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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Yet another crushing letdown

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Having a meal on a long journey is always going to be a disappointing experience in Britain. If you're on the road, you generally get relegated to a motorway service station (rightly dubbed 'cathedrals of despair' by the great Bill Bailey) and charged 20 for a fry-up that consists of a measly rasher of bacon, some sausages made from old tennis balls and a fried egg that's clearly come from a bird much smaller than a chicken - a sparrow, perhaps - all washed down with a lovely mug of hot brown. Hot brown what, you can never be sure - it could be tea, coffee or Castrol GTX. Of course, almost all rural pubs do a decent slap which is why recently, whilst driving to a wedding in a part of the country with no motorway access from Brighton, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, I had visions of pulling into a delightful old pub in the Dorset countryside for a Ploughmans. But since it was single-carriageway roads, in the New Forest, in the summer, I spent the whole journey stuck behind caravans and lilac Korean hatchbacks so was running about an hour late by lunchtime, so I had to settle for a disgusting egg mayonnaise sandwich from a petrol station.

None of this, though, can bear you for the horror of having to eat on a train journey, especially in the south of England where anything to do with the railway network is priced way beyond the reach of mortal man. When I was coming back from a gig in London on the train once, I arrived in Victoria station (not so much a station as a vast retail and dining complex with some rails attached to it) feeling quite peckish. Somehow, I ended up paying 8 for a cheese and ham sandwich and a can of Diet Coke.

Most trains on the London to Brighton line have a trolley service but this is yet another disappointment. Generally it will sell sandwiches with the following fillings - cheese. 9.95 each. Then there's a few warm bottles of Fanta, some overpriced tea where the heinous crime is committed of introducing the teabag, water and milk to the polystyrene cup all at once, and as the announcer once announced on one train journey - 'a selection of waters'. How can there be a selection of waters? There isn't such thing as a selection of waters, there is water.

None of which in any way brings me on to some very interesting and overdue developments in the world of planet guitar. The first of these is that Gibson clearly read my blog - their next hi-tech guitar isn't dressed up in garish hues and carbon-fibre tinsel - it's the guts from a Firebird X, the fourth generation of their onboard wizardry, fitted to a nice old-fashioned sunburst Les Paul. It actually looks like a guitar that you'd play, not team with silk pyjamas and a velvet smoking jacket.

Then, Gretsch have decided to release some hollowbodies that would actually work as everyday guitars. Rather than constructing the bulkiest and most impractical body they can, finishing it with wattle and daub then slapping on as much hardware as will physically fit, they have thinned out the body thickness to ES-335 proportions and shoved a centre block in the middle to quash the uncontrollable feedback that you get from a Gretsch hollowbody if there's a slightly overdriven amp anywhere within 5 miles of the guitar.

They may be in the Professional range and therefore eye-wateringly expensive, but when quizzed about whether an Electromatic version was in the pipeline, the heads of Gretsch's R&D reportedly said they couldn't confirm or deny anything whilst nodding vigorously. I'm hoping that by the time I can afford a Gretsch Electromatic hollowbody, these ones will be out, and I'm hoping that since they aren't the size of the Milky Way they'll be cheaper than the standard hollowbodies.

But then, came the inevitable crash back down to Earth. Squier have released a Vintage Modified version of the Cabronita Telecaster. If you're unfamiliar with this guitar, it's a Telecaster with a brace of Filter'Trons and, well, that's about it. It's a rough and ready rock and roll machine and a serious contender for the most outright cool guitar for about the last 20 years. It started off as a Custom Shop-only model, before Fender noticed how a lot of people liked the idea and were beginning to shoehorn Filter'Trons into stock Teles, so they released a Mexican version. And now, Squier have stuck the Vintage Modified moniker on one and it's less than 300. This is something I have been waiting for for some time. In recent years, this marque has been home to everything from some Frankenstein'd Strats and Teles to J Mascis Jazzmasters and Bass VIs - Squier is now no longer a 'my first guitar' brand but a serious player and the Vintage Modified ones give a lot of entry-level Fenders a run for their money.

So what is the disappointment? Well, think of what a Tele with Filter'Trons is evoking. It's leather jackets, Brylcreemed hair, sweaty dive bars, whisky and absolutely no more than three chords. Sadly, the Squier version is available only in black, dark greyish black or black, with a white pickguard - as I have said before this is the most boring and unoriginal colour scheme it is possible to have on a guitar. Where's the Candy Apple Red, Lake Placid Blue, Seafoam Green or the other garish finishes from the Fender catalogue? Clearly, anyone who buys this guitar just wants a Gretsch but either can't afford one or can't be bothered to put up with all the idiosyncrasies, but nobody buys a Gretsch thinking 'I want something that's nicely subtle and understated'. No, you buy a white and gold one, or a bright orange one. Not a black one.

I've got a suggestion for Squier then - they should be renaming the Vintage Modified series the 'National Rail catering trolley series'.
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