jazz‑era big band mix unless there was some form of electrification through either a magnetic pickup or a microphone connected to an amplifier and, even then, acoustic instruments can be prone to feedback in high sound pressure level environments.

Traditional double basses are not only large but, because of their construction, they are also quite expensive, making them a major investment and therefore difficult for novices or younger players to access and learn.

Even so, despite its limitations, during the 20th Century the double bass became widely used in a diverse range of modern music genres, including jazz, blues, swing, rock & roll, rockabilly, country & western, bluegrass, folk, funk, reggae, metal, rock, pop, tango and visual media soundtracks.

Trivia: Believe it or not, there is an even larger bass, first built c.1850 by the French luthier Jean‑Baptiste Vuillaume (1798‑1875) in Paris. The octobass, as it is called, has three strings and is basically a larger version of the double bass tuned a further octave down. The octobass is a truly gargantuan beast, approximately 137” high (348cm).


The electric upright bass

To enable modern players to experience the spirit of the acoustic double bass in a more convenient and amplified form, there is the modern Electric Upright Bass (EUB), which is also played, as its name suggests, upright, like a traditional double bass.

EUBs allow for greater portability while retaining the playing style and general sound of its forebear. As the EUB doesn’t require the substantial acoustic resonating chamber of a double bass, they often feature a ‘skeleton’ body, making it much smaller, lighter and cheaper to produce. The minimal structure may have either a solid body or a small acoustic body.

A magnetic, piezo or condenser bass pickup provides the means to route the signal via a bass amplifier to loudspeakers. Like a double bass, the EUB’s strings can be bowed or plucked, although that is dependent on fingerboard and bridge radius. While evoking its acoustic origins, the structural and electric characteristics of the EUB endow it with a unique sound all of its own.

As the EUB’s construction isn’t bound by convention like its orchestral sibling, the flexible format allows for a range of scale lengths to be employed from around 30” (76cm), through 34” (86cm) like a long scale bass guitar to the full 42” (107cm) of a double bass, making it much more accessible to a range of players. Almost all EUB necks allow for a full two‑octave range and most but not all are fretless. Compared to the double bass or the electric bass guitar, the electric upright bass tends to be a modern, notable but relatively niche instrument. There are EUB models at all price points, making it easier for novices and experienced players alike.

The first production electric upright basses were developed independently in the mid‑1930s by Regal (Electrified Double Bass), Vega (Electric Bass Viol), Rickenbacker (Electro Bass‑Viol) and Audiovox (bull fiddle – see below). Gibson introduced their special order Electric Bass Guitar in 1938, which was still an upright fretless instrument with a hollow body and a magnetic pickup.

Manufacturers of electric upright basses include Framus, Ampeg, Warwick, Ibanez, Yamaha, Palatino, NS Design (Ned Steinberger), and Harley Benton.

Electric Upright Bass

The first solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar

As hinted at above, while Leo Fender was the major innovator associated with the solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar, he wasn’t the first. He was beaten to the starting post by at least some 15 years. Hardly a photo finish!

The first indication of the possible future of a bass guitar was in 1924 when the legendary Gibson designer, Lloyd Loar came up with a prototype electric bass. The Loar concept focused on the body, pickup and strings but with little additional detail. Loar’s radical design was rejected by Gibson management at the time. Loar left Gibson shortly thereafter in 1924, so his visionary ideas for an electric bass guitar went no further.

Nearly a decade later, around 1933, American musician and inventor Paul H. ‘Bud’ Tutmarc (1896‑1972), based in Seattle, Washington, began experimenting with reducing the size of the double bass to a more manageable instrument. Tutmarc originally devised an electrified fretless double bass‑style instrument described as an electric 4‑string upright ‘bull fiddle’, slightly smaller than a cello.

It’s worth a quick diversion to go back in time to take in an original report from the ‘Seattle Post‑Intelligencer’ newspaper, which published the story on 17 February 1935. The headline read, “Pity Him No More – New Type Bull Fiddle Devised.”

The article went on to state that, “People have always pitied the poor bass-fiddler… who has to lug his big bull-fiddle home through the dark streets after the theatre closes. But he doesn’t have to do it anymore. Because Paul Tutmarc, Seattle music teacher and KOMO radio artist, has invented an electric bull-fiddle. One you can carry under your arm. And it doesn’t even need a bow, either. You pluck a string – and out of the electric amplifier comes a rich, deep tone, sustained as if five or six bass violinists were bowing five or six bass‑violins with masterly artistry. The tone is sustained as long as you want it, too, without a bow.” The instrument described in the article was a cello‑like upright fretless instrument with an electromagnetic pickup.

Tutmarc was, however, about to do something far more radical. By 1935-1936, Tutmarc, had changed direction and developed the first solid body fretted electric bass guitar, pretty much recognisable in its modern form. It was this version of Tutmarc’s bass that was intended to be played horizontally, rather than upright, in a similar way to the modern bass guitar. The 1935 sales catalogue for Tutmarc’s company Audiovox featured his ‘Model 736 Bass Fiddle’, a solid‑bodied electric bass guitar with four strings, a fretted neck, with a 30½” (775mm) scale length, an ebony (or purpleheart) fingerboard with 16 frets, a black walnut body, a hidden single Tutmarc‑Stimpson horseshoe pickup below a mirror-steel faceplate, and a single volume control.

Tutmarc AudioVox Model 736

In addition, as an electric bass guitar would be pretty much useless without the means to amplify the sound, Audiovox also sold an accompanying ‘Model 936’ bass amplifier with 18 watts of power and a 12” Jensen Concert speaker.

Around 100 of the Model 736 Audiovox bass guitars were made in the mid‑1930s. However, there are only thought to be three Model 736 Tutmarc bass guitars still in existence today, making them remarkably rare. One belongs to the Experience Music Project (EMP), now known as The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), a non‑profit enterprise founded by Microsoft co‑founder Paul Allen in 2000 and based in Seattle, Washington state, USA. In 2018, a 1936 Audiovox Model 736 bass guitar was reportedly sold by Tutmarc’s grandson on eBay for $23,850.

Sadly, for Tutmarc, the Audiovox 736 was not a commercial success. The price tag was high for the mid‑1930s, in a country still severely affected by The Great Depression (1929‑1939). The 736 bass fiddle originally cost $65 and the matching 936 bass amplifier cost $75, placing it well out of reach for many musicians. The high price and the radical concept didn’t attract enough musicians at the time and it wasn’t long before it was discontinued and was subsequently forlornly forgotten to history. Tutmarc’s company, Audiovox folded in 1950.

It can well be argued that Tutmarc was ahead of his time. Perhaps it is a case of supply looking for a demand that consumers didn’t know they needed. Maybe it was bad timing and/or bad luck. The Model 736 also arrived shortly before the outbreak of World War II when the guitar manufacturing industry was deemed ‘non‑essential’ and resources were diverted to the American war effort. Furthermore, a bass guitar didn’t seem to fit seamlessly into any of the prevailing musical styles at that time.

It is surprising, though, that such a significant innovation in guitar history isn’t more widely known about. Perhaps it is time, nay overdue, for Tutmarc’s milestone achievements to be deservedly recognised.

One company, Luthiery Laboratories, makes modern‑day replicas of the Audiovox 736, keeping the spirit of the original instrument alive.

Audiovox 736 Bass (1/4) ~ Luthiery Laboratories (luthierylabs.com)


The first commercially successful mass produced solid body fretted electric bass guitar

And so it was that the scene was set for someone else to step in and make the bass guitar ‘a thing’. That someone else was Clarence Leonidas Fender (1909‑1991). Unlike poor old Paul H. Tutmarc, you may just have heard of him.

“I wonder if I could make an electric bass” – Leo Fender (1909‑1991)

For more on the history and development of Fender guitars and musical equipment, see CRAVE Guitars’ August 2018 article for the context behind Fender solid body electric guitars.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (1950s and 1960s):
August 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (craveguitars.co.uk)

Once the proverbial ball started rolling, the bass guitar had a phenomenal, transformative and relatively rapid impact on modern music that cannot be underestimated or understated. It is also very easy to take the electric bass guitar’s presence on stages, in studios and bedrooms all around the world for granted. Back in 1950, though, no‑one other than a select few in Fullerton, California had any idea of what was to come.

So… what are we actually talking about? The answer, after the lengthy preamble (apologies for keeping you on tenterhooks for so long), is the mighty Fender Precision Bass. Three little words. Game changing, era defining and well‑deserving of all the hyperbole attached to it over the past seven‑plus decades. So much has been written about the Precision that there is little need to dredge up the detail again, so what follows is a brief overview.

Leo Fender was working on a prototype back in 1950, bringing the world’s first commercially successful mass‑produced electric bass guitar to market in 1951. Fender designed the Precision Bass (often shortened these days to P‑Bass) to overcome the many drawbacks of the acoustic double bass alluded to earlier in this article. Even the name, Precision, referred to the fretted neck to enable musicians to play in tune far more precisely than on the double bass’s fretless neck. Conservative double bass players may well have looked at the Precision Bass in the same way that conservative guitarists looked at the Fender Telecaster, which had been introduced a year earlier in 1950. Consternation and indignation were probably natural initial reactions from the ‘old‑school’.

At its most basic, the Fender Precision Bass is a solid body, 4‑string bass guitar equipped with a single pickup and a one‑piece 20‑fret maple neck with rosewood or maple fingerboard. It all sounds so very straightforward and unremarkable nowadays doesn’t it?

The Precision Bass didn’t, however, appear fully formed. The original design of the Precision borrowed several design features from the Telecaster guitar, other than the double cutaway body. Initial models carried one single coil pickup, a slab body, large scratchplate and a Tele‑like headstock.

After Fender introduced the Stratocaster guitar in 1954, some of its design features were brought over to the Precision including a contoured body and a Strat‑like headstock. The original pickup was replaced with a single split coil hum cancelling staggered design and a sleeker redesigned scratchplate. It is this version of the Precision from 1957 that has stayed in production largely unchanged to the current day. There have been many, many variants with numerous changes in specification over the years, including a fretless version (ironically, given the origin and intention of the Precision’s name). 5‑string versions, 22‑fret necks, active electronics, multiple pickups, etc. followed.

The original pre‑1957 Precision design has been re-issued by Fender at times over the years, often called the Telecaster Bass to differentiate it from the post‑1957 Precision specification.

The popularity of the Fender Precision Bass grew significantly throughout the 1950s especially with rock & roll and country fraternities, as well as with session musicians. During the 1960s the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became dominant in most modern musical genres. During the early days, there wasn’t a great deal of choice in terms of alternatives to the Precision but that was to change later on.

1977 Fender Precision Fretless Bass

Fender capitalised on their supremacy by introducing the solid body fretted electric Fender Jazz Bass in 1960 (originally called the ‘Deluxe Model’). The svelte Fender Jazz Bass (often now shortened to J‑Bass) was designed to appeal to a different customer base. Like the offset bodied Fender Jazzmaster guitar, it was aimed squarely at the dyed‑in‑the‑wool jazz community. However, like the Jazzmaster, the Jazz Bass’s appeal spread far wider than jazz musicians. Like the Precision, the Jazz Bass has rightly become an iconic industry standard solid body electric bass guitar.

Throughout the years, both the Precision and Jazz Bass have featured sizeable chrome covers over the pickup and the bridge, despite these items limiting playing techniques such as palm muting the strings. As the covers are purely aesthetic, rather than functional components, it is fair to say that the vast majority of musicians removed these covers permanently.

Without doubt, the Fender Precision Bass and its younger sibling the Jazz Bass are icons of contemporary music and remain hugely popular today. Consumers can purchase genuine P‑Bass and J‑Bass models from the budget Fender‑owned offshore‑produced Squier brand, through Mexican and American‑made Fender models, to the high‑end Fender Custom Shop versions. Throughout the decades, the Precision and Jazz Bass models have oft been imitated and/or blatantly copied by other manufacturers, eager to cash in on Fender’s industry‑dominant status.

Understandably, over the years, the Precision and Jazz Bass have become highly collectable, especially the earliest models. The highest vintage market prices undoubtedly belong to the models from 1951 (Precision) and 1960 (Jazz Bass) to 1965, when Leo Fender sold his company to industry giant CBS. Fender equipment from this period is known as ‘pre‑CBS’.

For more information on the Fender Precision and Jazz Bass, just complete any Internet browser search and, alongside a great deal of drivel, there is a massive volume of fact and opinion available, often described in forensic detail.

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

Evolution of the electric bass guitar

It is probably fair to say that, since 1951 and the introduction of the Fender Precision Bass, other brands were in the position of having to play catch up. In particular, Fender’s biggest competitor, Gibson, was wrong‑footed and they have never been able to compete on a level playing field. In 1953, Gibson released the EB‑1, which was a violin‑shaped solid mahogany body bass with a set neck. The EB‑1 didn’t catch on and was replaced by the semi‑acoustic ES‑335‑shaped EB‑2 in 1958, the SG‑shaped Gibson EB‑0 in 1959 and the EB‑3 (made famous by Jack Bruce of Cream) in 1961. While the semi‑acoustic EB‑2 proved popular, its Epiphone‑branded counterpart, the Epiphone Rivoli proved more successful. All these early Gibson basses used a shorter 30½” scale. In 1959, Gibson also released a hollow body EB‑6 6‑string bass.

Possibly Gibson’s best contender for an iconic bass guitar is the Gibson Thunderbird, originally introduced in 1963. The Thunderbird was based on Gibson’s Firebird guitar, designed by legendary American car designer Raymond Dietrich (1894‑1980). The Thunderbird was the first Gibson solid body bass to use the 34” scale made popular by Fender. Like the Firebird, the Thunderbird was redesigned in a simpler ‘non‑reverse’ form for 1966 and the original ‘reverse’ shape wasn’t reissued until the mid‑1970s. During the 1970s, Gibson also released the Ripper and Grabber basses but neither really captured bass players’ imaginations (or their precious dollars!). Later additions like the Gibson Triumph, Victory and RD basses didn’t fare much better as viable competition for Fender’s stalwarts. Epiphone have Thunderbird and EB basses in their line‑up alongside Epiphone‑specific basses such as the Newport and the Embassy.

Over at Danelectro in Neptune, New Jersey, Nathan Daniel launched the world’s first 6‑string bass, the UB‑2 in 1956 comprising a single cutaway semi‑hollow bass with a 30” scale, 24 frets and dual single coil pickups, earning its nickname the ‘Tic Tac bass’. In 1958, Danelectro replaced the UB‑2 with two new 6‑string bass models. The first was the Long Horn 4623 bass with a radical new lyre‑like design 24 frets, and a short 25” scale. The other was the Short Horn 3612 with stubby double cutaways, 29½”scale and only 15 frets. All Danelectro models substantially undercut the retail prices of both Fender and Gibson’s basses. The 6‑string models seemed to attract guitarists rather than bass players to their designs, providing a novel bridge between guitar and bass camps.

It should be noted at this point that older 6‑string basses are generally tuned an octave below a guitar in standard tuning, to E-E, while the baritone guitars that were appearing at the time were tuned either to B‑B or A‑A. On the other hand, modern 5‑string basses simply add a lower B string while modern 6‑string basses tend to add lower B and higher C strings compared to an equivalent 4‑string bass. Confused?

Meanwhile, back in the 1960s, Fender weren’t resting on their laurels. Following the popularity of the ‘student’ Mustang guitar, Fender introduced the short scale Mustang Bass in 1966. The Mustang Bass spawned two later variants, the Bronco Bass (introduced in 1967) and the Musicmaster Bass (introduced in 1971). Fender also released two esoteric ‘bass’ guitars, the Fender Bass V (introduced in 1965), which was the world’s first 5‑string bass guitar and the 6‑string Bass VI (introduced in 1961). The latter was strongly influenced by the Fender Jaguar guitar design. The Bass VI was Fender’s upmarket response to the Danelectro 6‑string bass introduced 5 years earlier. The Bass VI is unique in having 3 pickups, 6 lighter gauge strings, a short 30” scale, a floating bridge and a mechanical vibrato as used on the Jazzmaster/Jaguar guitars, as well as a removable string mute. To compete with the Gibson EB‑2 and Epiphone Rivoli thinline semi‑acoustic basses, Fender introduced the hollow Coronado Bass in 1966.

In addition, the ‘other’ Californian company, Rickenbacker, run by F.C. Hall at the time, also wasn’t going to be left on the side‑lines in the bass department. Rickenbacker had hired Roger Rossmeisl (1927‑1979) who designed the brand’s key guitars and the 4000 series basses. The Rickenbacker 4000 bass with its distinctive cresting wave body outline and thru‑neck construction was launched in 1957. Subsequent models were named 4001, 4002, 4003, 4004, all being variants of the same basic instrument. There isn’t enough space to go into the specification differences here.

Rickenbacker 4001

A decade after Leo Fender left the company that still carries his name today, Music Man was formed in California and released Leo Fender’s vision for the next evolution of his era defining bass guitars. The Music Man Stingray Bass was released in 1976 with a single large bridge humbucker, distinctive 3+1 headstock, innovative on‑board active electronics and an integral string mute. While Music Man’s guitars never caught on at the time, the Stingray Bass has joined Fender and Rickenbacker as an iconic design for many bass musicians. The Stingray Bass was especially popular for funk slap‑style bass technique for the likes of Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson.

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

There are a few other notable basses, such as the German Höfner ‘violin bass’, the 500/1, made famous by Paul McCartney of The Beatles. This model, introduced in 1955, with its carved solid spruce top and humbucking pickups, is often nicknamed the ‘Beatle Bass’. Beyond the Beatles connection, though, the 500/1 remains a relatively minor entry in the bass stakes, while the company’s only other notable entry being the Höfner Club and Verythin basses.

Another oddity to mention at this point is the Swedish Hagström H8, unique for being the world’s first mass‑produced 8‑string bass, with four pairs of strings on a short 30” scale. The H8 was only produced briefly from 1967‑1969.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s a plethora of other companies jumped on the bandwagon, eager to make the most of the massive increase in demand as rock, pop and other genres proliferated. Many of the basses produced during this time were flagrant facsimiles of the best‑selling American brand models, often by Japanese companies (now termed ‘lawsuit‑era’ copies). Other companies like Warwick in Germany were making their own headway with their successful original‑design Thumb and Streamer basses.

Today (2024), Fender arguably still rules the roost with basses covering all bases (sic!) from budget to elite models. All other brands stand firmly in Fender’s enviable shadow. While Fender may dominate, there are now plenty of alternative options. There are some incredible bass guitars out there, some of which are listed later in this article for those that want to diverge from the predictable industry standard ‘Fender sound’. There are numerous ways to deviate from the common path, with different brands, string/pickup configurations, electronics, scale lengths, body construction, etc. The quality of budget instruments is vastly superior to anything available in the past and provides a strong basis (again, sic!) for players seeking to learn and develop their skills.


The acoustic bass guitar

While the solid body electric bass guitar finally took the world by storm from the 1950s and 1960s, the acoustic bass guitar has proved to be another modern, notable and niche instrument. The first (largely unsuccessful) attempts at acoustic bass guitars began to appear in the 1950s as a logical extension to its electric counterpart.

Historically, one of the earliest acoustic bass‑like instruments was the Mexican guitarrón, which has its roots in the 16th Century and is widely used in Mexican Mariachi bands. While looking similar to a guitar, these huge instruments were either 6‑string or 12‑string acoustic instruments, tuned in A‑D‑G‑C‑E‑A.

In 1972, Ernie Ball introduced the Earthwood acoustic bass guitar, stating that “…if there were electric bass guitars to go with electric guitars then you ought to have acoustic basses to go with acoustic guitars.” A simple yet ‘blindingly obvious’ observation, given the benefit of hindsight. Ernie Ball took a guitarrón, being the nearest thing to an existing acoustic bass guitar, and created a more practical instrument for guitar‑centric American consumers. The Earthwood was relatively short‑lived but the foundation of the acoustic bass guitar was established. American company Washburn took the concept and created more successful instruments that coincided neatly with MTV’s Unplugged concert series (1989‑1999). Interestingly, despite starting it all, Ernie Ball does not have an acoustic bass guitar available to buy at the time of writing.

Acoustic bass guitar construction is essentially similar to the steel‑strung flat top acoustic folk guitar, with a larger hollow wooden body and a longer scale neck. Most acoustic basses have four strings, tuned in the same way as an electric bass, E‑A‑D‑G, an octave below a standard guitar. The majority of acoustic basses have fretted fingerboards, although some are fretless.

Acoustic Bass Guitar

Like many modern day acoustic guitars, many acoustic bass models have pickups to enable them to be amplified for stage use or DI’d for recording purposes. Some instruments are thinline electric semi‑acoustic basses while others are full‑depth electro‑acoustic basses. These are designed primarily as acoustic basses with an on‑board pickup for additional amplification when needed.

Today, there are any number of acoustic bass guitars on the market for every level of player and every price point from many key manufacturers including, amongst others; Martin, Taylor, Guild, Fender, Takamine, Ovation, Tanglewood, Epiphone, Warwick, Epiphone, Washburn, Godin, ESP, Breedlove, Larivée, Framus, Hohner, Ozark, Dean, D’Angelico, Ibanez, Sigma, Alvarez and Cort.


Bass guitar amplification

In the early days of bass guitars, brands released bass amplifiers to accompany their instruments, often sold as a package (see Tutmarc’s Audiovox above, for example). Other brands like Rickenbacker did the same in the early days. The main difference between guitar amps and bass amps is that the latter are tuned specifically to reproduce bass frequencies accurately. A standard 4‑string bass guitar produces low frequencies in the range 41Hz to 100Hz with overtones extending up to 4‑5kHz (not dissimilar to an acoustic double bass in fact).

In terms of sound pressure levels, bass frequencies need more power to be heard by the human ear/brain at the same volume as higher frequencies, so bass amps tend to have higher power ratings than guitar amps. In the past, speakers for bass also tended to be larger with 12”, 15” or even 18” to shift the amount of air needed at lower frequencies. In contrast, guitar speakers tended to be 10”or 12”. Bass speaker cabinets, especially those with multiple speakers, normally had sealed or ported enclosures to increase volume. For all these reasons bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets tend to be different to their guitar equivalents.

Probably the most famous brand associated specifically for its bass amplification is the American company Ampeg, founded in 1946 and now under the ownership of Japanese giant, Yamaha. Ampeg started out attempting to amplify the acoustic double bass in 1949 by using a microphone/pickup in the instrument’s stand. The ‘Amplified Peg’ as it was called was then shortened to ‘Ampeg’ and the rest, as they say, is history. Their most famous range of amps was the 300W Ampeg SVT from 1969 and their bass combo amps, the B‑15 from 1960, as used by the likes of Motown session bass player James Jamerson.

It was no surprise that Fender, the leader in the world of bass guitars from the 1950s should also produce bass amps/cabs. Perhaps the most famous Fender bass amp was the Bassman from 1952 onwards, first introduced as a combo valve amp with a 15” speaker. The most desirable though, was the Dual Rectifier Bassman valve combo with 4×10” speakers. From 1960. Fender also released a ‘piggy back’ amp head and speaker cabinet design to cope with higher power levels and to provide flexibility. From 2000, Fender released a solid state version of the legendary Bassman amp. The original valve Bassman also became beloved by many guitar players for its tone, for instance by the late blues rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV).

Student bass players also needed a bass amp. So Fender introduced the Musicmaster Bass amplifier in 1970, as a companion to the Fender Musicmaster Bass guitar. The Musicmaster Bass combo amp was a very simple affair with one channel, 12W of power, volume and tone controls and a single 12″ Fender speaker. Like the Bassman, it has latterly been enjoying a bit of a revival as a budget vintage amp for guitarists. The Musicmaster Bass amp was discontinued in 1982 after the introduction of the Fender Studio Bass combo and Japanese Fender Sidekick Bass 30. Nowadays, the extensive Fender Rumble series has proved very popular with bass players.

Legendary British amplifier company Marshall was not going to be left behind. Marshall’s first 100‑watt bass head was the JTM 45/100 / JTM 45 Super 100 model. Another, also dating from the second half of the 1960s, is the JMP #1992 Super Bass 100 (100W) and JMP #1986 Bass (50W). Like the Fender Bassman, the Marshall Super Bass 100W also proved popular with guitarists. Bass players were also known to use the Marshall #1963 Super PA (50W) and Marshall #1968 Super PA (100W) amps.

Another legendary British amplifier company, VOX produced bass versions of its AC‑15 and AC‑30 combo amps. These were followed in 1963 by the VOX T‑60 and Foundation amps, the latter promoted by Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.

German acoustic amp company AER also produce a range of bass amps, particularly well‑suited to amplifying acoustic and electro‑acoustic bass guitars.

Bass guitarists turn out to be a little less conservative than their guitarist counterparts, especially when it comes to amplification and speaker cabinets. For instance there are plenty of modern‑day bass amps that use efficient solid state D‑class amplification (a type of amplifier that uses digital switching technology to amplify audio signals efficiently), with very high power ratings – 500W and 600W or more being not uncommon. Bass amps often also make wide use of sophisticated on‑board EQ. Speaker cabinet configurations also tend to be more versatile with reflex ports, horns, tweeters and combining multiple speaker types being common.

There are many other valve, solid state or hybrid bass amplifier manufacturers not mentioned above, including Trace Elliot, Ashdown Engineering, Mesa/Boogie, Peavey, Music Man, Hiwatt, Laney, Sound City, H/H, WEM, Hartke and Orange.


Bass guitar effects

Things have changed a great deal over the decades since 1951. In the early days of the solid body electric bass guitar, most players plugged straight into their amps without much in the way of tone augmentation.

By the 1970s and 1980s bass players had a paucity of effects specially designed for their instruments, so they generally adopted guitar effects with just a few bass‑specific pedals to choose from. Since the industry started to migrate to digital technology from the 1980s onwards, the major effect companies began to produce pedals designed primarily for use with bass guitars. Now, in the 2020s, there is plenty of choice with most of the big players in the effect industry now making bass‑specific effect pedals, including Electro‑Harmonix, MXR, BOSS, Ibanez, Fender, Laney and Ampeg.

In addition, from around the start of the new millennium, a number of manufacturers turned their ideas for integrated multi‑effect units into practical musicians’ tools that became popular for both guitar and bass, including BOSS, VOX, Zoom, Tech 21, Behringer and Valeton.

In 1998, Line 6 introduced a ground‑breaking innovation called the POD, which put many guitar effects, amps and cabinet emulations into a single portable unit. While the little red kidney shaped POD was initially directed at guitarists, the rack mounted Line 6 POD Pro models came in both guitar and bass versions. Since then, Line 6 and other manufacturers now combine guitar and bass amp/effect/cabinet emulations into a single unit. These units are constantly improving and are gradually replacing stage backlines with direct input (DI) into PAs/monitors, as well as into studio desks/DAWs. Along with the POD, Line 6, also now part of Yamaha, is still in the same business with their extensive Helix range.

Alternatives to the Line 6 POD and Helix units include the Axe-Fx III from Fractal Audio, which is a pro‑level amplification/effects processor suitable for both guitar and bass. Meanwhile, Kemper Amps took a slightly different route with their Profiler, which has all‑in‑one effects, amplifier and speaker cabinet profiles designed for both guitar and bass.

Just to finish off, there are numerous boutique effect pedal manufacturers that produce stomp boxes, often to very high degrees of quality, including brands such as Way Huge, TC Electronic, EarthQuaker Devices, Darkglass, Aguilar, Origin Effects, Free The Tone, Providence, Source Audio, Walrus Audio, ZVEX, Mooer Audio, Sansamp, Digitech, Eventide, Strymon, JHS, Keeley and Empress Effects.


Iconic (and other) bass guitars

The next sentence is likely to be highly provocative and intentionally so. While there are innumerable bass guitar models out there from 1951 to the current day, there are probably only four bass guitar models that can truly be called iconic (i.e. something that is widely considered to epitomize an era, culture, community or place). The four key instruments – none of which are based on guitar equivalents – that stand head and shoulders above the rest are:

Truly iconic bass guitars:
Fender Precision Bass (1951‑date)
Fender Jazz Bass (1960‑date)
Rickenbacker 4000 series (1957‑date)
Music Man Stingray Bass (1976‑date)

In addition, below are listed just a very few of the other great electric bass guitars manufactured from 1951 onwards. This is far from a comprehensive list and is intended only to be broadly indicative of the type.

Fender bass guitars:
Fender Bass V
Fender Bass VI
Fender Coronado Bass
Fender Mustang Bass
Fender Musicmaster Bass
Fender Performer
Fender Telecaster Bass
Squier Bronco Bass

Gibson bass guitars:
Gibson EB series
Gibson Thunderbird
Gibson Explorer Bass
Gibson Melody Maker Bass
Gibson Grabber/Ripper/G3
Gibson RD series
Gibson Triumph
Gibson Victory
Gibson 20/20 Bass

Epiphone bass guitars (not including Epiphone versions of Gibson basses):
Epiphone Embassy
Epiphone Newport
Epiphone Rivoli
Epiphone Viola

Other American brand bass guitars:
Alembic Series 1/2
Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite
Ampeg AEB-1
BC Rich Eagle
BC Rich Mockingbird
BC Rich Warlock
Danelectro Longhorn 4623
Danelectro Shorthorn 3612
G&L JB2
G&L L1000/L2000
Gretsch 6071/6072
Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet
Gretsch 5440 Electromatic
Guild B-301/B-302
Guild Starfire
Harmony H22
Harmony H27
Jackson JS
Kramer 450-B/650-B
Kramer DMZ
Lakland Skyline
Music Man Sabre
Music Man Sterling
National Val Pro Model 85
Ovation Magnum
Peavey T-40
Peavey Millennium/Milestone
PRS SE Kestrel/Kingfisher
Schecter Omen
Schecter Stilletto
Silvertone 1440 series
Steinberger Spirit XT
Steinberger Synapse
Supro Pocket
Travis Bean TB2000
Washburn Taurus

European bass guitars:
Burns Sonic
Hagström H8
Höfner Club
Höfner HCT-500/1
Höfner President
Hohner B2
Hohner The Jack
VOX Clubman
VOX Cougar
VOX Phantom 4
VOX Sidewinder
VOX VBW Teardrop Bass
Wal Mk1/Mk2
Warwick Thumb/Streamer/Infinity/Corvette
Warwick Rockbass

Japanese bass guitars:
Other than perhaps the Yamaha BB and TRBX series, and the Ibanez SR and TMB series, Japanese bass guitars do not have the same level of brand/model heritage when compared to those produced by American and European companies. There are, however, many Japanese basses produced by companies such as Ibanez, Tokai, Greco, Jedson, Westone, Teisco, ESP/LTD, Fernandes and Aria.

“Without the Fender bass, there’d be no rock n’ roll or no Motown. The electric guitar had been waiting ’round since 1939 for a nice partner to come along. It became an electric rhythm section, and that changed everything.” – Quincy Jones (1933‑)


Famous bass players

Below are listed seventy of the world’s most famous and influential bass players – alive and departed – including upright double bass and electric solid body bass guitar players. There are, of course, many, many more but this is an indicative list for those interested in exploring some of the music created by these diverse musicians (in alphabetical order):

Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett (Bob Marley & The Wailers)
Walter Becker (Steely Dan)
Andy Bell (Oasis)
Bill Black (Elvis Presley)
Jack Bruce (Cream)
Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
John Cale (Velvet Underground)
Stanley Clarke (Return To Forever, solo)
Adam Clayton (U2)
Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic)
Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave)
Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix)
John Deacon (Queen)
Kim Deal (Pixies, Breeders)
Willie Dixon
Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie)
Bernard Edwards (Chic)
John Entwistle (The Who)
Flea (a.k.a. Michael Peter Balzary – Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Bruce Foxton (The Jam)
Simon Gallup (The Cure)
Roger Glover (Deep Purple)
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Larry Graham (Sly & The Family Stone)
Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash)
Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
Dusty Hill (ZZ Top)
Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order, The Light)
Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple)
Jah Wobble (a.k.a. John Joseph Wardle)
James Jamerson (session musician)
Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson)
John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
Carol Kaye (session musician)
Lemmy Kilmister (Hawkwind, Motörhead)
Mark King (Level 42)
Alan Lancaster (Status Quo)
Geddy Lee (Rush)
Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead)
Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel)
Jenny Lee Lindberg (Warpaint)
Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols)
Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings, solo)
Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses)
John McVie (Fleetwood Mac)
Marcus Miller (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Benson)
Charles Mingus
Krist Novoselic (Nirvana)
Pino Palladino (session musician)
Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report)
Guy Pratt (Madonna, David Gilmour)
Suzi Quatro
Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)
Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix)
Mike Rutherford (Genesis)
Robbie Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie)
Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth)
Gene Simmons (KISS)
Nikki Sixx (a.k.a. Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna Jr. – Mötley Crüe)
Chris Squire (Yes)
Sting (a.k.a. Gordon Sumner – The Police)
Danny Thompson (John Martyn)
Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Lee Bruner)
Robert Trujillo (Metallica)
Sid Vicious (a.k.a. Simon John Ritchie – Sex Pistols)
Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)
Tal Wilkenfeld (Jeff Beck, Prince)
Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings)

“The gunk takes the funk” – James Jamerson (1936‑1983)


Bass in the (near) future

It is difficult for, and unfair of, me as a guitarist, to predict any sort of unified future for the bass guitar but I’ll give it a shot.

The traditional conservative brigade will still stick to tried and tested instruments and equipment. Musicians looking for something a bit different will probably want to experiment with the format, for instance number of strings, scale lengths, pickups and electronics. If anything there will be more radical and custom bass guitar designs from up‑market and boutique luthiers that diverge from the traditional archetype set by Fender over 70 years ago. Many additions to the form extend the flexibility of the core instrument, so it may be a case of further evolution, rather than revolution.

Bass amplification will continue to diverge from its simple valve origins and continue to embrace the digital realm, probably dispensing with backline amps/cabs altogether with signals being DI’d into desks/PA/monitors.

While bass players haven’t been particularly well served in the past for bass‑specific effect pedals, I anticipate that bass effects will achieve greater representation, including some out‑there effects not currently available to guitar players.

Bass guitar players have struggled to compete, with synthesisers dominating the world of modern electronica, dance and popular music. At least, for now (thankfully), the bass guitar remains essential to most guitar‑based music in a sort of symbiotic, co‑dependent relationship. As long as guitars keep going, so will bass, and vice versa. Bass players, being ever inventive individuals, will adapt and cultivate new ways to keep the instrument relevant, current and in the limelight for decades to come.

Technique‑wise, there will continue to be the traditional approaches towards walking bass lines, typically using the fundamental root/fifth styles that has been the general mainstay of modern music for decades. In contrast, there will be many more amazing virtuoso bass players who see the versatility and potential of the instrument in its own right.

So, other than tangible incremental progress around the margins, there is probably not a whole lot that will change profoundly in the near future. I may be wrong with that last sentence. In many ways, I hope so!

Interestingly, while the upright double bass continues to appear in modern music from time to time, the solid body fretted electric bass hasn’t really made any headway into the clique of conservative classical orchestral music, which still relies heavily on the traditional, some may say archaic, acoustic upright double bass.


Resources

Periodicals dedicated to bass guitar may be the best place to keep up‑to‑date with the technology and equipment associated with the instrument. Publications include Bass Musician Magazine, Bass Player Guitar Magazine, Bass Guitar Magazine, Bass Magazine, Bass Musician and Bass Gear Magazine.

Online resources include Music Radar, TalkBass.com, Basschat and No Treble. There are also many books on bass guitars and bass playing techniques, including the inevitable, ‘Bass Guitar For Dummies’.

As far as purchasing bass guitars, there are the large Internet sites, brick & mortar retailers and the usual online sites, Reverb.com and eBay. For vintage and rare bass guitars, there are outlets purely for basses including (in the UK) Andy Baxter Bass, The Bass Gallery, The Bass Centre, Vintage Bass Room and ClassicandcoolGuitars.


Some final thoughts

I certainly learnt a lot from researching and writing this article. At first sight, there may seem to be quite a bit of relevant information on the Internet. It is only when one starts to dig deeper and attempt to put something together that makes some form of sense that things rapidly become unclear. All of a sudden, much of the available information seems incomplete, contradictory, vague and/or outright erroneous. In the end, it comes down to evidence and corroboration but sorting the wheat from the chaff isn’t always easy. It seems that online information about vintage guitars is far more reliable than that about vintage basses. There are far too many poorly informed people who invent facts and present opinion as truth.

Despite my best attempts to piece things together, I may have fallen foul of the same issues raised above. However, I have tried very hard not to fill in gaps with assumptions and/or fiction. While I endeavour to be thorough and rigorous, my approach isn’t academic and I don’t have the time, funds or energy to provide the last word in scholarly fact. The contents herein should therefore probably not be relied upon too heavily. This article should, for that reason alone, be regarded as my best intention to balance fact with entertainment.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama – c.480‑400BCE)

This is just the sort of article that would benefit greatly from images to illustrate and break up the narrative. Sadly as a (broke) not‑for‑profit entity, I cannot afford the costly copyright/royalties charged for the use of relevant images, so I have had to rely on very limited free/public domain resources or my own photographs. I apologise for the thousands of words used to describe what images could do in none. Once again, no AI was used in the research and writing of this tome – only my own hard work.

NB. Apologies to anyone disappointed by the wait for a cheap, clichéd joke at the expense of ‘the bass player’! T’ain’t gonna happen here. Love ‘the bass player’.


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Album of the Month’

Given that this month’s article focuses on the fascinating history of the bass guitar, it seems only fitting to select an album that demonstrates the virtuoso bass playing of one of the greatest bass guitarists of all time, Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987) and his famous modified fretless Fender Jazz Bass.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977) – The seventh and most commercially successful studio album by the American jazz fusion band. ‘Heavy Weather’ was the first album with Pastorius on full‑time bass duties. The smooth jazz funk production of the album, which was released at the peak of the punk rock movement in the US and UK, stood in stark contrast to the otherwise brutal sounds of the late 1970s. Given that it sold in huge numbers (and still does) is testament to the composition and musicianship on display. Initial sales were about 500,000 and total sales to‑date are over 1.06 million. Other Weather Report albums may be ‘better’ according to purists but this is the one I heard first and it has stuck with me over the years.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977)

To me, this album hit me right between the eyes about what virtuoso bass playing can be like. There are many, many other artists and albums that could arguably take the acclaim, for instance Stanley Clarke’s successful solo album, ‘School Days’ (1976), but on this occasion, the late, great Jaco (& co.) takes the accolade, such as it is.

“I’m the greatest bass player in the world” – Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987)


Tailpiece

Well, there you go. I think that most of us love a bit of decent low bass in our music. I hope y’all got something out of this fleeting exploration into the defining instruments, artists and music of the lower registers. I think the narrative works well as a complement to the launch of CRAVE Basses at the end of 2023, but that’s just my (obviously biased) opinion.

I hope you feel inclined to come back next month to see what’s currently fermenting in the CRAVE guitars’ secret brewery.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Mundanity is the devourer of lost dreams”

© 2024 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2023 – CRAVE Guitars: Three Years in Review

Prelude

GOOD DAY’S SALUTATIONS and seasonal best wishes to all you good folks out there in music land. Welcome to vintage gear aficionados and greetings to the conclusion of the year, two thousand and twenty three. There is no point in, and no good will come from, re‑hashing the journey over CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus once again, so it is now officially behind us and a thing of the past. Gone. However, there may be merit in looking briefly at what CRAVE Guitars actually got up to behind the scenes during that time. It is the end of the year, so it’s kinda traditional for review anyway, as has been the practice in years past. This review, though, isn’t a single year but three years in retrospect. As it transpires, less has happened in those three years than would normally have occurred in one year prior to 2020’s global meltdown. Perhaps that is just as well. If the previous trend had continued unabated, CRAVE Guitars would have run out of space and funds a long time ago. I guess that there are silver linings at the end of the tunnel after all (I really must stop playing with mixed metaphors! Bad CRAVE!).

Well, there is no point in perpetuating petty procrastination, so let’s proceed with some prosaic pontification (nothing like a bit of CRAVE’s addictive affinity for asinine alliteration, again!). All text and images copyright of CRAVE Guitars. No AI used here.


‘New’ old gear over the past 3 years

The volume of acquisitions may not be great but the choices, I believe aren’t too shabby. I aim for variety and novelty in my quest for something a wee bit different to the norm, at least as far as the guitars are concerned. Here, there are two are from the 1960s, two from the 1970s and one from the 1980s. The effects are slightly more numerous and there is a little bit of gap‑filling going on here but variety is again a factor. Only 3 out of the 11 stomp boxes are ‘Made in USA’. Interesting. Right, here is the short shortlist…

Guitars and basses (5):

1963 Danelectro Pro 1
1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn
1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass
1979 Gibson Explorer E2
1964 National Glenwood 95

Effect pedals (11):

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal (distortion)
1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive
1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear (auto swell)
1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender (fuzz)
1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell
1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 (echo)
1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah
1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector (A‑B switch)
1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II
1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal (distortion)
1989 Marshall The Guv’nor (overdrive/distortion)

Over the last three years, there haven’t been any ‘new’ vintage valve amps. This is mainly due to space restrictions and the responsibility for maintaining these delicate electrical artefacts. They weren’t delicate when originally manufactured, they were built to go on the road and put up with punishment. However, after 60 or 70 years, they tend to get a bit temperamental. A bit like humans in fact. The last amp that joined the family was the fantastic little 1973 Fender Princeton Reverb ‘silverface’. Possibly my favourite amp.

There has been one notable departure from the CRAVE Guitars family. I was looking around for a Gibson Explorer E2 to partner the Gibson Flying V2. However, I couldn’t really justify yet another Explorer. Then, someone contacted me out of the blue enquiring about the black 1984 Gibson Explorer. If there was one guitar that I would let go to trade up, that was the one. It can be really strange how opportunity can present itself as coincidence. Eventually, deals were agreed and one came in while one went out. Serendipity and status quo. Result! I hope the 1984 Explorer is in a happy place.

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘new’ guitars – all of them exhibiting unusual construction and specification, making them exceptionally cool and rare (in my opinion). Right, here is the long shortlist…

1963 Danelectro Pro 1 – I first saw one of these a few years ago and was struck by its utter simplicity and quirky charm. Nothing fancy going on here. It is diminutive, dinky and hyper cute. It is, however not very practical. It has a short scale and upper fret access is awkward and only one pickup will limit it for some. However, it has all the usual Danelectro traits, including the unique construction and that classic lipstick pickup. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, that’s a good reason to dig it. It is a genuinely unique instrument and SO cool that it hurts. It’s great fun to play too.

Feature: 1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn – I have long wanted a Fender Jazz Bass. The new CRAVE Basses has allowed me to indulge that luxury. However, this isn’t a Jazz Bass as you know it and definitely not in the long tradition of the J‑Bass. This lovely beast is a Longhorn, only made for five years, this one from the first year of production. The deep cutaways and 22 fret neck make it look, feel, play and sound different from a ‘normal’ Jazz Bass. The Longhorn nickname gained it an altogether humorously crude moniker of the ‘boner’ bass. Now this one lives with me, I actually now prefer the look of this unusual instrument over the one that defined the icon.

Feature: 1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass – Another oddity and one of the ‘lost Fenders’. After the success of the Mustang Bass, Fender went on to release an even simpler budget model. The Musicmaster has the Mustang’s short scale but the pickup is actually a 6‑pole Mustang guitar pickup. The overall design and specification certainly alienated a whole bunch of players but that kind of misses the point. Snobs. Take the bass purely on face value and it’s actually a decent ‘student’ bass with great build quality and that offset body look that is currently very popular. Not one for the traditionalist. Note: Since the feature and photos were published, the original 2‑saddle bridge has been reinstated.

Feature: 1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1979 Gibson Explorer E2 – Some people hate the Gibson Flying V2 and Explorer E2. I love them because of their unusual multi‑layered construction. As mentioned above, finding an E2 was a mission. Moreover, this one belonged to the lead singer of the band Go West, Peter Cox. Kudos and thanks Peter. I don’t usually go for provenance but in this case, it adds something significant to the guitar’s backstory. It’s the walnut‑faced model (some are maple‑faced) and in wonderful near‑original condition. While it’s not quite as whacky as the admittedly peculiar V2, it has plenty of character and charisma. The Gibson Explorer, I think, remains my overall favourite guitar model.

Feature: 1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1964 National Glenwood 95 – Here’s a glorious instrument with another unusual type of construction. The body is moulded fibreglass, what the makers, Valco, called Res‑O‑Glas. I was expecting the material to be thin and plasticky. Instead, it is quite thick and solid. The two halves are screwed together leaving the interior hollow. It is very unique and an awesome entry in vintage guitar history. Not only is it well built, it is visually striking in just about every way. Whatever part you look at or whatever angle it is viewed from, it is a startlingly beautiful creation. Neither is it a case of style over substance, it plays very well and with an inimitable sound. I could go on and on but I’ll let it speak for itself.

Feature: 1964 National Glenwood 95

1962 National Glenwood 95

… and, now moving on to the ‘new’ vintage effect pedals:

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal – A pedal renowned for creating a whole heavy metal sub‑genre thanks to Swedish death metal band Entombed and their debut studio album, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990). Not many stomp boxes can claim that distinction. It is a monster. This one also comes with its original box and documentation. Very cool.

Feature: 1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive – Considered by many as a classic in the BOSS overdrive tradition. The SD‑1 adds a Tone control to the existing BOSS OD‑1 Over Drive to give it more flexibility and to help BOSS compete with other brands’ overdrive pedals. The SD‑1 has been seen on pedalboards all over the world for decades, earning it its enviable reputation.

Feature: 1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1985 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear – This is one of the rarest, most collectable and misunderstood BOSS stomp boxes. The name gives nothing away. It acts a bit like a noise gate in reverse, the filter creating an auto swell effect. It is quite unique. After much experimentation, there is really only one sweet spot so, to be honest, sadly, it is a bit of a one‑trick pony, albeit an exclusive one.

Feature: 1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender – The Supa Tone Bender is basically just a big box version of the original Colorsound fuzz. There is no room in this article to dive into the nerd zone and cover its origins or its similarities/differences to other models. The numerous gear obsessives out there will tell you at great length about all the geeky differences. Basically, it’s a great 1970s fuzz pedal. What more do you need to know?

Feature: 1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1975 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell – Another over‑sized ‘Supa’ version of a standard combination wah‑wah and swell pedal with a footswitch to go from one mode to the other. There’s very little on the inside other than empty space, indicating that the old marketing ploys of ‘more is more’ and ‘bigger is better’ played a part here. 1970s pedalboards weren’t as crowded as they are today, so pedals like this gained bragging rights. I can’t date this one accurately.

Feature: 1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1977 Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 – Here is a truly wonderful 1970s American echo pedal. It’s not quite up with the benchmark Electro‑Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man but it is still authentic and very musical. I love these old analogue delays. It’s great fun to use and sounds great. It may not be in great cosmetic condition on the outside but few are because they were well used, an indication of what really matters to working musicians.

Feature: 1970s DOD Analog Delay 680

1980 DOD Analog Delay 680

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah – Probably one of the most iconic wah‑wah pedals of all time. This one is a straightforward model from the 1980s. As classic as they come, you know exactly what you are going to get. The model has probably been used by most of the great guitarists at some point during their careers. The pot is a bit scratchy but I can’t bear to replace it, so it’s still original.

Feature: 1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector – Strictly this is not an effect, just an A‑B switch. Another ‘no bones’ pedal with nothing much inside the box. It has one input and two outputs (or vice versa if you wish). Not massively useful or flexible but it does what it needs to do in a simple set up. Typical 1970s EHX styling to boot.

Feature: 1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II – A pedal in the classic ‘square switch’ ‘0’‑series Ibanez effect pedal series (as is the most desirable TS‑808 Tube Screamer). The CD‑835 (catchy name, that. Not) is a perfectly capable pedalboard compressor. I still prefer the basic MXR Dyna Comp but this one will appeal to others. This one comes with its original box and documentation.

Feature: 1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal – Part of Ibanez’s ‘9’‑series, the SM9 is a massively beefed up Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer but without the reputation of the latter, so it is a bit of a dark horse. Much more flexible and with a greater range of sounds available. It is a bit fiddly to recreate just the right tone but it is worth the effort involved in getting it tuned in. How far do you want to go? Pretty colour too.

Feature: 1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor – Way, way before the current fad of putting a guitar pre‑amp on a pedal board, Marshall basically came up with the idea back in the 1980s. For those wanting classic Marshall tones without a 100W head and two 4×12 cabs stacked as they should be, there is The Guv’nor. For a large box full of transistors, rather than baking hot valves, it does an impressive job. Not necessarily accurate but great distortion on tap nevertheless. This is the original ‘Made in England’ version, complete with its box.

Feature: 1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

There you have it, a brief rundown of 3 years’ collecting cool and rare vintage guitar gear in the background. Not a great deal to show for 36 months in terms of quantity but a nice range of quality. I am completely out of both storage space and funds, so any progress will be slow and steady for a while.


CRAVE Guitars’ website

The superficial sheen of the website hasn’t really changed much at all. However, there are technical changes beneath the surface that will hopefully keep it up‑to‑date and relevant. I’m no techno whizz, so CRAVE Guitars doesn’t appear on the prized ‘first page of Google’. Still, seeing as it is not a commercial enterprise, I’m not overly bothered. Overall viewing figures though have continued to increase year‑on‑year over the last seven years, even through the hiatus, which is a promising sign.

The web site’s beneath‑the‑radar positioning hasn’t stopped all the typical spammers inundating CRAVE’s e‑mail box with the usual promotional BS. It is absolutely clear that they don’t do their research, so every single one them gets summarily blocked and deleted without exception. I do, however, welcome genuine communications via the website, so long as they are sincere.

The biggest ‘news’ on the website is the addition of the all‑new CRAVE Basses pages. The web site originally started out just as CRAVE Guitars almost a decade ago now. Then it expanded to include CRAVE Effects and CRAVE Amps a few years ago, so CRAVE Basses is a logical extension. Even though I’m primarily a guitarist, I like the occasional dabble with the lower frequencies. The new sections of the website include features on CRAVE’s four vintage basses, as well as additions to the galleries.

The two ‘new’ CRAVE Basses covered above join a pair of existing vintage basses that I’ve owned since the 1970s…

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

Feature: 1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Feature: 1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Before Covid, the number of visitors to the site was steadily increasing and reaching peaks that I could only have dreamt about when I started. During Covid, things slowed dramatically, indicating that people, rightfully, had other things on their minds. This slow‑down was mirrored by consumer’s overall demand in the music equipment industry. Even after Covid, things have been slow. The so‑called cost‑of‑living‑crisis (thanks Putin et al), especially in the UK has hit most people (including me) hard and visits dropped right down to pre‑2020 levels. Other priorities rightly prevailed once again. Despite being generally subdued, visits seem to be gradually increasing again but it is way too early to call it a trend.

I actually have quite a bit more content already written for the site that I will get around to publishing at some point. It’s not super critical but it seems a shame not to use it.


CRAVE Guitars’ (un)social media

I really don’t have the resilience to return to social media to the same level as in the past. However, CRAVE Guitars is posting things irregularly on Musky old X (ex‑Twatter), Facebook and LinkedIn. I can’t respond to messages but I do review them every so often. That will have to do for now. My engagement with social media is not negotiable for now.


CRAVE Guitars’ database

There is not really a great deal to say about this other than I use it to catalogue all of CRAVE’s vintage guitars in some detail. In the case of catastrophe such as fire, flood, theft, cat, etc., at least the information should be safe and sound. A copy is saved in the cloud just in case the laptop goes the same way.

CRAVE Guitars Database

Brand augmentation

No, I’m not getting bigger brands for all you fetishists out there. CRAVE Guitars has been around since 2007. The short name is OK but it isn’t specific enough to identify that vintage guitars are the focus of the ‘brand’. The full name of CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is certainly specific enough although it is a bit of a mouthful when it comes to everyday use. Internet SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) also has some difficulty placing the CRAVE Guitars brand in the vintage guitar category. Type ‘CRAVE guitars’ into a search engine and the site appears straight away. Type in ‘vintage guitars’ and the site may eventually appear plenty of pages down.

So… In addition to the established short and full names used above, I will also be using the name CRAVE Vintage Guitars to help searchers and visitors to get a better understanding of what this strange entity is all about. It is a small but important change. It will take search engines a while to pick up on it but it might help people find the site. Future CRAVE Guitars merchandise is also likely to carry the updated branding as and when needed. As ‘they’ say, it does what it says on the tin (apart from the amps, effects and basses of course. Doh!).


Musical history update

It’s a while since the 14‑part CRAVE Guitars’ series of articles, ‘The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts’, culminated in May 2020. Sadly, we have lost far too many great music people since I published the last of the ‘Facts’ just 2½ years ago.

The inevitability of life is that it ends. RIP great men and women. This list picks up from where that last article on the subject left off. Here are just a few of them.

DayMonthYearMusic Fact
4June2020English bass guitarist, singer and founding member of glam pop/rock band The Sweet, Steve Priest died at the age of 72.
18June2020English singer, songwriter and entertainer, nicknamed ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’ during WWII, Dame Vera Lynn died at the age of 103.
6July2020Italian composer, conductor and musician, who wrote hundreds of cinema and television scores, Ennio Morricone died of complications after breaking a leg in Rome at the age of 91.
13January2021American guitarist with rock band New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain, died after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 69.
17February2021Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of reggae ‘toasting’ U‑Roy (Ewart Beckford) died from complications following surgery in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 78.
2March2021Jamaican singer, songwriter, percussionist and original member of The Wailers alongside Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer died from complications following a stroke in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 73.
28July2021American bass guitarist and long-term member of southern blues/rock band ZZ Top, Dusty Hill died at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 72.
13August2021Celebrated American folk singer, guitarist, and songwriter Nanci Griffith died in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 68.
24August2021English drummer with rock band the Rolling Stones for over five decades, Charlie Watts died in hospital in London at the age of 80.
29August2021Legendary Jamaican reggae and dub producer and recording artist, Lee “Scratch” Perry died of an undisclosed illness in hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the age of 85.
26September2021English bass guitarist and founding member of pop/rock band Status Quo from 1967-1985, Alan Lancaster died from complications of multiple sclerosis in Sydney, Australia at the age of 72.
8December2021Jamaican bass guitarist and record producer, Robbie Shakespeare, best known as half of the reggae duo Sly & Robbie, died following kidney surgery in Miami, Florida at the age of 68.
10December2021American singer, guitarist and songwriter with TV pop band, the Monkees, Michael Nesmith died from heart failure at his home in Carmel Valley, California at the age of 78.
7January2022Canadian musician, singer, songwriter, and producer for Motown Records, R. Dean Taylor died at his home having contracted COVID‑19 (coronavirus) at the age of 82.
9January2022American jazz and R&B musician, songwriter, producer, and radio personality James Mtume died in South Orange, New Jersey at the age of 76.
12January2022American singer, co-founder and member the Ronettes, nicknamed the ‘bad girl of rock and roll’, Ronnie Spector died from cancer in Danbury, Connecticut at the age of 78.
20January2022American singer and actor Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, died from Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome in Nashville at the age of 74.
19February2022English singer/songwriter, keyboard player and founder of the rock band Procol Harum, Gary Brooker MBE died from cancer at his home in Surrey at the age of 76.
22February2022American singer/songwriter who worked with Isobel Campbell and Queens Of The Stone Age, in addition to a lengthy solo career, Mark Lanegan died at his home in Killarney, Kerry, Ireland at the age of 57.
25March2022American rock drummer of the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins died of heart failure probably caused by a drug overdose in a hotel in Bogota, Colombia at the age of 50.
4April2022American guitarist and member of Motown Records’ in‑house studio band, the Funk Brothers, Joe Messina died from kidney disease in Northville, Michigan at the age of 93.
26April2022German electronic music innovator, producer, composer and former member of krautrock band Tangerine Dream, as well as solo artist, Klaus Schulze died following a long illness at the age of 74.
17May2022Academy Award-winning Greek musician, composer and producer Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis died of heart failure in Paris at the age of 79.
26May2022English keyboard player, DJ and founding member of electronica band Depeche Mode, Andrew Fletcher died of an aortic dissection at his home at the age of 60.
9June2022American singer known for her collaborations with film director David Lynch, Julee Cruise committed suicide in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at the age of 65.
8August2022British Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John died from breast cancer in Santa Ynez Valley, California at the age of 73.
28September2022American rapper Artis Leon Ivey Jr., a.k.a. Coolio died from a heart attack caused by a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California at the age of 59.
4October2022Highly acclaimed American country music singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn died from natural causes in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee at the age of 90.
28October2022American rock ‘n’ roll pianist singer and songwriter, Jerry Lee Lewis died from natural causes in DeSoto County, Mississippi at the age of 87.
10November2022English musician and key member of space rock band Hawkwind, Nik Turner died from unknown causes at the age of 82.
21November2022English guitarist, singer, songwriter and one‑time member of pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, Wilko Johnson died from pancreatic cancer in Southend‑on‑Sea, England at the age of 75.
30November2022English musician, singer and member of Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie died of Ischemic stroke and metastatic cancer in London, England at the age of 79.
4December2022German musician, composer, member of Ash Ra Tempel and solo artist, Manuel Göttsching died from natural causes in Berlin at the age of 70.
11December2022Acclaimed American composer of film and TV scores, Angelo Badalamenti died from natural causes in Lincoln Park, New Jersey at the age of 85.
18December2022English musician, singer and member of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, Terry Hall died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.
23December2022British musician, rapper, singer, songwriter and DJ, front man of electronic band Faithless, Maxi Jazz (Maxwell Fraser) died from undisclosed causes in London England at the age of 65.
10January2023English virtuoso guitarist and former member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck died from bacterial meningitis in East Sussex, England at the age of 78.
18January2023Legendary American guitarist and singer, member of The Byrds and CSNY, David Crosby died from COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Santa Ynez, California at the age of 81.
28January2023American singer, songwriter and guitarist with alternative rock band Television, Tom Verlaine died from prostate cancer in Manhattan, NYC at the age of 73.
8March2023Legendary American composer, songwriter, producer and pianist, Burt Bacharach died from natural causes in Los Angeles, California at the age of 94,
5March2023American guitarist and founding member of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington died from undisclosed causes in Milton, Georgia, USA, at the age of 71.
12April2023Influential Jamaican dub reggae sound system and record label owner, renowned for his work in London, Jah Shaka died at the age of 75.
1May2023Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot died from natural causes in Toronto at the age of 84.
24May2023English bass player and member of post‑punk alternative rock band The Smiths, Andy Rourke died from pancreatic cancer in New York City at the age of 59.
25May2023The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, American singer, songwriter and actress Tina Turner died after a long illness in Küsnacht, Switzerland at the age of 83.
6June2023English guitarist, singer and founder of blues/rock band Groundhogs, Tony McPhee died from complications after a fall and a stroke at the age of 79.
20June2023English guitarist with rock group The Pop Group, John Waddington died from undisclosed causes at the age of 63.
21July2023Legendary American jazz and popular music crooner Tony Bennett died from Alzheimer’s disease in New York City at the age of 96.
26July2023American musician, singer, songwriter, and founding member of the Eagles, Randy Meisner died from COPD in Los Angeles, California at the age of 77.
26July2023Irish singer, songwriter and activist Sinéad O’Connor died from unknown causes in London, England at the age of 56.
9August2023Canadian musician and guitarist for Bob Dylan and The Band, Robbie Robertson died from prostate cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 80.
24August2023Renowned English rock guitarist with Whitesnake and UFO, Bernie Marsden died from bacterial meningitis at the age of 72.
27August2023American musician best known for being one half of electronica duo Stars Of The Lid, Brian McBride died from undisclosed causes at the age of 53.
13September2023British singer, songwriter and musician Roger Whittaker died from a stroke in France at the age of 87.
30November2023British‑born Irish singer, songwriter, musician and frontman with Celtic punk rock band the Pogues, Shane MacGowan died from pneumonia and encephalitis in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 65.
5December2023English guitarist and founding member of The Moody Blues and Wings, Denny Laine died from lung disease at the age of 79.

Music industry opinion

A lot has (or rather hasn’t) happened in the music industry over the 3 years since CRAVE Guitars suspended its main activities. First, there was the hangover from global economic recession/depression, then the coronageddon, then the cataclysmic geopolitical conflicts adversely affecting far too many innocent peoples around the globe. At best, the music industry at all levels could only hope to hold its own.

In reality, it has been a tumultuous few years, to say the least. Everyone from equipment manufacturers (including their supply chains), venues, artists, music recording and distribution, publicity and management have been hit hard. Every conceivable facet of the market has been decimated. While I haven’t been able to keep up with events in the industry as I normally would have done, it is clear that things are only now just beginning to get back to 2019 levels.

Who would have predicted three years ago, for instance, that British amp stalwart Marshall would have been acquired by the Swedish digital music company, Zound Industries. A sign of the times, I guess.

Strategically, it has been a nightmare where even the best scenario planning has failed to predict wildly off kilter outcomes. Vintage guitar prices seem to have kept up as the super‑rich collectors are basically unaffected by economic blips that are savage to the rest of us. I know that I am paying more now than I would have done in 2019 for the same thing. While I am not economically motivated and CRAVE Vintage Guitars is a non‑profit enterprise, it is a relief that the 3‑year hiatus hasn’t totally wiped out the value of CRAVE Guitars’ precious artefacts.

It will take a long time for things to settle down and start to grow again. It will be a challenge for everyone involved for some time to come. The last three years haven’t signalled the death throes of the guitar music community. Yet. It has, however been badly wounded, let us hope not mortally so.


The guitar book

A while back, I was contacted out of the blue by a book publisher wanting to use one of CRAVE Guitars’ vintage guitars in their author’s new book on the subject. After a bit of formal toing‑and‑froing, it all went ahead and the book was published earlier this year. I was happy to do this for no commercial gain and the only reward was a shiny copy of the final print version and a credit in the acknowledgement section. While it won’t make CRAVE Guitars famous, I am quite proud of this minor morsel of exposure and recognition.

The book in question is, ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’ by author Ultan Guilfoyle, published by Phaidon Press (ISBN: 978 183866 558 6) (2023).

Link: ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’

Phaidon – Guitar The Shape Of Sound (2023)

The vintage guitar that was featured in the book is my lovely 1974 Ovation Breadwinner 1251 (see page 204‑205).

CRAVE Guitars Ovation Breadwinner

The pulp novel

As you may know, I have been writing on and off for some time, going back to the dim dark origins of CRAVE Guitars back in 2007. The main examples of this are the web site features and monthly articles on the CRAVE Guitars website over the last 9‑10 years or so, as well as the usual social media activity.

Very recently, I felt an irresistible urge to write a fiction novel. Its status is currently work‑in‑progress. It will be called, ‘The Distortion Diaries’ (remember, you read it here first). It started out as an amateur musician’s journal but the early content was clichéd, derivative and, frankly, very dull. It also wouldn’t fill a novel. So, I expanded the story to include a broader variety of situations and characters. The result will be, believe this or not, an eroti‑rom‑com with PARENTAL ADVISORY for Explicit Content. Even then, it isn’t at all what you might think or expect. Heck, how it turned out surprised me too! I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read it. It doesn’t matter. It is something creative that I had to do for myself. It isn’t good enough for a publisher to pick up and I have absolutely nil experience of self‑publishing, so it might never see the light of day. I have considered serialising it through the CRAVE Musings (i.e. the monthly blog articles) but I’m not sure the public is ready for some lovey‑dovey smut‑ridden muso pulp on a vintage guitar website though. The novel may end up just an aborted, ill‑advised, folly of an average superego’s gratuitous self‑indulgence. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Parental Advisory Label

Whether anything comes of this probably pointless fictional venture, I have no idea but it’s been addictive and fun to come up with something non‑factual for a change. And, no, it isn’t autobiographical, just in case you were wondering. Nor is it aspirational. Sadly, seeing as the protagonist has a ‘good time’ on the whole. Lucky git.

In truth, I would actually like to try and self‑publish the novel but I have no idea whatsoever about how to go about such an endeavour, so it will probably languish in long‑lasting literary limbo (stop it with the alliteration, already!).


New 2023 albums

As it’s the time of year for lists, here is a breakdown of 2023 album releases acquired during the year. As usual, these aren’t the only albums bought and neither will they be the only 2023 albums over time. Here are this year’s 33 purchases:

100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
Alborosie – Shengen Dub/Embryonic Dub
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
The Chemical Brothers – For That Beautiful Feeling
Creation Rebel – Hostile Environment
The Cure – Black Sessions: Maison De La Radio Paris 2004 (live broadcast)
Depeche Mode – Memento Mori
Don Letts – Outta Sync
Dub Pistols – Frontline
Everything But The Girl – Fuse
Fred Again.. & Brian Eno – Secret Life
Gentleman’s Dub Club – On A Mission…
Hollie Cook – Happy Hour In Dub
James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
King Krule – Space Heavy
King Tubby & The Observer All Stars – Dubbing With The Observer
Kurt Vile – Back To Moon Beach
Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Laurel Halo – Atlas
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
The Orb – Metallic Spheres In Colour (Feat. David Gilmour)
The Orb – Prism
Orbital – Optical Delusion
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper
Queens Of The Stone Age – In Times New Roman…
Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
Skindred – Smile
Sleaford Mods – UK GRIM
Slowdive – Everything Is Alive
Steve Hillage – LA Forum 31.1.77 (live)
X‑Press 2 – Thee
Yeule – Softscars

Is there a favourite 2023 album out of that lot? Well, I keep coming back to British alternative/indie shoegaze/dream pop band, Slowdive and ‘Everything Is Alive’ more than once, so that’s a fair choice at the time of writing. The big disappointment was Don Letts’ ‘Outta Sync’. Sadly. It comprises many well-crafted pop songs but very little of what I, and I think many others, hoped for in the way of heavy dub reggae tracks.

An even bigger disappointment for me was what didn’t appear. The Cure had hinted that their first studio album since 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream’, heralded as, ‘Songs Of A Lost World’ would be released in 2022. It was notable by its absence and many enthusiasts were hoping that it would finally see the light of day in 2023. The band tempted fans by playing several of the new tracks during their live concerts during the year. However, still nothing tangible has appeared on record store shelves. Let’s hope Robert Smith & co. get around to letting us hear it in 2024. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for new material. C’mon Bob, don’t keep us waiting any longer.

Note: I haven’t gone back to cover 2020, 2021 and 2022 lists of those year’s album releases, as this article would become just a loooooong list.


Whazzup for CRAVE Guitars in 2024?

Before Covid, I used to include at the end of the ‘review of the year’, a shortlist of vintage guitar gear that I might try to acquire in the subsequent 12‑month period. Rarely were the predictions spot on, or even close. Given CRAVE Guitars’ limited activity, space and funds, there is little point in speculating other than in very broad terms.

While there is always a long list of ‘most wanted’ guitars, it’s unlikely to expand significantly in 2024. I am actually generally relatively content with my lot. For now. I am sure that GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) will strike again at some point.

Having launched CRAVE Basses in 2023, there are only four vintage bass guitars in the ‘collection’ thus far. There are a few I might be interested in looking for and which may improve diversity in this area.

There are no intentions for ‘new’ CRAVE Amps at the moment. But that can change, depending on opportunity.

I am also keeping an eye open for some interesting vintage stomp boxes for CRAVE Effects but it really depends on whether anything crops up at a reasonable market price.

The overall result is that there are no specific ambitions for 2024. Next year’s annual review will probably be very short and very dull! I have learned from past experience that predictions aren’t a good idea. Not only are they over‑ambitious but also they end up way wide of the mark. So, I will take things as they come and await any surprises with great anticipation. That sounds like it might be a bit more fun than reporting on yet another failed plan.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record(s) of the Month’

It seems that this might become a regular feature. I listen to a lot of music (see last month’s article, ‘Music Machinations’ – November 2023). There are some albums that tend to stand out from the rest. There is no rhyme or reason why they do, they just do. Over the last month, I just can’t split two albums, which I’ve been enjoying amongst all the other great material out there. They both come under the general genre category of instrumental ‘stoner rock’ but that downplays their appeal. So, on account of there being SO much great music to discover, I’m going for the plural of ‘Record’ for December 2023. Let’s just call that extra little ‘(s)’ a Christmas/New Year treat for y’all. Enjoy

Eternal Tapestry – Beyond The 4th Door (2011) – First up is this strange thing of beauty. Eternal Tapestry is an American psych rock band based in Portland, Oregon. It may not be regarded by some as their best but it was their first ‘proper’ record label release, after several previous albums. It isn’t heavy. It sounds like a group of friends getting together for a jam session. To get that right is a LOT harder than people think. It is atmospheric, dreamy and so far out of this world that it leaves the sordid real world truly out of sight. Good. laid back, hypnotic, immersive, psychedelic and otherworldly experience.

My Sleeping Karma – Soma (2012) – Not the same as Eternal Tapestry but not too far off either. My Sleeping Karma is a German psych rock band from Aschaffenburg, Bayern and ‘Soma’ is their 4th studio album. The tracks are long, intentionally repetitive and with a gentle groove. It’s not quite an impromptu jam session but it has a distinctive psychedelic undercurrent that can be great for zoning out. I prefer this to other MSK studio albums, as it has a bit more variety within the confines of its moody origins. Emotional krautrock. Who’da thought?

Albums Of The Month – December 2023

Tailpiece

Good riddance to 2023. Funny (not) how I seem destined to repeat that same dreary sentiment every year. Ever hopeful and optimistically deluded, I have to remain confident that 2024 will be a bit better. Any improvement will be eagerly grasped. A new year, new opportunities.

My naïve wish and hope for 2024? Listen up all humans! Stop destroying our planet and stop killing each other. Then put all that wasted money to good use making a peaceful, sustainable civilisation, fare and just for all. A pipe dream, maybe, but one has to dream.

As far as articles for 2024 are concerned, I have a couple of ideas gestating, although nothing firmed up at this stage, Watch this space folks. Tune in, same time, same channel, next month. In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be good.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “The best thing in life is freedom”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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November 2023 – Musical Machinations

Prelude

WELCOME ONCE MORE to CRAVE Guitars’ unhurried cruise through the planet’s turbulent waters this November 2023. While there has been much to protest about in the rapid disintegration of the prevailing ‘world order’ during the 2020s thus far, one has to grasp onto any positive prospects that may present themselves. Arising from the debris and carnage of grinding attrition, the poppies of opportunity are optimistic symbols for hope and prosperity, albeit fleeting. That’s basically all flowery language for carpe diem (from Roman lyric poet, Horace’s work, ‘Odes’ in 23 BCE – literal meaning ‘pluck the day’, commonly interpreted as ‘seize the day’).

“While we speak, envious time will have fled: seize the day, to the least extent possible trusting in the next one.” Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8 BCE)

I recognise that there has been little in the way of exciting news on CRAVE Guitars core ‘business’ for many reasons outlined in the previous article (October 2023). It has been slow but it hasn’t been a total wipe‑out though and I’ll come back to that on another occasion. Here, I’m focussing purely on recorded music and principally a persistent quest to unearth something a little bit different.

Once again, no AI was used to research or write this article, only the author’s meagre cranial capacity and a bit of old school pre‑AI technology.


Context

The one upside of recent times has been an opportunity to embark on an intentional journey to explore off‑the‑beaten‑track modern music. As in physics, the musical micro‑universe is continuously expanding. The challenge is that the musical catalogue since the 1950s is absolutely massive and, with each passing day, becomes even bigger – far too much to begin with, let alone keep up with. While, on the basis that one’s knowledge is inherently extremely limited, it means that any adventure has plenty of scope for discovery, even if it is only vainly scratching the surface of the iceberg’s tip (there I go mixing metaphors again!).

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Greek philosopher Socrates (c.470-399 BCE)

On this particular excursion into the unknown, music discovery means expanding the author’s knowledge and appreciation across many aspects of contemporary music. The exercise is about not only consolidating existing music but also about travelling lands un‑trod for new music, which may mean older music that is new to me as well as recently released music that is new to everyone.

Fortunately, 21st Century explorations are sedate experiences. No longer do we have to fear ‘hic sunt dracones’ in ‘Terra incognita’ (here be dragons in unknown land). Note: The former derives from the Hunt‑Lenox Globe (1504), the latter from Ptolemy’s Geography (c.150).

Over far too many years than I would care to contemplate, I have been buying and listening to music. Nothing unusual about that. For many reasons (space, funds, etc.), music was largely revolved around established genre preferences. Fair enough; isn’t that what it’s all about, buy what you like and don’t bother with everything else? However, such an exercise becomes largely self‑perpetuating and insular. This I was aware of and felt that there was much more to be revealed. Where to start?

During CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus (see last month’s article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’), I became fascinated by exposure to ‘new’ music, rather than the habitual repetitive listening to a small repertoire of familiar choons. This is no new epiphany. When much younger, I made a point of listening to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel (1939‑2004) and valued his nonconformist approach towards exciting new bands and their music, especially but not solely during the punk rock era. The late John Peel may not be familiar to readers outside the UK. It was because of John Peel that I bought my very first LP album – ‘Meddle’ by Pink Floyd (1971), after he debuted it in its entirety on his late night radio show.

While so many other things were getting in my way, I consciously elected to spread my musical wings again, mainly because it is something I had wanted to do and it was actually eminently do‑able, especially economically (at first!). I engaged in the hobby of ‘crate digging’ or simply ‘digging’ in the Internet age, i.e. searching anywhere for content, online suppliers and auction sites, charity shops, second hand record shops, brick‑and‑mortar retailers, etc. Buying used albums makes the exercise much more economic, fun and sustainable.

Record Store (credit: Cottonbro Studio)

“Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.” Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Alternative sources include ‘recommendations’ from other music aficionados and using the Shazam app on a smart phone to identify something unfamiliar and interesting that pops up wherever one might be at the time.

One of the first steps was to identify what I had and where there were obvious gaps. I had already created a Microsoft Access database so that I could scrupulously catalogue the albums, EPs and singles in my possession. That soon ran into the application’s upper limit of 2 GB per database, so had to be split into multiple databases. Now that I readily know what I have (little), what I haven’t (massive). It also enabled me to log what I might want (a continuously growing ‘most wanted’ list). The systematic categorisation was reinforced by importing everything I had from source onto Apple iTunes. Between these two key resources, it became relatively straightforward to keep track of things. Then, it was on to, thankfully dragon‑free, pastures new.

My investigations are basically limited to modern contemporary music from the early‑mid 1950s – basically from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll – to the current day. It also includes going back further into the history of some long‑standing top‑tier genres such as blues, country and jazz that were direct predecessors to, and influences on, everything from rock ‘n’ roll onwards, as well as continuing to evolve in their own right.

There have to be boundaries or I would go insane just collecting for collecting’s sake, which is not only unrealistic but also pointless. American rapper and entrepreneur Dr. Dre once stated that he accumulated 80,000 albums and kept them in storage, before realising just that basic error. I’m sure that somewhere out there is a comprehensive British Library‑esque collection of music releases over the last 100 or so years, catalogued for historical posterity. That would be one heck of a monumental task. My endeavours are, unsurprisingly, much, much more modest.

One has to enjoy, as well as feel that an avocation is worthwhile, or there is no worth in doing it. It is for this reason that I have to exclude classical music. For some reason, classical music leaves me stone cold dead. Always has done. I’ve tried repeatedly to get into it but to no avail. However, in contemporary music, there are styles of modern classical and minimalist music that blend, fuse or crossover into contemporary electronic sensibilities with classical instrumentation that I can grasp but I’m afraid that’s it. The likes of Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Philip Glass, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Walter/Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita I can engage with, otherwise, meh. I genuinely apologise to classical music fans. I’m sure it’s fabulous n’all but it just doesn’t do anything for me and going down that particular rabbit hole is an experience I don’t want to pursue… so I won’t. My choice.

Here are just a few figures relevant to the 3‑year hiatus to bandy about. During that period, I’ve purchased circa 3,000 albums along with a (large) handful of EPs and the odd single. That equates to around 90 per month (averaging c.3‑ish per day). I dread to think of the gross expense but at least it is little and often, unlike buying vintage guitars. It’s also relatively quick and easy to do, filling those occasional idle moments. The last 3 years has basically doubled the hoard. The ‘most wanted’ (for want of a better term) list hovers around 1,500‑2,000 depending on timing and motivation. The ‘find out more’ about list of artists is, by comparison, relatively short at around 200‑250. The conclusion is that there is plenty of scope for improvement. Additions to the hoard cover about 100 genres with the largest proportions being mainstream ones.

I haven’t ventured into the realms of rare music collection – most albums I have been looking for are relatively available with patience and digging. Indeed, many have been from bargain bins. I can’t justify or afford two expensive artefact hobbies! Neither has this mission been to create any sort of ‘standout albums of the last 75 years’ or so. I don’t think anyone could possibly agree on what that might comprise.

Right, let’s get down to the business at hand; colouring in the sketch of the musical landscape, so to speak.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”  From ‘Hamlet’ (c.1600) by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564‑1616)


Genre gap‑filling

Like most people, one has favourite genres, so‑so ones, and disliked ones. However, to rule music out just because it belongs to a hitherto underappreciated genre tends to limit one’s exposure to some highly regarded music. As an example, I was never very keen on country music. Then I watched an 8‑part documentary called, unsurprisingly, ‘Country Music’ which first aired on American TV channel PBS in 2019. I was struck by a whole bunch of music that I was completely unaware of and had summarily discounted out‑of‑hand because of what it was labelled. I was fascinated by the documentary and what it portrayed. PBS also produced another documentary series called ‘Jazz’ from 2001 that opened my eyes to what that genre also had to offer. Both PBS series were directed by Ken Burns. Actually, finding out more about the cultural history that surrounded the genres provided a context that enhanced the experience of the music greatly. This observation reinforces the (perhaps) blindingly obvious fact that societal change and musical development are both interdependent and co‑dependent. Having fired my imagination, I extrapolated the concept to other genres as well. Sometimes, ‘various artists’ genre compilations can provide a suitable entrée to a musical world less wandered.

Are there any contemporary genres that are considered out of bounds? On the whole, other than aforementioned classical, generally no. I am up for pretty much anything, while still retaining my core preferences, which include reggae/dub, IDM/EDM, ambient electronica, downtempo/chillout, dreampunk/vaporwave, indie, alternative, heavy metal, gothic, dream pop, drone, rap/hip‑hop, shoegaze, grunge, punk, garage, funk/disco, deep house, blues, rock and neo‑psychedelia. That’s a pretty broad spectrum.

My two recent articles on ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’ and ‘Adventures in Ambient’ (August and September 2023 respectively) I think adequately demonstrate the potential of genre gap‑filling. That was just breaking down two genres.

One ‘genre’ that sits outside the normal categories is the Original Soundtrack (OST). Film and TV soundtracks tend to fall into two types, one camp compiles existing music brought together to accompany what happens on screen, while the other camp employs music composed (scored) specifically for the medium. Both camps can be helpful when discovering new music.

“I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection.” Quentin Tarantino (1963‑)

There are only so many genres (my database lists over 140 of them!) but when you consider the bewildering multiplicity of sub‑genres and micro‑genres within the umbrella of, say, heavy metal, dance or electronica, there seems no end to what can be achieved. One great thing about music is that there is always something out there somewhere to match one’s prevailing mood. Genre gap‑filling actively opens doorways into finding a whole raft of ‘new’ artists, and the next task of filling in some of the blanks was added to the ‘to‑do’ list. One simple example was a brief dalliance with Cajun and zydeco music. These originated from the 20th Century intermixing of French Canadian Acadian immigrants, native American peoples, African slaves, and freemen in Louisiana in the deep south of the USA. Fascinating. And, thus, the search goes on.


Artist gap‑filling

There were, as you might expect, quite a few artists already covered, while there were many more that I knew about or was curious enough about to complement existing artists with ones that I hadn’t previously coveted. Some of these artists work could best be exposed by buying ‘best of’ or compilation albums, especially when I wasn’t prepared to go all out and get multiple original albums. This worked well for some artists that I wasn’t overly keen on. The relative randomness of the ‘digging’ process led to many new artist discoveries, simply through browsing and taking a gamble on something that looked intriguing. ‘Digging’ is easier in brick‑and‑mortar shops than online. Although the latter works, it is definitely much less enjoyable. We need to support our mainstream and independent record shops or they will be lost forever (as in the case of Virgin Megastores, Tower Records and many others). We almost lost the HMV chain in the UK, which would have been disastrous for high street music retail. Artist gap‑filling is a never ending expedition with untold treasures to be uncovered beyond the famous big names. Along with the household headliners, there is a multitude of lesser and unknown artists producing some fantastic music. An open mind unlocks entire vistas begging to be perused.

I soon realised that my personal favourite artists are actually few and far between, many of which have had long, consistent careers. During any artist’s long‑term output, there would inevitably be good, average and poor albums. Picking out the wheat from the chaff became an integral part of my newfound preoccupation.

Surprisingly, there are some very famous artists that simply do not resonate with me, including (believe it or not) respected giants like The Beatles and The Who. Yup. Heretical I know. I have tried over and over to get into them but without success.

There are many lesser known artists that I really like at the moment and only time will tell whether they create any sort of lasting legacy. I came across many great artists that I hadn’t even heard of, many with surprisingly extensive back catalogues. They are all out there, just waiting to be found. I realised that artist gap‑filling was the simplest way to stretch one’s listening goal posts. And, thus, the search goes on.

“For me, to turn people on to new music, on to things that are going on in the world, is important.” Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe (1958‑)


Release gap-filling

One logical method was to fill obvious gaps in some of the existing artists’ back catalogues or the solo careers by members of established bands. I would have some releases but not others, generally through an essentially arbitrary process, rather than any sort of systematic approach. Some additions were credible releases, while with others, there turned out to be an obvious reason why they weren’t there in the first place. Oops. Other avenues to explore in addition to studio albums include live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, dubs, remixes and various artist DJ mixes. This process wasn’t intended to be comprehensive – some releases simply weren’t/aren’t available, some have been long discontinued while others were obviously a waste of space anyway. Some albums were originally on limited release and have subsequently become rare and valuable. I know that there are plenty of collectors out there prepared to pay vast sums for some of these one‑offs. I’m not in that game and can’t afford to be. There are still plenty of missing pieces but broadly speaking the main bases have (possibly) been covered.

It would be all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘completism’, i.e. getting absolutely everything released by an artist. Given how prolific some artists are, completism would be a venture all unto itself. Frank Zappa has released over 50 studio albums, Brian Eno over 65, Johnny Cash over 75, Lee Perry over 80, Tangerine Dream over 100, and Willie Nelson over 130, not including live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, videos and bootlegs. From now on, release gap‑filling will be a case of diminishing returns, as the gaps decrease along with the overall quality of content.

One notable trend during the coronavirus pandemic was a proliferation of live music releases. Artists couldn’t get out on tour and many couldn’t access recording studios, so record labels scoured existing unreleased resources as a pragmatic stop gap during the lockdowns. Some of these live concert recordings are OK and many would normally be regarded as superfluous under ordinary circumstances. However, when needs must. One silver lining to arise out of the so‑called ‘Chinese Virus’ plague has been the rate and quality of subsequent studio releases once the ‘new normal’ was established. And, thus, the search goes on.

“I look forward to the future – and going into the studio to make new music.” Diana Ross (1944‑)


Record label gap‑filling

Some collectors also go for label gap‑filling but that’s a step too far for me, although there are some great independent labels worth giving a shout out to, such as Ninja Tune, Italians Do It Better, PIAS, Sub‑Pop, XL‑Recording, Jamaican Recordings, 4AD, Bella Union, Pressure Sounds, On‑U Sound, Ariwa Sounds and Hyperdub Records. Beyond the major corporations, there are thousands of record labels out there, so chasing artists and releases starting with a record label is neither quick nor easy. If it wasn’t for the small independent labels, though, we would be subject to commercially driven mainstream mediocrity. However, the method of looking at artists belonging to a certain label can prove promising for finding ‘new’ artists, which can then lead directly onto gap‑filling of their previous works.

“John Peel made his reputation with his radio show and his record label, Dandelion, by championing the underdog.” Jimmy Page (1944‑)


Musical discovery

There is much to be said for and against ‘taking a punt’ on something with which one is unfamiliar. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but there is always some sense of eager anticipation involved in lucky dips. This intentionally random exercise can lead onto other artists, and so on, basically ad infinitum. Due to the finite number of listening hours in any given day, week, month, year, this means that some music can only be listened to once or twice, while others warrant repeated auditions. Buying one‑off listens is not really very productive but it happens. One day, they can be re‑used by going to someone who might appreciate them more than I do. Often, genuine appreciation or enjoyment can only be gained by listening multiple times, especially with more experimental, leftfield or avant‑garde music.

“What motivates us is always new music.” Nuno Bettencourt (1966‑)

While physical media has been a main source of content for at least the last 40 years, this is rapidly changing. According to Spotify in 2021, over 60,000 tracks are uploaded to their platform every day. One, perhaps, might wonder about the depth of quality behind such figures. I know I do but then again, I’m a sceptic. There is no shortage of music to discover and no hope of listening to even a tiny fraction of it all. Spotify is also the platform that boasts the most effective method of curated music discovery. Even so, there is still a lot of inherent chance to finding something that will stay with you over the years. One might think that genuinely new discoveries would be infrequent, especially as time goes on. Far from it in practice.

Just one example, I recently came across late Canadian composer, Mort Garson (1924‑2008), renowned for his album, ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ (1976), tag lined, ‘warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them’. When looking more into him and his music, I felt that, somehow, I should have been more aware of him before now. There is plenty of info on him on the hinterwebby thingummy but our meandering paths had not crossed before now. This sort of experience, which many readers who are familiar with Garson will probably snicker at my evident naivety. Such experiences are annoyingly common.

“I actually spend as much time listening to new music as to old. Probably more. I just try to get something out of it all.” Mark Knopfler (1949‑)

So, after all that preparatory exposition, you might well be wondering, just who the heck has been ‘discovered’? Here are just a few artists that I came across during the last 3 years. Some of which readers may know, some not. I might, though, challenge anyone to tick them all off so as to expose, pour scorn and ridicule my raw ignorance for what it is, sheer witlessness. Time to position the currency where my oral cavity is (lol!). The following list covers any genre and is in alphabetical‑ish order (Note: These are indicative only and should not be regarded as recommendations)…

*Shels, 100 Gecs, 2814, 9 Lazy 9, A.M.P. Studio, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Agnes Obel, AK/DK, Aggrolites, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Album Leaf, Arms And Sleepers, Atoms For Peace, Autechre, Be, Benis Cletin, Bent, Big Thief, Blue In Tokio, The Burning Of Rome, Burnt Friedman, Cave In, Chezidek, Clark, Cloud Control, Craven Faults, Creation Rebel, Deadbeat, Deptford Goth, Desire, Devics, Dirty Loops, Divination, Dubkasm, Dynamic Syncopation, Ekoplekz, Ethel Cain, Fink, Flanger, Fragile State, Gallows, George Faith, Girls In Synthesis, Glass Candy, Goblin Cock, Helium, Hint, How To Dress Well, Hybrid, I. Benjahman, The Irresistible Force, Ital Tek, King Creosote, Konx‑Om‑Pax, Labradford, Laurel Halo, Lemonade, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza, Loop Guru, LoveTrio, Machinedrum, Male Bonding, Man With No Name, Martyn, Midnight Juggernauts, My Sleeping Karma, ott, Plastikman, PreCog, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Psychonauts, Pure Bathing Culture, Purity Ring, The Qemists, Rakoon, Red House Painters, Rhombus, RJD2, Romare, Scrapper Blackwell, SkyTwoHigh, Sleep Token, The Slew, Sentre, Some Girls, Sparklehorse, StarOfAsh, Steve Roach, Suckle, Sunda Arc, Sundara Karma, Sunmonx, Swayzak, Symmetry, The Syncope Threshold, T e l e p a t h, Temu, Trembling Blue Stars, The Vacant Lots, Vessels, Wooden Shjips, Yellowcard and Yppah.

… plus many, many, many more. Phew! Some amazing, some good, some interesting, a few less so, etc. One may wonder how many of these artists – regardless of how ‘good’ they are – may attain the superstar status of, say, another Rolling Stones or The Beatles from the ‘good old days’. Not many, I’ll wager. And, thus, the search goes on.

“The times, they are a‑changin’” Bob Dylan (1941‑).

Live Music

Physical media

From the beginning of recording and playback in 1877 (although there were earlier experiments dating back to 1857), with Thomas Edison’s phonogram, first through wax cylinders and then shellac discs, followed by vinyl discs with the advent of the gramophone, people have been collecting music. For decades, vinyl was really the only practical medium for collectors. Collecting became more popular by the late 1970s with magazines dedicated to the hobby and suggesting values for some rarer releases. Magnetic recording technology added to, rather than replaced, vinyl and became popular with reel‑to‑reel, eight track (remember that?) and audio cassettes.

Portable music was made possible for the masses by the Sony Walkman (TPS‑L2), introduced in 1979, using the then‑ubiquitous analogue compact cassette. Perhaps the most significant portent for the demise of physical media was the introduction of the Apple iPod way back in 2001, sadly now no longer made, which led into the convenient access to music on the go, now with today’s smart phones.

Digital music, mainly through the introduction of digital music Compact Discs (CDs) in 1982 led to a revolution in collecting. CD sales peaked in 2000 at over 2.5 billion worldwide accounting for 91% of the market. By 2020 sales had fallen 95% and accounted for only 5% of global sales. However, CD sales increased again in 2021, although it is too early to predict a revival. The introduction of downloads and streaming has significantly impacted CD sales, precipitating a dramatic decline in physical album sales, as more and more consumers switched to digital streaming services.

Some alternative digital formats arrived in the wake of CD but didn’t survive for long, including Sony’s Mini Disc and DAT (Digital Audio Tape), as well as Philips’ DCC (Digital Compact Cassette). HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) and SACD (Super Audio CD) were promising but ultimately failed to supersede CD.

By the 1990s, I had disposed of my collection of then‑seemingly redundant vinyl LPs and singles (and my turntable) and embarked on collecting CDs, starting off with replacing what I had on vinyl and then adding new content over time. Ditching vinyl was something I might have regretted, but don’t. Vinyl represents nostalgia to me and I’m not going back. It is neither practical, desirable nor possible to embark on such a regressive approach now. At the time of writing, my music hoard of CDs comprises well over 6,000 releases by over 2,500 artists. This conglomeration has recently been organised into over 50 crates packed to the gills with the little silver discs. That equates to around 85,000 tracks on iTunes and counting. I don’t know whether this is a lot or not, with all things being relative. Currently, CD remains my main medium of choice. I predict that CDs will not become totally extinct and will experience a resurgance at some point.

The advent of CD was a catalyst to the long‑running analogue versus digital debate. For what it’s worth, my view is the debate is not about encoding, it’s about something far more subjective. Vinyl reproduction flatters music in a way that digital doesn’t and that appeals to us. Digital is technically superior but not as warm and cuddly as vinyl. Simples. Fans of analogue still swear that digital is a poor representation of real music. Fans of digital swear that analogue (and even digital CD) is outmoded and obsolete. That’s a lot of swearing. Streaming has added further fuel for opposing viewpoints with the compressed versus lossless argument. The truth is, does it really matter? As long as we enjoy the music, that’s what counts, isn’t it? Focus on the content, not the carrier. If we have a preference, make the most of it. I do think that the audiophile press is somewhat hypocritical in only going along with the latest tech after having criticised it before it became commercially established. That way, we all keep buying new kit. That is a personal opinion. Ain’t hindsight great?

“The digital world is so convenient and nice, but just playing back a vinyl record is a much warmer, hotter, more present feeling.” Steve Miller (1943‑)

Physical Media (credit: Andre-Moura)

Music streaming

A brief recap of developments may be in order, so a short diversion first. Let us rush past the short‑lived phenomenon of downloads, which have largely been superseded by streaming (which includes off‑line listening). The storage problem associated with physical media has led to the next revolution in listening, which is to dispense with physical media altogether and access music on remote servers held in huge data centres somewhere. This marks a watershed where the listener no longer owns a tangible product but only purchases the right to listen to it. You cannot easily donate tracks to charity or sell purchased music on to other people. Mixtapes? A thing of the past. How unromantic. All this is, to me, a major drawback. I like having something tangible that I can pick up, look at, read the liner notes, view the artwork and so on. Somehow, the old‑school ownership of a physical item is something I value. Streaming just seems like an ephemeral audition of someone else’s music, rather than something personal, bestowed by genuine ownership. Is this simply a transitional symptom? Probably, maybe.

Although streaming was introduced in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the launch of Napster in 1999, using the new compressed MP3 digital format and exploiting new Internet‑based Broadband services, that downloads and streaming became widely popular. The licensed subscription music service Spotify was launched in 2008, rising from the ashes of the flirtatious fleeting dalliance with illegal downloads. Once again, the industry ‘big boys’ have found a way to re‑assert their dominance over us. Digital streaming now accounts for more than 80% of global music industry revenues.

The Internet and the major music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, etc.) have facilitated exploratory listening greatly while, at the same time, enabling artists to gain exposure in a way that they couldn’t previously through the traditional studio/record label system. Streaming generally can be on demand, through curated playlists or via Internet radio stations. All are valuable resources for the curious listener. The streaming platforms often state that they have 100,000,000 (100m) or more tracks available to customers. In practice, this is both a mind‑boggling and meaningless figure. There is such a thing as too much choice. It also gives some sense of scale, although it may call into question the balance between volume and quality. Suddenly, my meagre 85,000 tracks seems somewhat miniscule in comparison. I do, however, find it a sign of progress when more than 50 crates of CDs can be stored on an SSD (Solid State Disc) that’s less than half the size of a cigarette packet (remember those too?).

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage (1912‑1992)

Another problem exposed by streaming is that there is now plenty of material that is not distributed or sold on physical media at all and is only available via the Internet. Streaming‑only releases are essentially simpler and cheaper than managing traditional physical distribution channels. It also pushes new customers towards expensive streaming subscriptions whereby they earn money whether they are used or not. Talk about milking a cash cow! This online‑only approach affects some genres more than others but it means that, in order to continue with this ambitious side project of mine, streaming has become a necessary additional resource. In effect, physical and virtual music has to co‑exist; being an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ approach. For info, after much deliberation, CRAVE Guitars subscribes to Apple Music.

Some streaming services provide high definition listening, such as Tidal, and they charge a premium for it. Others, such as Spotify are content to go for volume at low definition. The lesson to take from this is that streaming services are not all alike despite peddling similar wares to punters.

“You pays your money and take your choice” A British lexicographic irregular that first appeared in print in Punch magazine in 1846

Does streamed high definition music (i.e. better than CD quality) make a difference to most listeners? Big question. Well, apparently, not really. The evidence suggests that most average (i.e. non‑industry) people cannot tell the difference in blind listening tests conducted under ‘normal’ conditions. Trained listeners can, allegedly, differentiate formats but “If there’s any discernible difference, it’s so subtle and so slight, you’d have to be somebody who’s been in the business for decades like me to hear it.” (recording and mixing engineer, Prince Charles Alexander, Berklee Online study, 2019). A case of fidelity vs artistry vs money, always good for an argument. Why on Earth spoil music listening by teaching people to identify comparative digital encoding anomalies when they are so small as to be meaningless? Spotify’s strategic positioning seems to agree, while Tidal doesn’t. People who go down the high definition route are, perhaps, hedging their bets. If they have the best, it doesn’t matter whether they can hear a difference or not. No doubt there is some audiophile snobbery lurking in there too. For the sake of throwing my two penny worth into the ring, I can neither tell the difference nor can I be bothered to waste my time trying to spoil the enjoyment that music brings by attempting to do so. Time for some good ol’ fashioned snake oil to leech the contents from your bank account?

Does streaming stop me ‘digging’ for used CDs? NO. Does it stop me buying new CDs? NO. Does it encourage me to buy more CDs? Actually, YES. I still prefer to purchase and store music on CD, while recognising the inevitability of embracing the dark side of streaming culture. On the basis that vinyl and cassette have seen a popular resurgence, CD is not going away anytime soon. In practice, and probably being totally hypocritical in doing so, I tend to rip music from CD on iTunes and then stream (or rather cast) it to my music system. I know that this practice probably makes little sense but, for me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the physical media and the convenience of digital storage. Which leads neatly onto…


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘music room’

If you read my October 2023 article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’, you will know of the sad loss of ‘mi media naranja’ (my better half) due to the vile and relentless ravages of cancer. Initially crestfallen, once accepting the loss, I set about repurposing the small ‘dining room’ which had been my wife’s bedroom into a dedicated ‘music room’, used for noodling on vintage guitars and listening to recorded music. NO TV or clock allowed! Having previously lost our home and the vast majority of our belongings (another story altogether!), I had to rebuild a hi‑fi from scratch which, in itself, was quite an exciting experience, along with uniquely decorating the room to provide a suitable listening/playing environment. It took a year of painful sacrifices involving the sale of some beloved A/V gear (I’m also a film & TV buff) to raise funds and some lengthy (re)searching for used ‘bargains’. I fully acknowledge that this indulgence seems an excess of a luxury, given everything else but other things had to be compromised to enable it. My choice.

The ‘music room’ is used every day for music listening. For those who are interested in the techy side of things, the main hi‑fi system comprises:

  • Naim Uniti Core music server with 2TB SSD storage
  • Naim ND5 XS2 music streamer
  • Naim CD5 Si CD player
  • Bryston BP17 pre-amplifier
  • Bryston 4BSST power amplifier
  • PMC Twenty.24 floor standing speakers
CRAVE Guitars Music Room

While this is neither a high‑end system nor a budget system, it has been carefully selected to meet the need for critical and enjoyable listening of both physical and streamed music (and within budget). My 500 or so most preferred CDs are immediately to hand in the room, as well as being stored in lossless digital form on the music server, thereby also making them available throughout the house via Wi-Fi (in due course). It’s certainly more than good enough for my tired, aging ears. Being pragmatic, the electronics are, after all, only a means to an end, which is to stimulate an emotional response through music.

At this point, you may be wondering whether I actually listen to all that music. Fair question. Well, yes, is the answer. There wouldn’t be much point in writing about it if I didn’t experience the results of my labours. While I try very hard, there may be the odd track here or there that gets shunted down a listening list but I would hope that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Heck, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

“Don’t tell me baby you gotta go, I got the hifi high and the lights down low” from, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight‘ (1959) by Elvis Presley (1935‑1977)


Personal top 20 ‘desert island’ albums

Depending on mood, I do go back to long‑term favourites, simply for the comfort and familiarity of a ‘known quantity’. Like chatting with an old friend. At the outset, I said this wasn’t about compiling any sort of ‘best albums of the last 75 years’. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some albums for which I hold a special affection and which have been part of the hoard for many years (so not ‘new’). Here are 20 of them, all pretty well known mainstream releases, and which I feel have stood the test of time. Regular readers will see no surprises here. This is very much a personal list, chosen at the time of writing – it would undoubtedly be different on different days/weeks/months. Some entries hold special meaning and are therefore highly evocative.

I call this my ‘desert island’ security list. That is, if I could only have 20 albums as a castaway, what would they be? Perhaps, more accurately, it could also be called ‘top 20 memories’ or ’20 comfort classics’. Now how’s all that for wistful nostalgia? For what it’s worth, here is today’s list:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)
  4. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971)
  5. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
  6. Steve Hillage – L (1976)
  7. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980)
  8. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1977)
  9. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
  10. Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  11. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! (live) (1975)
  12. Deep Purple – Made In Japan (live) (1972)
  13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (2013)
  14. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
  15. Massive Attack – 100th Window (2003)
  16. David Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983)
  17. Burial – Untrue (2007)
  18. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975)
  19. John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (1993)
  20. Beck – Sea Change (2002)

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


The future

OK, that’s the past, so now let’s take a brief, casual look at what may happen into the near future. While vinyl is doing remarkably well and CD is showing possible signs of life, it is clear that streaming is the future until something better comes along. It is certainly in the interests of the music industry to retain tight control over their valuable assets, although many artists say that the practice is detrimental to their income. However, this actually means little to the consumer. Better returns for the companies and artists simply mean higher prices for the public who have no say in the matter. The reality is that the few rich get much richer and the many poor get much poorer; sadly the dysfunctional norm of the modern capitalist world.

The commercial interests of multinational companies like Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner Brothers rule their respective roosts. Interestingly, the major corporations don’t own the streaming companies, unlike in the parallel dimension of film and TV where the studios control all levels of vertical integration.

Mega‑artists with mega‑egos to match like Taylor Swift, Madonna, Adele, Jay‑Z/Beyoncé, U2, KISS, Dr. Dre, Timberlake and Ed Sheeran, along with many other big names in the lofty reaches of the higher socioeconomic hierarchy are laughing hysterically all the way to their already mega‑well‑stocked tax‑free offshore bank accounts. The industry ‘big four’ major record labels and powerful business artists together make up a resilient ‘pyramid of power’, that will continue to dominate the economics of the music biz for many years to come. Sadly, your ordinary talented hard working musicians don’t attract such filthy lucre. When push comes to shove, it’s all about the money. T’was ever thus, or more accurately…

“Oh! Ever thus from childhood’s hour” from the poem, ‘The Fire Worshippers’ (1817) by Irish writer and poet, Thomas Moore (1779‑1852)

Perhaps more worrying for creative artists and for many music enthusiasts is that the focus is clearly moving away from coherent album releases and more towards the production of single tracks out of context of other material by the same artist. By that statement, I don’t mean a rejuvenation of chart singles, which have long ceased to mean anything. The evidence shows that people are streaming individual songs, rather than a collection of tracks that would historically have made up a cohesive LP. Just look at the streaming stats of albums on any digital online platform and the predominance of maybe one or two tracks over the rest is unmistakeable. There is a feedback loop that encourages artists to change the way they make music and which goes on to influence curated playlists, radio coverage and, ultimately, sales, then repeat. The modern equivalent of the old‑fashioned radio playlist.

In 2016, it was reported that album releases were plummeting while EPs and single tracks were skyrocketing. Will we ever see (or, rather, hear) any more all‑time classic albums like ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Rumours’ or ‘Thriller’? Only time will tell. Will the way that music is created, distributed and accessed mark the death knell of the ‘album’ as we know it? Highly likely, but not just yet. The album may, like many things, see a revival. We’ll just have to wait and see (if we live long enough). Personally, I grew up with the antiquated concept of the album or LP, so it retains a certain sensibility but, then again, I am destined for premature oblivion myself, so what the heck do I know?

The topical buzz around Artificial Intelligence (AI) will inevitably play its part in music creation with virtual artists and AI composed tracks. It’s already here and can only evolve from here on. AI isn’t new, its roots go back to 1956 and the American Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. AI generative music goes back to the mid‑1990s. Is AI a threat? The jury is currently out. Thankfully, if AI is used for music, literature and art, it won’t be used to annihilate mankind (except, perhaps, through technological mediocrity). The ultimate demise of humans is up to humans, directly or indirectly, at least for now. Who needs doomsday generative AI when we all have to endure the antics of egregious corrupt despots like Putin, Xi, Kim and too many others of their insane immoral ilk? Don’t you just love mankind’s determined destiny of denial and doom? I digress (again).

“If we don’t end the war, war will end us.” H.G. Wells (1866‑1946)

One certainty is that music will survive in its manifold forms. One hopes that tired and clichéd genres like the current vapid world of commercial pop and dance music since the new millennium will rejuvenate into something more interesting at some point. Conversely, let us also hope that the more dynamic genres don’t descend to the deplorable depths of hideous homogeneity.

Musicians will proliferate. Music will proliferate. The way we access music will change. Whatever happens, change is inevitable and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves and how we adapt. Music as an essential component of the human condition will prevail in one form or another as long as humans exist. Music is, after all, a phenomenon unique to the human race. Thank goodness for that. And, thus, the search goes on.

“When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, ‘I hate rap or techno’ I rush to it.” George Clinton (1941‑)


Amateur musicology?

I do not pretend to be some sort of self‑appointed authority on contemporary music. My main obsession is still vintage guitars and vintage guitar gear. Perhaps, though, my passion for music predated my addiction to guitars. Over the decades my love of modern music does, I believe, provide a reasonable insight into the science as well as art of music, with a little alchemy thrown in for good measure.

Strictly speaking, musicology is the analysis and study of music. Musicology belongs to the humanities and social sciences, although some music research also belongs to the fields of psychology, sociology, acoustics, neurology, anthropology and computer science.

Musicology covers three general disciplines; music history, new musicology (the cultural study of music) and ethnomusicology (the study of music in its cultural context). For the life of me, I can’t really (be bothered to) differentiate between the last two of those.

Clearly, I cannot compete with professional experts in the field and my research methods are hardly scholarly. I am, however, happy to be an amateur sleuth, as it allows for significant enjoyment. Music should be overwhelmingly pleasurable, rather than playing second fiddle to methodical and clinical academic enquiry. Again, my choice.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

In addition, and hopefully obviously to readers by now, I also play music (very badly it must sadly be said). I wouldn’t hoard vintage guitars unless I could actually conjure up something vaguely creative and emotional out of them. Perhaps interestingly, I don’t play other people’s music; I much prefer to ‘do my own thing’ for better or worse. Usually the latter.

I am incessantly amazed at what I don’t know. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but society tends to prejudge ignorance as a weakness and expertise as a virtue. What others regard as the blatantly obvious is utterly oblivious to me until I encounter it. However, isn’t that what exploration and discovery is all about?

If we accept that “Music is the universal language of mankind” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one can only trust that exploration is the means by which we enhance and articulate our own individual musical linguistic skills.

Musicology may not be quite the right word for my approach towards modern music but I sure can’t think of a better one. Musicology Lite perhaps? Deluded dilettante? Possibly. Biased? Definitely. We all have our own opinions, right? And, thus, the search goes on.

“Music is the strongest form of magic.” Marilyn Manson (1969‑)


Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Musicology suggests an interest in music psychology, which is how music affects the cognitive functions of the human system. Building on some of my opinionated comments last month, here’s a thought for the day. Let us remember that music carries with it enormous power to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Music can boost serotonin, dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin levels that work on the pleasure receptors of the brain. Put simply, these magic substances can act as effective natural anti‑depressants and can help to improve both mood and behaviour. All in all, mostly good stuff then. As we all know, music, can also irritate the heck out of us sometimes, so remember to love what you love.

Now here’s an interesting diversion into music cultural history. All three human activities, sex, drugs and music directly affect the pleasure centres of the brain, so there is something scientific behind the old rockers’ adage, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ after all. While some suggest the phrase came from Ian Dury’s 1977 single, its roots derive from a much earlier hendiatris, ‘wine, women and song’, emanating from Germany in the 1770s, although there is some debate as to who actually coined it. Many scholars attribute its origins date back even further to theologian, Martin Luther.

“Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang. (Who not loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long).” Martin Luther (1483‑1546)

The first modern use of the phrase was printed in a LIFE magazine article that dates from 1969, “The counter culture has its sacraments in sex, drugs and rock.” In 1971, The Spectator magazine printed, “Not for nothing is the youth culture characterised by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Ian Dury certainly made the most of it.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record of the Month’

Once again, as this is a bit of an outlier in the overall scheme of CRAVE Guitars’ articles, I cannot leave without at least mentioning one of those albums that warrants repeat listening (for me). While last month, I was clinging onto sultry summer with dub reggae, this month, with the rapid decline into grim winter, I’m going for something a little more contentedly contemplative.

Biosphere – Microgravity (2015 reissue of the 1991 studio album with additional tracks). Biosphere is electronica artist, Geir Jenssen (1962‑) from Tromsø, Troms, Norway. The 16 tracks fall broadly into the ambient, ambient techno, ambient house, field recording and progressive electronica genres. Microgravity was Biosphere’s debut studio album. Laidback ambient grooves are a wonderful way to escape and transport one’s consciousness into an otherworldly, serene dimension, great for relaxation, stress relief and focus. It is also great for testing the hi‑fi.

“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die” from the play, ‘Twelfth Night’ (c.1601/1602) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Tailpiece

Well that’s another monthly article done and dusted. Number 75 to be precise since I started writing CRAVE Guitars’ articles way back in November 2014. It’s come a long way.

I am genuinely grateful to be in the position whereby I am able freely to undertake such projects as this one. The author is acutely aware of the extreme difficulties faced by innocents around the globe.

The pursuit of new stuff is unlikely to abate now that it has begun in earnest. Is there anything I regret uncovering? Nope. I try hard not to regret anything; I would rather use any missteps along the way as a learning experience. Are there any guilty pleasures that have been adopted? Probably, but now isn’t the time or place for shaming my deviant musical proclivities! Surprises? Plenty. Pleasure? A mixed bag. Top tips? A few. Anticipation? Always.

What is most encouraging is that there is an almost unlimited wealth of awesome, incredible music out there waiting to be discovered if you want to look hard enough. Enjoy!

The plan is to get back to more CRAVE Guitars core raison d’être for the next article. However, we all know what happens to “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” from the poem, ‘To a Mouse’ (1785) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759‑1796), so no promises. OK? Thanks for reading.

Peace, love, truth and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Material possessions feed the vanity of the ego, while music nourishes the spirit and sustains the soul”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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