Category Archives: Roland

“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.

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Roland Cube 60

Roland’s new(er) kid on the block, the Roland Cube 60 is one of Roland’s first stabs at making a modeling amp. In fact, what this really is, is a Boss amp. The modeling capabilities and tones on the lead channel come straight from Boss’s COSM database of tones, but stamped with the Roland name so people might actually buy it. This 60 Watt amp is reasonably priced, and is perfect for just about everyone, but before everyone gets one, lets dig into the nitty-gritty shall we?

Construction: This amp is pretty solidly built; well actually, it’s very solid. It’s closed back, steel grille front, plywood panel and thick plastic corners make it one of the most durable amplifiers i’ve ever seen. Not only that, but the controls are recessed into the top like so:
Image Courtesy of Elderly music. 2006

so that if your amp happens to roll backwards or have something resting on the top, you don’t need to worry about the settings getting messed with or that the knobs will get broken. The knobs themselves are basically a slightly meatier version of the knobs that Boss uses on their multi-effects pedals, so they’re meant to be bumped around. All of the inputs are plastic and don’t have that metal feel to them that quality amps have, but they are nonetheless strong, and none have loosened in my time of use.

The tone (clean channel): The clean channel’s electronics are supposedly taken from Roland’s Jazz amplifier series, giving them a very reputable name in clean channeling. Personally, it just sounds like any other clean channel, which is probably good and it shows that they’re not really trying to reinvent the wheel. The only unique thing about the clean channel is the bright button, an awkward attempt at adding a little boost in brightness. It barely sounds like it does much, but it’s a decent idea.

The tone (Lead channel): I really have liked the versatility of the different models of amps. They sound very similar to what they’re named, but it takes a little bit of tweaking to really get the sounds to sparkle. Turn on the Black Panel amp, and you’ll get the surfy 50’s spank that you’d expect, the Brit combo has the extra treble and slight bit of dirt to give you a slight Brian May style wail to it, and the Tweed has a decent twang to it if it’s set up properly. For the lead players, the Classic amp setting is a decent way to get some crunch out of it, but it never really stood out above the rest, so it’s one of the least used settings. The Metal and the “R-fier” (Roland trying to get away with Rectifier without paying Mesa Boogie any dues) are very similar, except the R-Fier amp has a more scooped mid on it already to evoke the Metallica-like tone, whilst the Metal setting has a good amount more mid, a little less bass, and more treble. If you’re going for that real crunchy Pantera/Megadeth sound, it’s all R-fier with full bass, low mid, and high treble.

What Roland did do was attempt to put two different, slightly odd things on an amp like this; the Acoustic setting and the Dyna-amp.

The acoustic setting sounds slightly acoustic-like, basically making your normal notes sound more bouncy and hollow. If you’re wondering what I mean by bouncy, it’s rather hard to explain. It’s almost like it’s being thrown into a small wood body then being heard to get the acoustic reverb, instead of a generic reverb tank like all amps have.

The Dyna-amp setting is supposed to be touch sensitive to playing. If you play hard, it distorts, if you play soft, it’s clean. It’s not really that great. I’d rather just switch channels to go from clean to distorted, and even if you do use the Dyna-amp, it still sounds a little distorted when playing lightly.

Taming the Beast: It’s 60 Watts out of a 12 inch speaker, and it’s loud. If you want more out of it, there’s a powered extension speaker jack in the back, but this thing is already loud as hell. It’s quite good at high volumes, no evasive feedback or ringing, so there’s one for Boss for keeping it quiet when it’s loud.
So what’s wrong with it?: There are a lot of good things about this amp, but as always, it has it’s flaws:

The effects: It’s the generic effects channel meant to give versatility to an amp. It seems to be par for the course today, with upper end Marshall’s even being stocked with them. They’re boring, and they rarely get any use. You can’t adjust the settings, you can only make them more or less noticeable. Want a longer or shorter delay? Less repeats on the echo? Sorry, get a delay pedal. Want to use phaser and tremolo? Sorry. Get both of those. The effects on this amp are solely there to take up space, and occasionally color your sound. They should’ve just left the reverb and the chorus there, and called it a day.

The R-fier: It’s a great sounding channel when you’re playing, but they screwed up one thing…they put a noise gate onto it. Not only that, but it’s a bad noise gate. It doesn’t really quiet it when you’re not playing, but it cuts the sustain of off the notes you want to ring out, and that’s bad for a distorted setting. Distortion is known for high gain and sustain (Rhyme intended), but when there’s a cheap noise gate there cutting you off, it’s irritating. After awhile you get used to it, but it really shouldn’t be something you have to get used to.

The Equalizer: Another mess-up, they only put one on. So if you’re going from the scooped mid, monstrous metal tone to a neck pickup, clean jazz chord, you’re going to have to sacrifice one for the other. Basically, it means that if you set up the knobs for a high treble, low bass clean sound, and you switch to the R-fier setting, it’s going to sound terrible. Best bet? Find a happy medium between both of them and leave it. If you’re really put off, get two of em. There only 350 dollars, and that extra money might be worth saving you the small hassles.

The Pros: Versatile, sturdy, cost-effective, and it sounds great.

The Cons: One equalizer, generic effects, no footswitch included.

The Grade:

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Filed under amplifier, guitar, guitar review, music, Roland, Roland Cube 60