Categories
Guitars

Kasuga “Deluxe” LG-480BS

I didn’t have much disposable income as a teen. So, when a friend bought an electric guitar, I made lots of measurements, got a luthiery book from the local library, and made my first electric guitar from plywood and cheap hardware. It worked, but it wasn’t great, and it wasn’t pretty.

The Plywood Plank (TM)

A year or so later, I went halves with my parents, and got a used electric guitar for my 16th birthday, from Reidy’s in Blackburn. When I saw that tiger maple hanging on the wall, it was love at first sight. It was heavy, well built, with cream binding, a gorgeous rosewood fretboard and medium frets, smooth Grover style machine heads, and it played very nicely. But, all that was written on the guitar were the words “Kasuga Deluxe”. It was a mysterious mahogany beast from the Far East.

I decided that the wood finish was too gorgeous to spoil with plastic. So I removed the cream pickup selector ring and pickguard, and replaced the cream pickup rings with ‘cool’ black ones. Phwoar!

The Kasuga served me well. For 10 years, I recorded numerous songs and played a dozen gigs in several bands across the Northwest. And then, the thing which happens to many people in their 20s, happened to me. I got a job, got married, and had kids. The guitar hung on a hook on the wall for almost 3 decades. Occasionally, it would come down for a dusting, and I would struggle to remember how to play anything. A couple of times, I tried to restart the playing, but it never lasted long.

70s Kasuga catalogue

In 2018, I joined a group of mature amateur musicians. This was the catalyst I needed to resume my passion for playing guitar. The Kasuga got a good clean and a set of new strings. I also decided that I was long overdue that fancy guitar I’d always dreamed of, and the Kasuga ended up back on the wall.

Meanwhile, as the internet had become a thing since I acquired the Kasuga, I decided to do some research. I discovered that the Deluxe was actually called an LG-480BS, and it originated in a Japanese factory sometime around 1976. Kasuga was a respected if little-known company, which had made good midrange electrics and acoustics for a range of well-known Japanese and western guitar manufacturers for many years.

As my renewed guitar obsession progressed, I started to feel sad about the Kasuga, which was being betrayed on a daily basis. I’d even tried out a few real Les Pauls. But none of them played as well as mine. So, one day, I decided to make it up to her. I was going to give her a deluxe make-over.

Off came the nut, revealing a rather chunky slab rosewood fretboard.
On went a new bone nut.
Those strings were made to sit nice and low.
The gloss neck was exfoliated with fine grade sandpaper, giving it a silky satin finish.
I splashed out on some used Seymour Duncan Seth Lover PAF pickups, and cream pickup rings. These pickups are supposed to be the closest thing to Les Paul gold that you could buy without a mortgage.
The crackly old pots were replaced with new vintage taper pots, wired 50s style, and the speed knobs were replaced with early Standard style bell knobs.

I also replaced the knobbly old bridge saddles with smart shiny new ones. The Kasuga was hot to trot.

So now, it looks a little more and sounds a little more like a £250k 1959/1960 Les Paul Standard. The bolt-on neck (neatly hidden from view) still sustains almost as well as a glued-in neck. The comfy 10-inch radius fretboard and satin slim C profile neck is a delight to play. The pickups sound old, expensive, and like they’ve seen a few things in their time. And she still looks gorgeous. Not bad for approaching 50!

Categories
General

What is Progressive Rock, anyway?

This question has crossed my mind a lot in the last couple of days. I’ve seen it discussed online too in recent months. I’ve never seen a satisfactory explanation. I have my own idea of what Progressive Rock actually is, or at least what it feels like. But, putting this into words is harder than it looks.

I was compelled to put my thoughts into pixels during a long car journey, accompanied by the music of noughties US bands The Polyphonic Spree and Subtle, when my mind wandered around the land of Prog for an hour or two. I was still recovering from a lunchtime discussion during a band rehearsal, where that old chestnut was raised, debated, and left unresolved. I think I got a little closer to the answer, by the time I arrived…

Accepted wisdom states that Progressive Rock is flowery music about wizards made by ex-hippies in flares, who attained Grade 8 in their chosen instrument at Boys’ Grammar School. The songs are long and meandering—so long, in fact, that an album of only 2–4 tracks including some complicated time signatures and plenty of Mellotron should be of no surprise. Accepted wisdom—oh, the irony.

Let’s face it, Prog Rock got a bad name from this common perception. And this previously-hip musical genre was outcast with the advent of back-to-basics Punk and Disco in the mid- to late-seventies. Much of this accepted wisdom remains to this day. Even Progressive Rock fans sort of believe it. I went along with it, ashamedly, though I never really fully believed it.

What do I know, anyway? Who am I to judge? What follows is only an opinion. The cool thing about music is that it’s subjective. And it is very personal. People argue about music all the time, and all opinions are valid. But my opinion is more valider.

Unknowingly, I got into Progressive Rock at a very early age—probably 7 or 8. I was the youngest in my family, and I was influenced by teens with growing record collections, because there wasn’t much else to do in the early seventies. I say “unknowingly” because it was all just music to me back then. I was weaned on a diet of Beatles, Beach Boys, Focus, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Stackridge, Roxy Music, Supertramp and Mike Oldfield. At the age of 11, my first favourite band was 10cc.

Back then, Progressive Rock was as much a fashion as a musical genre. And fashions change. True to form, I didn’t properly get into Progressive Rock until age 13, in the late seventies, when it was very uncool. That’s when I knew the type of music I liked had a name, and I had to find more of it to listen to. My new favourite band was Yes. My bedroom wall was covered with Roger Dean posters and band photos. I learned to play guitar on a diet of S.H. (Steve Howe, Steve Hackett and Steve Hillage).

I had to be content with listening to records by bands who’d gone a bit crap. They’d had their day. By the early eighties, it was a bit embarrassing. When asked which my favourite bands were, my responses were met with a mixture of disgust and amusement, because they were currently making shit records. They didn’t know one of the universal laws of Physics, which states that, “a band’s best albums are usually their earliest.” When I ran out of good Progressive Rock to listen to, I moved on to what the people in the know were calling New Wave. Anyway, I digress…

Some time in the nineties I had an epiphany. Quite a few of the albums I had been enjoying over the last decade were pressing the same buttons as those seventies Prog albums. I eventually created a website called Prog’s Not Dead, dedicated to contemporary albums which I felt followed the Spirit of Prog and yet avoided that classification. [Don’t look for it; I wiped it a long time ago.] It was around then that I realised that popular bands like Radiohead were very much Prog, and that Punk, Dance, Folk and Hip-Hop could be Prog too.

Fast forward to recent times. In 2021, a band answered my musicians wanted ad, asking if I’d be interested in joining them in their Prog Rock band. My initial thought was, “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA, no.”* I hadn’t followed actual out-of-the-closet Progressive Rock since the early 80s. Don’t get me wrong—I still love my seventies Prog—but, it was in the past. The post-seventies Progressive Rock bands I’d heard had been pretty dire, in my not-so-humble opinion. Why would you try to recreate that magnificent musical genre if you couldn’t do it any justice?!

Back to today, and I’m daydreaming in the car to a soundtrack of hippy choral indie rock and experimental hip-hop from the mid-noughties. Both albums strike me as being very Prog. Neither has long meandering songs with weird time signatures or great instrumental prowess. No fancy solos, or references to dragons or faeries. No sci-fi album covers. But they are still Prog. Why are they Prog? There must be a pattern, a code or a formula!

Then it began to dawn on me. You have to separate the ‘Progressive’ from the ‘Rock’. They are two different things. Rock music emerged in the mid-sixties, and, like Blues, Chart Pop and Traditional Jazz, had a defined set of musical parameters: raunchy guitars, earnest singing, pumping bass and hard-working drums. Verse, chorus, bridge/solo. The Progressive guys found this a bit boring and predictable, and messed around with the format. It’s as simple as that. I guess you could say that, by the mid-seventies, the Progressive guys had run out of possibilities within the Rock format, and got stuck. Some went downhill rapidly, and some managed to extract a bit more mileage for another few years before going the same way.

So that’s what Progressive Rock is. It’s almost as important to know what it isn’t. This is where I reach for the dictionary, and check what the word ‘progressive’ means, literally. It can be interpreted in a few subtly different ways. It can mean steady evolution by increments. It can mean trying to improve/change something. Which brings me to those aforementioned post-seventies Progressive Rock bands. They aren’t so much Progressive Rockers as Retro Revivalists and copyists. Indeed, there’s nothing progressive about emulating something you liked when you were a youngster. Unhand that adjective!

So, to recap… You can have all types of Progressive music: Progressive Hip-Hop, Progressive Dance, Progressive Metal, Progressive Punk, etc. BUT, it’s only truly progressive, if the artist is trying to change the format for the better. Progressive Rock probably had it’s time by the late 70s. Progressive Rock is dead. Long live Prog!

[* I joined the Prog band.]

Categories
Recording

‘Fragments’

Crimson Creatures released the Fragments EP in November. We started work on it back in February, but it was shelved while we concentrated on the debut EP and album releases, as well as rehearsing and hunting for a drummer.

Work resumed on Fragments in July. We refined its overall concept and structure, and began adding layers of instruments, voices and field recordings. It’s fair to say that we got a little carried away.

We completed Fragments in late September. Standing back to admire the finished article, we realised that it was possibly too big and strange to go on the second album, and it deserved a release all of its own.

The EP is a single epic track, with a run time of seventeen minutes and twenty-one seconds. As usual, I produced, mixed and mastered it for the band. I even did a scouse impersonation on it. It’s available on all the usual streaming services, and from Bandcamp too.

Categories
General

‘The Guitar Circle’ by Robert Fripp

I’m not in the habit of giving book reviews, but this book had a strong effect on me, and, as a result, I felt compelled to write about it.

The Guitar Circle by Robert Fripp

The Crimson King

I’ve been a long time admirer of King Crimson, and, by inference, of Robert Fripp. The man is clearly a legend. And, like Mark E Smith, he is infamous for creating a certain band atmosphere by means of benign dictatorship. Indeed, one of the bands I’m in, Crimson Creatures, was partly named as an homage to the also Dorset-related band.

But, I’m no fanboy. I’d never paid much attention to Fripp’s extra-curricular activities, apart from his musical collaborations with Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Van Der Graaf Generator. I have also, like many others, been subjected to his video shorts with Toyah. So, although I was aware of Guitar Circle, I knew very little about it. Any book about the craft of playing guitar written by a god-like guitar genius has got to be good, right?

I’m usually very thorough when I read a book. I start at the beginning, read all the extra bits, and never skip anything, no matter how boring — I might miss something. The introduction seemed very rich in hippy phrases. You know the sort. Like (and I’m paraphrasing here) you cannot just receive the music, you must first clear you mind, become at one with the universe, and you will become receptive to the music.

I Talk to the Wind

This sort of thing went on for quite some time. I kept putting the book down, as it was quite hard going. But, I was bound to get to the meat and potatoes soon enough, right?

After a sizeable chunk, I started doing the unthinkable and I jumped forward a few pages to see for how long the zen philosophy continued. Several jumps later, I was at the end. I made the momentous decision to put the book down, and put it away. I was defeated. It must be said that I rarely never finish a book I’ve started, and this book was not cheap.

I’d only recommend this book if you are a King Crimson collector, or think that crystals provide positive energy.