Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brands with no Vision: Gibson Edition

Last year I taught a writing class organized around the theme of Intellectual Property. In the course of discussion we got on to the topic of counterfeiting and of counterfeit guitars in particular.

Okay, I admit it, they were talking about counterfeit designer purses and I shifted the topic onto guitars. My bad.

Anyway, they got me googling the topic and poking through Chinese knockoffs on dodgy auction sites. But one of the other things that popped up out of that was Gibson's lawsuit against Activision claiming that Activision had infringed upon Gibson's patent for 'simulated musical performance using an instrument'. This is the same Gibson that made a bit of coin off the licensing for the SG, Les Paul, and Explorer shaped controllers that shipped with Guitar Hero games and that gets a shitload of free advertising with all the damn characters using so many Gibson designs on screen.

Any responsible and sane company would look at this as a good thing. Twenty years ago -- no money coming in from video game licensing. Today -- money coming in without the company having to hire a single factory worker or even design a new guitar. All the work was done years back by Les Paul and Ted McCarty. Oh, and Angus and Slash and James Hetfield and Michael Schenker. Gibson corporate didn't have to do a damn thing except hold their hands out for the bags of free money and thank their lucky stars that they have been able to live off of their laurels for the last 30 years while people like Ken Parker and Ned Steinberger were bothering to think about what might be next.

If I were a small guitar company looking to break through I'd seriously be on the phone with Activision begging them to use my guitars likenesses and labels on every damn product they could push for free so long as I could do the same and use the games to market the hell out of my guitars rather than being a greedy, ungrateful wretch like Gibson and grasping for more. This is doubly true when the company hasn't had a successful new idea since before punk. That type of stupid should be criminalized.

Thank the gods they lost the lawsuit.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eco Guitar Ponderings

Over the weekend I realized that I had no spare strings on hand for my Hag in case I broke one while playing. This led me to a number of searches on-line as I started my typical, neurotic grad student pondering about changing strings.

It started with thinking about gauges. I have consistently been upping the gauge on my strings since getting the guitar in order to deal with the effects of down-tuning to D and looking to get a bit more sustain and a little less oscillation on the strings so that I could lower the action. My last set of strings were D'Addario Medium Top Heavy Bottoms (11-52), which felt and sounded decent, but gave me some issues with the strings binding in the nut. I could take the guitar in to have the nut slots filed, but I thought I'd give light strings another shot first, figuring that this would also be a lot more convenient for getting strings locally and not having to pay shipping and wait.

Meanwhile, related thoughts. I've been using D'Addarios because they are the most forthcoming on their website about their green practices and their ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of waste they produce both in packaging and in production. I saw that Ernie Ball and GHS were both touting their new foil packaging as being eco-friendly, but then other places I saw that they were still packaging strings in envelopes inside the foil packs, so it seems like only a partial solution and more of a cost-cutting move that could be spun as green rather than a corporate commitment to reducing waste. I ended up choosing EXL 110s again.

(Short digression: Having put on the new strings I noticed an increase in fret buzz near the middle of the neck. Looks like I'll have to loosen the truss rod a bit to give the neck a bit of relief now that the strings don't pull as hard. I'm hoping that I don't have to raise the bridge any to kill the last of the clatter. Intonation has improved a tad as well with the smaller gauges, but is still a few cents sharp going up the neck. I'll move the saddles back a bit more where I can to fix this.)

Coupled with my recent thoughts on buying guitars I've been thinking that were I to break down again and get another guitar I'd probably buy used rather than new. The guitar industry is tearing down trees and stringing new guitars at an alarming rate from an environmental standpoint and I think that the best answer to the problem lies not in finding more ecologically sound tonewoods (or recycled alternatives to traditional tonewoods), but rather in recycling the guitars themselves wherever possible. Most of the ecological costs for a used guitar have already been paid and resurrecting an old guitar keeps that much more material out of a landfill somewhere.

Now if only I can find more information on guitar amps and power consumption so that I can have some fair basis for comparing the ecological impact of tubes vs solid state vs modeling and of amp and cab size, etc.