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Those Cheap Old Days

Just how expensive has gear become? Tony Bacon takes his calculator back in time to find out.

BEING A musician has never been cheaper. Sounds like some kind of limp sales patter, doesn't it? In fact, it's true. Whichever way you work it out, prices are better now than they've been since... well, since rock music was invented (in a cave in Dusseldorf in 1955, as you ask).

You want proof? Fair enough. Our first example is the (deep breath) most popular guitar ever, the Fender Stratocaster. They first began to show up in quantity over here in 1960, and would then have cost you £150 (free tremolo arm attached). Now get this: one hundred and fifty of those big white 1960 pound notes would be worth 1180 of today's slightly smaller green ones. Yup, that much. You can pick up a new re-issue '62 Strat now for around £400, and an original 1960 secondhand (more likely about eighth or ninth hand) for somewhere between, say, £400 and £600. Either way, much less than the today's-equivalent-price of £1180. See, told you — it's cheaper. Difficult to believe? That's what we thought.

Let's do it another way, as the Pope said to Madonna only the other day. In 1971, supplies of a strange new device called the Minimoog began to oscillate in the music shops of Great Britain. It was a revolutionary portable version of Robert Moog's invention, the synthesiser. It would have cost you £650 in 1971 — that's a cool £3090 at today's equivalent prices, worked out once again with thanks to the Retail Price Index. Now then (clears throat as if addressing election meeting), the average weekly wage in 1971 was £30 a week. The average weekly wage now, for the select few who still have 'a job', is apparently £175 (cue General Strike in Making Music office). So in 1971 you'd have needed (fumbles with calculator; changes batteries, tries again) 21.7 weeks' wages to secure a Minimoog. At today's prices? Only 17.7 weeks' dosh. See — it's cheaper.

A few more examples — concentrate now. A Vox AC30 cost £115 in 1963; that's £825 at today's prices. But a secondhand one right now will set you back 150 odd quid, and even a new 1986 model is a mere £475. Relative peanuts. Mmmm, not a bad name for a band, that — The Relative Peanuts. It'd even fit on the bass drum head, if we had a drummer... sorry? Right, er, an MXR Phase 90, one of the first phase pedals, came out in 1974 at 75 quid — that would equal 260 of today's quids. But a Boss phaser goes now for but £85 — and 1974's £75 was 1.7 times the average weekly wage, whereas £260 is 1.5 times today's and £85 is a half 'today's. Follow? That's right — it's cheaper nowadays. So why doesn't it seem that way?

Beats us.

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Program Notes

Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - Nov 1986

Feature by Tony Bacon

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