Jol Dantzig's Esoterica Electrica: Meet the New Boss
Human beings are an essential resource needed to run a modern business, but are they taken seriously?

Everyone wants lower prices and better quality when it comes to guitars and gear, but at what price?

What is a guitar? Is it a tool designed to pound out notes like a hammer hits nails, or is it a soulmate that shares your deepest emotions? Some believe a musical instrument is a piece of art, while others view it as a means to an end—hopefully music. And although I believe there’s more to the equation than just one or the other, there’s a good argument for it being all of the above.

Although musical instruments are indeed commercial products, they occupy a place in our hearts unlike, for example, a toaster might. I harbor no illusions about art when it comes to the mass production of golden-age vintage guitars. As a veteran of manufacturing, I understand that a widget is a widget, but when I hear about legacy brands in any industry changing hands, I wonder what lies ahead.

For many companies that produce musical instruments, the end game is not music. The management team may have iTunes accounts, or even own guitars. The CEO might have even played in a band in high school. But as they say, the business of business is business, so bust out the pie charts and round up the focus groups. To be sure, guitar advertising strives to connect with us as players by using current slang and evocative images and language, but that is biz craft. Advertising agencies tap into this ethos by painting products with the colors of aspiration to draw in customers and get them to buy. They call it conversions. Musicians want to be connected to the continuum of art and history, whether they realize it or not. But advertising doesn’t make an object great, and it doesn’t guarantee the company’s employees ethical treatment.

I’ve worked in small shops (as I do today) and within the confines of the corporate structure of the big guns. I make no apologies for wanting to make a living. What makes me cringe is the pursuit of profit over principle.

Slow, steady, and sustainable growth is a lost art deemed laughable by the startup generation, and the illusion of quality at cheap prices is created on the backs of us all.

Of course, no business prefers to lose money, but sometimes the pressure from investors and/or banks to squeeze out every dime can be overwhelming. Just like Robert Johnson, this is when companies come to the crossroads. Sometimes it means hiring efficiency experts with “culture building” programs, and others it might mean calling in a “turnaround” CEO.

Over the decades, I’ve seen the flavor-of-the month strategies—rich with buzzwords and acronyms—come and go. Six Sigma, kaizen, TPM, TQM, and lean manufacturing are all promising the same thing: efficiency and return on investment. What they usually deliver is a lot of eye rolling in the work force. The relentless push to create more profit and cut the fat has oozed into every facet of American business. The result is often stagnant wages, declining levels of benefits, and lower quality materials. The one thing I’ve never heard in a meeting is, “Let’s focus on making a great product and take good care of our workers and customers.” Well, I’ve heard something like that, but mainly as lip service. Focusing on rectitude cuts short-term profits, and when financiers own the company, nothing else matters.

When I hear arguments about legacy brands, people often wish for lower prices and better quality. In response, the manufacturers’ emphasis shifts to efficiency rather than sustainability. Slow, steady, and sustainable growth is a lost art deemed laughable by the startup generation, and the illusion of quality at cheap prices is created on the backs of us all. As a guitarist, I’m down with the romance of where a guitar sits in the continuum of history—not only the history of music, but the story of popular culture. So, when I hear about buyouts, takeovers, restructuring, and turnarounds, I truly wish for the best. It’s important to me on many deep levels, and I know I’m not alone … for now.

A faithful recreation of the Germanium Mosrite Fuzzrite with a modern twist.

Read MoreShow less

Presets extend the flexibility of an already expansive and easy-to-use reverb.

Intuitive. Great range in all controls. Well-built.

Some digital artifacts at long decay times.


Walrus Audio Slötvå


Walrus Audio is a prolific builder, but, as the five reverb pedals in their lineup suggest, they have a real affinity for manipulating time and space. The beauty of the Slötvå reverb (which is derived from the company’s very similar Spin FV-1 chip-based Slö reverb) is how satisfying and simple it makes dramatic shifts between time/space textures.

Read MoreShow less

With such a flashy flame top, the Silvertone 1445 was built to catch the eyes of department store shoppers.

I don’t know what’s going on lately, but I’m breaking down all over and my shoulder is the latest to crumble. When I was a kid I would practice guitar in my bedroom near a radiator with an ungrounded amp plug and I’d get a zap right through my guitar and into my hands. Well, my shoulder pain is like that now, only without the cool story of rock ’n’ roll survival. I simply woke up one day like this. After a few weeks of discomfort, I figured I’d try out a new pillow, since mine are flattened like a wafer. I ventured out to the mall and, much to my sadness, saw the local Sears store shuttered, with weeds growing up from the sidewalks and concrete barriers blocking the large glass doors. I know I don’t get out much, but, man, was I sad to see the Sears store I’d known since childhood closed-up like that. My wife was laughing at me because apparently it had been closed for some time. But since I seem to exist on a separate timeline than most folks, it was all news to me.

Read MoreShow less