Guitar pickup naming conventions are horrible.

You have no idea how hard it is for me to not write an article about bells.

Seriously…

Not only do I want to write an article about bells, I want to use my nifty new stamp of approval and stamp bells with it.

You know what, you’re getting a story about bells – but I’ll try to keep it brief. (Editorial note: I failed at that.)

They took a bunch of bells, of various sizes, and crammed them into towers. Some of these are the largest and heaviest instruments – in the world.

To ring these bells, they’d put as many as 16 people on one side – whose job was to hold onto a beam and step, in something approximating unison, on another giant length of timber.

At the other end of that length of timber were as many as 16 other people. They’d ring the giant bell, by smashing it with a log.

In the bell tower, there are many bells of varied sizes – meaning some of them had more than 100 of the burliest people they could find, bouncing up and down on logs and ringing the bells.

The bell ringers were shitfaced for this.

There’s a trend.

Eventually, they’d ring the bells from outside with ropes. This would require burly men and a trip to the pub. Because these were burly men, the chicks came and watched.

It pretty much turned into a drunken fuckfest, I’m pretty sure. We’re humans. We’ve been having sex pretty much since we climbed down from the trees. It seems pretty likely that where there was sex, alcohol, and fit people playing bitchin’ solos on bells, people were getting fucking laid.

It gets better…

They eventually figured out how to change the way bells are rung, by using a stopper and allowing the bells to have two stop positions in the upright position. Lots of bells…

Except, they don’t make music with them.

No, this is called “change ringing.” It’s an activity currently enjoyed by about 40,000 people, across England – and even in some of her old colonies.

They’re not making music.

Change ringing is a game that’s been turned into a competition. It also explains a bit about bell tolling.

It has fucking rules – and it’s actually based on math!

Trust me – it gets even better. It seems simple enough.

You can ring each bell only once.
You must then ring a bell that is adjacent to it.
You may not repeat the pattern.

And, it’s a ton of crazy math that determines the variations that can be generated using a particular set of bells.

4 bells may have just a few mathematical solutions but adding bells increases the number of solutions in an exponential manner.

And they’d eventually add bells until there were millions of possible combinations – they add up quickly.

Now… I told you that, just so I could tell you this.

The bell ringing turned into glorious drunken escapades.

They’d frequently lock the vicar out of the tower, get shitfaced, and ring them some bells until they were good and done with their bell ringing.

To complete all the possible combinations with a tower with just seven bells would take something like 30 years.

The bell towers have signs, some of them, telling people to not piss on the church roof. See, the bell ringers would lock themselves into the towers – and they’d be getting shitfaced and ringing the bells.

Yes, bell ringing hooligans existed – and they were unsurprisingly common. After all, who doesn’t want to get shitfaced and ring some fucking bells?

One story tells us about a bunch of bell ringers who were bell ringing hooligans and went to town on a set of bells – eventually angering them enough to throw them in jail.

Like 30 days later, the vicar came and bailed them out – at significant expense. Why? Well, someone had to ring the fucking bells and the bell ringers were all in jail.

In other words…

They were pretty much rock stars and had reduced the act of playing a bitchin’ solo (and they did have their favorite combinations) to math!

They used math to find a way to play bitchin’ solos, get drunk, get laid, get paid, and have themselves a hell of a time.

And they did it with the biggest fucking instruments known to mankind.

Bells get my seal of approval. I want to encourage all of you to get drunk, sneak into a local church, and ring the bell(s) like it’s the greatest bitchin’ solo that ever did solo!

Get out there and ring some bells. Get right shitfaced and do it. It’s a noble tradition and everyone around for miles has to listen to it. The buildings are special places – you can barricade yourself in there and they probably will let you play yourself out and then arrest you. It’s not like they’re going to just smash the door down, it’s a church!

You’ll be able to plead that down to a misdemeanor, disturbing the peace charge. You can frame your receipt for the fine. You will have a wonderful story to tell of the day you played a bitchin’ solo on the church bells.

You could ask ’em, and they might actually let you ring the bell a few times. But, where’s the fun in that?

Some conductor decided he wanted to play a bitchin’ solo with the bells – from multiple towers. It was a very complicated affair – but he figured it out and did surprisingly well with a Greensleeves arrangement. I’ll show you, at the end of the article.

He got them to play chords and ring bells simultaneously. That was unheard of – after all, they’d had rules for ringing the bells and he was making them make music and not ring them in a mathematical pattern.

They claimed it was the first time anyone had done that – and they further claimed that they’d never played the bells more than one at a time – except for some very rare instances when they rang them all at once.

Bullshit.

There’s no fucking way a bunch of drunk people didn’t ring those bells in all sorts of fashions and combinations – some of them spectacularly awful. I guarantee someone tried to even sing with ’em. They were shitfaced!

Hmm…. Bell ringers were kind of like punk rockers.

I’m as sure of this being true as I am of anything. There’s no way in hell they weren’t trying to play bitchin’ solos on bells. And, I understand – and approve.

Gotta tell ya, getting shitfaced and locking myself into a bell tower until I got bored with playing the bells sounds a lot like it’d pretty much be the best day ever.

I can’t actually think of a much better day, unless it involves things that simply don’t exist – like my imaginary flying boat! (In my imagination, a flying boat is pretty much the best thing since fire-breathing monster trucks taking sweet, sweet jumps.)

The only thing better than that would be playing an old-school pipe organ powered by people manually laboring at bellows. I can produce high volumes of music and move some serious quantities of air – but nothing like a motherfucking pipe organ.

I have no idea how to play an old timey pipe organ.

Not a clue.

Don’t care. Still want to play one. If you happen to have an old-timey pipe organ, powered by human bellows, specifically of the size you see in giant cathedrals – you should invite me to come play it.

Wait, no… That’s a horrible idea. You should not invite me to come play it – but I’d appreciate it if you did and I promise to do my best not to cause permanent damage.

You know, just in case once of my readers happens to own a cathedral…

I suppose, I should get to my point…

There are so many ways to be passionate about music. Sometimes, we musicians gripe about things, but that’s because we’re passionate. What’s more passionate than locking you and some drunk friends into a tower so that you can ring giant bells while shitfaced? Not much, I’ll tell ya that right now! I haven’t even done it – and I’m certain it’d be a fantastic time.

So, my next bit is going to be me addressing another gripe, but it’s because I’m passionate. To me, these things suck.

Fuck you, some of you guitar manufacturers.

Let’s talk a bit about pickup naming conventions. They’re horrible.

There is no standard.

What one guy calls a bridge pickup, someone else will call a treble pickup, and another one will helpfully call it #3.

Start adding in the possible configurations enabled with various circuitry and additional selector methods (such as the push-pull pots on some modern GLP models), and you’ve got a fucking ton of choices.

And, pretty much none of it is consistently named.

Pickup selector switches come with all manner of labels – many with none at all. In some cases, you can find a spot on a switch that the manufacturer didn’t even intend.

Speaking of pickup selector switches…

Some of them are placed in the dumbest spots imaginable. I have to be able to get to it – with some speed and accuracy. Putting it next to the pots is just bad idea. That only increases the complexity – needlessly. It’s really damned easy to accidentally adjust a pot while reaching down to switch the selector switch.

It’s okay to put it down there – just not needlessly close to the pots.

And stop trying to be innovative with your pot placement. Seriously…

I’m not even complaining that they add more circuitry and add switches, I’m just saying don’t put them in stupid spots and maybe try to be fairly consistent. That’d be nice!

Adding an additional toggle switch is fine. Don’t put it in the middle of the damned pots. That’s just fucking stupid. Push-pull pots aren’t terrible, but they’re not really intuitive.

It goes on…

Then, there’s the names for the pickups themselves. Everyone knows about single-coil and humbuckers. That only scratches the damned surface – and they just name ’em what they want.

Go ahead, label this guitar. It’s called a Stella – if you’re curious about it.

This is unmodified from OEM.

While I’m sure it’s possible to play a bitchin’ solo with that guitar – I’m also 100% certain there’s not a damned thing right about that guitar.

Seriously, Russians? You thought that was appropriate? Why are there eight switches and five pots? Whose idea was the pickup placement? What the hell is that vibrato system supposed to accomplish if you want to keep it even remotely in tune?

But, mostly… The switches… What the ever-living hell? That ain’t right.

That guitar is just plain wrong. There is no excuse for it. Nothing about that guitar is “okay.”

I still kind of want to play one, but that’s because I have a diseased mind.

However, just because I want to play it doesn’t make it a good idea. In fact, that frequently means its a horrible idea. I don’t actually want to own one – or use one to make music for anything other than the experience of playing the dumbest guitar ever made. That guitar is so horribly bad, I want to play it – so I can mock it relentlessly.

Ain’t nobody paying me to play that guitar…

I really don’t think I’m asking for much.

How about we just set a few standards and maybe try to agree on some best designs. That doesn’t mean don’t experiment – it means save that for the luthiers and not the mass-market. When one of ’em gets something that works, follow guitar tradition and just steal it and then duke it out in court!

You’re goddamned instrument manufacturer, with giant factories. Instead of trying to be novel, try making sure you actually employ capable people to perform quality control. I bet you actually sell more guitars.

I’ve returned my share of guitars. I have even returned¬† GLP models that I so love. In fact, I’ve returned two. That’s two guitars that didn’t meet my quality standards for a new guitar. How the fuck did that make it past QC?

The only appropriate return rate for a $3500 guitar is zero percent.

When an instrument manufacturer brags that they only have a 3% return rate, that baffles me. The appropriate rate is 0%.

And so, you get a rant today. The history of guitar manufacturing is full of horrible choices – and it’s selection bias that makes us look back at certain guitars and imagine they were all good. No, that simply doesn’t represent the truth.

Those are some of the things they not only do wrong – but have done wrong, over and over again. I bitch because I’m passionate. I bitch because I don’t want them to keep doing stupid shit – over and over again.

There is some good news out of this. They make so many models that you can eventually find one that suits your individual quirks. Which is probably when they’ll discontinue the model or change it significantly.

It’s one of those things we just have to deal with. We do – because we’re passionate.

And, I suppose, even if your passion is getting shitfaced and ringing bells, I hope the non-guitarists find a way to be passionate about music in their own fashion.

Also, I’d like to point out that I really, really want to play a giant old pipe organ. Don’t know how, but it’s still a dream of mine. It’s a passion – or a disease. It’d be glorious! It’s even more awesome if I find a way to play a giant pipe organ while not wearing pants. Trust me… I’d be the happiest person on the planet at that moment in time!

I want to leave you with a video. It’s about passion – about tons of people passionate about bells. They pull it off surprisingly well and that’s what passion gets you.

That might be the most awesome thing you see all day, except they are remarkably sober while performing this – but you can bet your ass pretty much all of them went to the pub and got laid afterwards. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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