Category Archives: Carvin

“Music is a Business”: A Longwinded NAMM Recovery Story

I’ll probably get some flack here, but in this case, not from the people who I usually get it from. I am making plenty of assumptions, and most of these ideas are based off of opinions and views I have seen. Having said that, I don’t feel like i’m going out on a limb here. I think i’m verbalizing things we hoped weren’t true, but I don’t feel I originated these feelings.

These are my thoughts after going to NAMM. It’s been 3 months, and it’s taken about that much time for my euphoria to wear off, and ideas to settle in, or at least have some effect on me. So lets get going.

Going to NAMM was a life changing experience for me. It really was. Being someone who wants to spend their life involved in musical instruments and music, experiencing something like NAMM was valuable and necessary. And while the experience NAMM gave me was inevitable, i’m glad it happened early in my life. Rather than dancing around it with pseudoartistic jabber, I might as well just come out and say it:

Music is a business.

You hear those words spoken – “Music Business” is household fodder for future (un)employees – but it took a very large event for it to set in.

My pre-namm experience was involved in blogs and magazines, seeing all the new gear surrounded by musical A-listers and scantily clad women who wouldn’t know a Fender from a Gibson if the booths were right next to each other. And if you’ll excuse the self-righteous NAMM booth humor (something I’ll try to avoid it from now on) you’ll get a slight glimpse at what I mean by “business.” All I knew about NAMM were in journalist pictures and magazines, but they don’t show you who is really there, and why it’s really there.

I’m going to guess that 99% of the people there are just lookers, gawkers, rubberneckers and the like, enjoying the new eye candy of musical instruments that are being created. And out of a tens of thousands of people that go to NAMM, those (we, actually) aren’t the people that matter much. We are dressed in musical oriented clothes, walking shoes, and our wallets don’t have much in mind except for the food.

And then you see the people and sights they never show you in the magazines. The suits, ties, briefcases, back rooms, two-story booths, soundproof rooms, velvet ropes, business schedules, meetings, power lunches, special areas, the entire hotel 1st floor bought by Yamaha, the Roundtables with the candy dish in the middle, the paperwork, and the nicely combed hair. Guitar World/Player/One would never show you that. Well, why would they? It’s not like it would sell issues (Re: Business).

You start to realize that the stores that sell a lot of guitars are not guitar meritocracies. The best guitars aren’t sold at Guitar Center, Samash, Musicians Friend or Music123. They are merely (I should say “probably, because this is all hearsay now) there for their name, and the amount of money they bring in. For instance, a Fender Relic, now the basis for all things overpriced in the guitar industry, costs a few thousand dollars to sell. Chances are, that guitar cost the exact same to make as the Made In Mexico 70’s reissues, and even they are overpriced.

So the manufacturers sell them wholesale to one of these big musical instrument selling companies for a low price, and then the company sells them to us for a higher price. I’m going to make an educated guess and assume the reason all of those guitars are at the big-name stores, is solely because they bring in the most money. Thus reducing your guitar buying options at the big stores to profit margins, rather than quality. Gibson, Fender, PRS, ESP, are only known brands because the people buy them, and the retailers get a good deal. You’d probably never see a Suhr or a Vigier at a big namer because they probably couldn’t turn a good profit.

I think what solidified my ideas that it’s a business was being in the ESP booth. It was all rock-and-rolled, videos playing, cool guitars on the wall. Then I standing in a certain place, and a door opened. Out of the door came around 8 men in business suits, shaking hands and smiling. Not a single one looked like a guitar player, or even a guitar player in disguise. I am in the room which is a large upstairs conference room, dressed to the nines in the finest in metal regalia, and there went what looked to be wall street’s finest. They probably just sold a couple thousand guitars in futures, or made a deal with an overseas manufacturing company to lower the manufacturing costs of parts fifteen percent.

That’s when it dawned on me to look at everything there in a different light. All of the manufacturers of cheap guitars probably couldn’t play one if handed to them. They were there for a profit, and turning plywood, lumber scraps, and cheap mass produced parts into money was why they were there.

You go to a hardware store, and there are rows and rows and rows of screws, big and small, costing a couple cents. Metal door brackets and hinges, a few dollars. Plastic knobs and plates for switches, a dollar or two. Lumberyard’s full of wood, a couple bucks for large pieces. All of these mass produced parts parallel to guitars. Tuners, bridges, knobs, switches, plates, and all of the simple things don’t add up to the cost of a Squier strat, especially when they are being mass produced. Necks, bodies, pickups, and everything but painting and assembly are automated, but we are still paying big bucks. It’s what we expect, as guitar players.

Want something with a clear finish? Extra 70 bucks. Gold plated hardware? 50 bucks. Floating bridge? 200 bucks. Hollowbody? Upper range. Thin nitro finish? Upper range. Locking tuners? Extra 100 bucks. New pickups? 70 bucks. You all know this, and you’ve come to expect this.

But knowing the details is not very rock and roll. This hobby of mine was born and raised in the ear canals of rock and roll Venice, and I didn’t want it to be sold to the lowest bidder. I didn’t want to know that the reason Guitar Center had my Gibson SG was because they probably made a huge deal of money off of it. I didn’t want to know that my gear heaven known as NAMM, is really just for big businesses to make deals. I didn’t want to see the Chinese manufacturers sitting at a table, waiting for one of the big companies to come to them so they could make the most profit.

You try and justify the price you pay that there’s some guy working in a factory on your guitar. That the measly 400 dollars you spend on a Mexican Strat is worth it. Then you realize that there are a good amount of people who specialize in that part, and they spend the better part of 5 minutes on it. Bolting on a neck, clamping the sides, installing tuners, drilling holes, removing things from giant machines. They get paid wage a few bucks above minimum, if not minimum. Aside from the paint and finish drying, it probably spends very little time in someone’s hands. Probably a good 15 dollars out of the company’s pocket worth of labor, and that’s pushing it. 20 bucks total for the parts, pushing it again. Manufacturing has been paid off, so probably a dollar or two for maintenance of the machines. We’re talking anywhere from 8 to 30 times the profit for something people yearn for.

The problem is there’s no competition. I’m beating the dead horse of my ill-fated “Why I Hate Guitar Center” post, but unlike the computer industry all prices just keep going up for us while quality drops.

I saw NAMM. I saw the celebrities paid to be there. I saw the small companies trying to break into the market. I saw the new gear, the booth babes, the lights, the smells. I got the blisters from walking, I saw Johnny Demarco (!!!), I saw the elaborate booths. And I realized that none of it was for me. Any guitar player would be happy with a booth full of guitars, and had the bar not been set so high, i’m sure that’s what NAMM would’ve been like. Instead it was the largest building i’d ever been to, enormous booths, louder than hell, and it was an overload.

But what does it all mean? Will it change a thing that I know this? Nope. I’m still going to go to Guitar Center, i’m going to pay 1700 dollars for the Eric Johnson Strat (someday…) which cost probably under a hundred to make. I’m going to keep on truckin through the business part of it. Pay a dollar for a song, 2 for a ringtone,
50 for a doorknob or whatever I buy, and continue to realize that music is a business. But so is everything else, so I should shut my mouth because some day i’m going to be in this business, and you’re going to pay for my Eric Johnson strat.

The end.

I await loads of criticism, both foreign and domestic. Including the job offers from Fender and Gibson for a billion dollar a year contract for me to sit around in the Charvel office or the Gibson Supreme office being the guy who criticizes everything, but still enjoys it all.

Me and music, we have a love/hate relationship. I love all of this stuff, but I hate seeing people in suits.


Filed under Carvin, center, Charvel, cheap, complaining, electric guitar, Fender, Fender Guitars, Fender Mexico, Fender Telecaster, floyd rose, Gibson, guitar, guitar center, guitar player, guitar rant, guitar review, Guitar store, Ibanez, Jackson guitars, Made in China, Made in Mexico, money, music, NAMM, NAMM 2008, Nay-saying, negativity, Rabble Rousing, Roland, San Dimas, story, Uncategorized

Carvin’s 60th Anniversary Celebration

For such a company with a reputation, they did a terrible job. Since i’m a San Diego native, I wanted to go to their factory and see what was happening for the 60th anniversary. Carvin has a bunch of good people under their name like Steve Vai, Tony Macalpine and Allan Holdsworth, and they were all going to be there for their anniversary. Not only that, but CAB was playing, so I wanted to be there. These are some of the most talented musicians alive, playing some of the highest quality instruments around, so I had high expectations for good reason.

I got there at 10 AM when it opened, and my friend and I took the factory tour. Very cool factory, lots of good machinery and technology for guitar building. The sad thing was that it was limited to 15 minutes per tour, and I wanted to see more. The make some awesome instruments, and it’s nice to know that your guitar is set up by a real guitarist instead of someone in a large factory in a foreign country.

We got outside, and I went into their showroom. Based on the recommendations ofguitarists and aficionados, i’ve had extremely high hopes for Carvin. So I played all of the different models; bolt ons, through necks, semihollows, Holdsworth models, amongst plenty of others. And I regret to say that based on personal opinion, not only did I find nothing special, I didn’t like any of the guitars. The holdsworth’s neck was HUGE, not to my liking, and much was the same for the rest. These were instruments built for speed and tone, yet had the comfort of a wood block. As a person who likes thin necks, Carvin is not my bag. I’d take a Jackson, a Charvel, Ibanez, or any of the others before i’d want a Carvin. They seem to tailor to the big-handed, not the small handed guys with comfort in mind. Don’t get me wrong, they look FANTASTIC, and they represent fantastic workmanship! But they don’t feel that way. Professionally set up, showroom models of their best guitars were unimpressive, at best. The reason I liked Carvin were for their beautiful carved tops, the fantastic choices of wood, and the American made quality, but when I got my hands on it, it wasn’t what I wanted. Think of it as seeing the most beautiful car you’ve ever seen, driving by you on your block every week and teasing you, only to find out that the thing drives like bread dough, and has the engine from a go kart. Sure it looks great, but it’s not something you could use.

I left the place at around 11:30 because there were only a few bad local bands playing, but I went back at 3:30 to see CAB playing. As I got there, I saw Steve Vai was signing autographs, but I wasn’t about to wait in line for 5 minutes (i’ll get to this short wait), i’d rather see CAB. I walked over to the stage, and then CAB started to play about 5 minutes later. CAB would’ve been awesome, had the sound guy not been absolutely dismal. There were no more than 100-200 at the entire place, yet they had sound worthy of an outdoor festival. Not only that, but the guy behind the soundboard didn’t think to turn down the rest of the band a little when someone was soloing, he would turn the soloist up, and that was it. So basically, the one person soloing would be turned up, and the rest would be the same, in turn making the entire place louder, instead of keeping it even. Even worse, when 2 people were soloing, they were too loud, and they clashed like neon green parachute pants and a black sport coat. When Tony Macalpine was dueling with Patrice Rushen, you couldn’t really tell what was going on due to the overwhelming sound. Carvin makes lots of sound gear, you think they could find a decent sound guy. Spectacular to see the drum mics die out right when Virgil Donati goes into his monster solo…

The only highlight of it all was having Steve Vai jump onstage with CAB, but it was ruined by the horrible sound guy who was too far away to understand what the crowd was hearing. That’s why all venue’s put the sound guy in the middle so they can get an even feel of what everyone’s hearing, not put them 100 feet from a tiny stage.

As I was leaving and LIT was playing (Yes…Lit) to a crowd of 40 people compared to CAB’s 100, I saw Steve Vai sitting there alone at a table, but felt no desire to meet him. I’m fine not meeting my idols. He was sitting with Tony Macalpine and Bunny Brunel for their signings, but for some reason I don’t really find joy in getting autographs.

Carvin should’ve gone all out for this. There were some of the best musicians alive at this place, and only 200 people were there at most. They took out a full page ad in Bass Player, and put in on their website, but made no real effort to inform the city about it. It was completely free, and Steve Vai alone could’ve drawn 500 people, but he was sitting there signing autographs to a crowd of 30 people. But it’s too late now, the whole thing was terrible. I expected a whole lot, and got a whole lot of nothing.

My apologies Carvin. Your potential is outweighed by your utter disregard for those of the people who went to your event which was a major milestone. And for that, you will not receive my business. Keep sending me those catalogs though, free guitar pornography is just fine.


Filed under 60th Anniversary, Bunny Brunel, CAB, Carvin, guitar, guitar rant, music, Steve Vai, Tony Macalpine