Monday, February 26, 2018

Guitar Control, Day 7: Music Revolution

The punks were the first to stock up on Crossfire guitars in big numbers. Some of them were middle-class young men and women with money from jobs or parents. Others made enough in gigs or sales or side businesses to finance their equipment. Others weren't afraid to commit a few crimes to get the new gear.

Really, why would anybody not rush out and upgrade? You could buy a new Crossfire guitar for under a thousand dollars, or modify your favorite existing guitar for even less. You'd sacrifice a little in amp flexibility. But suddenly you were totally mobile, much more powerful, and able to take whatever music you wanted to whatever place you wanted.

Raucous shows that a few weeks ago would have been reserved for well-worn clubs in battered neighborhoods were now taking place in suburban parks and streets and yards. Even at tamed-down volume levels, songs about anger or angst or anarchy would come crashing through shopping districts and schoolyards.  The punks were visible in a whole new way.

In the inner suburbs and cities, rap and hip-hop followed quickly. Trap and dubstep and crunk artists picked up Crossfire guitars and worked them into their music. People with roots from all over the world could combine the guitar's raw power with the sounds of their heritage and the experiences of modern life. It was impossible to track how quickly the music evolved. One group would hear the work of another, and both would invent something new from the mix.

The sounds were everywhere, and they were sounds of unrest and frustration, channeled through loud streams of unimaginable possibility. They were often accompanied by the sounds of breaking glass, falling bricks and lumber, blaring car alarms, and sirens.

Since this was news, the sounds were also broadcast over every conceivable medium. The revolution was about to be televised. Clearly, this could not be allowed to continue.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Guitar Control, Day 6: Crossfire

Jim did a little research, and was amazed at what he found. A little electronics company in a Cleveland suburb had already set up a manufacturing facility. They were starting with kits, and training guitar players and techs and music shop owners to fit the kit into existing guitars. When he first held one of their units, Jim recognized technology very similar to what he created for that original black Stratocaster. But there were some design tweaks here and there, completely professional wiring and soldering and packaging, and expert installation and integration with the guitar. He was so impressed that he never entertained any idea of filing for patent infringement.

The kits were being sold under the name "Crossfire." They had beaten him to finding a cool name, too.

It was instantly clear how revolutionary this was going to be. They were buying and building in quantity, and production speed was ramping up quickly. The Crossfire units were making news everywhere, already being transported around the country for performing and prototyping. The original units were perfect for clubs and small concert halls. But from his own first overpowered attempt, Jim knew that it wouldn't take long for new design variations to be produced, some with different features, some with vastly greater capability. Guitar music would never be the same.

There were also developments that weren't nearly so easy to see. Professional guitarists and bands would love the convenience and power and unique sound, and would incorporate it into their work. But it turned out that amateurs and hobbyists and wannabes - anybody who could come up with a thousand bucks or so - would also find the Crossfire and related guitars irresistible. You had to be able to strap it on, work the fingerboard with minimal precision, and operate the controls to dial in the amplification components properly. But that was it. Regardless of skill or experience, anybody who wanted to make a really loud electric guitar noise now had no reason not to.

The pros went out to take time and practice. The amateurs started Crossfiring each other across streets and neighborhoods, first in Ohio, then throughout the Midwest, then around the country and beyond. It became common to see scenes of wild-haired young men using their freshly upgraded guitars to warp street signs, knock down bricks, and intimidate neighbors. Guitar battling was about to take on a whole new meaning.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Guitar Control, Day 5: News

Jim's cell phone rang. It was a local number, but one he didn't recognize. He touched the Answer icon. "Hello?"

"Hello, this is the Plain Dealer, calling to see if you have any comment on these guitars."

"Excuse me? These guitars?"

"These guitars that are causing quite a stir - in addition to some property damage and official attention. We have a tip that you might be the original inventory of the technology behind them. Would you care to comment?"

"I ... uh ... don't know what you're talking about."

"Shall I put that down as a 'no comment,' then?"

"Um ... yes, I have no comment."

"Thank you. We may be calling back again as the story develops."

Jim truthfully didn't have any idea what she was talking about. He told himself that he really did need to actually read those papers they delivered. Or at least check their website...

Setting down the phone, and opening up his laptop, he typed in the address. He was ready to enter
something into the search box, but it wasn't necessary. A few lines down, he saw the headline: "Self-amplifying guitars are rocking our world." A photo showed a wild-haired young man Jim didn't recognize, right hand at the end of a hefty downstroke over the strings of a modified Gibson sunburst. Modified with a familiar-looking slab embedded in the top face of the body. In the foreground of the picture, a low brick wall was in the process of crumbling apart.

Jim's mind still could not come up with a comment.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Guitar Control, Day 4: Check It Out

With a sigh of immense relief, Jim slumped down on the couch. The guitar was back. A note on the side table explained: one of his guitar-playing friends had borrowed it, thought Jim might have missed it, and brought it back.

Up until the guitar had disappeared, Jim's worries about it had been lessening. With a little planning and tinkering, the critical anti-feedback changes weren't hard or expensive. He had switched to a much smaller power supply. And as he had taken the time to wire in the basic sound modules, he had decided to add a simple noise gate to avoid overload too. Fortunately for him and his marriage, the damage to the window was also repaired easily enough.

With the extra changes made, Jim had been able to play the guitar more and more, with results that were heart-poundingly satisfying. The sound and tone were good, and he kept marveling that with no amp except the built-in ... thing that really needed a name ... it was loud, and clear, and versatile. The lower power level could still rattle walls and thump your chest, but otherwise treated its surroundings well.

Convinced that it was ready for someone else to see, Jim had brought the guitar to show a few friends. He laughed proudly as they took turns playing it in their own styles and showing amazement at the sound. The whole concept of a self-amplifying guitar started several rounds of brainstorming and speculating about how it could be used. Jim's friends confirmed that he had something really valuable on his hands.

That made the guitar's disappearance all the more shocking and frightening. Jim went home after work, spent a few minutes checking mail and getting comfortable, walked into the bedroom he used for practice - and saw an empty space where he knew he had left the guitar.

Now it was back. The friend had a chance to show it to some other guys who played in a local band and had some experience designing amp systems. No big deal, the friend's note said. Sorry to take it without asking, but no harm done. A couple of the more technical guys took a few notes, and had talked about trying the design out for themselves with a couple of modifications. Wouldn't it be cool to be the inventor of something that really caught on?

Wouldn't it?