Tuning Up: Fly Your Freak Flag High
A candid reply to internet trolls slinging mud at the unorthodox designs of fearlessly forward-thinking German luthier Uli Teuffel.
Just prior to finishing the issue you’re holding in your eager hands (or reading on your favorite digital device), most of the PG staff had put in several long days at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. We hate to brag, but we won’t lie, either—when it comes to gear coverage, we absolutely dominated the show. No matter where you were on the floor, you could pretty much turn your head and see one of our eight editors in their highly visible black PG T-shirt, cruising from one booth to the next to snap photos and shoot HD videos. If you couldn’t be in Nashville to visit the show yourself, all you had to do was keep an eye on our Facebook wall (facebook.com/premierguitar) throughout the day to see a continuous strings of posts—with specs and a nice picture—on the cool new guitar and bass goodies. And by nightfall each day, we had several video demos from the show up on premierguitar.com and on our YouTube channel.
It was a grueling trip, to be sure. But that’s because we’re sort of the freaks of guitar-media universe. No other guitar outlet gets you pics and info in virtual real time, and then provides you with video demos on the latest gear as fast or as professionally as we do. (We usually get you reviews of that new gear before the other guys, too.) That’s why our YouTube channel is at 15 million views and counting.
For me, one of the most enjoyable videos of the show was a demo we shot of the Teuffel Tesla Prodigy guitar. I’ve known of Ulrich Teuffel’s gorgeously futuristic designs for years, but I’d never seen one in person, let alone heard one played in front of me. We asked Jamie Gale, Teuffel’s North American distributor, to demo the guitar. Though Jamie had only been working with the German company for a few weeks and had hardly played the rather strangely outfitted instrument—which has three momentary switches for a 60-cycle-hum generator, a kill switch, and a feedback generator—he agreed to do so. I felt bad asking him to do it, because I knew it would be daunting to come up with a musical way to incorporate such avant-garde features on the spur of the moment, but I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip through our fingers—if PG didn’t get a nice-looking, well-mic’d demo of the Tesla Prodigy, who else would?
It didn’t take long for the traditionalist haters/trolls to descend on Jamie and Teuffel after we’d uploaded the video to YouTube. The comments section was filled with predictable shots about the unusual looks and not-for-everyone features, in addition to a lot of over-the-top jackass comments from people with closed minds and/or insecure egos. Several people were sure that I, as the interviewer, shared their sentiments.
They couldn’t have been further from the truth: Though I felt bad for putting Jamie on the immortalized-on-YouTube spot with such an unusual instrument—a guitar I would’ve been scared to demo on such short notice, too—if I could’ve chosen one instrument from the NAMM-show floor to take home and mess around with for a while, it probably would’ve been the Tesla Prodigy. And I stand behind the video, too: Jamie did a great job under such duress, and the audio from the video speaks for itself. Even if you think the three weirdo switches are uncalled for, there’s no denying that the guitar generated fantastic tones through the tiny Blackstar combo blasting into our SM57.
A day or two after the show, I got a call from Jamie. As a businessman, he was worried about his client’s wares being slagged in the slums of YouTube comment sections. Of course, as a player, he also hated being unfairly crapped on every bit as much as you and I would. He wondered if it would be best to take the video down. I left it up to him, but I told him my take on the whole situation: “Fly your freak flag high, man!”
Jamie agreed we should leave the video up after we ruminated on how the internet’s anonymity can turn otherwise decent people into know-it-all jerks—it’s a pastime for a certain element of society—and after I reiterated that there was really no other place online where you could find a video that focused on Teuffel’s handsome guitar like ours did. More importantly, though, I reminded him that a lot of the stuff we consider totally mundane now—distortion, flanging, backward effects, and radical pitch shifting, to name a few—began their existence as magnets for society’s dung-bomb throwers. Hell, can you imagine what people were saying about Paul Bigsby when he built that first solidbody for Merle Travis while everyone else was building acoustics and semi-hollow guitars?
I’m not saying someday we’ll all have 60-cycle-hum buttons on our guitars, but I believe in a future that’s wide open for people to shake off the shackles of convention and keep blazing a trail forward while taking what they need/want from the tried-and-true approaches of the past. The Tesla Prodigy may or may not be for you, but that’s not the point. The point is that the audacious spirit embodied by Ulrich Teuffel’s design is the very spirit that led to practically all the musical innovations we treasure today—both in the instruments we play and the music we listen to. Those who fly their freak flags high are those who are remembered. Think of just about any legendary musician or instrument builder out there, and I think you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.