Tag Archives: value

Gear Talk (3)

Summer has ended, and with it wedding season. The number of gigs I’ve been playing each week is now returning to a level more compatible with two other jobs and a master’s degree. Now I have time to take stock and update you on my two new working guitars…

Vintage Modified Strat in vintage blonde (left) & Classic Vibe Strat in fiesta red (right).

My previous Strat, one of the new Fender Made in Mexico Standards, featured coil-tapping on both the neck & bridge pickups. In my current function band, I found myself playing it almost exclusively in the single-coil setting. After years of having a humbucker in the bridge position, I finally fell in love with the classic single-coil Strat sound. As it turned out, the Mexican Strat’s neck didn’t feel quite right for me – a trifle too thick, certainly compared to the thinner, vintage feel of my favourite blue Strat (see ‘Gear Talk’ 1 & 2). At the same time, I’d read several reviews singing the praises of the top-end Squier models. It seemed that Squier were no longer solely the savvy choice for the beginner.

I’d been looking for two guitars which sound and feel similar enough to each other to make mid-gig changes much smoother. The weight and shape/feel of the neck needed to feel close to identical, while the sound had to match up as best as it could. I had also been hoping to use more budget-concious instruments – if the build quality was up to it – in order to retire my favourite blue Strat from regular function gigs. On paper, the squires seemed ideal, so I took the plunge and bought two varying models on a retro theme…

Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster

The rave reviews on the deluxe, Classic Vibe and new Vintage Modified lines claimed that many guitarists might well be fooled in a blindfold test with some of Fender’s classic guitars. Likewise, build quality and parts were considered by some to surpass the recent Mexican standards. With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Squier Vintage Modified Strat, finished in a quote lovely custard yellow colour they call Vintage Blonde.

The Vintage Modified range aims to replicate a vintage guitar that’s been retro-fitted with player upgrades. Here, that means Duncan-designed pickups, a better bridge than the entry-level Squiers, a thin, tinted neck and vintage style tuners for better stability. The pickups appear to be a slightly aged off-White, adding to the retro vibe. Best of all (in my opinion), it has the large headstock that Fender started using in the last sixties/early seventies, which is the most obvious nod to the past.

I really like the sound of this guitar. And that’s not compared to Squier’s Affinity range, but the Mexican standards. The basswood body is lighter, but it doesn’t have an obvious effect on either the sound or sustain if this guitar, even compared to my Blue Mexican. Likewise the feel, not to mention the incredible playability, of this guitar far exceed its humble price tag. This has become my main axe for function work. All I needed now was a similar beast to partner it with…

Classic Vibe Simon Neil Stratocaster

I’m going to come clean here and admit I’d never heard of Simon Neil. While I had heard of his band, Biffy Clyro, I couldn’t name or even recognise a single song of theirs, nor could I adequately describe their style. However, friends more clued up on this sort of thing than I am informed me they have a mix of street cred with a younger audience and play interesting, heavy rock music. The specs on this guitar imply that Mr Neil has good, and indeed similar, taste in guitars to me. While I wouldn’t normally buy a signature model (other than a Les Paul, naturally), seeing this guitar going for £200 second hand was too good an opportunity to pass up. Heck, if I didn’t like it, I could always sell it on.

This (now discontinued) guitar is essentially a budget-friendly version of the Fender Simon Neil signature model. Based on a ’62 Strat in gorgeous Fiesta Red, it certainly looks the part. The Mark Knophler/early Hank Marvin vibe in the aesthetic was enough to override any boggling doubts about the subtle Biffy Clyro logo on the headstock. The rosewood fingerboard is slightly lighter than expected, but sounds as warm and dark as you’d expect. As with the Vintage Modufied guitar, the bridge and tuners are an upgrade from those axes at the lower end of the Squier range, and the overall build quality feels like another great job from their Chinese factory. The pickups are a custom mix of Alcino 3 and 5 magnets, which offer up a delightful blend of early and late 60’s Strat tones in one guitar. Very nice!

Having played this guitar for a couple of weeks now, I feel it’s here to stay. I’m currently setting it up so it’s gig-ready, as the action on the two guitars wasn’t quite matching up. There is a slight difference in the sound, particularly when overdriven, but it’s close enough to be complimentary. Other than that, and the obvious differences in finish, these guitars feel the same in my hands and under my fingers, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Finally, even though I never thought I’d say this, I encourage you to give Squier (and indeed other budget models) a go before spending all your money on the top-end guitar brands. Now, more than ever, you may well find the difference is that you’re paying extra for the name. All in, these two new guitars cost less than one New Mexican standard, and for what I need as a working musician, they do the job exceedingly well. Join us, and you too can live the two Squier dream onstage!

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Music & Wellbeing (Part 1): The Intrinsic Value of Music

The below article is an edited extract from my recent thesis for Sunderland University, on the benefits of music on wellbeing. Over the next few ‘chapters’, I shall investigate the aesthetic, holistic, physical and education angles of music as an aid to improving wellbeing.

But first, an introduction into the value of music within itself, or rather, the value we humans place upon it. I hope you enjoy reading this and the instalments to follow. If you have any comments please do not hesitate to contact me.

The intrinsic value of music

‘For humans, music is a means of expressing and experiencing ‘love, excitement, joy, sadness and even spiritual fulfilment’ (Green, 1986, p. 69). John Cage (1952) famously stated that ‘everything is music’. By contrast, Claude Debussy remarked that ‘music is the space between the notes’ (quoted in Green, 1986, p. 70). This does, however, imply that some organisation of notes is required, if only to determine the length and perceived colours of these spaces, and the impact they may have upon hearing them.

Nicholas Cook (1998) elaborates further on the meaning of music, maintaining that music’s value is paramount due to its presence at the heart of everything we are and do as a species:

Rather than being something apart, music is in the very midst of things. In fact it’s less a ‘something’ than a way of knowing the world, a way of being ourselves. (Cook, 1998, p. vii)

Some believe the meanings we take away from music will always be unique to us; that everything we feel from music, good and bad, exists solely ‘in the audience’ (Cage, 1968, p. 97). This further demonstrates a need for contextualisation or interpretation on the part of the listener. However, I believe it carries the same underlying message as Cook (1998): music is not only important to us, but the listener will apply some means of interpretation to it, whether by concentrated thought or subconsciously. What the listener may discern from these sounds is effectively up to the listener alone.

Of course, what music we chose to consume is in part formed and shaped by our social conditions, with some allowances for personal taste (Shuker, 2008, p. 173). Martin (1995, pp. 75-76) even suggested that some forms of music can be shaped based on the traits and characteristics of the society from with it originates. This sentiment is, to some degree, rebuffed by Matthew Kieran (2013), who believed certain pieces had more relevance to an individual than another might:

To value Bach’s Cello Suites just because they cheer me up implies that they are replaceable by something that performs the same function as well or better, whether it be a feel-good movie or a night out. However, to find intrinsic value in a work is to appreciate the imaginative experience it properly affords, which may be beautiful, moving uplifting, pleasurable, insightful or profound. But it is the particular nature of the work that guides our active mental engagement and responses to it. Hence there is something about the experience of a particular work, if it is intrinsically valuable, that cannot be replaced by another. (Kieran, 2013, p. 289)

Citing Barber’s Adagio for Strings as another example, Kieran (2013) made further interesting observations on the nature of music’s value to the individual as art:

In terms of technical musical complexity the piece is relatively simple and yet in terms of expressivity it is a great piece of music…It is no coincidence that the Adagio for Strings has been used for state funerals and as the thematic music for Oliver Stone’s Platoon. The piece of music may not be about anything in the strict representational sense, yet its expressive development moves between melancholy, grief and reconciliation. (Kieran, 2013, p. 289)

Kieran’s (2013) argues that while other pieces of music may express similar sentiments to Barber’s Adagio, due to subtle differences, they can never do so in exactly the same way. This implies the listener is investing emotions onto the music, rather than the other way around. This poses some difficulties in using specific musical pieces as therapy. While drugs have an overall blanket effect on the body, whether our minds will them to or not, ‘good artworks are not dispensable in the way drugs are…in the case of art the experience is a result of our active mental engagement with the work’ (Kieran, 2013, p. 290).

Stecker (1997, 2010), on the other hand, holds the view that art is instrumental in value. We value music because of the experience it affords; the ends it realises. Kieran (2013, p. 290) differentiates between Stecker’s (1997, 2010) viewpoint that art is instrumental in value, and his own belief that art has an inherent value. He argues that money, for example, has no value in itself, and is purely of instrumental value to gain materials or realise certain situations. However, the relationship of money to the ends it can supply is entirely external. The only way by which the outcome is affected by money is as means of its attainment. Meanwhile music, to paraphrase Lynn H. Hough (1920), is more about the journey than the destination. So to find inherent value in music, it can’t merely ‘be the means to a valuable end, but also the means must partly constitute and thus be internal to the ends involved’ (Kieran, 2013, p. 290).

To that end, Rycenga (1994) described how music, and her own compositional process, gave her the confidence and freedom to be comfortable and active in her own sexuality, thus highlighting the human value of music on an emotional level:

All of these summoned a strongly physical response from me. If it had not been for the ways in which music acted upon me, music acted in me, music touched me, it is unlikely that I would have been able to act as decisively in a physical sense as I did. (Rycenga, 1994, p. 276)

To be free to be yourself, comfortable in who you are, implies an improved state of wellbeing compared to a repressed individual. This is especially true in coming to terms with your sexuality (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 34).

So what is the value of music in relation to our own wellbeing? Can music, the planned organisation of pitch and rhythm be beneficial as an aid to our overall physical condition or improved mental health? In attempting to find the value of music in human wellbeing, I will look across three main areas. In chapter one, I will examine music’s effect on feelings of pleasure, followed by an overview of how music therapy is being used to improve mental health.

The following instalments in this blog series will feature the next chapter in my thesis, focusing on the use of music to improve physical health. This will include studies evaluating its application as a means of pain relief. Finally, following Merriam & Kee’s (2014) view that better educational wellbeing leads to an improved adult life, the following chapters will look at the application of music therapy in schools. This will include a case study, undertaken by myself, examining the benefits of music-based interventions for literacy improvement in children with special education needs (SEN). Relying on current thinking by the best practitioners and writers in this relatively new field of study, the following instalments will attempt to determine the value of music in our lives, beyond the ephemeral, beyond existing objectively as art.

REFERENCES

Cage, J. (1952) 4’33’’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4 (Last Accessed: 12/05/2012).

Cook, N. (1998) Music: a very short introduction. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Green, B. (1986) The inner game of music. United States: Pan Books.

Kieran, M. (2013) ‘Value of art’, in Gaut, B. & McIver Lopes, D. (eds.) The routledge companion to aesthetics. 3rd Edition. USA & Canada: Routledge, pp. 289-298.

Martin, P. (1995) Sounds and society: themes in the sociology of music. Great Britain: Manchester University Press.

Merriam, S., & Kee, Y. (2014) ‘Promoting Community Wellbeing: The Case for Lifelong Learning for Older Adults’, Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 128-144. Available from: 10.1177/0741713613513633.

Rycenga, J. (1994) ‘Lesbian compositional process: one lover-composer’s perspective’, in Brett, P., Wood, E. & Thomas, G.C. (eds.) Queering the pitch: the new gay and lesbian musicology. Great Britain: Routledge, pp. 275-296.

Shuker, R. (2008) Understanding popular music culture. Third edition. USA & Canada: Routledge.

Tasker, F., & McCann, D. (1999) ‘Affirming patterns of adolescent sexual identity: the challenge’, Journal of Family Therapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 30-54.