News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Greetings from Music Row.

As we approach the year 2000 at a faster-than-I-wish rate, I thought I might give a sort of "State of the Old Guitar" report. Having just visited Nashville for the summer session of the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants), it dawned on me that not only was this the last formal exhibition of the year, but it represents the last exhibition of the decade, the century and the millennium! Wow!

So just where does this old guitar stand as we set our sights on the next one thousand years? Taking into consideration that I am an eleventh-hour-, 10th-grade-, high school-book-report-due-tomorrow morning type of writer, with a stream of consciousness approach, I will rely on what is etched at the forefront of my mind.

I find it interesting that through the decades, the concept of re-inventing the wheel does not readily apply to the guitar. The guitar remains relatively the same. Re-inventing the hype, now that might be another story. It is difficult and challenging to try and improve upon the vision and output by some of the leading guitar builders during their respective golden eras. Many, if not most, manufacturers continue to come up with their "new, improved' variations of their own theme, but, as we quickly gain on the 21st century, I sense that the major guitar builders realize that they already have a good thing.

They have had it for many years: Martin in the 1930s, Gibson acoustics in the 1950s, Gibson electrics in the late 50s-early 60s, Fender in the 1950s and early 1960s and so on. Folks, it just doesn't get any better. Granted, there will always be new ideas and products. Don't get me wrong. The Parker Fly, Steinberger graphite guitars in the '80s, piezo pickups that turn your electric into an acoustic. These are the result of modern day visionaries.

As I strolled around the NAMM exhibition, I noticed plenty of the typical trade show fair: booze and bull, bells and whistles, plenty of hype and "we've got the next big thing," and - who knows - probably somebody there does have the next big thing. I wish my crystal ball were working better.

The other thing I noticed was how so many of the guitars were re-makes of the ones from yesteryear. A once well known New Jersey music store, Guitar Trader, used to have a slogan: "They don't make 'em like they used to, so we sell the ones they used to make." As time has passed, this idea has trickled back to the manufacturers themselves. As a result, many of the new millennium models are modern day vintage classics. It is a trend that has been unfolding for several years now.

New to this exhibit was a Gibson reissue of the 1964 ES-335, the kind popularized by the British Invasion, and Eric Clapton with Blind Faith. Some things are just too hard to improve upon. Martin also introduced a Woody Guthrie Signature series OOO-18 flat top that was basically a re-make of the classic 1930s model. This land is still your land.

Gretsch offered a reissue of the Bo Diddley guitar. You know, the one that looks like a cigar box on a stick. Collings guitars offered an "A" model mandolin, one to rival anything from the golden era for vintage mandolins. Fender continues to mine treasures from its past, and PRS, the relative newcomer to the halls of revered guitar makers, continues to build modern day classics inspired by the best from Gibson and Fender.

Woody Guthrie lit the flame that continues to light the pathway for folkies today. Bo Diddley plugged in and brought the infectious groove of African rhythm to young, white America. And after a period of early '60s hibernation, the Brits took the blues of America and brought it back to us, in the form of rock and pop.

Where is all this leading? Well, sometimes I don't even know myself, but I do sense a connection. So much of our great musical culture has been developed by these types and their contemporaries. The old guitars they used, well, let's just say that the old slogan "they don't make 'em like they used to" is fading just as fast as we are, as we approach a new age.

Well I guess that's all for now. So, until next time,

Keep Rockin'