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 – 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 #4 – 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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October 2023 – Return to and from obscurity

posted in: News, Observations, Opinion | 0

Prelude

Hi y’all. This month’s article is mercifully short (relative to most) and a necessary, albeit uncomfortable, therapeutic self‑indulgence. It is probably not an enjoyable read, just as it was not enjoyable to write. Time, methinks, for some clarification. This article is about CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars’ recent journey.

Before CRAVE Guitars, I was pretty much invisible to the world. Good, suits me fine. Even now, Crave Guitars is the main focus. Call me whatever you like; enigmatic, shy, introverted, inscrutable, reserved, or reclusive… I prefer to avoid people and I enjoy solitude. This is a lifestyle choice. Strangely for a guitarist, I do not crave (sic!) the limelight. I like to let the musical artefacts speak for themselves. To me, they are far more important. Publishing anonymously behind the veil of CRAVE Guitars is an indispensable creative outlet.

For those in the know, CRAVE Guitars took a ‘break’ for almost 3 years. That meant no monthly articles and a total withdrawal from participating in social media. Development of the CRAVE Guitars’ website also stalled, while expansion of the enterprise itself was reduced to a casual pastime. To all intents and purposes, CRAVE Guitars ground to an almighty stop overnight, at least as far as the outside world was concerned, although it has continued to tick over in the background. Playing guitar also dropped off to near‑nothing, so no more feeble fantasies for recording or video.

At the time, I thought that this ‘break’ would only be a very temporary interruption and things could return to status quo relatively quickly. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an extended absence. However, as time passed since the September 2020 cliff edge, I found the task of putting finger to keyboard increasingly challenging, making the hiatus a ‘thing’ in its own right that I knew eventually had to be confronted and dealt with.

In September 2023, I returned tentatively to writing with the article, ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’, exploring the wonderful world of Jamaican music, while October saw the next article, ‘Adventures in Ambient’, a delve into the serene, otherworldly dimension of ambient electronica. Neither of these articles focused on vintage guitars and neither genre is particularly guitar‑oriented. Why return with these in‑depth research projects you may ask? To tell the truth, both of these articles were an intentional and ‘safe’ distraction from addressing the pachyderm in the place (NB. The ‘elephant in the room’ is an idiom deriving from an 1814 story by poet Ivan Krylov, ‘The Inquisitive Man’). I also made a very hesitant return to posting occasional items on various social media platforms, although the prospect of getting back onto that particular treadmill remains daunting.

I apologise upfront for the style and content after an extended break; I’m basically out of practice and need to get back to being ‘match ready’. What follows is not a full explanation for the break, however, it is a cathartic attempt to ‘break the silence’ and restore some sense of realism. So…

Cause and effect

Coronavirus – The ‘coronapocalypse’ or ‘coronageddon’ pandemic started in early 2020 and we all know what happened between then and now. Over 771 million cases of SARS‑CoV‑2 worldwide and almost 7 million deaths (25 million cases and over 230,000 deaths in the UK alone, a shameful 9th in the global league table, with the US at the top). Lockdowns, self‑isolation, testing, vaccinations, ventilators, hospitalisations, deaths and all that went along with the spread of the virus have been well‑documented elsewhere. In October 2023, Covid‑19 is very much still with us and continues to mutate, taking more lives in the process. As an inherently anti‑social animal, withdrawal from the social order was easy for me as a lifelong misanthropist and borderline sociopath. The impact on live music, music venues and manufacturers due to Covid has, however, been fairly catastrophic, as has the number of artists directly or indirectly affected by the contagion. What I think everyone can agree on is that the global health crisis has undoubtedly had a major impact on our day‑to‑day behaviour, mental health and occupational prospects. Covid, whatever its origins, respects no territorial boundaries and affects everyone; a so‑called ‘leveller’.

To quote Italian writer and moral philosopher Dante Alighieri (c.1265‑1321) from ‘Inferno’, “I had not thought death had undone so many”.

Economics – A deep crisis with a high price indeed. Thanks to Putinland egregiously and aggressively expanding its redundant soviet empirical aspirations, everyone, everywhere has felt the negative impact of just getting by on a day‑to‑day basis. The Middle East resorting to pointless bloody conflict again only adds fossil fuel to the escalating economic volatility. Never mind the tyrannical exploits of the People’s (?!) Republic of China. Etc., etc., etc. As CRAVE Guitars is a not‑for‑profit enterprise, there is no fat on the bones to indulge the increasingly expensive ‘hobby’ of vintage guitar hoarding. A low fixed income lags about a year behind the times during the current economic climate, so no spare pennies to squander on old gear. Vintage guitars tend to increase in (or at least hold their) value during recession and increase disproportionately so under periods of growth or high inflation, pushing these desirable relics out of the reach of enthusiasts (like me) and into the hands of wealthy collectors seeking return on investment and profit. Demand continues to outstrip supply, at least in everything I can afford. Ggrr. Argh. Sigh.

“War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” (Edwin Starr, War 1970).

Life – During 2020 and 2021, the demands of sustaining all aspects of everyday life eventually proved overwhelming and something had to give. In addition to the already stated ‘break’, I also could not keep on top of current music and industry‑related events, so my insights into what was going on were inevitably constrained. My motivation and ability to acquire, maintain and play vintage gear also hit the proverbial buffers. The repugnant politics of, particularly, Twitter (now Elon Musk’s execrable X) resulted in a general reluctance to engage with online communities. The abuse simply wasn’t worth the effort. Human behaviour is not improving with time. In fact, it appears to be notably regressing. The outcome was CRAVE Guitars withered in short order like a scorched seedling affected by global overheating. Ultimately, the self‑imposed abstinence was basically driven by self‑preservation and survival.

“These so‑called bleak times are necessary to go through in order to get to a much, much better place.” David Lynch (1946‑)

… and Death – After 43 years since meeting my other half, 33 years of marriage, and 13 years of caring (the last 6 years full‑time), my soulmate finally succumbed to cancer in 2022 after a protracted and particularly brutal decline. ‘Until death do us part’, as vowed. This, sadly, is the way of the wicked world and we will all, at some point, pop our proverbial clogs and shuffle off this mortal coil (mixing metaphors, sorry Mr. Shakespeare). Cancer sucks and there is no magic spell for getting over its cruel incursion. Fundamental and profound grief is definitely not conducive to the pursuance of a preoccupation, however, obsessive, with material things. An existential watershed was thus irrevocably cast. The inevitable and involuntary re‑evaluation of one’s existence results in a re‑prioritisation and reflection about one’s ikigai – the Japanese concept meaning the achievement of a sense of purpose and a reason for living. This is not an excuse, just a cruel and unavoidable fact of life… and death. Farewell wife. R.I.P.

“It is crucial to be mindful of death – to contemplate that you will not remain long in this life. If you are not aware of death, you will fail to take advantage of this special human life that you have already attained.” (The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso 1935‑)

Extortion – Around September 2021, CRAVE Guitars was subject to Internet extortion. A German company using a household brand name as a front threatened legal action for copyright infringement. Whatever the circumstances, I was forced into settling rather than risk disproportionate legal costs to defend against the possibility of legal action. However, the incident was totally fraudulent and the UK authorities took no notice, as it emanated from the EU (which apparently is no longer part of the UK) and, to them, insignificant in value. Thanks for absolutely nothing British Police and fraud investigation. Hello! Blackmail is a crime! For a not‑for‑profit enterprise with zero budget, this proved temporarily crippling. The specific event caused a ‘crisis of faith’ about whether to continue with CRAVE Guitars at all, while also compounding other pressures. Self‑doubt is a horrible and unproductive experience. All previous articles have had to be substantially edited with all images not totally owned by CRAVE Guitars were removed from all features, articles and web site pages, severely reducing their potential interest to the casual reader. All images used by CRAVE Guitars are now diligently produced either in‑house or obtained via copyright/royalty‑free sources.

“Blackmail is more effective than bribery.” John Le Carré (1931‑2020)

Property – CRAVE Guitars is not a discrete entity. It is not a museum and it is not a commercial enterprise. It operates out of a normal, and rather small, house in the South West of the UK. The property is almost 100 years old and in a very poor condition. The recent imperative has been to renovate the structure to provide liveable accommodation. As a result, a large proportion of time, effort and funds have had to be re‑directed towards extensive necessary property upkeep, leaving little in the way of capital for other things (like vintage guitars). The long‑intimated cellar refurbishment to provide a safe and secure home for the vintage gear keeps getting shunted down the list of priorities and further into the future. It does, however, remain a goal. The lack of storage space limits acquisition of any more instruments.

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” Kurt Vonnegut (1922‑2007)

Karma – Hatred is a negative and wasteful emotion that has no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. It drains the soul of compassion. However, there are many contemptable people in this world intent on furthering their own agendas at others’ expense, seemingly with impunity. Everyone probably has a degree of experience of such self‑entitled, exploitative and controlling individuals. They are vile, vindictive and unfortunately often unavoidable, intent on causing misery wherever they go. Fortunately, such heinous parasites are relatively rare. The list is short but the hostile influence is high. Given that societal structures favour law over justice, it is unwise to name such vermin. I just hope that, in some way, they become aware of the terrible consequence of their actions and that their conscience holds them accountable. Sadly, they may not exhibit the necessary integrity and contrition. Where is karma when it is really needed?

“Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; men love in haste but they detest at leisure.” Lord Byron (1788‑1824)

Musicology – Perhaps there is one positive note amongst all the preceding doom and gloom. My fascination with all things musical has been both long‑running and constant over time. While other things were understandably dominating priorities, the hiatus did present an opportunity for musical exploration and experimentation. I am no authority on the matter so, I set about addressing this particular shortcoming by adopting a more rigorous approach towards understanding and appreciating contemporary music (from the 1950s to the current day). Modern music is at least relevant and related to CRAVE Guitars to a greater or lesser extent, so therefore within my general bailiwick. I intend to come back to this side project on another occasion.

“For I was conscious that I knew practically nothing…” (attributed to Plato’s account of Socrates),

Summary – The extended hiatus appears, prima facie, to be an irrational and disproportionate response to a culmination of disparate events that, in the past, would (probably) not have been a big issue either in isolation or together. There was no single external trigger, rather a confluence of factors that proved to be ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ (NB. an idiom derived from an Arabic proverb that describes a minor action that causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, resulting from the cumulative effect of small actions – a.k.a. ‘the last straw’). However proverbial it is, it does raise the point that we all need to do our best, despite difficult circumstances, to look after ourselves first and foremost. Not to do so inhibits our ability to deal with external threats and have empathy for others. We only live once and life really is too short (see above). There are no second chances. Time to be positive about the future…

“The future depends on what we do in the present.” Mahatma Gandhi (1869‑1948)

The way forward

In late 2023, I regard my preoccupation with CRAVE Guitars as essential therapy to help cope with other day‑to‑day circumstances. I am, however, still finding it incredibly hard to rekindle the spark of craving (sic!) held previously. The prospect of CRAVE Guitars returning to its old form is, as far as I can tell at the time of writing, rather unlikely. After over sixteen years of building the ‘brand’, this state of affairs is genuinely heart rending.

As I am only just beginning to recover some of my former vintage guitar mojo, I cannot say for sure what the way forward will be. The first faltering purgative steps are, I think, basically threefold:

  1. To resume writing articles, although these will not be regular or consistent to begin with and they will likely not be major tomes as before (probably a relief for many!).
  2. To recommence work on maintaining, updating and expanding the CRAVE Guitars web site, together with resuming a modicum of social media activity.
  3. Last but most certainly not least, to get back into acquiring, maintaining, playing and sharing my compulsive captivation with vintage guitar gear.

Simple to say, less easy to do. Pursue them I must for my own sanity. I can only hope that the extensive investment in CRAVE Guitars as a coherent entity over the years has not been totally wasted and that the impetus behind what the brand stands for continues in some form, even if it is in a less assertive fashion.

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749‑1832)

CRAVE Guitars’ Album of the Month:

As this article is an anomaly in the canon, I couldn’t move on without at least mentioning something musical. As we are moving away from sultry summer warmth into darker, cooler and wetter autumn, I’m clinging desperately onto evocative tropical Jamaican beats. Therefore, my selection for ‘album of the month’, October 2023 is:

Dubbing at Aquarius Studios 1977-1979 – The 16 tracks were laid down at Dynamic Sounds, Harry J’s and Randy’s Studio 17 by session bands the Aggrovators, Soul Syndicate and High Times Players, and dubbed at Herman Chin Loy’s Aquarius Studio during the peak years of Jamaican dub reggae. For me, these tracks deserve repeated listening. Irie mon.

Footnote

Mental Health & Wellbeing is a serious issue in today’s chaotic and dysfunctional world. Depression and anxiety present an insidious and invisible menace of 21st Century lifestyles. They are not trivial issues to be dismissed out of hand and can be severely debilitating. The impact is non‑discriminatory and can affect anyone at any time to one degree or another and can strike without warning. There is no simple ‘cure’ and the adverse effects can be both long lasting and unpredictable. If you haven’t actually experienced these problems first hand, it can be difficult to understand the symptoms, let alone be able to unravel the causes. Meds can be useful but ultimately result in a chemical cul‑de‑sac. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the current fad with professionals but the focus on process is only good for some. High quality one‑to‑one psychotherapy is expensive and thereby exclusive. Mindfulness is a dreadful title but the western concept, based on aspects of eastern spiritualism (but not religion) and meditation, can be an effective tool for building resilience and promoting focus. Whatever your remedy, in the face of an increasingly intrusive stressful life, it is important to take care of your whole self, mental and emotional as well as physical. These opinions, I must emphasise, are not the warped rantings of an insecure neurotic grumpy old man… or are they?

To quote one wise Asian dude, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama – c.480-400BCE)

Tailpiece

I apologise once again for the self‑centred, self‑serving self‑pitying nature, as well as the unforgiveable excess of hyperbole, of this therapeutic ‘confessional’. It had to be done. For CRAVE Guitars, putting this ‘explanation’ of involuntary absence was an obligatory recuperative process along the path to recovery. Without casting the metaphorical albatross from the (ancient mariner’s) neck, things could not get back on track. CRAVE Guitars does not need reinventing, rather it needs to adapt to a different paradigm. Hopefully, in an attempt to be positive, there may be the fertile green shoots of a new beginning.

“Ah! well a-day! What evil looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772‑1834)

So… is CRAVE Guitars back? Well… only partially. The world around us today is a different place and CRAVE Guitars’ minuscule part in it is going to have to be different. Primarily, this means a more modest, humble and less determined approach to vintage guitar appreciation. Frustrating though it is, it’s possibly better to call it ‘work‑in‑progress’ than any form of momentous return. Long live CRAVE Guitars!

On the plus side, the next few articles are already in planning and likely to be both more relevant and more optimistic than this poor excuse for an editorial. After that, who knows? Watch this space.

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

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Sometimes it is better to withdraw intentionally from society than to be wholly rejected by it”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2023 – Adventures in Ambient: Music of Another Dimension

Prelude

In the last article (August 2023), I explored the alluring realm of dub reggae, as one of my musical passions. This month, as we race headlong into autumn with its cooler, darker evenings, I’d like to explore another musical genre close to my heart, ambient electronica. There seems to be a great deal of consensus about where ambient came from while, at the same time, a great deal of disagreement about what it is today, let alone where it is going. While this may sound inherently contradictory, the convoluted world of ambient music is quite fascinating, at least to me. Unlike reggae, which had a defined geographical origin – the small island of Jamaica in the Caribbean – ambient has a completely different set of roots. Also, while dub reggae and ambient seem entirely discrete, there are some crossovers.

Once again, like dub reggae, the ambient musical landscape is not really guitar‑based. It is essentially one of three things, acoustic – mainly classical – instruments, the sounds of the natural and built world all around us, and electronic sounds, primarily but not exclusively synthesizers.

As with all previous articles, this is not intended to present any sort of definitive academic analysis, it is purely my interpretation of ambient music, past and current, as I see (or rather hear) it. There are a lot of blurred overlaps and permeable boundaries here, so I am certain that some readers will disagree vehemently with my version of the story. That is their prerogative and this is my article, so I’m sticking to my biased version. This is also only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ with lots more to discover.

No AI has been used in researching and writing this article. All images used are royalty free courtesy of Pixaby and Wikimedia Commons.

So, get comfy, chill and absorb yourself into the mesmerising universe of ambient music for a while.


Defining ambient

Perhaps a good starting point is to understand what the solitary word ‘ambient’ actually means, both in non‑musical and musical contexts.

Literally, ambient is an adjective meaning ‘of the surrounding area or environment’, ‘existing or present on all sides’ or ‘enveloping or completely surrounding’. As a noun, it means ‘an encompassing environment or atmosphere’. In this article we are not talking about ambient temperatures or ambient pressures, although these may affect sound vibrations in the environment. We are also not talking ambient light, although this may affect mood and temperament.

Defining ambient sound

Ambient sound is the total of all background or surrounding noises that exist in every direction, in any immediate surroundings, as measured by sound pressure level (SPL – expressed in decibels). Decibel levels are important because they provide information to the brain on how quiet or loud a sound is in relative terms. Human ears and brains are designed to detect slight variations in SPL in stereo (binaural hearing), which help us determine from which direction a sound originates. Basically, ambient sound is the total of what you can hear in the present moment, wherever you are.

Ambient sound is always present, even if it is at very low levels. Humans cannot tolerate near‑0dB for long. 0dB is unobtainable under normal conditions. Experiments have shown that people who are deprived of ambient sound can quickly become unsettled or disoriented because humans rely on ambient sound to locate themselves within their environment. The dissociation of sight and sound is inherently problematic for us. The quietest place on Earth is an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, USA. It is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to experience it is just 45 minutes.

The simple fact is that there is always some ambient sound present in our lives. These ever‑present characteristics play a part in ambient music compositions.

Defining ambient music

Ambient music is a term that means, ‘a genre of instrumental music that focuses on patterns of sound rather than typical melodic form and is used to promote a certain atmosphere or state of mind’. Another definition is ‘incidental music intended to serve as an unobtrusive accompaniment to other activities and characterised by quiet and repetitive instrumental phrases’.

So far, so what? Useful background info but it doesn’t really mean much on its own. So let’s delve a bit deeper.


A brief pre‑history of ambient music

There is a significant amount of information on the hinterwebby thingummy about the history of the genre, so this is a brief retelling of the essential elements, starting in France, then Germany before crossing the Atlantic to America and then back to the UK. These unfolding events were probably all ahead‑of‑their‑time and in the vanguard of experimental art.

Let us begin by going all the way back to 1917. French composer Erik Satie (1866‑1925) used Dadaist‑inspired explorations to invent what he called musique d’ameublement (‘furniture music’ or, more literally, ‘furnishing music’), music played by live musicians and designed to be unconsciously experienced rather than consciously listened to. Satie described his compositions as music that could be performed at a function to create a background atmosphere for the function, rather than being the prime focus of it. In Satie’s words, his music would, “… be part of the noises of the environment”.

Satie’s use of repeated short compositions is said to have influenced ‘minimal music’ from 1960s onwards, particularly the experimental avant‑garde music of composer John Cage. Satie is also regarded as an essential forerunner to modern ambient music and a key influence on British artist, Brian Eno.

During the 1940s, Frenchman Pierre Schaeffer (1910‑1995) who was, amongst other things, a composer, engineer and musicologist took a different approach. Schaeffer experimented with recording sound, then processing the signals to create an abstract sound collage. The resulting sounds and tones were unrecognisable from the originating source material. Schaeffer used musical instruments, vocals, recorded environmental ‘sound objects’ and electronic sound synthesis. This type of music composition became known as musique concrète (concrete music).

Prolific and controversial German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928‑2007) was a pioneer in electronic music. Stockhausen’s electronic music compositions comprised abstract noise collages created through the use of tape loops, oscillators and recorded sounds. He also specialised in ground breaking ‘spatial music’, using multiple sources to locate sounds within a three dimensional space (an early form of surround sound). Stockhausen created one of the first examples of purely electronic music using sine wave generators and filters, called ‘Studie I’ (1953). In 1954, he pushed the boundaries of classical music using acoustic instruments augmented by electronic sounds. The same year, he published the first fully electronic music score. Stockhausen, the so‑called ‘father of electronic music’, was an important figure who rejected conventions and heavily influenced multiple genres outside classical music, including jazz, pop and rock decades later.

Muzak is a type of background music created by American inventor George Owen Squier in 1934. Known commonly as elevator music (or lift music in the UK), it became used predominantly in public spaces, retail stores and other venues. The word muzak has become embedded in the public consciousness as synonymous with all types of generic and inconspicuous background music. Muzak was particularly prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Muzak has been a registered trademark of Muzak LLC since 1954. Ambient by stealth?

From the 1950s, particularly in Germany, elektronische musik (electronic music) took precedence over previous forms such as musique concrète. The term ‘elektronische musik’ was first used by German composer and musicologist Herbert Eimert in 1952 to describe music created only by the use of electronic instruments and technology. As the genre developed, elements of musique concrète were incorporated into electronic music. Natural environmental recordings combined with music resurfaced later as a popular element of new age music. German electronic music heavily influenced krautrock, an experimental rock genre that emerged out of West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s with bands like Can and Neu!.

American composer John Cage was another influential figure in post‑war avant‑garde music including electroacoustic music. He had been experimenting with studio electronics since the late 1930s. In 1952, Cage ‘performed’ his now‑famous composition, 4′33″. The piece is not, as many believe, silence; it is the intentional ‘absence of deliberate sound’. The musicians do nothing but be on the stage with instruments. For the aforementioned duration of the piece, the audience is encouraged simply to listen to and experience the ambient sounds in the auditorium around them.

Minimal music is a form of art music that, as its name suggests, uses a very limited array of components to produce a composition. Minimal can apply to the instruments used, the sounds/tones produced, as well as the studio processes employed. Minimalism may comprise continuous drones, pulses or repetitive phrases. Minimalism emerged in New York in the late 1960s with American composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young. It has been suggested that minimalism was one influence behind experimental rock band The Velvet Underground during the 1960s and, much later, on electronic dance music (EDM) sub‑genres such as minimal techno. In 1990, British electronica duo The Orb used a sample from Steve Reich’s work on their hit single, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

At this point, it is worth making quick mention of cinematic music, a.k.a. film scores or original soundtracks (OSTs). The first music to accompany film goes back to the earliest part of the 20th Century if not further, although its use really came into its own, ironically, with the advent of talking pictures in 1927. Cinematic music is composed specifically as a background to fit well with what is happening on screen by creating a certain atmosphere. Many classic theme music pieces would simply not exist without the films for which they were created. Some of the best cinematic music is an integral part of the audio‑visual experience, rather than the music being consciously listened to in isolation. The best soundtracks are equally good pieces of music in their own right and the art form has become highly respected (and profitable). John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Vangelis, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hans Zimmer are some of the principal cinematic music composers.

In the field of television, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up in 1958, stands out for its experimental work in electronic incidental sound design and music for radio and TV. Key members of the unit included Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and David Cain.


A brief history of electronic sound synthesis

It is probably true to say that synthesizers changed the world of music forever. Here’s a short resume of how that change came about. Warning! This is the techy bit.

Analogue synthesizers – The word synthesizer was first used by RCA in 1956, although it has widely been used to refer to electronic musical instruments from the early 20th Century onwards. Early electronic analogue sound synthesizers were developed in the 1920s and included the Theremin, invented by Leon Theremin in Russia in 1920, the Ondes Martenot, invented by Maurice Martenot in France in 1928 and the Trautnium, invented by Friedrich Trautwein in Germany in 1929.

There are basically only three parts to an analogue synthesizer; one or more oscillators to produce the sound, filters to change the sound, and voltage‑controlled amplifiers to adjust the volume of the sound. In addition, envelope generators are frequently used to change the behaviour of the sound (commonly referred to as ADSR – attack, sustain, delay, release).

Another major development in electronic sound synthesis was by American engineer Robert Moog (1934‑2005) who invented the first commercially available analogue synthesizer, the Moog Modular in 1964. The first fully integrated synthesizer, including the keyboard, was the Minimoog released in 1970. Moog developed his products in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic musical instruments.

Moog Synthesizer

Samplers – A sampler is an electronic device that captures, records and plays back sections of the recordings. The first example was the Chamberlin, invented by American Harry Chamberlin in 1946. The British Mellotron, introduced in 1963, was perhaps the first famous electro‑mechanical instrument used to play back tape recorded sound samples.

Sequencers – A key factor in making music synthesizers usable was the introduction of the programmable sequencer to program and play back multi‑part arrangements. The first example was probably the analogue Buchla 100 synthesizer in 1964. More importantly, Moog introduced the Moog Modular Sequencer Module – the 960 Sequential Controller in 1968.

As synthesizers became more complex, additional features were added, such as arpeggiators that automatically play a sequence of notes based on a chord or scale, and a range of effects used to process the sound even further.

Digital synthesizers – The first digital synthesizer was made by Synclavier in 1977, while the first commercially successful model was made by Yamaha in 1983. The first production polyphonic synthesizer, able to play chords, was the analogue Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, designed by Tom Oberheim, produced from 1975 to 1979. Yamaha, however, may disagree, citing their GX‑1 ‘Dream Machine’. These were followed shortly thereafter by the Polymoog. Another first was the programmable analogue Prophet 5 made by Sequential circuits in 1978. The culmination of these inventions was the introduction of the Fairlight CMI (standing for ‘Computer Musical Instrument’) in 1979, the first polyphonic digital synthesizer, sampler and sequencer.

Finally, polyphonic digital sound synthesis was here to stay, as was the studio recording technology able to exploit it. Miles away from ambient while owing a debt to it, Donna Summer’s massive disco hit single, ‘I Feel Love’ (1977), written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, was seen as a milestone and “a rejection of the intellectualization of the synthesizer in favour of pure pleasure”. It did, however, herald sound synthesis to the popular market. The phenomenal boom in synthpop during the 1980s, leading to the EDM boom of the 1990s, was the tangible result of lengthy electronic music development.

MIDI – MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a powerful industry standard protocol introduced in 1983 that enables wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and audio devices to communicate. MIDI has become essential for synchronizing, playing, editing, and recording music.

These, and many other tools, were a valuable resource for the new generation of experimental composers and musicians. Everything was pretty much now in place.


A brief history of ambient music

Up to this point it is probably fair to say that elements of ambient music’s predecessors existed, and indeed thrived, on the periphery of the popular music of their time, rather than being front and centre of the mainstream. During the 1960s, that was about to change, albeit relatively slowly.

One interpretation of ambient music is that it is a style of calm, often electronic instrumental music with no discernible rhythm or beat, used to create or enhance mood or atmosphere. Ambient music emphasises tone and textural layers of sound that focus on the actual sounds being produced rather than the traditional musical form in which those sounds would normally reside. As such, ambient music may well intentionally eschew formal structured composition, harmony, melody and metre.

While now commonplace, ambient music, at least in the past, broke the rules of what we understand as familiar music or song content. Ambient music is not limited by accepted tropes of how it is produced, making use of acoustic and electronic musical instruments, unorthodox implements used as instruments, environmental sound recordings and sometimes vocals. A large proportion of ambient music is instrumental, not requiring narrative arrangement through either sung lyrics or spoken words.

One characteristic of ambient music since the 1990s has been the ubiquitous use of looping, creating repeated sections of sound, initially using tape and most commonly through digital effects. Another key trait has been the use of modern digital reverb and delay techniques to provide a sense of space, disconnection and otherworldliness.

One key element of ambient music is the way it can reward equally both passive and active listening. The listener can either focus on the content or allow ‘cognitive drift’ to occur, which can encourage a sense of calm, introspection or contemplation, meditation or as an aid to sleep.

While ambient music is a self‑contained genre, it does not stand alone; it has been incorporated into, or fused with, many other musical genres. This fact, in part, contributes to the debate about what ambient music actually means today and why it has become successful both artistically and commercially.

At last, getting to the point now… Ambient music as we now (think) we know it emerged in various forms during the 1960s and 1970s, largely thanks to the commercial availability of synthesizers. The album that is widely regarded as the watershed that brought ambient music to wider attention was, ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’ (1978) by British musician, producer and artist Brian Eno. This studio album also established the term ‘ambient music’ in the public mind set. Eno, either solo or in collaboration with other artists, released many subsequent ambient works, further defining the genre. By the early 1980s, the ‘new’ genre had become recognised and widely accepted. Eno has been oft‑quoted that “ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”.

In 1995, Brian Eno used the term ‘generative music’ to describe any music created by a computer system that is ever‑different, non‑repeating and always changing. Eno has frequently used generative ambient music as a background for visual art installations, thereby creating an immersive audio visual experience. There are now a number of autonomous ambient music generators available on the Internet, such as Generative.fm, that provide completely unique compositions that never end, never repeat and last as long as the listener wants them to. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into music is likely to expand the scope of generative music considerably.

A discrete subset of the genre is Japanese ambient pioneered by artists such as Hiroshi Yoshimura, Haruomi Hosono, Midori Takada, Osamu Sato and Susumu Yokota during the 1980s. The offshoot aligned with the Japanese concept of ‘wa’, meaning harmony and serenity. Japanese ambient was an expression of the deep cultural appreciation for nature, an aesthetic preference towards minimalism, and traditional values of maintaining peace.

Ambient has heavily influenced many sub‑genres of downtempo dance music, including ambient house, ambient techno, ambient dub, trip‑hop, nu‑jazz, new age, chillwave and deep house. Ambient has undoubtedly come a very long way from its avant‑garde artsy origins. Ambient was now cool and it was here to stay.

In recent years, ambient music has continued to evolve and expand. Some contemporary artists have incorporated elements of jazz, classical music, and other genres into their work, while others have experimented with new digital technologies such as AI and virtual or augmented reality to create new experiences. Improvisation and extemporisation have become integral elements of many ambient compositions.

Overall, ambient music has remained a vibrant and innovative genre that continues to explore the limits of what is possible in music. Perhaps, the essence of ambient music continues to flourish at the margins, requiring some effort to discover as the means of dissemination moves away from traditional record companies, labels, distributors and physical media. The Internet and streaming services may become the only means to access these esoteric future forms.

Ambient music’s experimental aspirations, though, have been an on‑going thorn in its side, which seems particularly hard to expunge. Partly because of its eclectic roots, many regard the lofty art & culture baggage of ambient as self‑absorbed, arrogant, sanctimonious, pompous and pretentious – or just plain dull and boring. Brian Eno in particular has attracted considerable scorn for refusing to conform to populist ideals and short‑term fads. The fact that he is not fazed by such clichéd criticisms and follows his own path regardless, encourages his opinionated detractors even further.

A predilection for ambient music is a choice, not a requisite and it doesn’t carry any cache amongst some imaginary elitist intellectual cultural community. It is, though, not for everyone, with many seeing ambient as a tedious interminable din. Indeed, if anything has been learned through the decades about ambient music is that its appeal is, at least partially, subliminal, nurturing our subconscious need for enlightened contemplation and therefore beyond our ability to control whether we appreciate it or not. Discuss…

Influential artists that have dabbled in ambient music either in part or whole include (in no particular order) Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, William Basinski, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Pauline Oliveros, Cluster, Biosphere, Harold Budd, John Hassell, Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Terry Riley, William Orbit, Four Tet, Steve Hillage, Stars Of The Lid, Bonobo, Mark McGuire, Ash Ra Tempel, Alice Coltrane, Jon Hopkins, Edgar Froese, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Caretaker, Laurie Speigel, Tycho, GAS, Boards Of Canada, Burial, Fripp & Eno, Slowdive, Air, Julianna Barwick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Ben Chatwin, Richard Norris, Luke Abbott, The Cinematic Orchestra, Daniel Avery, Darshan Ambient, The Gentleman Losers, Ibizarre, A.M.P. Studio, Orbient, Nacho Sotomayor, Sigur Rós, Johnny Jewel, Bicep, Marconi Union, Memory Tapes, Neon Indian, Com Truise, The Orb, The KLF, Divination, Lawrence English and The Irresistible Force.


A brief history of other music genres related to (but not) ambient music

New age music –New age music emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by a variety of styles including classical music, jazz, world music, religious music, folk and rock. New age music often explores arcane folklore, ancient traditions, ethnic groupings, astrology, mythology, mysticism, spiritualism, fantasy and even the occult. Lacking any precise definition, it is often seen as an umbrella for many different and often divergent styles. Ambient and new‑age music are two distinct genres albeit with some overlap between them.

Starting with the similarities… New age music is a genre of music characterised by its soothing and relaxing qualities. It often features acoustic instruments such as flutes, harps, guitars and pianos, traditional Asian or African instruments as well as nature recordings and synthesizers. New‑age music is often used for relaxation, contemplation, yoga, massage, stress relief and anxiety management. As background music, it is used to create a calm, serene, peaceful atmosphere for other activities.

… and some key differences… Ambient music tends to be more experimental and abstract than new‑age music, with a greater emphasis on soundscapes and textures rather than rhythm, melody or harmony. New age music tends to be more melodic, structured and more easily accessible than ambient music.

Overall, both ambient and new age music are genres designed to create a sense of serenity in the listener (the ends). However, they go about achieving this goal in different ways (the means).

New age music has habitually been ridiculed (erroneously) for being part of hippie culture, with acolytes that embraced new age beliefs being called ‘zippies’. From the 1990s. Zippies were in favour of new age principles such as social change, environmentalism, and alternative lifestyles while also being influenced by rave culture, cyberculture, and psychedelic drugs.

New Age Travellers are a loose grouping of people primarily in the United Kingdom generally adopting new age beliefs along with the counter culture movement of the late 1960s. Their nomadic lifestyle often brought them into conflict with static communities and the authorities.

Prominent new age artists include Enigma, Enya, Deep Forest, Clannad, Gregorian, Phil Thornton, Patrick Kelly, Peter Gabriel, Bernward Koch, Paul Winter, Grouper, All About Eve and William Ackerman.

Nature recordings – Ambient nature sounds or, technically, field recordings are a popular sub‑genre of ambient music that feature environmental recordings such as the sounds of water, animals, thunderstorms, wind and even fire. The origins of combining natural sounds with musical compositions can be traced back to the early 20th century. Field recording is regarded by many as a genre in its own right, with or without music.

Field Recording

The use of field recordings in music became more widespread in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of portable recording equipment and with digital recording from the 1980s. Musicians such as John Cage and Dan Gibson began using natural or built environmental sounds into their compositions.

The use of field recording in ambient music can be traced back to Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’, which featured recordings of airport terminal announcements and other environmental sounds. Since then, many ambient artists have incorporated field recordings to create captivating soundscapes that blur the line between music and environmental sound.

Some popular ambient nature sound artists include David Dunn, Chris Watson, Dan Gibson, Diane Hope, Lawrence English, Biosphere and Francisco López.

Downtempo and chillout music – Ambient music did not burst onto the scene overnight and, at least initially, it did not attract significant commercial success. With the popularity of EDM and the domination of house and techno in nightclubs, ambient experienced a mini‑revival towards the late 1980s with sub‑genres including ambient house, ambient trance, ambient techno and ambient dub. During the dance‑dominated 1990s, ambient music became trendy as an after‑party ‘comedown’ with the advent of ‘chillout rooms’; spaces within clubs that served as venues for a relaxing alternative to the high‑energy ‘rave rooms’.

Chillout is a form of downtempo music (or vice versa) characterised by relaxed rhythms, mellow beats, laid back grooves and atmospheric soundscapes intended to induce a tranquil mood – fertile ground for ambient music to proliferate. Chillout is heavily derived from EDM, but typically at slower tempos and with sonic palettes often reminiscent of ambient, electronic‑styled new age, progressive electronic and even elements of instrumental hip hop, dub, deep house and breakbeat.

However, neither chillout nor downtempo come under the definition of ambient, due to their prominent use of structure and rhythm. Sunset beach bars, restaurant venues and cult dance clubs in Ibiza in the 1990s jumped onto the ambient/downtempo/chillout bandwagon as an escape from the more intense side of life and a counterpoint to the hectic rave and acid house scenes of the time. In the UK, the Bristol trip hop scene also capitalised on the chillout boom.

The chillout zeitgeist during the late 1990s was partly due to a proliferation of commercial chillout compilation albums from record labels such as Ministry of Sound, Café del Mar, Café Mambo, Beyond Records, Kompakt Records and Mercury Records. Mainstreaming ultimately motivated underground producers to move away from chillout into other more adventurous leftfield ventures. By the early‑mid 2000s, popularity of chillout music faded heavily. However, it would see a revival in the 2010s and 2020s (so far), which aimed to recapture the spirit of earlier forms of the genre.

Ambient and downtempo/chillout and are not interchangeable, although the boundaries between them are often unclear. Downtempo and chillout would go on a different path to influence subsequent genres like psybient, psychedelic trance, chillwave, lounge, post rock, lo‑fi hip hop, hypnagogic pop and nu‑jazz.

Prominent downtempo and chillout artists include The KLF, The Orb, Thievery Corporation, Deep Dive Corp, East India Youth, The Album Leaf, Nightmares on Wax, Falco, Robert Miles, Morcheeba, Bowery Electric, Mr. Scruff, Tosca, Hallucinogen and Ultramarine.

Trip Hop – Trip hop is a genre of electronic music that emerged from downtempo/chillout in the early 1990s. Trip hop is characterized by its use of hip hop beats, samples, and dense atmospheric soundscapes, fusing influences from jazz, soul, funk, reggae, dub and R&B. Like other forms of electronic music, trip hop uses structure, melody and beats, differentiating it from ambient. The term trip hop was first used in an article in Mixmag magazine in 1994 about American artist and producer DJ Shadow. Trip hop music was popularised mainly by artists from Bristol in the UK such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky. Trip hop further influenced genres like instrumental hip hop and UK garage.

Other artists that have made use of trip hop leanings include Sneaker Pimps, Aim, Howie B, The Dining Rooms, FKA Twigs, Glass Animals, Kosheen, Martina Topley‑Bird, Poliça, Smoke City, 9Lazy9, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut, Morcheeba, Pretty Lights, DJ Shadow, DJ Food, DJ Vadim, Funki Porcini, Gorillaz and London Grammar.

Electronica – Electronica is a massively broad term for music that uses electronic instrumentation and sound manipulation technology as the primary means of production. As such, it is a catch‑all for music that doesn’t slot easily into existing sub‑genres. In its widest sense, electronica is pervasive, directly or indirectly, in much of modern contemporary music. There is, therefore no point in defining it or attempting to establish its scope here.

Since the 1960s, electronica artists have both influenced and taken influence from many other music genres. The commercial breakthrough of electronic music occurred with the advent and subsequent domination of synthpop, Europop and Eurodance in the 1970s. This was followed by EDM sub‑genres such as house, techno and electro from the 1980s onward. The burst in electronic creativity was fuelled by a self‑perpetuating feedback loop, pushing things further in the popular mainstream as well as in the margins that continues to this day.

Some prominent artists under the diverse panoply of electronica include (again in no particular order) Clara Rockmore, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Röyksopp, Gary Numan, Japan, David Sylvian, Natural Snow Buildings, Global Communication, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Orbital, Underworld, The Human League, Visage, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Ultravox, Rick Wakeman, Jean‑Michel Jarre, Skrillex, Leftfield, Herbie Hancock, Electronic, Deadmau5, Fred Again.., Sven Väth, Major Lazer, Armin van Buuren, Sasha, Thom Yorke, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP), Daft Punk, Four Tet, Floating Points, Flying Lotus, Hot Chip, Pet Shop Boys, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Giorgio Moroder, M83, Goldfrapp, Amon Tobin, Carl Cox, Crystal Castles, Infected Mushroom, Groove Armada, Eat Static, LCD Soundsystem, Faithless, Disclosure, System 7, 777, Erasure, Yazoo, Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz, Heaven 17, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), Tears For Fears, Monaco, Bronski Beat, Vince Clarke, Eurhythmics, Thompson Twins, Yello, Squarepusher, Machinedrum, Pendulum, Romare, Calvin Harris, Apollo 440, Ladytron, MØ, Flume, Public Service Broadcasting, Solar Fields, The Grid, X‑Press 2, Arms And Sleepers, Caribou and ATB.


A brief history of ambient electronica (and related) artists

OK, so we’ve looked at some of the genres that have led up to the current day and the prevailing view of ambient music in context. Now, it’s time to take a brief look at some key artists involved along the way, whether they could strictly be considered proponents of ambient music or not. Here are some of the most prominent.

Tomita – Isao Tomita (1932‑2016) was a Japanese composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analogue synthesizer arrangements. Tomita is known for his electronic versions and adaptations of familiar classical music pieces as well as futuristic science‑fiction themes and trance‑like rhythms. Tomita received four Grammy Award nominations for his studio album based on music by classical composer Claude Debussy, ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’ (1974). He also famously adapted Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ (1976).

Wendy Carlos – Wendy Carlos (1939‑) is an American musician and composer born as Walter Carlos and transitioning to female gender in 1972. She is known for her pioneering electronic music and film scores. Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University before studying music composition at Columbia University in New York City. She helped in the development of Robert Moog’s first commercially available synthesizer. Carlos’ breakout release was Grammy Award‑winning ‘Switched‑On Bach’ (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed entirely on synthesizer. Carlos went on to release further synthesized classical music adaptations, as well as experimental and ambient electronic music. She composed film scores for three major studio films, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and ‘Tron’ (1982).

Tangerine Dream – Tangerine Dream is a German band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese (1944‑2015). The best‑known incarnation of the group was the mid‑1970s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. Tangerine Dream is considered a pioneer in electronic, ambient and space music, a.k.a. kosmische musik (‘cosmic music’). Tangerine Dream were key members of the so‑called Berlin School of electronic music. Despite having released over one hundred albums over the years, they are best known for their use of synthesizers and sequencers, including milestone albums, Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975). Tangerine Dream has also composed over sixty film soundtracks as well as the score for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. However, it is their mid‑1970s material that profoundly influenced the development of electronic music styles such as ambient, new age and EDM.

Klaus Schulze – German electronic music composer and musician Klaus Schulze (1947‑2022) is considered one of the pioneers of electronic music since the late 1960s. Schulze was an early member of the band Tangerine Dream before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1970. Schulze had a prolific career, releasing over sixty studio albums. Schulze’s music is known for its long, repetitive sequences and its use of analogue synthesizers. His early work was influenced by the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, while his later work was more experimental and ambient. Schulze’s music has been used in films such as ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

Brian Eno – English musician, composer, producer and artist Brian Eno (1948‑) has become synonymous with contemporary ambient music, pioneering and contributing to the ambient, electronica and minimalist drone genres. He started out in experimental rock, glam rock, art pop and art rock as former keyboard player with Roxy Music. Along with his extensive solo career, Eno has also collaborated on many side projects with other artists including Harold Budd, David Bowie, David Byrne, Fred Again.., Jon Hopkins and Cluster. Many of his collaborations explored beyond the scope of purist ambient music. He has also been prominent behind the studio desk producing many artists including John Cale, David Bowie, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, Talking Heads, Ultravox, Devo, U2, Coldplay, Daniel Lanois, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Slowdive, James, Kevin Shields and Damon Albarn. In addition, Eno has composed a number of film scores. If that wasn’t enough, Eno has also worked prolifically in other media, including audio visual installations, art installations, film and as an author. As mentioned above, Eno pioneered the introduction and growth of generative music. A little known fact is that Eno also composed the six‑second music snip that accompanied the start‑up of the Windows 95 computer operating system, known as ‘The Microsoft Sound’. Love him or loathe him, Eno’s legacy is probably as far reaching as it is incalculable.

Brian Eno (courtesy of Cosciansky)

Kratwerk – German electronic band Kraftwerk was founded in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Kraftwerk is widely regarded as an innovator and pioneer of electronic music and was one of the first successful acts to popularise and commercialise the genre. The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s before adopting electronic instruments for which they are best known, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Their massive hit single and album, ‘Autobahn’ (1974) cemented their reputation. Kraftwerk inspired many artists including David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.

Jean‑Michel Jarre – Jean‑Michel Jarre (1948‑) is a French composer, musician and record producer. He is widely regarded as an innovator in electronic, ambient, new age and synthpop music. His breakout studio album, ‘Oxygene’ (1977) has become an electronica classic, selling over 18 million copies worldwide. Jarre’s musical style builds on the work of Tangerine Dream and adds a bit of populist French va‑va‑voom. He is famous for organising extravagant outdoor events involving laser light shows, visual projections and pyrotechnics to accompany his stage music. One of his concerts in Moscow, Russia in 1997 holds the world record for the largest audience for a single outdoor event, estimated at 3.5 million people.

The Orb – The Orb is an English electronic music group founded in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty. The duo began as ambient and dub DJs based in London before making the move into music production. The Orb is well known for their psychedelic ambient space sound. Over the years, The Orb has developed a cult following among clubbers ‘coming down’ from drug‑induced highs and, as such, their music became popular in club chillout rooms. Their influential debut studio album ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ (1991) established the UK’s underground ambient house trend. The Orb’s second album, ‘U.F.Orb’ (1992) confirmed the band’s popularity and ensured their longevity. The Orb was influenced heavily by predecessors, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. The Orb has maintained their signature science fiction aesthetic throughout their prolific career.

Amorphous Androgynous – British electronic music duo Amorphous Androgynous and its better known alter ego, The Future Sound of London (FSOL), was founded by Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans in 1988. The duo’s music is characterized by its psychedelic, ambient, and experimental sound. They acted as a bridge between the underground and well‑established electronic artists and has been influential in the development of electronic music genres such as ambient house, ambient dub and trip hop. They have released several albums, including ‘Tales of Ephidrina’ (1993) and ‘Lifeforms’ (1994).

Orbital – Orbital is an English electronic music duo founded by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll in 1989. The band has had on‑off periods of activity, breaking up and reforming on more than one occasion through the years. The band’s name is taken from the M25, London’s orbital motorway, which was key to the early (illegal) rave scene and (legal) acid house scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orbital’s involvement with dance music has led to its strong reputation as a live band. They have mixed ambient sounds along with techno, trance, breakbeat and electronic rock styles. They have also been hugely influential in the development of modern electronic sub‑genres such as glitch, wonky and Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), as well as EDM.

The Chemical Brothers ‑ English electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers, originally known as The Dust Brothers, was formed in 1989 by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons in Manchester, UK. Along with peers, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, they were pioneers in bringing the big beat, techno, house and EDM to popularity. Their breakout studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ (1997) rapidly became a rave classic. Like Orbital, they have become regular headliners on the festival and arena circuits. While their music is far from ambient, the origins are still evident and their enduring influence has also been widespread.


Contemporary music genres related to ambient

Here we are now, well into the 3rd decade of the 21st Century, so what position does ambient occupy now? Has it stagnated, frozen in aspic? Is it languishing in some obscure genre limbo? Or is it still evolving either on its own terms or in other ways? Let’s look at where ambient influences have led us and which may give a clue to where it might be going in the future. Here are eight of the most important modern‑day ambient spin‑offs.

Drone – Drone is a music genre that plays on long, sustained tones or repeated single notes. Unlike other genres that use drones as a component, drone music puts drones at the forefront, removing most melody and rhythm. As such, it bears many similarities to ambient. Drone music explores the changing timbre of individual sounds over time. For electronic drone, this is often achieved by slight fluctuations in the drone’s pitch, tone and amplitude.

The origins of drone, whether electronic or classical, are found in traditional music from across the world and date back to the 1940s with ‘Monotone Silence Symphony’ (1949) by Yves Klein. Drone developed through minimal music and through rock. Drone has seen a resurgence in the 2020s. Drone music has expanded to influence countless other genres, including ambient, EDM, drone metal and post‑rock.

Progressive Electronic – Progressive music in its widest sense generally attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with a specific genre of music. It also places emphasis on creating a sense of progression or development throughout a piece of music. Layered soundscapes, intricate changes in rhythm, a wide range of sound effects and textures are commonly used. Improvisation is also a key characteristic of progressive electronic music, as many musicians use improvisation to create new and inventive sounds rather than relying on pre‑recorded samples or synthesizer presets. Another important aspect is the use of lengthy, extended compositions, with tracks frequently having multiple sections and mood changes. Basically, progressive electronic covers a large proportion of electronic music from the late 1960s to the current day, including post rock. Is it a genre in itself? Make up your own mind.

Vaporwave – Vaporwave emerged in the early 2010s and is characterised by its use of synthesizers, slowed‑down samples and a great deal of studio manipulation including time shifting and cutting up of sound clips, then applying reverb, echo and other studio effects. The advent of computer‑based digital audio workstations (DAWs), such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Abelton and Cubase, greatly aided production and the Internet provided the means of distribution through platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

Vaporwave got its name from ‘vaporware’, a term applied to computer hardware or software which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge.

At first, vaporwave was a nostalgic reflection of the sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, drawing from popular music, contemporary R&B, smooth jazz and muzak, as well as from consumer culture, corporate logos, films, radio broadcasts and television commercials. Vaporwave has been described as a form of ‘post‑Internet’ electronic musical movement that reflects the fragmented and disorienting experience of living in the digital age.

The release of ‘Eccojams Vol. 1’ (2010) by Daniel Lopatin, under one of his aliases Chuck Person, is widely regarded as the foundation of vaporwave as a genre. The debut was followed ‘Floral Shoppe’ by Macintosh Plus and ‘Far Side Virtual’ by James Ferraro (both 2011), bringing greater visibility to vaporwave and its associated aesthetics. Despite this, vaporwave remains niche with tracks not readily available on physical media such as CDs or vinyl.

Like ‘pure’ ambient, vaporwave shuns structure and rhythm. The use of looping, glitching, pitch‑bending, panning, and echoing sound samples came to define the sound of vaporwave, giving the patchwork sound a hazy, surreal, dreamy and atmospheric quality with a focus on hyperreality. The vapor movement alludes to a disconnection or separation from reality presented through its original form.

In addition, vaporwave gave birth to a distinct aesthetic based on subcultures like cyberpunk, seapunk, manga and anime. Artist names, album titles and track listings often used uncommon symbols and Japanese script. In conjunction with the heavily manipulated and often intentionally degraded sound of vaporwave music, much of the genre’s artwork featured low‑grade image distortion or digital artefacts, bringing the limitations and flaws of past technology and positioning it within the broader post‑internet artistic landscape. The integration of the visual and the music elements can be interpreted as a criticism of consumer capitalism and hi‑tech culture.

Dreampunk – Dreampunk is an evolution of Vaporwave, also emerging in the mid‑2010s. Dreampunk artists wanting to experiment with more minimal and atmospheric compositions while, at the same time, distancing themselves from the nostalgic restrictions of the 1980s. The Internet record label, Dream Catalogue, helped popularize dreampunk within the vaporwave community as well as further afield.

The abstract, hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes and repetitive structure of vaporwave is perhaps closer to ambient music, although the presence of rhythm differentiated it from its predecessor. This contributes to the dreamlike ethereal sound for which the genre is known. Dreampunk artists tend to seek anonymity, with many using several Internet aliases to create a sense of mystique around their music, hiding behind the aesthetic, often utilizing abstracted imagery of cityscapes, neon‑lit night scenes and incorporating futuristic dystopian and cyberpunk themes. Like vaporwave, dreampunk also uses Japanese scripts to further mystify their image. Classic dystopian and cyberpunk films such as ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995) also influenced and inspired the music genre. Both vaporwave and dreampunk continue to thrive in the underground.

Ambient, morphed through the lens of vaporwave and dreampunk, heavily influenced other genres such as hypnagogic pop, chillwave, VHS pop, witch house and slushwave.

Some popular vaporwave and dreampunk artists include Blue In Tokio, Fishmans, T e l e p a t h (テレパシー能力者), 2 8 1 4, Windows96, SkyTwoHigh and Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza.

Chillwave – Chillwave, a.k.a. glo‑fi, is an Internet genre that originated predominantly from the United States circa 2009. Chillwave, like vaporwave, looked back to the aesthetics and musical styles of the 1980s and 1990s, intentionally evoking a sense of nostalgic reflection. Chillwave melded analogue instruments with modern recording technologies and techniques to create a hazy dreamlike atmosphere. Chillwave appropriated elements of synthpop, funk, downtempo, EDM and alternative/indie genres like indie pop, neo‑psychedelia and synthwave.

Chillwave, vaporwave and dreampunk led to a great deal of fusion and crossover material, blurring the differences between them. Chillwave declined in popularity by the start of the 2020s but like many other genres, the end of chillwave may have been greatly exaggerated. Expect it to come back to the fore in due course. Chillwave’s influence would go on to play a part in genres such as cloud rap, alternative R&B, future bass, synthwave, ethereal wave and bedroom pop.

Prominent chillwave artists include Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, Flume, Com Truise, Tycho, Panda Bear, Lemon Jelly and Nite Jewel.

Intelligent Dance Music and its spin offs, glitch and wonky – Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s as a derivative (and rejection) of EDM. It is characterized by complex rhythms, intricate melodies, and a focus on sound design and experimentation. IDM artists often use unconventional time signatures, polyrhythms, glitches and de‑tuned sounds to create a unique listening experience. The genre is also known for its use of ambient textures and atmospheres, which can create a vague or otherworldly feel. IDM has been influential in the development of other electronic music genres such as ambient techno, and intelligent techno.

Some of the most well‑known IDM (and glitch/wonky) artists include Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Daniel Avery, Actress, Floating Points, Machinedrum, Moderat, Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards Of Canada, Mouse On Mars, Flying Lotus, LFO, Clark, Luke Vibert, Autechre and Squarepusher.

Dream pop – Deriving more from structured alternative and indie rock rather than ambient, dream pop uses reverb‑laden guitars, effects‑rich vocals, and dense studio production, to create a psychedelic, spacious, ethereal and surreal sound, albeit with a de‑emphasized beat accompanied by quiet, breathy harmonised vocals to elevate the music from its origins.

Dream pop is commonly fused with other genres such as shoegaze and noise pop, although dream pop does not solely depend on ‘walls of sound’, heavily distorted guitar layers or feedback. Dream pop relies heavily on modulation effects such as chorus, tremolo, vibrato, delay and reverb, to create mesmerising sonic textures. Dream pop bands often employ synthesizer layers to add atmosphere and lush soundscapes. Influences include slow core, post rock and trip hop.

In a similar way to shoegaze, vocals focus on melody and timbre, rather than lyricism. It is not uncommon for dream pop groups to have multiple vocalists to make good use of harmony and ‘instrumental’ vocals.

Prominent dream pop artists include Warpaint, 2:54, Lanterns of the Lake, Beach House, Cigarettes After Sex, The xx, Bat For Lashes, Low, Chromatics, Spiritualized, Julee Cruise, Broadcast, Zero 7, Phantogram, Yo La Tengo, Cocteau Twins, Dévics, Esben And The Witch, Pure Bathing Culture, School Of Seven Bells, His Name Is Alive, How To Dress Well, Lush, London Grammar and Mazzy Star.

Ambient dub – Ambient dub fuses ambient music with dub electronica. Ambient dub is a chillout fusion of ambient, dub reggae and future dub, featuring the atmosphere of the former and the Jamaican‑style basslines, percussion, and psychedelic production techniques of the latter. The name of the genre was coined by record label Beyond Records with a series of compilation albums of the same name, starting with, ‘Ambient Dub Volume 1: The Big Chill’ (1992). Many of the prominent artists within the genre also perform or mix in elements of dub techno, dubstep or ambient techno, which has led to some confusion over ambient dub’s actual sound. While the lines are indistinct between such electronic genres, ambient dub can genuinely be discerned by its denser atmospheres, a heavier use of reverb and/or delay, and an emphasis on bass akin to traditional dub, as well as reggae rhythms.

Notable ambient dub artists include: The Dub Syndicate, Bill Laswell, Dreadzone, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Orb, Ott, Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, Jon Hopkins, Jah Wobble, Mad Professor, Burnt Friedman, Deadbeat, The Bug, Solar Quest, Ladytron and Banco de Gaia.

Dark ambient – before we leave, it’s worth a quick mention about dark ambient, a.k.a. ambient industrial. While most ambient music creates a peaceful, welcoming and safe place, dark ambient is intended to disturb. Dark ambient emerged as a post‑industrial counterpoint to the wider ambient landscape. It is characterised by an ominous, brooding, eerie, sinister and overbearingly gloomy atmosphere, often with discordant overtones, dissonant timbres and lengthy drones. Dark ambient often crops up in film scores intended to unsettle the audience and create a sense of disorientation or suspense.

Dark ambient artists include Deathprod, Agalloch, David Lynch, Throbbing Gristle, Angelo Badalamenti, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, William Basinski, Blut Aus Nord, Mortiis, Cabaret Voltaire, Dolorian, NON, Controlled Bleeding, Earth, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sunn O))) and Steven Wilson.

STOP! Enough already! I hear you cry. We are beginning to go down a bit of a proverbial rabbit hole here, so the short list that follows suggests other sub‑genres heavily influenced by ambient and its derivatives. These sub‑genres include black ambient, ritual ambient, space ambient, space music, ambient Americana, ambient house, ambient techno, ambient trance, psybient, psydub, minimalism, modern classical, ambient industrial, tribal ambient, pop ambient, dubstep and turntable music. Phew!


Key ambient+ albums:

As with my previous article on dub reggae, it would be remiss not to mention some of the key albums that have impressed over the years. Here are some predictable and some very unpredictable selections to showcase the vast expanse of electronic ambient music as it is today. As this article has hopefully shown, ambient isn’t a clearly defined pigeon hole with unbreakable rules but rather a constantly changing complex and diverse approach to experimental soundscapes. Hence this ‘top 20’ collection is more like ‘ambient+’ (as I call it; remember, you read it here first!), intended to demonstrate the ecosystem’s multiplicity. Another ‘desert island disc’ compendium to daydream about. Again, it was a difficult decision‑making process with many excellent works that didn’t make this particular cut. These albums are all classified as contemporary, i.e. 1975 to the current day.

  1. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‑92 (1993) and Vol. II (1994). Two seminal albums in the ambient genre that feature a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds. It is known for its dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes and has been described as ‘a journey through a strange and beautiful world’.
  2. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). Basically, the one that started it all. Essential listening for devotees of the ambient music genre. A starting point for the many great ambient works that followed and an entrée into Eno’s many other ambient works.
  3. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975). Along with its predecessor, ‘Phaedra’ (1974), the pair stand out from the band’s extensive canon. The band had stopped using traditional instruments in its compositions and focused on analogue synthesizers and sequencers. Truly remarkable.
  4. Max Richter – Sleep (2015). Almost 8½ hours of sweet lilting lullaby, a transcendent, cinematic, post‑minimalist ambient album of gentle music intended to be experienced as much as it is to be listened to, awake or asleep (or, interestingly, in between – a phenomenon known as ‘eyelid movies’; what the mind conjures up when one is in the transitional state of near sleep).
  5. GAS – Pop (2000). A comforting, immersive experience and a lesson in how to make electronica sound organic and engrossing. Transcendent and transformative. A lysergic trip for your ears.
  6. Fripp & Eno – Evening Star (1975). Combining the talents of Brian Eno and Crimson King guitarist Robert Fripp. Good to see guitar making a contribution to ambient music.
  7. Four Tet – Rounds (2003). Not really ambient, more IDM and glitch. However, a disarmingly elegant stripped back intimate album. Perhaps, Kieran Hebdan’s landmark album.
  8. Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998). Focusing on concepts of childhood nostalgia, created by the use of obscure samples and masterly manipulated layers of sound. The album has become rather essential listening along with ‘The Campfire Headphase’ (2005) and ‘Geogaddi (2002).
  9. Bonobo – Black Sands (2010). Lush, sumptuous and beguiling. Not ambient in a true sense but a great example of downtempo electronica from Simon Green. Also worth a listen is, ‘The North Borders’ (2013). Both also have excellent remix albums.
  10. The KLF – Chill Out (1990). A classic ambient album that features a mix of samples and original music. It’s known for its dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and has been described as ‘a road movie in music form’.
  11. Stars Of The Lid – Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid (2001). An album that features long, slow‑moving pieces that are built around drones and other ambient textures.
  12. Chromatics – Night Drive (2001) – More ambient pop, dream pop and synthwave than pure ambient. Chromatics’ ethereal style was featured by David Lynch in his surreal TV series, ‘Twin Peaks’.
  13. Burial – Untrue (2007). Enigmatic London‑based dubstep artist burst onto the scene with an album that is stark, blurred, eerie, tender and hauntingly evocative. A breath taking and inimitable event.
  14. William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops I‑IV (2002‑2003). Four albums that feature loops of decaying tape recordings. The music is haunting and melancholic, and has been described as ‘a meditation on loss and decay’. Dedicated to the victims of 9/11. Tape music entropy as it happens, captured for posterity.
  15. Tim Hecker – Radio Amor (2003). An album that features a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, including guitar and piano. It’s known for its dense, layered soundscapes and has been described as ‘a beautiful, immersive experience’.
  16. Banco de Gaia – Last Train To Lhasa (1995). Along with its predecessor, ‘Maya’ (1994), it shows the approach of Toby Marks to progressive ambient electronica. Again, not really ambient but hugely influenced by it.
  17. Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon (2000). Along with its remix EP, ‘Babylon Rewound’ (2004) it takes other influences including reggae and dub and brought it into the downtempo chillout world.
  18. The Higher Intelligence Agency – Freefloater (1995). British artist Bobby Bird started off running experimental electronic music nights in Birmingham. Ambient techno meets ambient dub meets ambient. Also worth a listen is, ‘Colourform’ (2010).
  19. Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza & SkyTwoHigh – Imaginary Pathways (2021). The final Internet album by Brazilian musician and producer, Cesar Alexandre before his untimely death due to covid. More dreampunk, ambient techno and downtempo with a hint of vaporwave rather than ambient. Blissful.
  20. The Gentleman Losers – The Gentleman Losers (2006). Finnish brothers that take a mix of ambient, post rock, lo‑fi, dreamlike slowcore and even a hint of Americana and blend it into a strange place where one isn’t certain of what is light and what is dark.
20 Ambient+ Studio Albums

In addition, referring back to ubiquitous compilation albums of the 1990s, one of the most significant events was ‘Ambient Dub Volumes 1‑4’ by various artists (1992‑1995) – A series of ambient dub compilation albums from Beyond Records that announced ambient dub to the world. The last of the four isn’t quite up to the first three but best seen as a whole. Another name check is for the annual ‘Pop Ambient’ compilations (2001‑) curated by Wolfgang Voigt, the man behind Kompakt Records and his nom de guerre GAS (see #5 above).


The future of ambient and ambient‑related music

The legacy of ambient music in all its facets has had a major impact on pretty much everything we listen to, even if we aren’t always aware of it. The question is, where is it going?

Ambient has exhibited somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2020s. Part of this renewed interest may be because of what is called multi‑sensory branding, where media events attempt to evoke memories through stimulation of all the senses. Another reason may be the rediscovery of obscure Japanese ambient music, as well as an interest in previously experimental, niche or underground music now garnering mainstream recognition. Streaming services make accessing unconventional music much easier. In addition, the growth of interest in mindfulness and mental health & wellbeing as a ‘cure’ for stress and anxiety caused by an increasingly frenetic and unpredictable world has reinforced the search for aids to relaxation, introspection and contemplation.

One thing we’ve learnt from this escapade is that ambient and ambient+ (or whatever else you want to call it) has been pushing the boundaries ever since the start of the 20th Century. If nothing else, it will continue to explore the outer limits while influencing the mainstream.

Probably the most significant tool in the future of ambient electronica won’t even involve human beings or actual instruments! AI will make significant inroads into generative music. Ultimately, though, this is likely to be a bit of a creative dead end. The drawback of AI is that it can only learn from what has come before it, it lacks the imagination and inventiveness of the human mind. At some point, AI generated ambient will become stale and derivative and human creativity will, once again be needed to bring spontaneity and unpredictability back to front and centre of music. Go People!

Given the inherent limitations of traditional musical instruments, electronic music may, arguably, have the greatest potential for innovation and creativity. One can only imagine the possibilities yet to be explored.

While many critics view electronica as soulless, cold and inert, it is sure to develop the ability to elicit more organic, fluid emotional responses. Many artists are looking backwards to analogue instruments and production techniques to add warmth and to create beauty out of its inherent imperfections.

Genre developments can only surprise once before they become part of the historical mosaic. One possible future is that ambient reaches a point where it becomes sterile and disposable. One might envisage it derided in the way that elevator muzak has become. Arguably, a proportion of current‑day throwaway popular music is already demonstrating that bleak possibility with anything new ultimately being short‑lived around the periphery before being subsumed into universal, amorphous homogeneity.

How we will be listening to music is another factor. If music becomes more clichéd, contrived and derivative, it will become more and more dismissible, fading into the background environment. However, isn’t that exactly what Erik Satie intentionally started with back in 1917?

For some, like the author, ambient resonates with the psyche on both a subconscious and conscious level. Others, meanwhile, may find the genre melancholic or even highly irritating. Ultimately, like all music preferences, it is partly a deliberate decision and partly predetermined in some obscure way.

Personally, I have confidence that people who appreciate ‘real’ music and have a passion for creating and performing it that will perpetuate this idiosyncratic form of music into a healthy future. Once again, discuss…


Tailpiece

So… there you have it. Another lengthy (apologies) delve into a relatively narrow niche of the wondrous world of music. Back to the real world, sadly. I cannot write about things that I don’t have some sort of fascination with. Having said that, these ambient+ genres are not exclusive listening. However, they can be just the ticket when one feels like some chillaxing, escaping from reality or as an antidote to insomnia.

Why do I dig ambient and electronic ambient+ music? It just resonates with me, It creates a welcoming oasis of contemplative calm away from a crazily intense ‘real’ world and it is somewhere to go that isn’t, well, here. Nothing profound, transcendent or conceited. See you in The Matrix soon.

I have no idea what’s up next, so it will come as much of a surprise to me as it will to you. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “If you could literally have the world, what, exactly, would you do with it?”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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August 2023 ‑ Dub Reggae Revelation

Prelude

It has been far, far too long since I wrote a CRAVE Guitars’ article. At some point, I may (or may not) go into the whys and wherefores behind the near 3‑year hiatus. I may also look into a brief résumé of what has happened to CRAVE Guitars during that period (hint… given Covid lockdowns, the cost‑of‑living crisis, etc., not a massive amount!). I am a bit out of practice.

In the meantime, I thought I would divert my attention a little, away from vintage guitars. The topic of this article is to present a few thoughts on one of my favourite music genres… dub reggae. It has allegedly been summertime in the UK, so I immersed myself in the crucial vibes of dub and that spawned the idea to write, which inspired me to listen to more dub, and write more. And so on. Although not particularly guitar oriented, I believe it is still worthy of exploration. As one might imagine, dub is often overlooked and misunderstood, even though it is a complicated branch of mainstream reggae. I hope that it may be of interest to someone out there and maybe, just maybe, there is something new to learn.

My passion for dub reggae was ignited in the mid‑1970s in a time before CDs when a friend introduced me to a specific vinyl LP, ‘Garvey’s Ghost’ by Burning Spear (1976). This particular studio album is the dub version of the vocal roots reggae album, ‘Marcus Garvey’ (1975), also by Burning Spear. For those not familiar with Burning Spear, Winston Rodney is a Rastafarian roots reggae artist, born in Saint Ann, Jamaica in 1945. As a youngster at the time, I hadn’t heard anything like it before and it made such an impact that it remains my favourite dub album and a reference against which others may be judged. I visited Jamaica back in 2008, although it wasn’t deemed safe for, especially white, tourists to move around freely.

This article looks at what dub reggae is, where it came from, why it became influential, who was involved and when it mattered. Despite some extensive research, I want to stress that this is my personal interpretation of the subject matter and should not be regarded in any way as definitive.

I would dearly like to illustrate the article with more images. However, copyright restrictions and CRAVE Guitars’ zero budget precludes relevant illustration. So… the words will have to suffice as a 1,000th of a picture.

Reggae, roots and dub, as music genres, should be viewed as a fundamental fragment of Jamaica’s fascinating geography, history, demographics, politics, economics, culture and religion.

Right… Time, then, to spark up the chalwa and feel the righteous vibration…


A brief history of Jamaica

It is quite astounding that such a prolific genre of music could arise in – and be sustained by – such a small island in the Caribbean. In order to understand the context into which such unbound creativity emerged, perhaps there is something in Jamaica’s past that may explain it.

Jamaica is the third largest island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, after Cuba and Hispaniola (a.k.a. Haiti and the Dominican Republic), at 4,244 square miles. It has a tropical climate with hot and humid weather and high annual rainfall. Flora and fauna are also diverse with many species only found on the island, many in the Blue and Crow Mountains National Park. Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean and has experienced significant storm damage on a number of occasions in its past.

Jamaican Beach

Humans have inhabited Jamaica from as early as 4000‑1000 BCE, although there is little known about their ancient society. The main pre‑colonial inhabitants were the Taino who may have originated from South America around 800AD. The indigenous Taino called their home Xaymaca. Most of the Taino people disappeared following the arrival of Europeans, although some may have sought safe sanctuary in the island’s mountainous and forested interior.

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, under the sponsorship of Spain, first sighted the island in 1494 and called it Santiago. Columbus spent a year shipwrecked on the island from 1503 to 1504. Jamaica was not considered strategically important by the Spanish.

Spain ruled Jamaica from 1494 to 1655. The capital was established in what is now known as Spanish Town. The Spanish were the first to introduce African slaves to the island. Over time, the Spaniards changed the name of the island from the native Xaymaca to Jamaica.

In 1655 Britain captured and colonized Jamaica by force and formally gained possession of the island from Spain in 1670.

Following the British takeover, the island’s governor actively offered safe harbour to pirates and buccaneers in Port Royal in south eastern Jamaica in return for defending the town from Spanish attack. Some of these mercenaries and renegades became legal privateers operating in the name of the King of England. The pirates focused on attacking and plundering mainly Spanish ships on the trade route between Spain and Panama. Perhaps the most famous privateer of the 17th Century was Welshman Henry Morgan, who also became a plantation owner and governor of Jamaica. The legendary pirate captain Blackbeard (Edward Teach) was also believed to live in Port Royal c.1700. By the end of the 17th Century, Port Royal was known as a Pirate Utopia and its pervasive corruption, prostitution and lawlessness earned it the nickname of ‘Sodom of the New World’. Even though piracy was outlawed in 1681, it wasn’t until around 1730 that pirate numbers disappeared after action from the British navy. Piracy still occurs in the Caribbean in the present day.

‘The wickedest city on earth’, Port Royal, was destroyed by a devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 1692 (when part of the town sank into the sea), by fire in 1703 and by hurricanes in 1712, 1722, 1726 and 1744. It almost seems that the destruction of Port Royal was nothing short of divine retribution, with the hand of God smiting a modern‑day Sodom and Gomorrah. After that onslaught, Port Royal was effectively abandoned.

In the middle of the 17th Century, the Dutch introduced sugarcane to the British West Indies. Sugar rapidly began to replace cotton and tobacco as the main crop.

Britain set about increasing both the European and the African slave population throughout the 18th Century, as the sugar plantation industry spread across Jamaica. Success of the plantation system relied upon exploiting African slaves for labour. Many Jamaicans with slave origins can trace their ancestry back to the West African countries of Ghana and Nigeria. The British government abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1807 and the practice of slavery itself in 1834. Consequently, the island’s plantation system collapsed. Descendants of African slaves who fled the plantations for the interior of the island set up their own communities and are still known today as Jamaican Maroons.

Britain made Jamaica a Crown Colony in 1866 and the capital was moved just 11 miles from Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872. Long‑term strife, through rebellions, resistance, skirmishes, riots and uprisings were commonplace throughout the 19th Century, causing significant social, economic and political unrest. Toward the end of the 19th Century, the demand for sugar waned significantly, creating severe economic decline.

The Jamaican government is based on a parliamentary democracy and the two main parties are the right‑wing JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and left‑wing PNP (People’s National Party). A long‑standing feud between the two opposing parties has led to considerable political violence since they were formed in 1943.

Following the end of World War II, large‑scale emigration from Jamaica to the UK, USA and Canada occurred during the 1950s and 1960s when the country was still under British rule. Internally, political and racial tensions continued to grow and force change. Jamaica established internal self‑government in 1959 and became an independent island country on 6th August 1962. Jamaican Independence Day is celebrated annually as a national holiday. The independent Jamaica is part of the Commonwealth of Nations with the British monarch as head of state, at least for now. The Jamaican government is seeking further constitutional change from 2025.

Political conflict, economic instability and widespread gang‑related disorder were major issues that plagued Jamaican society during the remainder of the 20th Century and into the 21st. Jamaica experiences high levels of crime and violence, and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Organised crime and gang violence are rife especially in deprived areas. An intense street culture developed with disaffected, violent and discontented youths often known originally as ‘rude boys’ and latterly, ‘yardies’. The street subculture became widespread, associated with Jamaican ska and rocksteady music, even spreading to the UK as part of the mod and skinhead trends of the 1960s where it became known as boss reggae’.

Reggae artists were sadly not immune from violence and gun crime. Among the artists tragically murdered include Prince Far I (1983), Hugh Mundell (1983), Peter Tosh (1987), Carlton Barrett (1987), King Tubby (1989), Junior Braithwaite (1999), Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes (1999), Lucky Dube (2007) and Winston Riley (2012). Famously, in 1976 seven armed men invaded Bob Marley’s home in Kingston in a failed assassination attempt. Marley was shot in the chest and arm and his wife, Rita Marley, was shot in the head. Both survived the politically motivated attack.

The Jamaican white population decreased drastically during the 19th Century. According to census figures, in 1662, 87% of the population was white while by 2011, it was just 0.16%. This dramatic decline was a result of the end of slavery, the decline of the sugar industry with the abandonment of plantations, and a blending of racial boundaries.

Today, Jamaica currently has a total population of approximately 2.8m, with over 92% being of black African origin. The major religion, by far, is Christianity at over 72% of the population, principally Protestant. The official language is English, while the main spoken language is a creole Jamaican Patois based on English. Jamaica’s national motto is, “Out of Many, One People.”

Over half the Jamaican economy relies on tourism and services, with an estimated 4.3 million foreign tourists visiting Jamaica every year. Sugar remains the main crop grown in Jamaica followed by bananas, cocoa and coffee. Mining, oil refining and manufacturing also make up a proportion of its GDP by sector:

  • Services – 58.22%
  • Industry – 20.93%
  • Agriculture – 8.34%
  • Other – 12.51%

The spiritual context behind reggae

Jamaican Flag

This is where things begin to get interesting. Jamaica is a diverse multi‑ethnic, multi‑cultural and multi‑faith country. However, the distinguishing religion that contributed significantly to the home‑grown music industry of the country, particularly reggae, is Rastafarianism. Below are a few notable individuals and some of the ritual symbolism that have helped to define Rasta from the 1930s to the current day.

Haile Selassie I (1892‑1975) – Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until his death. Selassie’s pre‑imperial name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. Rastafarians adopted his name and believe in the incarnate divinity of Selassie as the messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on 21st April 1966, attended by approximately 100,000 black Jamaicans and Rastafarians from all over the island. Selassie reportedly respected Rastafarian beliefs even though he was a devout Christian. Selassie died in Ethiopia at the age of 83.

Marcus Garvey (1887‑1940) – Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey was a Jamaican political activist and black nationalist. He was the founder and first President‑General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, commonly known as UNIA from 1914. Garvey was a key influence on the Rastafarian movement from the 1930s. Many Rastas regard Garvey as a prophet, although the reverence was not necessarily reciprocated, as Garvey was a Catholic, not a Rastafarian.

The principal tenet of Garveyism is the ideology of unification and empowerment of African‑descended people and the repatriation of the descendants of enslaved Africans to the African continent.

Garvey was responsible for the establishment of the short‑lived Black Star Line from 1919 to 1922, a shipping company created to facilitate the transportation of goods and Africans throughout the global economy. The company used the Ghanaian Black Star of Africa flag, as a symbol of the ‘Back to Africa’ movement and of anti‑colonialism. The line’s name was a rejection of the competing British White Star Line.

Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were responsible for the Pan‑African flag created in 1920 comprising three horizontal stripes of red, black and green. The colours represent red for the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry and shed in the name of liberation, black for the colour of the people, and green for the abundant natural wealth of Africa.

Garvey died in London at the age of 52. When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the new government hailed Garvey as a hero. In 1969, he was posthumously conferred with the Order of the National Hero by the Jamaican government.

Leonard Howell (1898‑1981) – Howell, along with peers Joseph Hibbert and Robert Hinds, was one of the first preachers of the Rastafarian movement. Howell is regarded by many as ‘The First Rasta’, following the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie in 1930. Howell died in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 83.


Rastafarianism – While the predominant religion of Jamaicans in Christianity, Rastafarians make up only 1.1% of the Jamaican population. Rastafarianism is an unstructured religious movement originating in Jamaica in the 1930s and has now become established globally. Rastafarianism takes elements from the Christian Bible and combines them with the ideology of Marcus Garvey and the belief that Haile Selassie was the second advent of the Messiah. Many theologians question the legitimacy of the Rasta doctrine as a true religion in its own right, regarding its philosophy and beliefs as more of a pseudo‑religion.

Rastafarian Dreadlocks

Jah – Jah is a term widely used by Rastafarians as their name for God. Jah is a shortened form of YHWH (Yahweh, Yehovah, or Jehovah), translated as ‘lord’, as used by the ancient Israelites. The word Jah appears literally in the King James Bible (Psalm 68:4), “Extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him”. However, even though Rasta faith draws elements from the scriptures, the Jah of Rastafarians should not be regarded as synonymous with the God of the Christian Bible. The expression of Jah as spoken by Rastafarians is “I and I”, where the first “I” is the Almighty and the second “I” refers to oneself. A goal of Rastafarian meditation is to maintain or raise awareness of the unity of I and I.

Zion – Rastafarians regard Africa as their Promised Land, or ‘Zion’, specifically Ethiopia, due to the reverence held for Emperor Haile Selassie. Zion is another Biblical reference and an idealisation of Jerusalem. Zion may refer to Africa, Ethiopia or Jamaica, as well as an individual’s state of mind. Rastas commonly believe that Black Africans are descended from one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel through the lineage of the Ethiopian royal family. Neutral commentators might suggest that Zion has become a nostalgic, semi‑mythological and metaphorical paradise in the way it is idealised by Marcus Garvey and the Rastafarian movement. Furthermore, it may be argued that Zion is used more as a motivational symbol rather than an objective critical reality.

Babylon – Rastafarianism is strongly Afrocentric and proclaims that the African diaspora is oppressed and suffering in exile within Western society, which they refer to as ‘Babylon’. Rastas compare the exile of African people displaced outside Africa to the imprisonment of the Biblical Israelites in Mesopotamia. A frequent mantra for Rastas is to “chant down Babylon”, advocated by Marcus Garvey as the ultimate goal of Rastafarianism; to overcome oppression, bring an end to suffering, and act as a powerful anthem for social change.

Livity – Livity is seen as the ideal lifestyle for Rastafarians, comprising prayer and meditation, a righteous – often vegetarian – diet (ital), and the same positive love for everything (one love). Livity is about Rastafarians living a natural lifestyle, including a focus on the growth of natural hair and a rejection of alcohol, tobacco and synthetic medicines. Furthermore, the concept of livity incorporates a belief that the energy or life force of Jah exists within, and flows through, all living things (positive vibration). The word irie can mean anything from good, fine and OK to a powerful, pleasing and all‑encompassing quality.

Dreadlocks – While dreadlocks date back as far as 1600‑1500 BCE in Europe, the distinctive hairstyle, often called ‘dreads’, has been adopted by many Rastafarians. Dreadlocks in Rasta tradition are symbolic of the Lion of Judah, inspired by the Nazarites of the Bible and representing male inner strength and courage. The Lion of Judah is depicted at the centre of the Imperial Flag of Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Natty Dread is a common term that refers to a Rastafarian with dreadlocks. In addition to the symbolic colours of red, black and green of the Pan‑African flag, the yellow stripe of the imperial flag is said to signify the historical rebellion against colonial rule and those who stole Jamaica’s wealth. The four colours – red, black, green and yellow – are collectively known as the Rasta colours. Since the 1970s, dreadlocks have become a popular fashion statement of choice worldwide, even among non‑Rastafarians.

Ganja – Marijuana/cannabis is colloquially referred to as ganja, callie weed, kaya and the herb. For many, although not all, Rastafarians, smoking of ganja is considered a sacrament and a key component of their belief system. Rastas contend that the use of ganja is promoted in the Bible, literally in Exodus, Psalms, Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For instance, in the Book of Exodus, God gave Moses instructions to build the tabernacle (the Tent of the Congregation that was the portable earthly dwelling of Yahweh), “Then the Lord said to Moses, take the following fine spices, 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus [cannabis], 500 shekels of cassia – all according to the sanctuary shekel – and a hin of olive oil”. NB. One shekel equates to approximately 13g. For Rastas, the use of ganja is believed to have healing properties, is used an incense to ward off bad spirits, promotes peace and love, and provides introspection or meditation that enables them to discover their internal divinity. Ganja is smoked either in the form of a hand‑rolled spliff (joint) or through a ‘wisdom’ chalice or chalwa, a smoking pipe, also referred to as a kutchie. Ritual use of ganja is often used in communal meetings called ‘groundings’ or ‘groundations’ (depending on size) with ganja traditionally circulated in an anti‑clockwise direction. Rastas have long advocated for the legalisation of cannabis in those parts of the world where possession and use are illegal. Use of ganja became widely associated with Jamaican reggae music when performed by Rastafarians, especially during the 1970s.

Jamaican Ganja

Reggae music variants and timeline

Mento – Mento is a Jamaican acoustic folk music that melds West African and European influences into a distinct style. Calypso music, which emerged from Trinidad and Tobago far to the south east of Jamaica, had tended to become a generic term for West Indian music. However, while mento is similar to calypso, it should not be confused with it. Jamaican mento was particularly popular in the 1940s and 1950s. A mento band generally used acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums and a rhumba box used for basslines. Mento lyrics were a commentary on Jamaican social life and issues experienced by Jamaican citizens. Mento is still played today, mainly for tourist entertainment. Mento is important because it is regarded as a necessary precursor of ska, rocksteady and, ultimately, reggae, roots and dub.

Notable mento artists included Louise Bennett, Count Lasher, Lord Flea and, most famously, Harry Belafonte, an American star born in Jamaica.

Ska – Ska is a lively and energetic popular dance music and is seen as the forerunner of reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento, calypso, American jazz and rhythm & blues. The word ‘ska’ first appeared in a 1964 news article, despite the genre having been around since the late 1950s. The term ska is possibly a contraction of ‘skavoovie’, a greeting used by musician Cluett Johnson. Alternatively, ‘ska’ was used by Jamaican musician and producer Byron Lee to differentiate ska from mento.

Jamaican ska music is characterised by a 4/4 rhythm with drum accent on the 3rd beat of the bar and a guitar chop on the 2nd and 4th beats, known as an upstroke or ‘skank’. Sk