Opinion

Magic Instruments Guitar

OK, I'm going to ask for your thoughts on this but, I do want 'thoughts' and not knee-jerk rants—I'm only one allowed to rant around here.  ;-)

A new type of guitar that you can pick up and play, instantly.
— https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mi-guitar-by-magic-instruments--3#/

Meet the Magic Instruments Guitar. It's currently on Indiegogo where it's utterly smashed through its funding goal with tons of time left. 

The best way to get to grips with what it is and what it does is to take a look at the videos. 

Now, I know that, if you're reading my stuff, you have a dog in the fight. You've probably already spent some time (likely lots) learning to play an actual guitar. 

But, how you do you feel about something like this? 

Is it a terrible travesty—why should playing an instrument be easy? Is it a weird flash-in-the-pan that'll utterly fizzle out and never be heard from after a few months? Is it a fantastic idea that allows people to play some music, that they may love, without having to spend so much time learning? 

I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I certainly have a bias too so you should bear that in mind. 

Have a look at another video for an idea of how the instrument is played.

What's seems to be clear from this video is that, playing this isn't just a matter of pressing a button. Actually, it seems to mean pressing a sequence of buttons in order to pick relevant major, minor, seventh, etc. chords. This is all well and good when you're following along in the companion app, but—personally—I can't help feeling that the mental effort and physical action of this could easily be employed to learning the notes of a real guitar. Or keyboard. Or recorder. Or whatever. 

Granted this thing gives you a massive head-start on having to learn chord shapes and, if you're picking up a guitar for the first time, chords are a big deal. Also, it's probably a bit easier on a beginner's fingers, and the smart app can guide you along as you play. 

Actually, the companion app seems to be the key to this from Magic Instrument's perspective. While the guitar will work just fine without it, you'll need the app to get song lyrics and chord progressions. This will be a service you pay for—either by individual song (or block of songs), or by monthly subscription. 

So…

Like I say, I'm bringing my own biases and preconceptions to this. I'm unlikely to be buying one of these (or ever repairing one). I'm not the target market and, given the current funding situation, that target market seems to have spoken. The writer from whom I first learned about this was incredibly excited about the idea. So who am I to question it?

I certainly wouldn't want to deprive anyone of playing a musical instrument. The MI page has a quote from Matt Bellamy, "For people who don't have time to learn guitar, Magic Instruments is the ultimate shortcut…"

Is that fair?

Am I missing something? It's easy to be dismissive of something like this if you're already over the hurdle of knowing some chords. I can't help feeling that time expended on this could be better spent with an actual musical instrument, and the potential of a much broader experience. 

Tell me what you think? I need opinions on this to help me process it. Thoughtful thoughts in the comments, please.

What do you think?

'50s Fender Factory Tour

This is magnificent and I really feel that every player should watch it. 

Restored film showing the Fender factory from circa 1959. That vintage, pre-CBS Strat you've been wishing for? That's it being set-up by the sweating, bare-chested, guy. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. 

I've got tons of respect for the men and women working here. Especially those blokes spraying without masks—they've all probably died from dissolved lungs by now. 

Brilliant. 

Huge thanks to Mark Chyna for sharing this with me. 

Did I mention, 'brilliant'?

Blown Nuts

Be careful with your nuts, kids.

Be careful with your nuts, kids.

Today I have blown two nuts. 

One after the other. 

The first was carelessness—I cut a string-slot too low. It happens, but it's annoying. The second was extra carelessness as I was rushing to make up time lost by screwing up the first nut. 

There's a life lesson here, kids. If you've already ruined a nut, don't risk another one by going at it too quickly. 

This post has been brought to you by the ghost of Sid James.

Illegal Downloads: Are We Really Killing Music?

are pirate downloads really killing music

An introductory word…

I've been thinking about this topic for a while now. I'd already written what you'll read below when I read Gene Simmons' thoughts (Rock is Finally Dead). Some of what he said resonated with how I felt (although I don't agree with it all). Dee Snider weighed in with his own opinion, and I tend more towards his views (except where he claims downloading is just sticking it to the man—I've much less faith in humanity). I recommend you read both articles, though. I reckon there's some validity in each.

My own disjointed thoughts follow.


Have you ever downloaded pirated music?

I have. I'm probably not what you'd call a super-pirate or anything, but I've downloaded stuff from shady sites.

I've stopped, though.

The Tired Analogy

Yes, yes, everyone knows that it's a pretty unoriginal argument to say, "Well, I don't expect to work for nothing, why should I expect someone else to?"

The truth is, though, even if it's unoriginal, it's right. I take pride in what I do and I work hard to do a good job. I'm pretty sure I provide something of value to people and I'm certainly not willing to do that for free. It rankles my sense of fairness to expect that I shouldn't compensate an artist for producing something that I value.

You might argue that's just my self-preservation instinct kicking in. After all, the people who pay me to do my job are musicians.

But that's not it.

The truth is, I've felt less and less comfortable downloading free stuff. My brain just ran out of ways to justify it and, as I pride myself on being a rational and fair guy, I can't just say, "Screw it, I'm doing it just because I want to!"

The Red Herring

"Oh, but the music industry is all corrupt and greedy and why should I pay to support that system?"

This is the boiled-down, red herring from almost any discussion of this topic. And, let's face it, it's easy to be cynical.

Years ago, when Napster was getting chased by Metallica, it was easy to be cynical—mega-rich Metallica bellyaching about a few free downloads. The same happens when the industry goes on one of its ill-advised lawsuit sprees. Engage cynicism.

Not really the point, though, is it?

While we can (perhaps justifiably) begrudge Richie McRich, Senior Vice-President of Rich Stuff at Sony, from getting a few extra bucks, the reality is that he's not really the one we're hurting when we pirate music. It's the boys and girls with the guitars, drum kits, and mics that bear the brunt. For every crass arsehole on Cribs, bragging that he wears his sneakers once and then throws them away, there are thousands of great musicians scraping by.

The corrupt-music-industry argument is just an easy way to minimise the cognitive dissonance we feel when we download music without paying—we're fighting back against the fat cats. Why, we're practically Robin Hood.

Bullshit.

Free stuff

It's a funny thing that, as a society, we have come to the conclusion that we don't need to pay for art. And, it's fair to lump pretty much all art in here—writers get seriously and continually kicked in the groin for free-work, and I'm sure you can include photographers, actors, painters, topiary sculptors, etc.

It would be interesting to investigate the reasons for this but that sounds like a job for someone working on a doctoral thesis to handle. Reasons aside, the evidence is pretty clear, especially for anyone with a job requiring payment for some art-form. Working for exposure has always been something that artists have done from time to time (and, let's face it, I'm giving away an ebook on this site) but, as a society, we seem to have moved from where a few would take advantage of that artist's free work to one where we, almost universally, expect that all her work be free.

The bottom line

I have some (vague) idea of how much it costs to make an album—studio time, producers, engineers, equipment, cocaine-burgers, etc. I have an idea but, let's face it, I don't really care. That's not really what sways me, or anybody else, when we're about to click that download link.

Some sense of fair exchange niggles though. I have albums that I've listened to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. Obviously, I enjoy that experience and it would be massively mean-spirited of me to suggest that I shouldn't have paid ten or fifteen bucks for that album.

If we value art or music, we need to find a way to reimburse the artist—both for that experience and so he or she can continue to make that art.

I value it. And I'll try to show that in the future.

We might not be killing music but it's wounded and we're not helping. Now to work in a Band Aid joke…


I'm quite open to comments and discussion on this. Of course it's ok if you disagree but, if you do, please consider whether your argument against paying for music can be legitimately summed up as 'I just don't want to'.


Apparently, this ad and reply are from Craigslist. They've been circling the net for some time. I've been unable to locate the original (and I tried—after my rant, copyright is important). If the content is yours or you've any info, let me know.

Quality Control

Mistakes happen on any line. It's inevitable. That's why there's an inspection stage at the end of an item's production. If the product is inspected and found to be defective in some way, the quality control process should reject that item and feed back the information to hopefully ensure it doesn't happen again. Quality control feeds back to quality assurance. 

When quality control fails to catch problems, a product is shipped that is not up to scratch and which may impact the user's ability to use it as intended. There's a very good argument that quality control is the most important function in any production line—it doesn't matter what mistakes are made as long as they don't leave the factory. 

Fret-end bevel extends beyond 1st string

Too much fret-end bevelling - string slips off edge of neck

On a completely unrelated topic, the fret-ends of this guitar have been bevelled at too shallow an angle. The end of the bevel is actually past the first string. Playing pretty much anything on this guitar's top E-string causes it to slip off the side of the neck. It's impossible to play well. 

Mistakes happen. 

I've seen this particular mistake on more than one occasion over the last year or so, though. All new instruments. One repair guy's evidence does not a conclusion make but I suspect a process failure somewhere. 

As a bit of good news, I'm informed that the manufacturer of these guitars has taken feedback on board and is concerned about any lapses in quality. Fingers crossed that this will translate to improved axes. 

Rant: A Little Pride

Fair warning: Ranting follows.

The other day, someone brought me a guitar with a problem—some fret buzz in places. He told me they'd seen two other repair guys who had done various things without actually solving the problem. The last guy dismissed his failure and told my customer that he'd "bought a copy and that's why it buzzed".

What a crock!

Now, even if this particular guitar were a 'copy', that's a pitiful excuse.

Look. Nobody's perfect. People make mistakes, people sometimes come across things that they can't do or don't know how to handle. This happens me, this happens everyone. What's annoying is the fobbing-off and the meaningless excuses.

Stop hiding your inability to do a particular job behind excuses. Stop pretending that the problem is outside of you. If you don't know something, don't blame the inanimate object you're working on—find out how to proceed or 'fess up.

Take a bit of bloody pride in your work. It doesn't matter what you're doing. Find a way to do the best job you possibly can.

To illustrate: Based on the evidence, much of my house was put together by tradesmen and builders who had given up on the 'pride in your work' ideal. There isn't a right-angle, plumb vertical, or level surface in the place and every single time I have to do a job in the house, I curse their laziness and careless attitudes.

I don't want someone in the future cursing my lack of care. I can see why some people might be ok with that, but I think that's a pretty selfish view.

Don't coast. Don't settle. Just bloody do it. If you fail, try again. Or, if it's truly something you feel you can't do, at least apologise without blaming things other than you.

Grrr.

Sorry… Was I shouting?


P.S. Rant over. I realise that what I'm railing against is actually bringing more business to me. This will either give you an idea of how strongly I feel about it, or confirm that I'm an idiot.