As you are well aware, a luthier is a maker of stringed instruments: it is not a reference to that rabid Anti-Semite Martin Luther
Think about this! If it wasn’t for the development of the electrostatic pick-up (which senses vibrations in the soundboard of stringed instruments) by Lloyd Loar (Rickenbacker) and Walter Fuller (Gibson) in the 1920s, we could still be listening to big band instruments. And you, Dear Reader, would probably be playing air saxaphone, trumpet or even worse air clarinet (surely the poxiest of all wind instruments) when pixillated in the shower. (1) Not an edifying sight, I’m sure you’d agree.
Once the pickup was added to the guitar and it was plugged into a suitably loud amplifier, (artistic and sexual) self-expression was yours for the asking. Instead of taking the Spinal Tap trajectory here, and I know that there is at least one unreconstructed heavy metallist among the half dozen readers who visit this site, I want to focus on some interesting examples of the luthiers art.
This is really an extension of a previous post (old site, I think), and no, I’m not going to rabbit on about Gibsons and Fenders or give you my list of top 10 guitarists. Listing is classified by the Dictionary of Psychiatric Disorders as an anal retentive behaviour. List compilers (guitarists, bands, LPs, movies, ice cream flavours) are culturally insecure specimens with narrow fixations and rotten social skills.
So let’s proceed with a minimum of comment before I get to my point.
The forerunner of the modern electric guitar – the Rickenbacker Frying Pan – was built by Adolph Rickenbacker, Paul Barth and George Beauchamp in the early 1920’s. Rickenbacker gained his patent after sending several guitarists to the Patent Office in Washington DC to prove that it actually worked. (2)
Some Great Designs.
The Framus Superyob for Readers who were into the Slade tribal stomp
Hofner Violin Bass
Gretsch White Falcon
The Danelectro range. Surely my favourites for their striking body styles and paintwork. Danelectros were constructed out of wood and believe it or no, Masonite, and sold for around $100 (including sturdy case) by Sears Roebuck mail order. They were not crap guitars by any means and had their aficianadoes, since a failed modification didn’t break the bank. Also culturally sensitive advertising: “You don’t have to be a Hindu to play a Coral (under license) electric sitar“. (3)
Somehow, I feel that Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers should have chosen a Danelectro, possibly the Guitarlin, a mix of guitar and mandolin. Also a perfect complement to that example of sartorial elegance, the Nudie suit.
Some Antipodean notes.
To the best of my knowledge, Ozland hasn’t produced an indigenous guitar company, since bespoke luthiers don’t really count in terms of the mass market for air guitarists. New Zealand that land of sheep (let’s not go there KT) gave rise to the Jansen company in 1960. Jansen produced a wide range of attractively styled copies (Vox Teardrop, Fenders, Rickenbacker and even a Danelectro), plus a brilliant looking semi-acoustic bass. Unfortunately, the company folded in 1972. (4)
Australia in contrast Strauss amplifiers which were truly fucking loud with speakers capable of taking 300 watts (the nearest being the English Celestion which was only capable of a measly 30 watts. In the words of Lobby Lloyd “…Strauss amps were killers, they were beasts, but the company couldn’t capture an overseas market and went bust in the end”. (5)
In terms of sheer air guitar volume, Billy Thorpe ruled the roost, leaving pissy Pom wannabees Deep Purple in the dust. Fresh after killing the goldfish in the Bondi Pavilion, Thorpe set new standards at the Sunbury outdoor mudfest: everybody left with permanent tinnitus and koalas dropped dead in gum trees.
Try this on Youtube and you will get my point below:
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – Mama live on GTK
Its 2012 and time to abandon guitars and all guitar-based music. Put your guitar, guitar-based LPs and CDs in the attic and let them collect dust. The guitar is a 20th century electricity technology which has totally outlived its sonic possibilities and is now a brake and bankrupting influence on the music creation process. Its sound is simply too dominant and centre stage. I hope to return to this point at a later date.
I can hear the objections now. What you are proposing is simply not good economic policy KT. My old dad is still working as a roadie for a metal band and I don’t think I can afford to support him in his old age, writes one ESL teacher in Asia.
I only listen to very non-mainstream guitarists (Laswell, Hillage, Frith, etc) who sell their experimental noodlings on obscure mail order sites, so this proscription doesn’t apply to me, right? You, my friend, have even less credibility than the rest of us yobs bought up on a diet of Page, Clapton, Roy Buchanan and John Fahey. I can see it now. You play your latest experimental/freeform guitar offering to you friends, and the thought bubble above their heads reads:
“ God, what shyte. Why can’t he be rediscovering Black Sabbath like the rest of us. Hopefully, he will find a girlfriend and not stretch the friendship with this drivel”.
Okay, guitars are a major commodity in a massive industrial supply chain, so their wholescale rejection would result in economic chaos and mass unemployment. Let’s put paid to this argument quick smart. Next time you are doing your Hong Kong visa run, visit Billy Lee’s guitar shop in Kowloon. With the exception of Gretsch, every name brand guitar under licence or copied is either made in South Korea or China, so there is only Chinese unemployment to worry about, and that will be remedied in the near future when the PRC moves towards a full welfare state and democratic government.
Finally, we need to consider the welfare of all guitarists and guitar bands, since most have an extremely narrow range of life skills (exploitating female fans, excessive recreational use of drugs and alcohol, stage posturing and taking themselves seriously) and would probably end up in the dole queue. Not to worry. They will be allowed to live out their mortal coil in the Orient traversing the Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai circuit in an eternal triangular tour loop. Rock royalty could hobnob with PRC’s princelings, while the lesser of the species could create general mayhem for shock horror editorials in the China Daily and on Dialogue.
Okay, this manifesto is all very well KT, but how are we going to fill this vacuum and loss of identity in our lives. In a word, Mali, that poverty and permanently drought stricken state in Sahelian Africa, which is presently experiencing a military coup and a Taureg homeland independence movement.
Written in a public library, so shall finish it tomorrow.
In a second word, the Kora.
The Kora, a 21 string harp-like instrument, produces a light airy soundscape perfect if you wish to get down with with some Flamenco or Delta blues. To make you own, you will need a calabash, a long piece of hardwood, some cowhide, wooden sound pegs and a bridge and either fishing line or metal harp stings. Guitar machine heads can substituted for wooden pegs, but they will put your tuning out of whack in short time.
Importantly, you will need to leave your day job and move home and hearth to Mali as you will need to engage the services of a Kora Grandmaster, if you wish to move beyond the nitwit stage. Finally, a massive dose of application as the competition among Kora-playing griots in that part of the world is something fierce.
Now that I’ve provided you with a mission in life, at least something more important than your daily visit to China forums, I would like to end with a local event here in tubbyland. Colin Offord and his collaborator Lihan Yeh are not to be missed. A mixture of of sonic soundscape, installation art and performance with Australasian themes and Colins original instruments. Tremendous stuff, Dear Reader.
http://www.colinofford.com and http://www.youtube.com
1 -3. Greatly indebted to Michael Heatley The Illustrated History of the Electric Guitar, Merchant Book Company, 2003. This is a tremendous and lavishly illustrated resource which I recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject. The basic proposition in my para one was pilfered from page 10.\
4. Roger Watkins. 1995. Hostage to the Beat: The Auckland Scene 1955 – 1970. Tandem Press.
5. Iain McIntyre Ed. 2006. Tomorrow is Today: Australia in the psychedelic era, 1966 – 1970. Highly detailed essays which go far beyond music to include politics, counterculture and experimental theatre. Brilliant bibliography which includes I Marks & I McIntyre Wild About You: Tales from the Australian Rock Underground, 1963 – 1968. Community Radio Federation. 2004.
I will trade my first born for a copy since it covers a period which I find far more interesting – The Librettos, The Missing Links, The Creatures, The Throb, etc.