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March 1, 2006
Vol. VI, No. 3

"Let's Get Ready to Rampaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaage!"
I'm not always in the mood to write a Rampage but anytime I see an injustice committed by the police, you know, bullying the citizenry, I immediately get riled up. But since some of you have complained that you like your music talk straight up without politics, today I'll stick to shop talk and save the cop talk for another forum.

A month or two back, I started seeing TV commercials for Gibson electric guitars during the 11 o'clock news. It struck me as incredibly odd because I couldn't figure out what audience they were trying to reach. Gibsons are too expensive for beginners and experienced guitarists already know about them. It's not like they're advertising cars, why would the general public be interested? I mean, they might as well be advertising pipe organs!

Then I started seeing news articles about Gibson. A sampling:
It turns out the CEO of Gibson is trying to remake the company, in the image of Nike, no less. I'll admit, the guy's got vision but he might need glasses! Let's look at some of the points of his multi-prong makeover.

First of all, he's created a boondoggle of a digital guitar that costs too much and nobody wants. Not much else to say here.

Next he's taking Gibson's traditional guitars and "improving" their quality by manufacturing them to with a millimeter of their lives. The "margin of error" that the CEO talks about eliminating in the components of his company's guitars is exactly the kind of thing that musicians pick up on (pun intended). It gives the instrument a variability, allowing room for the musician to compensate and insert his talent and personality into the equation. If every guitar is made exactly the same, everyone who plays them will sound exactly the same. Even if I'm completely wrong, the CEO talks about how much better Gibson's guitars are now even though the article makes clear that the "word on the street" is that Gibson's quality has declined. Somebody's clueless.

Of the many thoughtful responses to last week's Rampage, one in particular relates to this subject. Ryan Bradfield wrote:
"In my early stages of organ playing, I am in a unique situation. I have access to and practice on two different organs. The organ that I take lessons on is a genuine antique pipe organ. The organ that I practice on is a new Hammond digital. Both have their perks and downfalls but, only having been playing a month or so, I've found that I like playing on the real organ more. The digital organ seems too clear and almost sterile, and some of the sampling has issues with certain combinations of stops. The real organ that I play on is about 60 years old, has chipped keys, loose pedals, and a slight buzz when playing the 16' Principal B-flat. But despite its aesthetic problems, this organ has soul, and one can almost feel the use of the prior organists. Probably my favorite feature of this organ is its wind. When playing on the digital, one cannot hear the sound of the air racing through to the appropriated notes. But on the antique, rather, the flow of wind can be heard distinctly as a reminder that the organ is quite real."

Back at Gibson, the CEO's next prong of attack is to charge higher prices for the "improved" product in order to increase its perceived value. This isn't a new idea in business but it's a nasty one. (Come to think of it, the subject of high profit margins in the digital organ business (in other words, low cost to make, high price charged, big profit) came up in last week's Feedback. I'll go so far as to suggest that digital organ manufacturers are charging high prices to put their products closer in line with pipe organ prices so people will think they are just as good because they cost almost as much, i.e., same thing, only cheaper.)

So let's see where we're at with Gibson. The CEO is going to push new products that customers don't want, "improve" established products that customers are already happy with and charge higher prices for the whole kit and caboodle. Let me just say, I'm glad this guy's not trying to save my company.

This idea of destroying things in order to save them is all too familiar these days, whether it's the organ at St. Mary's Ridgeville, Gibson guitars or the US government (destroying civil rights in order to preserve them, anyone? Oops! Sorry, I slipped in some politics).

US consumers blindly endorse "Innovation" which more and more translates into "companies trying to get you to buy more stuff," rather than "making stuffer better for you." Built to last? What a joke!

I don't think they talk about it so much anymore in schools but they did when I was a kid – it's called Conspicuous Consumption. It means designing something so that it will wear out sooner rather than later. This idea is at the foundation of the American economy and was born of the "Dark Side" of American ingenuity.

It's at the core of digital organs but I'm sure buyers don't take that into consideration. How many people, when buying an appliance, are thinking about how long it will last and how much they will have to spend to replace it? But they should, especially when they look at how much they're spending. On the other hand, pipe organs are built to last. Sure, they require maintenance but that's because they're not just a purchase, they're an investment. And like an old Gibson guitar, they got soul.

Rampage Follow-up
I'd like to thank all those community members who submitted thoughtful and enthusiastic feedback to my last Rampage. I am always impressed by the time and energy spent on this and I find it an education as well. Here is a follow-up article to the St. Mary's affair for those who have the stomach for it:

Musical Question of the Century II -- VOTE NOW!!!
If J.S. Bach were alive today, would he approve of digital organs?

Speaking of polls…
This bit of trivia was in a UK paper:
"So, according to a survey by Travelodge reported in the Record yesterday, Brits prefer classical music to sex at bedtime - 18 per cent like to fall asleep to Bach or Beethoven, while only 13 per cent would rather have sex. Reminds us of a bloke we know who thought he'd try his luck with the woman next door. He was Brahms and Liszt. Then her husband came home, and quick as a flash, he was Haydn."

Interesting statistic but somebody's got to help me out with this one – I don't get it the Brahms and Liszt references. I guess it's a Scottish thing?

Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Updated Pages
Musician Jokes:
Added are more new musical terms than you can shake a stick at, submitted by your fellow community members.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO..."Toto" by Toto. I've liked this album since I first heard it in the 70s. The style is a blend of rock and funk with a pop music sensibility that results in great songs that are musically interesting. Toto has had a few hits but the critics have always hated them. I don't know why, the members are some of the best musicians in the music business. Click the link below for more information on this CD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's CD Club:

WHAT I'M READING..."Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement: Confessions of a Former Worship Leader" by Dan Lucarini. I recommend this book to anyone who has questions about the validity of using Praise bands and Praise music in churches. The author comes at the subject as an insider who ultimately rejected Praise music on a biblical basis. In fact, he quotes chapter and verse to support his claim that this movement is bad for churches and Christians and is ultimately more concerned with pleasing people rather than pleasing God. A must read for Church musicians! Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:

WHAT I'M WATCHING..."North by Northwest (1959)" Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint; Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock and Cary Grant never disappoint. A classic that I always enjoy. Click the link below for more information on this DVD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's DVD Club:


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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