By the time the 1980's were in full swing, we were rollin in it. That's right. Trickle down theory was kickin' ass all over the place. It was easy to buy into that, hook, line, and sinker. Especially after the malaise of the 1970's. Everyone I knew was driving new trucks. The sun was shining, and we were making hay. The Japanese in the meantime, were about to wipe the American Harley Davidson Motor Company right off the map, while nobody was looking. The free traders got stopped dead in their tracks by that one. A huge tariff imposed on imported motorcycles saved the MoCo, right in the nick of time. How'd that happen?
The 60's were a revolutionary and super cool time, and super scary too. My earliest memory is of watching my parents cry because the President had just been assassinated. There were highs, like the Beatles, free love, and the moon landing. There were lows too. There was a war. The decade ending with an impeachment trial that ran for months, not commercial free, playing everyday on a TV set in my sixth grade classroom. And so it goes...
Maybe free love was over-rated. Maybe people just wanted to feel safer. The no-nuke thing was picking up a head of steam. There were other signs. A price had to be paid. The years that follwed were filled with an accumulating abundance of mediocrity. A lot of it typified by "new and improved" versions of classic American brands. Now we had Norlin era Gibson's. CBS Fenders. AMF Harley Davidsons. Brands which had been cool in the sixties were bought up by large corporations. And bean counting ruled the day. They produced 'em faster for sure. But the mojo was disappearing. I first heard the term "Pre CBS Fender" in the late '70's, mentioned in the corners of guitar shops in hushed tones, by older and wiser musicians. I didn't really know what it meant at the time, because what I knew was just what I saw, right in front of me. Big bloated heavy poly-coated guitars. That decade of recession ended on an even lower note with the Hostage Crisis and long waits at service stations (literally hours) with lines down the street due to a second gasoline shortage.
Now this being for all intents and purposes a music blog, lets talk more about those guitars. 1970's Gibsons and Fenders were more often than not, as heavy as boat anchors. I've seen Les Paul Guitars from the Norlin era that weighed up around 12 to 14 pounds. I had a 70's CBS Fender Telecaster that weighed almost just as much. They were back breakers. I don't know if it was just a symptom of corporate mass production, or? I do know that guys would say "the heavier the guitar, the better the sustain". We tried to make the best of it. I heard more about sustain back then, than I ever did about actual tone. There was a huge parts after-market that emerged, maybe partly due to the mediocre instruments available. Lots of brass. Brass nuts, brass bridges, and brass knobs. You had to have some brass on your git-fiddle, if you were gonna be a contender. Let's make a heavy-ass guitar even heavier. Enter the mid-1980's. Redemption was at hand.
The government tariff, straight up, thankfully saved Harley Davidson. The folks who bought the Motor Company back from AMF started making good motorcycles. The EVO engine they put out, is to this day, very highly regarded. But in the musical instrument world, there weren't going to be tariffs. Norlin and CBS must have decided to cash their chips in, and turned their attention to other targets. As a result Gibson and Fender changed hands. Fender moved production to Japan in 1985 for about a year, in a "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", kind of move. That gave Fender time to re-tool in the USA. The Japanese had quietly mastered the art of making copies of guitars from the golden era. These instruments raised more than a few eyebrows. Fenders diplomacy with these master craftsmen, in the interest of survival, was about to turn the guitar world on it's head.
Fender re-tooled and got back to work in California in 1986. One of Fenders first successes, from the new USA factory, was the "Vintage Reissue" line. Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars reportedly made largely by hand just like they were back in the '50's right down to the Nitrocellulose Lacquer finishes. A return to the 'Pre-CBS' glory years, that I had heard about hanging around those music shops, when I was a kid. They were a wonderful thing to behold. That very same year, the new Gibson, opened their Custom Shop. This, in response to the huge demand, for 'vintage style models'. This wonderful new perestroika in the guitar world was actually the beginning of a 'vintage style' guitar arms race, that carries on to this very day.
This tale is a true story. I may be off in some of my recollecting or accounting. But I did see the quality of guitar product change dramatically. First hand. Played a ton of 'em in shops. Owned a few. Ran with, rolled with, and debated with guys, about the merits of these instruments, in real time. Yes, I missed the heyday, of the first go 'round, in the 50's and 60's. But I witnessed the second coming of these worthy instruments. The 'vintage style' guitar arms-race is so big now that I can't really keep up. But I still love the lore attached to this stuff. First heard uttered by my Sage Elders in the dusty corner of a Mom and Pop music shop in the '70's. And I love these guitars. There's so many more branches to this tree. Lets cut a few more branches up another time. Till then, Keep On Rockin'!
Salty Rose, 2020
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