Monday, September 22, 2008

Creating Classics

I've been thinking about a few guitars these days. Specifically, the Etavonni and the Moog guitars. (The company is generally called "Moo-Guh" but Bob pronounced it "Mow-Guh", just so you know.) And don't you know, they're really pretty guitars. At least the pictures look pretty: I've never been in the same room with either.

The selling point for the Etavonni is the aluminum body and the carbon fiber neck. Otherwise, it seems fairly pedestrian. Two humbuckers, three-way switch, hardtail or Gotoh tremelo bridge. Except for the looks and the body and neck materials, there's very little to distinguish it from, say Ibanez RGT42DX, which seems to run $600 or so, or about 10 times less than than the Etavonni.

But wait. Did I say little to distinguish? The Ibanez has a through-body neck, and therefore a very small heel and really easy access to the high notes. From the pics I've seen, the Etavonni (from here in, we'll say "E") has a bolt-on neck that's just like that featured on my Tele, which is the same clunky big heel that guys reaching for the tweedly notes have been complaining about since 1947. But again, I've never seen these things up close, so I am not sure about that.

But, you pour aluminum into a specific mold, that amount of aluminum will always weigh that much and sound like that. A carbon fiber neck will sound like any other carbon fiber neck, and resist bending due to temperature change.

Then there's the Moog.

Moog makes theremins. Moog makes ring modulators so peoples' guitars can sound like Daleks. Moog makes big analog synths that allow people like Keith Emerson to be audibly pompous. Now they make guitars. Well-made guitars with sustainers and mutes. And the demo models I've seen are pretty, pretty instruments. With crazy additional knobs. For a fair workup of what it can do, see the above video.

None of the pictures I've seen show the heel, or explain how the body hits the neck. It has an electronic sustainer, muter and piezo pickups. It is an excessively beautiful guitar, sure, but on the merits, the muter and piezo bridge are the two elements that make this distinct from a Fernandes Pro guitar, which runs again about ten times less than the Moog.

I am a Telecaster player. My guitar is not different in any significant way from the first electric spanish that popped out of Leo Fender's noggin in 1947. Compared to an archtop with pickups, we're talking innovation out to here, but only cosmetically changed in the last sixty years. Think of an innovation, and the Tele doesn't have it. No humbuckers. No middle pickup. No individual saddles. No synchronized tremolo. No comfort cuts. No onboard electronics. No floating tremolo. No active electronics. No MIDI. No piezos. No sustainers. No fanned frets. No compensated nut. No locking tuners. No transposing tremolo. No compound radius neck. No cut-down heel. Is there another piece of innovation out there that I've missed listing? Seriously, I'm curious here. Are there real technical innovations in electric guitar that I've missed?

But my crusty old favorite is one of the most popular designs out there. The top two, the Strat and Tele, are largely unchanged from around fifty years ago. And the big makers and new styles are pretty much mix-and-match from those three favorites.

I take a 1/4" mono phone jack, technology developed for the telephone switchboards you see in black-and-white movies, to connect my guitar to my amplifier, a Fender Frontman 25R, which is a solid state amp with master volume which is distinct from my friend's Airline tube amp of similar size. Between the two I have some pedals. There's innovation in cables to hot-rod the connections between all of these. There is a five-pin cable running from a pedal to the Moog guitar, powering those electronics and providing the player more control. Graphtech's Ghost MIDI system comes with a 13-pin jack to connect to a MIDI controller. It seems that the next big point of innovation will have to be the cables. The problem there, of course, is that the moment you change the connector design, you lock yourself out of a wide range of amps and effects pedals.

The subject line is derived from a Coco Chanel quote. "Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics." Will either of these, can either of these, become classics?


Stratocat said...

Makes sense to me.

The OTT vintage instrument value scene, as ridiculous as it may seem, is nonetheless fundamentally player driven. If legendary, high profile players never played Strats & Les Pauls, we wouldn't see 6 figure priced collectible Strats and Les Pauls from any year.

Space age materials & hi-tech building methods don't determine and drive new instrument value.

Musicians with ears and technique for cultivating TONE do. We'll decide what's good.

Dave Jacoby said...

I heard of Sacred Steel. I got myself a lap steel for about $150. Then Ben Harper started to get big. I had my steel appraised at Dave's Guitar as I passed, and it's now worth about $450. Meanwhile, most pawnshops have a Jackson or Charvel with dust on it. That's market forces at work, Cat. It's exacerbated by non-player or wannabe-player forces who also see it as an investment, and also cults of celebrity, but at core, you're right.

I'm not at all anti-tech, anti-innovation, but it seems that innovation comes with a person, and it's a technique innovation before it's a hardware innovation, if there is hardware innovation. Eddie Van Halen was struggling with the dive-bomb issue and the problems of the Fender trem when Floyd Rose made it backstage. A bazillion makes of single-highgain-humbucker guitars with wild paintjobs and whammy bars followed.

And, similarly, Kramer gave Eddie a copy of the Frankenstrat with hex pickup that would allow him to split his strings up in stereo. He used it on "Top Jimmy", and I've never heard of it again.

But hey, give one to John Meyer. He bought a reissue Frankestrat, a $30,000 copy of a guitar that cost $200 in parts and paint. He's got more money than sense. If he can make it musical, it'll sell.