Rants & Raves
Welcome to Rants and Raves - a collection of topics and editorials regarding the guitar trade - some controversial issues, some informative, some funny and some just because we can. Any comments you have, both good or bad or indeed any comments you feel you may wish to our rants and raves, please feel free to e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org - we may well add some of your comments to our editorial. We will add more rants and raves, and even update others as time allows us to do so.
Rant 1 - Dirty scruffy guitars in shops
Rant 2 - Vintage Guitars
Rant 3 - Why are guitars so expensive?
Rant 4 - Knowledgeable and trained staff in music stores
Rant 5 - The Gibson Firebird X
Rant 6 - Where is the next generation of budding guitar players?
Funny and true stories from behind the counter
This subject was always going to be at the top of my rants and raves, partly because it's avoidable and unnecessary, and more importantly because it annoys me probably more than any other matter.
First of all, I know customers wish to try guitars, and the nature of this will inevitably mean finger marks on that nice glossy finish - hey no problem!!!!! I want customers to try my guitars, it is the only way to find out how good the guitar is, and if it is what they require - is it the right feel? is the tone good? does it play well? - and when they have finished trying the guitar, the nice clean polishing cloth I always carry in my trouser pocket, will come out and do its intended job, so the guitar looks nice and clean again - this cleaning and polishing is part of my culture, regardless if the customer intends to buy the guitar, or it goes back on display. Now tell me how often you see this carried out at other music shops.
How often have you gone to try or buy a car, and seen it on the forecourt looking dirty and scruffy as if it has just finished a rally stage ? - in fact how often have you driven past a car showroom and seen staff cleaning and or polishing the cars on the forecourt ? - many a time, like I have.
How often have you visited a jewellery store and seen dirty, grubby watches, chains, rings etc for sale ? - NEVER !!!!
How often have you visited your local Dixons, Richer Sound or any other hi-fi or electrical store, and seen the TV, home entertainment system, hi-fi package looking dog eared and covered with a layer of dust on it ? - again NEVER !!!!!
How often have you visited a showroom for pots, pans, knives, forks, plates and dishes etc, and seen them looking dusty and covered in grubby finger marks ? - I'd be surprised if you said anything other than NEVER!!!!
But if the answer to the above example was not NEVER, and that the jewellery was dirty, and the hi-fi covered in dust, and the car looked like a serious car wash was required, what would you do ? - most popular options are :- walk away from that showroom and visit another business, or ask for a good discount as they are presented in poor shop soiled condition.
Now lets get back to your local music store. Is the guitar you intend to buy clean? Does it have any dings or marks on it? are the strings clean? how thick is the dust ? (look in the cutaway or headstock as it is often worse there) . I've not finished yet - does it have all the appropriate extras with it ? - i.e. allen keys for the locking tremelo system and what condition is the case or gig bag in, that comes with it. - Now you buy your guitars and accessories from who ever you wish to, but this store is out of order, does not care about its products and probably does not care about you either, so now why don't you exercise one of those two options - walk away or get a hefty discount from them.
I've had customers come to me with a new recently purchased locking tremelo Ibanez guitar for a set up(not purchased from me I hasten to add), supplied to them with no allen keys - Now I've unpacked loads of new guitar cartons from the supplier, and I assure you the extras are in the carton when shipped to the dealer - the dealer can not be arsed to look after them for you. I've seen cases badly stored in a dirty scruffy store room (or dump maybe a better observation), and they present you with a marked, scratched hard case to go with that £2000 PRS guitar, that you have spent months saving for. Again I've unpacked 100's of new boxes from Fender, Gibson, PRS etc and will assure you, they do not send out marked cases with their beautiful guitars - but the dealer once again can not be arsed. If you are still going to buy from the can't be arsed dealer - GET A GOOD DISCOUNT.
I've seen guitars on display with broken strings, flapping away. I've seen guitars covered in dust that you could write your name in. I've seen them on display with selector knobs missing from the switch. I've seen shed loads of guitars that are old stock with rusty, dirty, grubby strings on them hoping that you are going to fall in love with them. Look at the condition and cleanliness of the frets, I've seen loads that are dirty, and you're hoping its going to play and feel nice - NO CHANCE !!! - Once more, if you still want to buy from the store that is not proud of its stock - GET A GOOD DISCOUNT - Hey if customers continually ask the dealer for a discount owing to the condition of the guitar , they'll soon get uptight about the profit they are losing for not caring, and that will soon get them changing their opinions and policy - all dealers like their profits
How many guitar dealers take their recently part exchanged guitars, and display them with a view to a sale in the "as is" state - ie dirty and grebby (spell check does not recognise this word - but you know what I mean) - they can't be bothered to restring, set up, dust, polish that guitar - so why are you bothered about buying it - UNLESS THERE IS A BETTER DEAL ON THE TABLE !!!!
If you've read other parts of my web site, you'll see the name of a chain store I previously worked for. At one senior management meeting, I asked all store managers why they can't keep guitars clean and presentable. Have a guess at one of the answers I received - bearing in mind this answer is from one of their 'blue eyed boys' making them a seriously good profit - ANSWER WAS " we are too busy to keep cleaning them" - may be if more customers voted with their feet and walked out, that would give them more time to clean them. Hey! These stores are making serious profits - if they won't take on a junior member of staff, or get existing staff to help with the above and put some pride back into the condition and presentation of the stock, then as stated earlier - WALK WITH YOUR FEET OR GET THAT BETTER DEAL
If the guitar has a price card, indicating that it is shop soiled, or has a marked case, dirty strings, grubby frets etc etc, or indeed any other examples you've seen or I've not mentioned, then that is a commercially acceptable price for that guitar - If on the other hand that poor scruffy looking example of a guitar does not have a 'marked down' price card on it, then insist that the dealer offers you a substantial discount - DO NOT ACCEPT their pitiful excuse of "its already cheaper than rrp" or "its already got a discount" or any other poor comment they might come up with - the price the dealer quoted or indicated on the attached price ticket, is for when it was first unpacked and displayed as the supplier/manufacture intended it to be - in perfect clean condition - the example you are now holding, stood at the counter wishing to buy was new but is now dog eared. Showroom ticket price = New condition - DOG EARED MEANS GIMME A BETTER DEAL OR I WALK.
I've listed below a guide line that you could use to determine the extra level of discount that the dealer should be giving you for the condition of the guitar he intends to sell you :
1) dirty strings - £5 discount
2) dirty frets - £10 discount
3) dirty neck and/or headstock - £10 discount
4) dirty front of the body - £10 discount
5) dirty back or sides of body - £10 discount
6) marked case or gig bag - £10 discount
7) missing extras - trem arm, allen keys - if you still intend to buy it - £15 discount
This is a guide line for guitars under £1000 - for purchases more than that - double the above - HEY who knows it might even get the dealer to wake up, have some pride in his stock and more importantly you the customer, and put these matters right. If you ever happen to find any of the above examples on my guitar stock, I will gladly give you the afore mentioned discount
I would like at this stage to point out, that a small - and I mean small percentage of dealers (and I am certainly included within this) look after their stock, investment and ultimately you the customer. I even keep the large majority of cases in the store room, in the factory supplied boxes to protect the case and keep it pristine. All guitars are regularly checked, dusted and if required restrung - and after every customer tries a guitar, that clean duster from my trouser pocket will be put to good use.
In many other retail businesses, dealers would not be allowed to get away with the examples listed above as they represent poor trading principles - the supplier or manufacture would insist on high standards as part of the franchise and reputation of the brand/product. But don't think about complaining to the UK importer/distributor of most leading guitar brands, as I don't think many of them actually care either. When all is said and done, they've had their order from the dealer for the guitar stock.
As a final comment, I believe all the above is irrespective off the price of the guitar - a youngster buying their first £139 Squier Strat, who has spent months saving for it with pocket money, has the same rights to a good clean guitar as some body else who has saved for a £2000+ PRS, Gibson or Fender etc.
I would like to start this article with the following small story. I started fulltime in the music business at the tender age of 18 in 1978 working at Wisher (Derby) Ltd, a family run musical instrument shop - at this stage we did not have the largest of guitar selections available, we were not one of the UK's largest accounts for the suppliers, and Derby is not in the centre of the universe for successful bands, artist or studios - But we did sell guitars, and around the late 70s, Fender Strat sales were good - remember you could only buy USA Fenders then, no Far Eastern imports in those days, and apart from colours, the only options available were with or without trem, and maple or rosewood fingerboard - One of the more popular colours towards the end of the 70s was the natural finished Strat. Now it might seem hard to believe to day, but if you weren't around then, ask a friend, your Dad, older brother, uncle or who ever was involved in playing guitar in those days - how many had a 60's Fender and stripped the old finish off it !!!!! - because they did not like the old red or blue finish, or wanted a natural finish, or it was just beaten up and looked better stripped back to natural. If you were around then, I'm sure you can recollect these stories.
Other cool things in the late 70s to do to your guitar - fit a brass top nut for added sustain !!! - replace the old Strat saddles for brass Mighty Mite or Schecter versions - replace the 3 way selector switch for the then new fancy 5 way version (wow!!! no more balancing the switch to get the out of phase sound) - fit a Dimarzio SD1 Strat pickup in the bridge position for a bit more bite/punch - I've even old Strats fitted with a humbucker in the bridge, I aslo recall seeing one Strat with 2 x humbuckers on a mint/green scratchplate with the middle pickup simply missing
I clearly remember that on more than a few occasions, we would have 2 or 3 1960s Strats on the wall at the same time, in various disguises that were not easy to sell. The new 78 Strat would sell for around £375, and we struggled to get £300 for these older guitars. Now some of these older guitars just had the finish removed, but some had the new brass nut, new brass saddles, new 5 way switch, Dimarzio pickup, or any combination of the above. I even remember either selling the parts to customers to 'upgrade' the guitar themselves, or we would undertake the work on their behalf. As I said earlier , Derby was not the guitar centre of the UK, but I use to see plenty of the 'customised' 60's Strats - Now go and see the dealers who were bigger in those days, and see how many 'customised' Strats went through their hands - speak to the likes of Keith Woodcock and his staff (Rob, Phil, Clive, Malc) from the old Carlsbro days at Mansfield, Ken Archard and the guys from Top Gear on Denmark Street, Graham Pell from Soundpad, Dixie from Dandelion Music in Huddersfield - these guys sold more in the 70's than I did. Or speak to the likes of Neville Marten from Guitarist Magazine who repaired and gigged these guitars in the 70s, the same with the likes of Geoff Whitehorn and Eddie Allen seen demonstrating for Fender and Marshall around the UK or music shows.
You also have to remember that in the late 70s the vintage guitar market had not yet started - it was not hard to find a 59 Les Paul for £2000 in the dealer ads in the back of Melody Maker (I know because been a Gary Moore fan I wanted one). So guitarist undertaking these custom modifications were doing so purely for their own satisfaction and improvement , and at the time it was not deemed as devaluing their old guitar . As mentioned earlier a 62 pre CBS Strat was selling for around £300, so at the time it was no big deal to undertake these changes.
NOW LETS MOVE ON A FEW YEARS - WHAT HAS CHANGED - ASTRONOMICAL INCREASES IN THE VALUE OF VINTAGE GUITARS
Now don't you think in the 70's when you could easily find a 'customised' 60s Strat to buy for around £300 - yet today, it's strange that you do not see these stripped down, brass nut, brass saddled, 5 way switch and Dimarzio 60's Strats for sale. I read loads of guitar magazines and adverts, browse the readers sale ads in the back of the mags, visit guitars shows, visit other music stores throughout the UK - but it is very rare to find one of these 'customised' 60s Strats for sale.
With good clean examples of a pre CBS Strat selling between £5000 and £10,000, and refinished examples fetching around half this price, the vintage guitar market is open to abuse. It is easy to find dealers in the States advertising genuine original parts on the web or E-bay. It is equally just as easy to find on the web or E-bay copies of the original headstock transfers/decals complete with all pat. nos. - couple this with the ability to give a new refinished guitar the 'aged' process, the desire and ability to pass a guitar off as original is there. The cost of a superb re-spray in a 'custom coloured' nitro-cellulose finish, and then 'aged' would cost under £500, yet the rewards for passing it on as original can be in excess of £5000 extra profit - a big motivation.
To be fair, I have known a number of customers who have had their old Fender refurbished to the original spec, for their own pleasure - and if later it was sold, it would be advertised as a refurbished model. It is often further down the line when the guitar is then passed on as original.
Whilst a new Fender Custom Shop Relic Strat replica is easily identifiable from an old Strat, any one who has seen one of the 'aged' SRV models or the first replica of the Rory Gallagher will be able to see very clearly what levels can be achieved in the 'ageing' process. Now apply this ability to any repairer or trader (unfortunately some supposedly vintage traders operate from home - I wonder if they pay taxes on their trading profits !!!) who has low levels of integrity, but is skilled in the know-how off how to create an 'aged' master piece, and the result is a big profit for the seller, and a poor deal for some unsuspecting buyer. Fender are now even manufacturing exact detailed original parts for their 50th Anniversary Custom Shop 54 Strat - whilst these parts are not available to buy from Fender, as they are strictly manufactured for that guitar, if Fender have the ability to make them, then so has some one else. I have heard rumours on the web, of a small unit in the Far East illegally manufacturing aged old parts, and even old and aged guitars - if true, we now have the added problem off 'new' guitars deliberately manufactured for fraudulent purposes, this is on top of the more well known approach of passing on refurbished examples as original.
Do not just think the problems of fake and fraudulent activities only apply to old Fender guitars - they don't.
As a parting note, I recall an article in an American monthly guitar magazine, written by a respectable repairer and trader. The writer was going to sell an old Strat on behalf of the customer, he passed comment to the customer that the guitar in question was nice, clean and original. The customer then pointed out that the guitar had in fact been refurbished a number of years previously by the writer - the refurbished work was so good, he had not spotted his own work, it was that good
Ultimately it is a case of BUYER BEWARE - if the rewards for fraud exist then the market place to deliver it will equally exist.
I must overhear this comment, or have been asked it many, many times for well over 20 years. I'm a little unsure as to what they are really asking, but feel it must be either something to do with why pay £1000 or £2000 for a guitar when you can buy an imported copy for only £100/200/300? Or are they saying, guitars are expensive and other instruments are not? I'm therefore going to make comments regarding these two issues.
Guitars are expensive and other instruments are not - this is one big myth!!! Lets look at this assumption and compare the costs of some other musical instruments :-
As with any musical instrument, the market place commences with student starter grade instruments, heavily mass produced and generally built to a price - this then leads into the intermediate category were improvements to build quality and components will produce a better playing and sounding instrument - Then we come into the more serious and professional end of the market were quality and performance are the key ingredients, and cost cutting is not on the agenda. I'm making comparisons on the following instruments, purely and simply from a price perspective, of how much is required to be spent to buy the instrument - I'm not making judgement as to the different levels of craftsmanship and materials involved in making the different instrument - wow !!! that can be a novel in its own rights.
The starting price for a student flute will be around £200, with a silver plated model complete with solid head, body and foot joint costing around £2500. Finally the top of the range Muramatsu solid silver flute (with approved hallmark) costing in excess of £5000 - spending £2500 to £5000 is required to buy an instrument serious enough for a concert grade musician playing solo, ensemble or orchestral work. Even the cost of upgrading a good intermediate flute so that it now has a hand made solid head joint would cost in the region of £500.
Similarly £3000 would only buy you an entry level Bassoon, a more serious example costing around £9000, but don't think that is the upper limit - in excess of £20,000 will be required for a premium grade example. A student grade saxophone would start at £400 with £2000+ required to buy the finest example from Yamaha or Selmer. And remember that as most saxophonist are required to play alto and tenor then you can double your capital outlay.
Buying an oboe will cost £1000 for an entry level/student model, with £2000-£3000 buying you a more serious example. A Yamaha grand piano starts in the region of £5000, with top of the range models from the likes of Steinway costing similar prices to a Porsche or Ferrari.
Even a drummer would spend in the region of £1000 just for a basic set of Zildjian cymbals, comprising hi-hats, ride, 2/3 crash and a splash cymbal. A seasoned professional drummer would easily have a complete drum kit package in excess of £2500, with a large rock kit costing 2 or 3 times that figure
A child learning to play violin, by the time they have progressed to grade 8 or music college, would be spending in the region of £1000 to £2000. A concert grade violinist can quite easily spend £10,000 - £20,000 and above for a good violin and even in excess of £4000 for a good bow. Finally violins can quite easily be seen for sale costing over £100,000 and we are not even talking the cost of a Strad.
So we guitarist don't do bad when we've spent £1000-£2000 on a premium grade guitar from the likes of PRS, Tom Anderson, G&L. Also when you realise that this guitar will appreciate in price over the years, and if cared for, will provide you a life times worth of fun - I'm not saying that we can all afford £1000 or £2000, and that we should all spend that type of money on a guitar. I'm sure that the large majority of customers, will be saving for many weeks to buy this grade of instrument.
WHY SPEND £1000 OR MORE ON A GUITAR WHEN A COPY IS AVAILABLE FROM £100 - £300
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this - those already converted, will know were I'm coming from, those who won't understand, or don't want to understand, will probably always stick with their £300 copy. Plus there will be many crossover discussions and view points in other articles, later on, within this web site
Have a quick look at the guitars on display in a store - at a quick glance a £100 Strat copy looks the same shape, colour and spec as a £2000 Custom Shop Strat - so what is the difference????
Lets first have a quick look at a similar scenario - go into any hardware store and look at a drill - they all resemble the same shape and look like they would do the same job - why does any self respecting joiner not use a Black and Decker ?? - this is the equivalent of a Squier - now look at the screwdrivers - again the self respecting joiner will not be seen buying the 10 screwdriver package made of monkey metal for £10. It still looks like a Stanley screwdriver, but it will not do the job, and will not last more than a few minutes other than to screw on a cable to a 13 amp mains plug
Any customer thinking of upgrading from a £300 copy to spending £1000 or £2000 and are unsure as to what the difference is just from looking at the guitar, and are confused as to what does the extra money buy you - simply plug it in, play it, listen to it - what you hear, feel and touch is your answer - play it for 20 minutes or so, then go back to your cheaper copy and see if that will deliver the same kind of performance.
The tone you hear, is delivered from using quality woods, pickups designed for optimum performance and hardware that is not cheap monkey metal - there are many other factors, all of which help to deliver a superior product, but wood, pickups and hardware are just three of the key ingredients.
The playability is delivered simply by build quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail, all to ensure that a superior product is built without compromise - all budget guitars however, are built to a compromise, and the objective is to deliver the best product at that price - that price therefore determines the quality of components and any time (if any) spent on setting up the guitar - this is not the case for a premium grade instrument.
I sometimes hear comments like - Gary Moore (or whichever guitarist they choose) could play a Vintage copy and still sound good. Well I know for a fact he could play a Vintage copy better than I could play his Gibson, but that is down to his immense talent, not the instrument - plus I know which he would still rather play - the Vintage might well offer outstanding value around the £200 mark, but will not deliver the performance required in comparison to his Gibson
The same applies to Tiger Woods - he could putt better at the British Open with a crazy golf putter from the local park, better than I could with his putter - again which do you see him use - Finally I am sure that Schumaker could drive around Silverstone quicker in a Skoda than I could in his Ferrari - however which do you think he would rather use.
The point is that their talent will still allow them to do a better than average job, with poor tools - however they still need the best products to deliver the optimum performance required.
I could spend hours, typing out why a £300 guitar is vastly inferior to a premium grade instrument, and as time allows, I might well add further updates - For now, I'll conclude that you do get what you pay for. The £300 copy is only a budget instrument, and a stepping stone to a superior model!!!!!
I love the following statements that many dealers claim regarding their highly skilled staff:
* Our highly skilled and motivated staff are hear to help you
* Our knowledgeable and trained staff are on hand to help you
* We are committed to offering great customer service
* Our experienced and knowledgeable staff are the best in the business
* Demonstrations, help and advice from people who really care
There are loads of these claims from dealers in adverts, web sites and catalogues and yet when you give them a call or visit the store, why is it you always seem to get the pleb!!! - the young scruffy buffoon who can't mumble a sentence let alone talk you through the finer details of the product you require information on - or you might get the whizz kid playing guitar in the corner who does not want to be disturbed from his sweep picking practice session, who thinks working in a shop would be great if it wasn't for the customers. It gets worse, because if you want some one else to serve you or talk to you, what do you get - buffoon 2, mate of buffoon or buffoon the supervisor. The chances of getting served by the 'more senior member of staff' who has some inkling of good customer relations and service is quite remote.
Now first of all I know we all have to start and learn some time - we are all capable of making errors, or indeed not having all the necessary information to hand all the time - but if you are polite, friendly, approachable and offer to help the customer, that is a more than a long way towards satisfying their requirements. I would also like to point out, that this rant and rave feature is certainly not applicable to all shops and staff, but it does apply to a lot. My belief and experience is that in many smaller independent stores, certainly were the owner is on the premises, the polite, friendly and knowledgeable staff is far more common. The problem is far greater in the large stores and is a disease out of control in the chain stores.
Which is worse - the company who claims to train the staff, but clearly do not, or the buffoon who turns in late, can't wait to go home and wishes you were not there???? - the problem and the cause of the problem clearly lies with the company who employs them. Too many new members of staff, training starts on day one with a guided tour of the business premises, with emphasis on the coat peg, kettle and with a bit of luck how to use the till - beyond that, very little training exists - the buffoon thinks this is great, and at 11.15 when the phone rings, he is straight into it, the fully trained, motivated and professional sales person with a great big future ahead of him. Unfortunately, you the customer spoils all this - you ring your local store, interested in spending your hard earned income on the latest goodies - your phone call goes something like this:
Customer - "do you stock the new GT5 by XYZ".
Buffoon - "I dunno - I've only just started working here, let me ask a fellow buffoon" (at this stage a whole load of scenarios will or could happen - who does he turn to for help, does he have a look to see if it is in stock, but where does he look, does he even know what it is or what it looks like - you could be waiting a while for him to gather the appropriate information and come back to the phone). Buffoon finally reappears - " yes we've got em".
Customer - "how much is it"
Buffoon - "I dunno - let me go and ask another buffoon". Buffoon then reappears - "it's £369".
Customer - "does that price include the split differential output valve suppressor".
Buffoon - now with his favourite phrase - "I dunno - let me go an ask buffoon the specialist".
By now I am sure you've got the gist of this conversation, you've probably read the book and seen the movie - unfortunately for all concerned, when you go to visit the store a little later that day, of all the staff who work there who do you get to serve you????? - WRONG ANSWER - it looks and sounds like the same buffoon you spoke to on the phone earlier, but it is in fact buffoon 2, who started 3 months ago - has received no additional training, whose wages and commission is so poor (surprise, surprise) that he is already thinking of jacking in the job - and he now comes to serve you.
Buffoon 2 - "yeah, what do ya want".
Customer - "I rang up earlier about the GT5 by XYZ, I've come to buy one" (I now hope you've only come to buy it, because if you ask to try it or require information about some features it may have, then God help all of us).
Buffoon 2 - "don't think we've got any of them".
Customer - "when I rang up earlier, your colleague stated that you had them in stock" Buffoon 2 - "I dunno - who did you speak to you".
Yes I know, this scenario can keep going for along while yet- the customer is clearly getting exasperated, you simply want to buy the GT5 - so lets simply move on a little bit, and see where the future is going for the buffoon.
After working for 3 months, with a bit of luck he might have moved on a little, read a couple of articles in a guitar magazine, spoken to a representative for one of the leading manufacturers, and surprise, surprise is going to go on a one day training course, but his induction, training and development from his employers has not even started - there are now going to be 2 options - 1) he leaves, which you might think is best for all concerned - WRONG - look who they have recruited to replace him - 2) he stays a little longer, and a few months go by, and WOW GUESS WHAT !!!! - Buffoon 2 has left and he has been offered promotion - based solely on the fact that he is the only option available to the company.
I do genuinely feel sorry for the buffoon, after all it is not his fault that no training has been provided for product knowledge, customer service, he is clearly unaware of the companies marketing strategy and other policies, or how to use the appropriate admin systems - what actually baffles me is many of these companies spend a small fortune on the business premises with shop fitting, epos systems as well as the stock inventory - yet the investment they make towards the staff for training is less than the cash you have in your pocket right now. That is why I hate the claims "knowledgeable and trained staff" etc as detailed earlier. IF YOU DO NOT INVEST IN TRAINING FOR YOUR STAFF DO NOT MAKE THESE PATHETIC CORPORATE CLAIMS. This corporate claim starts right at the very top - in the senior management meeting, in the sales meeting, with the owner and manager discussing new policies - they start of with all good intentions. The desire to have a customer service program, coupled with staff training and induction manual, starts off with all good intentions. They post this new exciting claim to the web site, add it to the advert, and may even have a supplier representative to visit the store and provide a half hour talk. However the reality is far removed from the boardroom desire. The larger the company, the more distant the senior management, owner, MD or senior staff are from the shop floor - if they do not work on the shop floor, they are totally unaware of the performance and inadequacies of the staff as well as the poor customer service the company is providing - as a result any training is poor, insufficient and not appropriate. Worst is yet to come, a few weeks down the line, other company problems arise, meaning the training goes to the bottom of the pile. They do not have the time to commit to it and do not wish to invest in additional resources to provide the required training program. As a result, you the customer are continually let down and are provided with inadequate service.
Quite regularly I do visit other music stores, on such a recent visit I arrived at 9.45 to find the door still shut. Hanging on the door was a message "for your convenience we will not open today until 10am as we are providing staff training" - how can opening late today, be for my convenience - it is bloody inconvenient having to go away and then come back later - if you are going to do the training at those hours that is fine - but do not tell the customer it is for their convenience - I bet they find it very convenient hanging around in the cold, wet damp waiting for Buffoon to be given some informal training - even this training that they receive is not structured and certainly not part of a regular programmed course - more on the grounds of 'lets open late today and talk about a few issues that we need to address that we will not implement anyway".
I am not concerned with how companies treat their staff or to what level of training they provide - that is their prerogative. I just detest these false corporate crap claims - the frontline of the company is the shop floor or the phone. The level of service that is provided to you by the frontline staff is a total reflection of what the company represents.
A few examples of common and poor customer service are:
1) Can you order me a spare trem arm for my XXXX guitar - how many times do you have to chase up this order, even having to sometimes reorder it - the fact that they did not take a deposit or your telephone number, clearly indicates nothing was ever done about it - You might even be fobbed of with excuses "we've ordered it but it's not arrived"
2) How long as it taken the dealer to get your goods repaired or replaced - probably even longer if they have been returned to the supplier
3) The GT5 by XYZ you purchased was missing the manual - how many times have you had to chase up this from the dealer
4) Promising to call you back - do you ever get the call
5) Staff at the store ignore you - maybe they are having that all important coffee break, all of them at the same time, standing around talking at the counter
Before I pass any comments and let you know about my feelings with regard to the Gibson Firebird X can I just touch upon a story from the early 1980's
It was either February 1983 or 1984 and for many dealers, manufactures and suppliers it was the time of the year to make their annual trip to the Frankfurt Messe Show – Already there was a buzz on the street before the show had even started, with regard to a new guitar that was going to revolutionise the guitar world – By the time the show opened and a few order pads had been scratched, the talk on every isles was all about this one guitar – All the big hitting dealers of the day wanted to know how many can we order ? – When can we have them? – Can we have the sole agency for the town/county? – How many do we have to order to get the sole agency? – Everywhere you turned this new guitar was the talking point and this went on for 2 or 3 days
Guess what? – I might still have been a young pup and fairly new to the scene having only spent 4 years or so on the shop floor, yet not once did I ever take a trip to the manufactures stand to check it out - I was not interested one little bit in placing an order and I certainly did not want anything to do with it – Call me old fashioned, naive or blind and blinkered, but even then I did not think the guitar world need revolutionising, it just wanted good guitars – The guitar we are talking about is the Bond Guitar
The Bond Electraglide, to give it its full title, utilised a carbon fibre body with a unique saw toothed style 'stepped' aluminum fingerboard, so traditional frets are no longer required -. Pickup switching, volume and tone controls were completely digital, hence an internal circuit board was required, which in turn required an external bulky power supply - The guitarist selected different pickup options via five push buttons, whilst volume, treble and bass settings were adjusted via digital rocker switches with incremental levels all of which were confirmed by a three-colour led readout. – Just imagine coming to your solo and you want a touch more volume, so you now have to press a button 2, 3 or 4 times to get the required result – Wow !!!! we all want one of these, don't we?
I recall an initial launch price of around £500 for the Bond, so It wasn't cheap, not that you'd expect it to be – Compare that price to some of the best selling models available at the same time – The last of the USA Strats from Fullerton cost around £400 and a Les Paul cost around £600,
Many months later a few Bond Guitars filtered onto the streets ( it is stated that around 1400 units were manufactured all in all) - A few magazines carried the usual reviews, yet within a couple of years it all folded – A few top name players are known to have used them for a while and I dare say that as with any new product you'll always have a few notable players checking them out just to see what all the fuss is about, yet as a 'gimmick' the end result is inevitable
Even now I feel sorry for the designer, Andrew Bond – Not because he failed, but because he tried to do something different – He obviously spent a lot of time and money on the project and maybe as a forward thinking individual entrepreneur he deserved better – Yet the bottom line is very simple – It is a product that was not required then and the same applies today – Yet I can't have one ounce of sympathy for Gibson and the Firebird X – With the proud heritage they have, I just can't understand their logic one little bit and they certainly should know better
Some players may recall the Stepp Digital Guitar, how about the Synth Axe, the early Roland Guitar synth's, the Casio Guitar synth's, the Starr Lab's Ztar and not forgetting the Yamaha G10 or the 360 system – Granted a few players have experimented with them, even resulting in the odd concept album but a guitar they ain't
Years later I recall having to attend a Roland product launch of the VG88 - Described as a product that all serious guitar players would need and this was going to be the start of the guitar players digital revolution – Granted a few sold and I dare say a few players still like them, but how many guitarists wished to screw a GK2A pick-up onto their stunning flamed maple '10'top? – However, let's give some credit to Roland as after all, they are a digital company and their job is to design the future
The same can be said of Line 6, that as a software based design company they need to look to the future – Line 6 have indeed had reasonable success with sales of the Variax, but can you imagine what would have happened if they had just released a traditional electric guitar – But in many ways, the success of the Variax is that in relative terms it is low cost – I probably would not have one myself, yet if I spent enough time at home with a digital recording package and wanted a banjo or 12 string intro, or maybe a Sitar riff, then at least the Line 6 will come in very handy, hence a very affordable 'gimmick' – Furthermore I can still play the Line 6 as a guitar, whereas it is doubtful I'd ever have time to learn a Sitar, let alone need to buy one – If you are a one man gigging muso, who opens up with Mr Tambourine Man, followed by Maggie May, then the Variax has its uses – But the price is the key here, in that £400/600 is a very affordable add on 'gimmick'
So now let's move onto the Gibson Firebird X – It is certainly getting talked about, on forums, in the shops, on Twitter and Facebook, so maybe from a marketing point of view Gibson have already achieved their goal - If indeed increased brand awareness is their aim – Yet as one of the two biggest guitar companies do they seriously need any further brand recognition – Just about every other guitar company that I can think of would love to have the world wide and public brand recognition that Gibson have and that includes PRS – Just about 50% of every major album, concert, or festival that has ever taken place since rock 'n' roll began, has featured a Gibson guitar – Yet with regard to the Firebird X, all I have heard is bad news – Players all over are asking, What are they doing ?– Have you seen the new Gibbo ?– Why don't they just do what the guitar players want and concentrate on making a good Gibbo etc etc
Even the reviews I have seen so far have not been anything special – Most accept that at best it is a 'marmite' product and whilst they are trying to be very diplomatic about the whole concept, they point out that the sounds are nothing special
I've heard a few good/reasonable comments on the piezo acoustic based tones – Yet you can buy a Variax for only a few hundred quid and get a similar result- Or if you want a serious gigging guitar that has the piezo acoustic option, then look no further than a Musicman and save pounds, yet still have a serious guitar – Or indeed buy the Fishman piezo pick-up system and install it on say your Strat – Pete Townsend style – But various reports on the overdriven tones and pick-up options is certainly nothing special
Can I quote the following selling points that Gibson see as 20 revolutionary features
• Audio Quality - Integrating the effects signal path within the guitar allows for perfect impedance and level matching to the pickups, resulting in far lower noise than outboard effects - the dynamic range exceeds 100dB. Even with high-gain distortion and compression, Firebird X is astonishingly quiet.
• Pickup Design - Either coil in each of the three mini-humbuckers can be off, on or reverse polarity, and can be switched into single coil modes with ? for the first time ? true noise-canceling technology.
• GoldTone Switching Technology - Thanks to carefully-selected pickup coil switching choices, Firebird X emulates iconic guitar tones with analog technology ? not digital modeling. Over 2,000 pickup combinations are possible, each with its own unique sound.
• Pure Analog Updateable Audio Engine - Based on the Freescale multi-processor (the latest generation of the chip family used in Pro Tools TDM systems), the audio engine has the power and resolution needed to create sounds with a true analog feel. The engine hardware is not only updateable, but user-replaceable to accommodate advances in hardware
• Patch Morphing - Two "tog-pots" - which look like standard pickup selectors, but have a control built into the rotatable toggle shaft - let you morph smoothly from unprocessed to processed sounds, and anywhere in between.
• Acoustic Guitar Sounds - A third tog-pot blends acoustic sounds from the piezo pickup along with the electric pickups, or even acoustic sounds only. Optimized to sound like Gibson's acclaimed J-45 acoustic guitar, the basic acoustic guitar sound is virtually indistinguishable from an acoustic guitar's electric output.
• Hex Output Structure - The bridge piezo pickup includes hex outputs (each string can provide a separate output for computer or live performance setups), which allows for totally new guitar sounds - from "clean" distortion and synth-like timbres to groundbreaking surround possibilities. Firebird X's new hex pickup design means higher output and greater string separation than ever.
• Open Architecture - 3rd-party developers can develop new and exciting applications (sold through Gibson's app store) for the Pure Analog audio engine. And users can create and share their own patches, as well as download additional patches from Gibson's Firebird X microsite.
• Battery Life - Thanks to advances in low-power circuitry, greater Robo-Tuner efficiency, and powersaving techniques derived from laptop computers, the internal battery lasts for well over two hours of heavy, continuous use - and should the power run out, the battery can be swapped out in under 10 seconds with commonly available, inexpensive camcorder batteries.
• Blue Lightning-Compatible Footpedals and Footswitch Unit - Tired of clutter and cables on stage? So are we. Firebird X communicates with the two (included) pedals and footswitch unit using Bluetooth technology optimized for musical applications.
• Effects Software - Although the heart of the distortion options within Firebird X use McDSP's critically-acclaimed Chrome Tone plug-in, Gibson's engineers have included multiple modulation, delay, and reverberation effects - including new effects like "dynamic" delay, and old favorites like spring reverb, analog chorus/delay, and a 10-second looper.
• Pedal Interconnections - Forget cables: the pedals and footswitch snap together for a secure mechanical and electrical connection, as well as the ability to create large pedalboard setups. And daisy-chaining the control signal saves power and optimizes wireless performance.
• Computer Interface with Solid-State Recording - The included cross-platform RIP interface not only provides pro audio-level interfacing for cutting-edge software, but integrates a solid-state, SD card-based recorder - so you will never lose a riff again.
• Low-Impedance Active Output - While the idea of using a low-impedance output to preserve tone, drive long cables, and even feed a PA or mixer directly isn't new (thank you, Les Paul), Firebird X's implementation is new - this is the most transparent-sounding audio you've ever heard from a guitar output.
• Digital Varitone Tone Control - Turn the tone control fully counterclockwise and you'll hear the traditional high-end rolloff; turn it clockwise for the full guitar tone. But in between those two settings are six additional tone options that add subtle, musical variations.
• Direct Digital Output - A true S/PDIF direct digital output from Firebird X is available for direct digital interfacing to S/PDIFcompatible gear, from signal processors to mixers.
• Case Technology - To protect this finely-crafted instrument, Gibson has developed a unique case that can survive a fall from a six-story building. If you ever have to check Firebird X as baggage with the airlines, rest easy.
• Real-Time Control - Do you like bending over and reaching down to a pedalboard to change a setting? We don't either. So, Firebird X includes six color-coded sliders that let you morph settings, and even switch into different effects entirely, with a flick of the finger.
• Live Performance Modes - When you just want to call up one of the 55 onboard patches and wail, choose "preset" mode - this locks out all onboard controls so you can't change the sound accidentally. To switch into live mode and alter your sounds in real-time, just push on the tone pot twice.
• Robo-Tuners - The first generation of Robot Tuning technology created its own revolution, making alternate tunings practical at last, as well as tuning multiple strings simultaneously. The fourth-generation Robo-Tuners - smaller, lighter, more durable and faster - revolutionize Robot Tuning again.
Hi it's me again – did you read all of that? – Do you understand it all? – Do you want one, taking into account the £2900 price tag (at the time of writing) – Hey I've just thought, who do you take it to when you have a fault on the electrics – Most guitar tech's will walk or even run away from it – What happens when the software is out of date and no longer compatible with the next generation of gizmo products from Apple or Microsoft – I know for a fact that in 50 years time, my conventional regular guitar with still perform every bit as good as it should, but I will be amazed if that is the case with the Firebird X in even 10 years time
I have heard that it will be limited to an initial run of 1800 – I think they will do exceptionally well to sell anywhere near that amount – I'll re-phrase that – Gibson will sell their required amount to authorised Gibson dealers throughout the world, as part of the dealership agreement is that they have to purchase these guitars as part of a stocking program – If the dealers wishes not to place an order then no doubt his supply of the best selling Gibson models will suddenly grind to a halt – So will the dealers manage to sell 1800 pieces ? – I'm sure one or two will be purchased by a few very passionate tech minded players, but as a product that is going to change the guitar world ? – No chance – I think my favourite football team has a better chance of getting back into Europe before the Firebird X becomes a desirable and best selling product
If Gibson and Henry believe this is going to be a major breakthrough in the world of guitar technology, then 1800 units does not sound like a major success to me – PRS make more guitars than this over a two month period and the likes of Tom Anderson make around this amount of guitars every two years
Just for now, let's consider that the bells and whistles concept is a very good idea - The guitar playing focus groups have got it right and just like an Apple product launch, customers are lining up round the block to buy one – But why oh why do we have to accept this ludicrously shaped instrument – Yes it is instantly identifiable, but in a very bad way, so why not build all the electronics guts and gadgets into a SG, 335 or Les Paul – At least this way there is a sense of familiarity and you feel as though you are playing on home turf – A classic Gibson shape with the new technology, just might have had a slim chance of success. At least this way the hate campaign might not be so strong
Many guitar players have an instrument they know very well and enjoy playing it time after time – It feels right, plays right and sounds right, so why get rid of it, or indeed put it in the case for early retirement, just so you can play some new jazzed up razzamatazz guitar from Gibson? – Granted, many guitarists do enjoy playing with pedals, be it, boutique individual pedals, or indeed an all singing all dancing multi effects – Many players now utilise various digital recording set-ups, with virtual amps/pedals etc and this is a market place that is constantly changing and moving forward very rapidly – Yet at the end of the day, be it pedals or 'virtual sounds' software, you continue to express yourself via your favourite 'analogue' guitar – So if this is the direction that many guitar players are now moving into and let's assume that the electronics guts of the Firebird X is a good idea, then surely Gibson and Henry's digital revolution would find far more success if they could find away of harnessing a traditional guitar, to the guts and techno-wizardry that is available in the Firebird X
Roland have gone part of the way with the GK2 pick-up which can be hooked up to various controllers, but unless you buy the Roland Ready Fender Strat, you still have to screw a couple of extra holes on your pride and joy
Therefore, could Gibson and their software design partners not find away to either utilise an existing pick-up, design a regular tune-o-matic bridge with built in transducer style elements, or develop a new direct replacement drop in pick-up, to enable us to drive and control the core of the Firebird X – With blue tooth technology, fibre optical cables or high definition multi media interfaces that are around today, the goal surely has to be to find away to still allow the player to retain his regular guitar, but allow it to be interfaced with all the gadgetry that the Firebird X offers, but in a stand alone floor unit – Definitely not part of a guitar – I wonder how much it weighs – What if the Firebird X does a great job and sounds incredible, but I hate the way it feels and plays, so much so that it inhibits my playing ability
Yet are Gibson not already along way behind other hi-tec based companies who offer virtual amp and pedal software packages for your computer and recording, that can be utilised with regular audio to digital interfaces – The big plus here is that you still get to own and play any of your favourite guitars, without having to change any aspect of them – Whilst I can quote products today like IK Multimedia Amplitube 3 plus the Stealthpedal, available for around £200, I dare say new companies will come on board and mk2, mk3 etc updates will come on line very quickly, so I won't get involved with specific competitors and other options - I think for many players the Firebird X is to complicated and not user friendly enough for live work, yet in the studio, or home recording set-up it is far to expensive and not as flexible as existing software bundles that are on the market today
A quick tour of any forum shows almost no support for the Firebird X and questions galore about the direction Gibson are moving in – A few knowledgeable customers are already pointing out that even now it is not compatible with software A or indeed software version v3.3 etc etc
However I have saved the best to last – At the Gibson Firebird X product launch, not only was a Gibson SG deliberately smashed on stage, to indicate the end of the traditional guitar, but it was suggested that all players who do not buy into the new Firebird X technology are a bunch of 'luddites' – Yes you are the same 'luddites' who have spent thousands of hard earned pounds buying that 'traditional and old fashioned' Gibson guitar of your dreams and supporting the Gibson company through thick and thin.
As I write this article, the guitar world is very conscious that our market is not growing one little bit – In fact if it wasn't largely for the 40 year old plus market and dare I say ‘the grey haired’ customers owning more than one guitar, the guitar business would have been in decline for over the last 5 years or so.
The trade stats that we get to see from time to time, do not measure the size of the market in terms of the value of each guitar sold, or indeed that the total value of guitars sold in the UK over a 12 month period is £XYZ million – Instead the stats simply show the number of units sold – Granted, any set of stats can portray different information, but nevertheless, the unit sales of guitars has declined over the last 5 years – The big anominally that the stats do not show is the used market and as we all know, second hand guitar can be sold time and time again, through various channels, hence it is almost impossible for any stats to fully determine the size of this market – So with the info available we simply look at the new units sold – At this stage let me point out that we are looking at the guitar as an overview and as such this takes into account, all guitars - Electric, acoustic, classical, 12 string guitars etc – We do not differentiate styles and the type of music we play, or indeed any form, whatsoever, of the type of customer that plays guitar
Since the birth of rock 'n' roll in the mid late 50's, the guitar has been part of our lives and for well over 50 years it has consistently been the best selling musical instrument – From pop, rock ‘n’ roll and rock through to soul, disco, Motown, punk or jazz, the guitar has been ever present and has certainly helped to change our social lives – Wanting to learn to play the guitar has been about fashion, sex, fun and passion, maybe sometimes even rebelling, How many of us have seen or heard our hero’s and then thought ‘hey I can do that’, or I want to be part of that
So what was, or what is the trigger point that made us want to pick up the guitar and learn to play it ? – For me, I have to go back to the early 70's – I was just about to become a teenager and recall listening to Radio 1 and when you could get a good signal, Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline – Slade and T-Rex stood out for me, so when I finally got to see them on Top of the Pops, that was definitely my trigger point – Throw in a bit of Sweet and I was hooked – As time goes on, I became influenced by other musicians, bands, artists and styles, so whilst today Jeff Beck and Robben Ford are just two of my favourite players, they are not the initial reason why I wanted to learn to play the guitar – At the time of learning to play the guitar I had not got a clue as to who they were – Today they are the reason, or part of the reason, that I like guitar and I still yearn for just an ounce of the talent that they possess, but they were not my trigger point
Sometimes over the last 50 or 60 years we have seen immense trigger points that have been felt the world over and influenced thousands of potential budding guitar players – Notably the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the British invasion of pop from the early days of The Beatles and The Stones – Remember that youngsters had not heard anything like this before – It was cool and fashionable, parents hated it, kids loved it and to be part of it must have been very special – Both events caused massive increase in guitars sales, almost from nothing – I’m sure many will recall the first time they saw or heard Hank Marvin playing that fiesta red Strat and he still sells guitars today – I’ve heard customers talk about the first time they saw or heard Cliff Gallup with Gene Vincent or when Elvis sang Heart Break Hotel, Mystery Train or That’s alright mama – Throw in some Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, for good measure and for many, this late 50’s Rock ‘n’ roll period was their trigger point
So if you missed the boat with the American invasion, then The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were going to make sure that you sat up and took notice – And what a trigger point it was with guitar based bands dominating the charts for years to come – Learn a few simple chords and you could join in, playing to your favourite EP for hours – Sure Beck, Clapton and Page via the Yardbirds were attracting many followers, but in a way you had to be cool and in the know to be aware of these guys as it was more of an underground event – It was almost as though you saw George Harrison with his Gretsch and knew you had to buy your Lucky 7 and copy what you could – You discovered the Yardbirds or the American blues players afterwards
Bands like The Who and The Kinks helped to maintain the impetus during the 60’s pop boom, but the next big trigger point was Hendrix – Prior to this, you may well have been happy strumming along to some jingle, jangle pop based tunes and maybe learn a few tuneful licks or solos but prior to Hendrix you had never seen anyone play the guitar like this before – By now rock was taking over from pop and Deep Purple, Led Zep, Cream, Pink Floyd, Free and Fleetwood Mac all helped to keep the guitar invasion flowing during the late 60’s and early 70’s – We had the birth of festivals and concerts venues were now becoming larger, as the days of playing at the small local Palladium or town hall disappeared
By the early 70's and mid 70's the guitar could be seen in a diverse selection of musical environments – The charts might have been influenced by glam and disco, but the guitar was still centre stage for many – Look at the album sales achieved by Peter Frampton or Bad Company, Yes and Led Zep – Hardly Radio 1 commercial, but various influences ensured a steady keel until we reached the late 70’s when punk took over – Whilst it was not my scene, Punk had a massive impact on the next generation of young players hoping to start to learn to play the guitar – To play even a little bit like Hendrix, required immense natural talent and/or years of hard graft, but Punk was almost instant – It had a massive social impact, but from a guitar sales point of view the mid low end of the market immediately picked up and all music shops started to see a new breed of customer – Again, your mum and dad might not have liked it, but who cared – You are now a guitar player and with a few mates you could start a band – It was not just low or mid end guitars that sold – I recall one of the earliest performances by Paul Weller and The Jam on Top of the Pops and a few days later, our window display of Ricky’s and AC30’s was gone – As always the punk and new wave trigger point created a new influx of potential budding players and whilst many initially just wanted to play punk, as time went by, those who had not packed it in, started to learn new riffs, chords and licks to expand their horizon, but the trigger point was punk/new wave –
Whilst the 80’s saw the synth invasion and once again guitar sales started to decline - Thankfully, three big influences from the late 70’s ensured that the guitar was still prominent – U2, The Police and Mark Knopfler – U2 and The Police were two of the biggest bands around at the time and whilst they effectively grew out of the punk and new wave scene, shall we say ‘they are more talented’ - They where respected guitar players, but commercial enough to be adored by chicks and the major airwaves – And who cannot forget the impact that Mark Knopfler had when we first heard The Sultan’s of Swing – We all wanted to play it, but let’s not forget Brothers in Arms a few years later
Moving onto the mid and late 80’s and Fender sales where okay, thanks to the Strat and Tele, but Les Paul sales certainly needed a boost, which came in the shape of Slash and Guns and Roses – Guitarist magazine recently reached their 25th anniversary issue in which they ran a Top 50 of influential events that had occurred over that period – Slash was number 1 – He was given credit for almost single handidly saving Gibson and the Les Paul, as well as revitalising the guitar business and of course rock – Again Metallica, Anthrax, Bon Jovi and Kiss all helped fly the flag for rock and guitar based music, but again Slash was a major trigger point
Guitar sales were now looking okay – Rock was selling and Van Halen gave birth to the super Strat market, but we only had to wait a few more years for another big trigger point – Oasis and What’s the story morning glory had an immediate impact, so much so that Epiphone almost went from nothing to the best selling guitar, overnight – Once again the guitar world was in good shape – The charts and radio stations played Brit Pop and Indie music by the shed loads – The next generation of players adored, Blur, The Smiths, REM, Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, Baby Shambles, Muse, Supergrass, The Charlatans and many more
This takes us pretty much up to date and now the radio stations are almost devoid of guitar based bands – The album charts are crying out for guitar based bands/artist and music shops are waiting for the next sensation – Sure the guitar is selling and we all have our heros and players we admire, but the next generation of players are not suddenly going to start to play the guitar because they have heard of Robben Ford or Larry Carlton – In fact maybe you are like me, in that your non guitar playing friends ask you who is best guitar player in the world, or indeed who are your favourite guitarists – We can mention Robben Ford, Rory Gallagher, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Wes Montgomery, Brian Setzer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck and Paul Kossoff, but most will respond with ‘never heard of them’ – These names, in the guitar world, are fairly mainstream, so we are not talking about Guthrie Govan, Dan Huff, Buddy Whittington or Michael Landau – But none are commercial or house hold known so as to influence the next start up market – Once we have played the guitar for a few years we expand our horizons and find out more about these ultra talented players we admire so much, but for now we need a trigger point – The next George Harrison or Hank Marvin is urgently required to influence a new generation of budding guitar players –
Note that I'm not talking about who is the most talented player, or technically the most gifted, the fastest or indeed the best, as we all know that none of these criteria is measurable – I'm talking about the trigger point – Who influenced you to want to play the guitar – It is quite interesting that many players who initially influence us to want to pick up the guitar are in fact guitarists who have a more ‘simplistic' playing ability – By that I mean we hear the Beatles and Hank play the intro to Day Tripper, or the start of Apache and we believe that we can do that
Before I get loads of complaints from Hank fans, or George fans, I don't mean to say they play music that anyone can play – I merely state that we hear these songs and think we can have a go at that – The reverse side of that is how many have tried to learn Van Halen's Eruption – You know full well that it is out of most guitar players technique, hence you don't even go there – But Apache, you no you can give it a good go
One great advantage of wanting to learn to play the guitar is that you don't need to be an ultra fit athlete, or indeed have movie star looks, you just hear that riff and know you want to learn it – Or see a band and just want to be part of the scene – In fact how many of our hero's are geeky or wierd looking characters, but that does not matter one bit – It is what they represent that counts and we think we can join in
But when will the next big guitar band explosion happen? – Who will be the next big hero? – At the moment I'm not sure – Currently, you don't hear much in the way of guitar based bands on Radio 1, whilst Radio 2 mainly plays songs from yesteryear – No Top of the Pops or Old Grey Whistle test, so the influence of TV has long gone, certainly regarding the guitar – The influence of the press is diminishing, in fact some of them are so ‘underground' you need a deep mine shaft to find them – We hear them tell us about bands that have split up, yet we've never heard of them – So maybe we are going to rely on computers and social media sites – Whilst the likes of Facebook and Youtube offer a world wide potential market, certainly compared to a gig at your local pub, you are very much left to your own devices to promote yourself – Type into Google ‘music charts' and see how many different charts there are, so in many ways, trying to spot the next super group via any social media site reminds you of the needle and the haystack – A million hits on Youtube is excellent, but it ain't going to get you even close to becoming a house hold name and as such to create the next trigger point
I'm not sure what the answer is – The record companies and powerful individuals, like Simon Cowell, make serious money from solo artists, whilst Radio 1 caters strongly for Dance, R'n'B and vocal groups, so at the moment the guitar is drifting – Maybe part of the problem, as far as the guitar goes, comes from the likes of X-Factor – Any fool can have a go and we all know, that many do, so maybe the aspiration today is Madonna, Cheryl Cole and Beyonce and via X-Factor they can give it a go – Madonna and Cheryl Cole might help to sell clothes and fashion, but their influence towards the guitar market is diddly squat – So until the next guitar band or hero appears, we carry on as a small niche market
Over the years I have spent many happy hours serving customers, I have had many laughs regarding customer comments, questions etc, and have therefore listed a few of them below. Do not get me wrong, I'm not saying customers are stupid or thick, in fact far from it – My policy has always been to offer an excellent customer service, and we all have to learn at sometimes. So for instance, any beginners wanting info on how to tune a guitar, or restring a guitar is part and parcel of the job – no way do these type of questions and customers constitute the stories listed below - it's just the following are a few of the stupid and funny exceptions. If you have any stories you can add to this list – please drop them on an e-mail to me – I'm sure we can add many to this list:
Customer asks - Have you got any Dean Martin guitars strings?
Looking back over the years, I never can remember if they meant Martin strings or Dean Markley strings.
Customer asks – do you sell those EPIPHANY guitars?
That is how they pronounced it – they meant Epiphone guitars – may be Epiphany is a new brand of religious guitar for sale during January.
Filling in a credit application/finance form, the usual questions are Name, address, employment info etc etc – one question was 'number of dependants' – customer asks – what are dependants – quick as a flash, his colleague replied “its what you hang around de neck”.
Customer brings in a guitar for a set up, and to discuss tuning problems – he asks "can you check the inclination for me".
If I have heard this 10 times, I've heard it a 100 times – Customer asks - Do you sell Carlsberg amplifiers?
Carlsbro might well be good amplifiers – but they are not the name on the worlds finest amps.
Customer asks – Do you sell the Marshall value amplifiers – genuinely that was the question – I interpreted 'value' as budget and that they wanted something from the MG series – how wrong I was - they had read the advert incorrectly and wanted a 'valve' amp.
Some times the obvious is not what it always seems – can you remember the original Tom Scholz Rockman from the 80's ??– a Sony Walkman style product, with great guitar tones, great for recording and awesome as a practice amp with headphones. One day I had a customer who wanted to try one out before they purchased it – No problem – sat the customer down, gave him the headphones plugged into the Rockman, along with a guitar, also plugged in to the Rockman, showed him the controls and what they do, and left him to try it out. I returned a few minutes later to see how he was getting on – he was not impressed with it, as it did not doing anything – it turns out, he just sat there with the guitar on his lap – customer commented – Oh! I didn't realise you had to actually play the guitar, I thought it would make some sounds automatically.
The above Rockman story reminds me of many more – Customer wanted an acoustic guitar pickup, to make his acoustic louder – he purchased the type that fits in the sound hole – a few days later he brought it back, complaining it did not work – the guitar was not any louder – I thought it would be best to check it out – I quickly fitted the pick up on a guitar, plugged it into an amp – guess what – nothing wrong with it, everything was fine – showed this to the customer – customer commented – “but your plugging it into an amp to make it louder, I haven't got one” - He was a little annoyed that we had not pointed this out at the time of purchase – As stated earlier, sometimes the obvious is not what it seems – may be B&Q should make sure you actually have a lawn before you buy a lawn mower or that you have a hammer, before buying any nails.
More to follow as we remember them.