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Punter At Large

Article from International Musician & Recording World, December 1985

A super-spy comes clean, but the questions go on

Have you seen this man? Spotted recently at several music shops around Britain, the suspect, one Billy Punter, has been seen asking questions of a blunt and awkward nature. His arrest could mean relief for thousands of dealers.

Already I hear the cries of "Sell out" emanating from the lips of my legion followers. Why? Because I, Billy Punter, scourge of music shops throughout the land, whose researches in mufti have for so long been a guiding light for dazed and confused musical consumers, have actually been in conversation, nay, collaboration with my traditional adversaries. In the interests of unbiased journalism I have crossed the counter in order to get the story of who is buying what, where and why the hell. It's been called the Punter File, it's been called a pile of poop, but what the hell. Make way for what The Sun doesn't give you: the facts.

The facts about new products, in particular which of them have had the greatest impact on the market, turned out initially to be alarmingly obvious. Of the music shops I spoke to, Grants In Edinburgh, Sound Control in Glasgow, and Rose Morris and The Rock Shop in London, all concurred in saying that the Yamaha DX7 was the most dynamic new product to come onto the market. When a product is this popular dealers begin to compete with each other, dropping the price so as to sell as many as they can. That this is the case with the DX7 is attested by the fact that the DX7 is one of the only products that Axe Music in Colchester will not offer interest free credit on; it's hard enough to make a profit on a cash sale.

What's more, Yamaha look sure to repeat this success with the introduction of the DX21 synthesizer. Although it's only been on the market a matter of weeks, already its importance is obvious.

"The DX21 has fallen into that £700 bracket, and there's nothing else at that price to equal it. For anyone who's seriously progressing from an SH101 etc, the 21 is a good option to the Juno." (Clive Ford at Sound Control.)

But though Yamaha may be leading the field, they are not the only runners in the keyboard stakes. The Casio CZ series was mentioned by several stores in answer to this question, as was the Ensoniq Mirage sampling synth. The Mirage hasn't actually done all that well in terms of sales in spite of the interest it has caused. In the first place dealers like Dougies in Cheshire have found it hard to get hold of the instrument, whilst down in London a wily public is cautiously holding back from any gold rushes, waiting to see what response the Japanese will make to the prophesied cheap sampling revolution.

"The Mirage has had an impact as far as the future goes; everybody realises now what will be possible. But people are waiting for models by Casio, Korg and Roland because they think they may be cheaper and have more memory." (Simon Grant at Rose Morris).

Another change in keyboard design has come about through the increased popularity of touch-sensitive keyboards as a result of their becoming more easily available.

"One thing that has happened is that a lot more instruments are becoming touch-sensitive at a much cheaper price. People may be prejudiced against it, but once they are shown it they realise that for, say a piano sound it sounds most lifelike when played on a touch sensitive instrument."

So much for keyboards: where would these frigging Fairlights be without 'real' instruments to sample from, that's what I'd like to know? And they say home taping is killing music.

In actual fact it's doing the opposite. Nearly all the shops I consulted reported burgeoning sales of home recording equipment and accessories. In Edinburgh, for instance, Grants are selling 50% more home recording equipment than they were 18 months ago. It's become what is known in the business world as a 'growth area.'

"All the Portastudios are selling well. It's a growth area because most musicians now write their own songs and have a small drum machine and a monophonic synth. They've then got enough to get bass and drum patterns worked out and they need something more than an ordinary stereo cassette to record them on."

Finally to the area which electronics haven't yet been up to revolutionising; the world of the guitarist. At Rose Morris in London the professional buyers have responded most enthusiastically to the introduction of locking tremolo systems, and to the headless and double ball end guitars and basses. On the mass market, meanwhile, the Westone range has "taken the market by storm. The Thunder 1a and 3 basses have done particularly well. Because of the price and quality of the Westone product everybody sells tons of it." (Simon Grant at Rose Morris).

Guitars, you may be interested to note, are definitely up on the Punter Index, and have also risen slightly against a basket of other instruments. At Sound Control for instance, they are now selling two guitars for every bass, whilst Axe Music in Colchester has cut down on the amount of basses in their stock so as to be able to get more guitars in. The trend has also been noticed at Rose Morris, where guitar sales have increased since the Live Aid gig and also the Trade Fair.

Whilst the Japanese may not have upturned the guitarist's art with their electronics, they have finally upset one of Rock and Roll's oldest traditions: the supremacy of Fender and Gibson, and the desirability of owning instruments made by them.

"I know personally people who've had Fenders and Gibsons, who've moved on to using Tokai and Squier because they're better for less money."

Looking at music papers like the NME (but with friends like us who needs NMEs?) with their habitual distrust of the shiny and expensive, reasons for the renaissance in guitar playing would seem to derive from the influence of the American 'Country-Punk' scene, and the prevailing school of jangly guitar playing in Scotland. In Glasgow, bands are coming out of the woodwork still and even gigging under their own steam, resulting in a lot more PA being sold in that city.

Bridging the gap between guitarists and keyboard players are rack effects, which have not only enjoyed increasing sales generally, but have also become more popular in the generally pedal dominated guitarist market. Particularly popular among guitarists are the Roland Super Chorus, and the Boss Micro Rack. Basically you can do more with a rack effect than with a pedal, and the fact that they are less noisy makes them more suitable for use in a recording situation, all of which, combined with a drop in price, looks likely to marka significant change in the marketing of effects units.

It may be a great feeling to know that in one's own instrumental field advances are being made that will radically add to the purely instrumental skills one possesses. The other side of the coin is the fact that the price you will have to pay for the new instruments is made more shocking by the devaluation that your present equipment has undergone as a direct result of these new advances. I don't suppose I have to spell it out any further, but for those who are also on the uptake (or who have fallen asleep) I'm about to talk about the prospects for selling or trading in second hand non-MIDI keyboards.

All over the country the situation is looking bleak if you're trying to sell a pre-MIDI keyboard, and with the introduction of the Casio CZ range the prices are falling still further. In London, dealers like Rose Morris will expect to sell a second-hand Juno 6 for £399, so you can only expect to get about £200 on one if you're trading it in.

"As soon as you go over the £400 mark it really has to be expandable. Owners of more expensive non-MIDI keyboards are, if anything, in a worse position." (Simon Grant at Rose Morris.)

"A lot of the stuff is virtually worthless now, and when people come in it's quite embarrassing giving them part exchange prices. I bought a Prophet 5 about three years ago which cost nearly £3000. The part exchange on that now would be around £500." (Dean at Axe).

Don't get in a panic though. There are still are a lot of people interested in buying a pre-MIDI keyboard, but you will just have to be prepared to take a rather lower price for it than you might have expected. At the London Rock Shop, and at Dougies in Chester, a good trade in secondhand Juno 6s is still going on. In Scotland as well music shops can still sell second hand SH101s, Juno 6s, and Moog Rogues quite easily.

"There definitely is a market for pre-MIDI synths. The Juno 60s and 6s sell well. Also the Moog Rogue and the SH101 sells well because there isn't anything much at that price. Even if a Casio CZ101 or a Korg Poly 100 came in secondhand it would still be more expensive than the £125 you'd expect to pay for a Rogue or something." (Clive Ford at Sound Control.)

For guitarists and bass players, devaluation is a much more predictable thing. Basically the best insurances you have against devaluation is to make sure that it is a good quality, well made guitar, and to try to buy one that really suits you so that you can get your money's worth out of it in terms of pleasure and playing time before you sell it again. Competition between dealers these days means that if you want to trade in you're going to lose something between 33% and 50% of the instrument's value simply by taking it out of the shop.

"As soon as an instrument is purchased it is legally secondhand, so even if you wanted to sell it the day after, you would have to sell it at a comparable secondhand price. Obviously that would have to be lower than the retail price and since things tend to be sold cheaper than the RRP, the second-hand price, would be reflected in that."

If you can't get hold of enough 'Johnny' to purchase the instruments you desire straight away, music shops all over the country can generally offer you some kind of hire purchase deal. Of course you generally have to pay interest at about 18% (Sound Control offer deals at 16% they told me) or there are some shops which offer interest free credit.

If you are buying on interest free credit, then you can usually expect to pay the full retail price for the item. The London Rock Shop offers this deal over nine months, with a third up-front during the months of January and July. Axe in Colchester and Ipswich offer interest free credit all the year round over 12 months.

When doing a standard HP deal though a finance company the price you pay is generally the same as the price you would pay for cash, and many dealers offer different arrangements to suit different pockets. Grants in Edinburgh have arrangements with two finance companies, one of which tends to look more sympathetically at the needs of young people in exchange for a higher deposit.

If you're balding a bit, or the middle aged spread is beginning to settle in, or if it's just the case that you like to play old Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin riffs then perhaps you'd better not go down to the music shop today. If you decide to chance it then you'd better not be surprised if someone offers you a chair while you strum, or starts talking to you as if you have a deaf aid installed. Yes, it's true, the average age of music shop patrons across the land is a mean 20. This ubiquitously youthful clientele is reflected by the fact that in the London Rock Shop the fines board for anyone playing Stairway to Heaven has been taken down and forgotten, whilst surprisingly the only place where Smoke on the Water is still exacting tears is Sound Control in Glasgow.

About a year ago, anyone shopping for gear in the Ipswich or Colchester area could expect to have to fight through hoards of kids with spiky hair and mittens playing Nik Kershaws' Riddle theme, whilst in London and Edinburgh shop assistants grind their teeth to interminable Mark King riffs in the bass departments, as well as Stanley Clarke's old chestnut, School Days.

It's a young person's world out there these days, so get hip or join the golf club. If you want to get hip, keep reading this magazine — the true and crucial document of style and technique for the modern musician. If you think you can do better with a crystal ball then by all means try, but don't come snivelling back to me if you find yourself pushing a trolley across a green dressed in wide check pants one Sunday morning.

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Dec 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by Billy Punter

Previous article in this issue:

> Quotes Of The Year

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