Edited by Tony Bacon
Published by Blandford Press
With the passage of twenty or so years of proliferating technology aimed at the playing or recording of rock music, some sort of appraisal of "where things are at" is badly needed. It's fairly easy to find magazines and/or books dealing with one side of the business or the other, and one man's meat is another man's poison, but "Rock Hardware" actually puts just about everything under the one roof of a 224 page book, with a mass of colour photos and illustrations, and under the guidance of twelve chapters by various learned contributors.
An intelligent introduction to rock, and the development of it (presumably by Tony Bacon), gets the book off to a good start. Three chapters on guitars (acoustic, electric, and bass) follow, making generally interesting reading, though I wouldn't profess to know more than a smattering about the first and third of these. "Drums and Percussion" is somewhat limited in its scope, with no mention of such clangorous essentials as gongs, tam-tams, and sundry other exotics, and only an incidental reference to electronic drumkits. "Keyboards" follows the construction and use of the grand piano with a consideration of the Hammond organ, Rhodes piano, and Mellotron. "Synthesisers" is an interesting contribution from Dave Crombie, who takes sound synthesis from waveform origins and charts its progress via Moog and his voltage-controlled modules up to present-day sequencers en masse, digital control techniques, and so on. Also, this is the one chapter in the book which explains how things work and how they can be used musically.
"Effects Units" attempts the almost impossible: a consideration of the mind-boggling variety of FX units on the market. Five pages scarcely scratches the surface; indeed, five pages could hardly do justice to the fifty-odd units offered by Electro-Harmonix alone! Mind you, a thorough, objective guide to foot and rack FX units is ripe for the writing. "Woodwind, Brass and Strings" considers the flute, the saxophone, brass (very briefly), the harmonica, and the violin. In describing the hardware, the chapter certainly does its bit, but exposing the innards of a fiddle doesn't really help me to understand how this instrument, dragged by the scruff of its tail-piece into rock music (pace ELO), really fits into the brief of "Rock Hardware".
"Amplification" didn't in all honesty grab much of my attention, but "The PA System" came much closer to being a useful chapter. The contributor charts the development of the modern PA system and takes in along the way microphone techniques, mixing, and the positioning of speakers. "Playing Live" examines rock in small venues, medium-size venues, and, logically enough, large venues, and culminates with a consideration of the demands placed on the modern performer to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the Media and Public for video promotion, chat show appearances, or whatever.
The final chapter, "Recording", takes the reader to the other side of the mixing desk, and, like other chapters, follows the path of technological innovation. Thus, we're taken on a journey from Edisonian waxings to the ultimate sophistication of computer mixers like the Solid State Logic 4000 Series, but with plenty of hints on the construction of mixers, the organisation of the recording session, and special effects thrown in for good measure.
"Rock Hardware" certainly has plenty of "ogle value", and the contributions are good enough to push the overall impression of the book away from the dangerous territory of being yet another display piece for the coffee-table. But it could have gone even further!
Review by David Ellis
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