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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Popular Music: The Fender Guitar and the Air Guitar

The Fender Stratocaster has 21 frets crossed by six strings. It delivers 126 individual notes and tens of thousands of chord combinations. And it was the preeminent instrument, the great axe, which hued inside almost all of the Golden Age of 1960's music.

By the simple fact that the inventor had his work-shop in Fullerton, Orange County is where this instrument first appeared. The invention was more than mere amplification of the acoustic guitar. The following paragraphs may help explain the significance of Fender Guitar:

The two great Guitars: Acoustic, and Electric.

1. ACOUSTIC. "Classical Gas" is an instrumental piece written by Mason Williams. In 1968 he played the track on an acoustic guitar accompanied by an orchestra. It reached Number 2 on the American charts and went on to sell over a million copies. Williams asked an experimental filmmaker named Dan McLaughlin to create a video montage of classical art works edited in time to the music, using a visual effect now known as kinestasis. The pioneering work, "3000 Years of Art", premiered in the summer of 1968, widely broadcast on film and Television.

I mention this to emphasize that there was no market NEED for a “better” guitar. Many fine musicians were playing, and continued to play, acoustic instruments -- Denver, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, etc. The classic Spanish guitar, produced inexpensively in Mexico, was accessible, was performing very well in the hands of popular musicians, and is a fully-developed expressive instrument. It could shape the Melody, punch the Rhythm, and fill the Harmony -- an all-in-one instrument you could play while still singing the words or playing harmonica simultaneously! Bob Dylan was one of the first “folk” singers who moved from acoustic to electric, but many other brilliant musicians did not.

2. ELECTRIC. Enter, the Fender - the earlier “Telecaster” and then the more contemporary “Stratocaster” models. In the 1940s, Leo Fender, the owner operator of an electronics repair shop in Fullerton, California, developed a solid-body electric guitar. The solid body improved the amplified tone, basically by eliminating the “feedback” from the hollow-body of an acoustic instrument. The sound is bright and cutting. And of course, louder!

Leo Fender also introduced precision mass production techniques to the manufacture of his simple modular design. By eliminating the expense of individual luthiery, he dramatically reduced the cost. Even the components were produced inexpensively in quantity on an assembly line. The bodies were band-sawed and routed from unitized blocks of wood or other materials. In addition, Fender did not use the traditional glued-in neck. He bolted it on, making it removable and replaceable.

The Telecaster neck was cut from a single piece of maple and the fingerboard frets were set directly into the wood surface. On traditional acoustic guitars, a rosewood or ebony fingerboard would be glued onto mahogany necks. Fenders typically have 22 frets (the baritones have 24-fret necks). The characteristic Telecaster 'twang' can be produced by picking near the saddles, and players can mute strings at the bridge with the side of the palm.

Now add the electronics – humbucking pickups powered by active circuitry featuring a TBX expander and an MDX midrange booster with 12dB of gain. Other lineaments included a Freeflyte hardtail bridge and die-cast tuning machines with pearloid buttons. Eventually, the Fenders also featured a BiFlex truss-rod system, low-friction EasyGlider string trees and pro-active electronics. You could coordinate with foot pedals, wah-wah effects, and even simultaneous play-back harmonics.

Finally, and you’ll love this: The Fender body contours are curved for comfort - especially appreciated across the thighs in long rehearsals and marathon bungie-chord concerts. The design LOOKS sexy. You never see thousands of people wiggling around playing acoustic “air guitars”! It took the Fender to lift arms and bodies into the working space of integrated human senses so that virtual players could EXPRESS themselves with music they cannot actually play!
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