Category Archives: San Dimas

“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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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

NAMM 2008

These are the pictures of things I found important.

Dick Dale playing a Blackbird carbon fiber guitar. He soon talked about the “Tsunami of Sound”. Impressive words.

Extreme metal from ESP’s Custom Shop.

More extreme metal.

A nice green on an ESP, an LTD, no less.

LTD continuing to impress me on looks. I have to say I was never an ESP fan, and except for the hundreds of businessmen ruining my panting in front of a guitar, they had one of the best sections.

ESP trying not to lose all their money on the short-lived Dave Mustaine Signature.

Carbon fiber mandolin. Really now?

The local newspaper had a picture of Kerry King and Marshall on the front…wow. Slayer on a newspaper front? Surprise…

I am a big fan of Charvel San Dimas without the Stratstyle headstock, but this looked pretty sweet.

Any of you who have watched Roland’s guitar gear videos has seen Johnny Demarco, the most over the top spokesman for any company ever.

True innovation, no exaggeration. This was the one thing that seriously caught my eye, and that’s what matters. The V-accordion. Very good player too.

Dream Lineup. Hughes and Kettner tone lines. Best amps i’ve ever played.

The long haired blond guy is Seymour Duncan.

Nice guitars. Very washburnesque with a little Carvin.

A BC rich your mother could love, and afford! Only like 600 for that thing.

Finally saw some Hagstroms. I wasn’t as impressed as i’d hoped, but still nice.

Oof. Warrior guitars. Thems is crazy. They are expensive, and would make you look infinitely cooler than a PRS.

Composite necks, anyone?

The bald-headed man with the space glasses is none other than Tony Levin!

Excuse me whilst I faint. John Petrucci Ernie Balls.

Ibanez Singlecut everyone! NEW!

Decent looking budget hollowbody Ibanez.

Odd looking Ibanez, but I liked it.

What you’ve all been (just me) waiting for, the new 24 Fret S-series Ibanez. It was one of the main reasons I went to the show, but that prestige neck just didn’t have the same electricity as my RG1570 had.

Those are pretty Wechters. Damn.

Finally saw some Zemaitis. 4000 dollars for metal work? Nope.

The reason this show is such a letdown. I’ve never heard about this before, but it’s the ridiculous factor. So many cheap pieces of shit overseas import companies. All making trashy knockoffs and pieces of junk. There were a LOT of them, and they had nice booths, were dressed impeccably, and made me want to smash them all.

The unique award!

I am going back tomorrow, and maybe I’ll get more pictures.

I met Thomas Nordegg. One of the, if not the most famous Tech guy ever. He will never remember, I will.

Also, I jammed with Dean Markley.

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Filed under Charvel, complaining, electric guitar, Ernie ball, Fender, guitar rant, guitar review, Guitar store, Ibanez, Ibanez Prestige, Ibanez RG, Jackson guitars, Made in Mexico, music, NAMM, NAMM 2008, San Dimas, story

Why did I start guitar?

It’s been awhile, and lucky me the end (sort of) of the hiatus/sabbatical/laziness comes to fruition in a self-serving post about what provoked me to play guitar and not quit. It’s just me writing about why I am not one of those kids with a poorly maintained no-name acoustic guitar in the corner with the same set of strings it had in the moving crate on the Hyundai Super Tanker on the way over from Korea.

As much of a veiled crack at guitar mass production as that may have been, it doesn’t change the fact that slave labor, awful wages and quality control indicative of Yugoslavian cars probably had a large effect on most of the guitarists in the last three decades. The reason many of us took to the instrument was because one of these easily available tree-destroyers was sitting around somewhere that we saw it, and instead of leaving it there, we just kept going back to it. In my case (technically, my Dad’s case – guitar case, that is) it was an Aria nylon string acoustic guitar my dad had under his bed. When I was really young somewhere in the range of monosyllabic numbers (Seven inched its way in) , after I figured out that one of the latches on the case had to move sideways to open the damned case, I would just sit there with it on my lap and hit the strings. The first instrument I’d ever owned was a drumset with paper heads on some of the drums, and stainless steel heads on others. It was basically something for me to move my arms against that didn’t consist of electrical wires or sharp corners. At the age of 2, I was just beating something to get out the aggression that developed from my parents not getting the correct brand of steamed carrots (I demanded carrots from non conflict countries. Sorry, Gerber-Libya) but in a fit of unadulterated preschool tricycle induced road rage, I broke the drumset. I was a mini Keith Moon (Half moon?) I dare say, but that still didn’t change the fact that I was, as a child, someone who was fond of percussive response.

So, back to the Aria Nylon string. I would remove it from the Pandora’s Box of a case and just lay it on my lap, hitting all of the strings with my hands. I was just happy getting some musical response from anything, despite having no connection to music with the exception of yelling at my sister playing her annoying radio on the oldies stations*. I was another radio kid listening to the pop stations; some of the first albums i’d ever owned were Hootie and the Blowfish, the Beastie Boys and Alanis Morisette. And even those were stretches.

Then came middle school. 7th grade requirement was to take a guitar class. The rules were simple, you only play the strings where you learned songs from. For instance, if we had only been taught Aura Lee or Yankee doodle on the high E string, we would lose our guitar privileges for playing any other strings. This is the quality of music instruction you get from a high strung (Had to do it…), anal retentive choir teacher who had no business teaching guitar. I didn’t particularly like the class, but most of it consisted of us sitting around learning some simple song for an hour while talking to our friends. I did well in the class because I had my dad’s Nylon string at home, and I could practice whatever I wanted, when I wanted (Back when I was a little overachiever, oh how times changed.) I was the kid people looked up to because I could play the first few notes of Walk this Way by Aerosmith, and to this day I still don’t even know the whole song. By the end of the class, we were still only allowed to play the G, B, and high E strings. I guess the teacher didn’t think wound strings were appropriate for innocent little middle schoolers, because that’s where power chords lie.

After that class was over summer came and I went to a summer camp. The summer camp had a guitar class in it, and I decided to take it. It was something easy to do, despite them having steel strings, something beginner guitarists usually avoid like the plague. The idea of pressing your fingers against things which are used to cut cheese and clay usually deterred most from touching the guitar. The thing was, I did pretty well in the “class.” Considering the teacher only knew Free Falling by Tom Petty, a three chord song consisting of the most basic of finger positions.

After I got home, I decided to take lessons at a music store. I’d been taking them for awhile when I had to take the same music class again. The first day, I still remember, we all got guitars and I started to play a Green Day song. The class was listening to me and the teacher yelled at me for playing other strings. I stopped and she pulled me outside and asked what I was doing. By then I was up to chords and some scales, so the teacher turned me into the TA for the class. Every day while most while sitting inside the class playing the second year songs consisting of most of the strings (They never played the low E string) I would sit outside in the sunshine of the lunch area with whatever guitar book my Guitar Teacher got for me, attempting to squelch out anything related to pop culture.

And thus brings me to the major factors in why I didn’t put the guitar down – it’s the reason I’m writing this. There are a few guitar related moments in my life which changed my outlook on music.

I remember in 7th grade english class, Nick Ferrantello and Nick Konapasik (I believe I messed up their names, but who cares) the “Nicks” as we all called them were the cool kids in school. They were good skateboarders, and one of them played Blister in the Sun on guitar in front of the class. A lot of the class was jealous, and I remember wanting to play that song too. I spent a long time trying to learn that, and I wanted to be the kid in front of class wanting to play like that, albeit remedial, it still got their attention.

Those guys made me want to play better in middle school, but few had as big of an effect on my guitar playing as Kenny Relethford, the oldest brother of my best friend at the time. He had an electric guitar. The electric guitar. It was always sitting out with the strap in a certain orientation so he’d know if someone played it. It was an Ibanez Destroyer II from the 80’s which his dad bought. I had been playing my Yamaha acoustic with Medium strings for the longest time (only a year) and when I played the electric guitar, it felt like heaven. Light strings, great action, comfortable, and it sounded amazing.  It was eye-catching, so it was impossible to not notice any time I was at their house. Every once in awhile i’d go in there and play it, hoping he wouldn’t find out. A few times he did, and he was angry, but he was the reason I ever wanted to play electric guitar. Guitar Center was too far away, and I was too afraid to play plugged in anyway. This Ibanez Destroyer was always the beacon of light which I wanted to get to. After Kenny gained some trust, he’d occasionally let me play it if I played songs he wanted. I’d always talk a good game and attempt to coerce him into letting me play that guitar. Still to this day, I would buy that guitar off of him. It’s the first electric guitar I ever played, and started my love for electricity and guitar.

The shred phase of my life, and the aims for musical skill are all due to one man my dad worked with, Dorian. A church mandolin player with long hair who worked for the Government. From the sounds of him now, I would’ve brushed him off, but seeing is believing. He invited my dad and me over to see his guitar stuff. Long hair should’ve given it away, but I didn’t know any better at the time. I got to his apartment with my dad and his wife was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was a small apartment, but upstairs was the gateway into the world of guitar. I wasn’t a fan of shred metal or anything with guitar skill in it yet. I was a fan of some guitarists, but they were in pop bands or ska bands, nothing to aim for. My dad and I went upstairs and he pulled out his Charvel Model 6. It was a pink/red guitar with the black crackle finish on it (If I remember correctly) and a floyd rose. I remember him saying it was a bit temperamental, and at the time I thought he was just discouraging me from playing it, but now I know what he was talking about. Now owning 3 guitars with Floyd Roses, I know exactly what he was talking about. Anyway. He plugged into a rackmount effects processor and started playing. He introduced me to a guy named Randy Rhoads. He pulled out the tribute book, and I looked at the guitar tab. I’d never seen so many notes. A few days later, my dad bought me the same guitar tab book, and I bought the CD. I spent months looking at it, but still didn’t learn much. This opened up the door to Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, System of A Down, and all of the metal bands i’d never been exposed to, and that was the nail in the coffin, so to speak.

And now we come full circle.

Just an hour or two ago, I was playing my Ibanez RG1570, and since it’s blocked up, I can tune it to whatever I want. I tuned it down a half step and Flying High Again by Ozzy Osbourne came on. All of a sudden, I started jamming with it, considering I usually can’t because i’m in standard tuning. Playing to the song opened up a door to a room full of guitar oriented memories I hadn’t seen in a long time. I played the descending tapping riffs, the chords, and the inflections i’d become such a fan of when I started playing electric guitar.

All of it reminded me of why I do this stuff. Why I continue to pick up this stringed instrument every day, why I spend so much money on it, and why I always attempt something new, despite the fact that there really is no overall gain for anyone but me. Everyone has a reason they do something that means the most to them, and they spend too much money/time/effort on something which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t necessarily help anyone.

I say necessarily because if Nick didn’t play Blister in the Sun, Kenny didn’t have that Destroyer, and Dorian didn’t play a perfect rendition of Crazy Train on his Charvel, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this remembering why I’m sitting in a room full of creatively trimmed trees, oil-based plastic parts, and shop manipulated metals which cost way too much money. It’s why I sit here trying to learn a Derek Trucks song when i’m the only one who really enjoys the outcome. It’s why I spend time I could be doing classwork or trying to get a job harnessing the power of vibrations for musical joy.

Go ahead, complain about the democrats, republicans, Israel, Palestine, global warming, global cooling, oil, hippies, pacifists, war, hate, peace, jews, christians, muslims, athiests, hindus, buddhists, taoists, mormons, gays, lesbians, abortion, 9/11, homeland security,  taxes, homelessness, government and whatever else you worry about.

But me?

I’m just going to play this here guitar for awhile.

Then i’ll worry about the rest of it.

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Filed under complaining, destroyer, escapism, floyd rose, guitar, guitar center, guitar player, guitar rant, Ibanez, Ibanez RG, Jackson guitars, music, ozzy osbourne, randy rhoads, San Dimas, story, Uncategorized, Whammy Bar

The Charvel San Dimas 1H

Charvel1h

You look at that picture, what do you see? Do you see 80’s metal? Do you see an instrument indicative of an antiquated style of playing? These can be some of the emotions evoked by Charvel’s return to the guitar market. However, don’t be fooled. The only things Charvel about this guitar are the neck and the logo. The rest is made, pretty much, by everyone else. Seymour Duncan humbucker, Floyd Rose floating bridge and nut, Fender Strat body. Hell, Charvel and Jackson were bought by Fender, so they can cut the corners on the design process. So all in all, it’s a pretty standard looking guitar.

But when you pick it up, plug it in, and your fingers hit that board…

…you feel something that can only be described as magic.

The Specs: Alder body, Seymour Duncan TB14 humbucker, Standard Fender Strat body, bolt-on hard rock maple neck, ebony fretboard, 22 jumbo frets, original Floyd Rose, all wrapped up in the classic Charvel package. This is the essence of the words “Superstrat.” It is a simple guitar with one pickup, one volume knob, and a bridge that really looks like it’s floating there. There’s no pocket routing, and all of the electronics are from the back. The only thing on the front of the body is the pickup, one knob and a bridge. This is bauhaus minimalism, folks.

The neck: The first thing I do when I touch a guitar is wrap my left hand around the neck. I get a feel for how thick it is, how round it is, how flat the fretboard radius is, the finish on the neck, and the action of the frets. I’ll tell you, i’ve played 3 of the San Dimas 1Hs, and every single time I wrapped my hand around that neck, I didn’t let go. I picked it up and sat there for an hour with it every time. The neck that they put on this thing seems to epitomize perfection in neck form. It’s not paper thin as to make you want to flatten your hand, and it’s not bulky thick. Think about a fine line between an ibanez Wizard and an Ernie Ball Music Man. And now that I think about it, my descriptions can’t do it justice. My hand just seemed to have a mind of its own when I played this guitar. The action was perfect, the frets were finished perfectly, and they didn’t blast up and down the neck, they glided. As always, i’ve got to have my gripes. Usually, I love the feel of a through-neck guitar, but the bolt on seemed to fit perfectly here. However, the one neck complaint is the fact that there are only 22 frets. This is a super strat with plenty of room there with the lack of a neck pickup, so put 2 extra frets for that extra octave without risking a string-breaking bend.

The electronics: For what the electronics are, they’re perfect. The Seymour Duncan TB-14 was designed for Jackson/Charvel style superstrats, because they know what the buyer had in mind when they got one. They wanted to be able to move fast, and they wanted it to be comfortable, and they wanted tone to match the style. This TB14 fits perfectly with this guitar. I’m trying to avoid using a poetic cliche` to describe the tone of the guitar; Guitar magazines do it, and I can’t believe their advertising induced wordings, but this guitar truly sings. That’s it. It’s meant to be overdriven and played loudly, and these electronics fit extremely well. A coil tap might have been clever, but since they were going for the most you can do with the least stuff, they did extremely well. Granted, it’s not very versatile, but it’s not like this is going to replace your Joe Pass signature hollowbody in your jazz quartet (not unless you really want to shake things up). This is meant for speed, shredding, leads, and pretty much everything synonymous with lead playing. Simply put, this guitar was meant to take the lead.

Hardware: Perfectly finished frets resting in an ebony fretboard, simple Gotoh-style tuners. Charvel wasn’t exactly trying to reinvent the wheel here. Despite my hatred for floating bridges, nothing else would’ve fit on this guitar. It wouldn’t have had the same pinache on that rack with through-body bridge ferrules. So you’ll spend an hour restringing the thing, re-calibrating the bridge, and tuning it, but whenever you start to play it, you won’t care that you just spent over two hours making your guitar perfect again.

The Whole Shebang: Simply stated, this guitar is magnificient. When you pick it up, it tells you exactly what you’re going to play on it. You’re going to want to play Eruption, Hot For Teacher, or some sort of 80’s shred fest with some sort of galloping rhythm. And since it is a very expensive guitar for something so simple as a standard alder Strat body with a maple neck and ebony fretboard, you’re going to get it perfectly set up. The Floyd Rose will be parallel to the body, new strings, perfectly tuned, ultra-low action, and perfectly intonated. You’re going to realize it’s got limitations without a neck pickup, 24 frets, a fixed bridge, a tone control, or a through neck. But trust me on this, you’re going to forget every single one of those things whether you’re playing it through a 15 watt Crate or a Marshall JCM 900. Every one of those possible flaws I felt I could never get over, just seemed to disappear. Amazing, this guitar makes you not care about anything that might be wrong with it. That’s powerful stuff.

The Pros: Perfect neck, perfect frets, looks gorgeous, perfect tone for that guitar, feels perfect. Absolutely perfect.

The Cons: It’s about as versatile as a drag racer, but you only get a drag racer for one reason. 22 frets? No tone knob? No fixed bridge? No thru neck? No one cares.

The Grade:

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