The PRS Sinker Mahogany Controversy

A few gear fetish sites are abuzz with a "controversy" regarding the "sinker" mahogany used in some PRS guitars. As it turns out what PRS meant by "sinker" does not conform to popular opinion. After a PRS explanation and weeks of discussion the whole situation is as clear as mud. I'd like to step back and offer another spin on this whole issue.

"Sinker" mahogany is commonly thought of as a wood that has been submerged for an extended period of time and is then recovered. However, if you look up "sinker wood" you're not going to find anything resembling a stable definition. The phrase "sinker wood" can mean a lot of things to a lot of folks. There's even a Mirriam-Webster definition for sinker wood that reads "lumber sawed from deadheads or other heavy wet logs." PRS used the word "sinker" that, according to their explanation, just meant that it was so heavy that they imagined it would sink.

Side note: PRS should have just made up a name out of thin air like somebody else!

What are the advantages of "sinker" wood when it comes to guitar manufacturing? who knows? It's probably all just a bunch of bullshit anyway but that's beside the point. Did PRS knowingly mislead their potential customers? Ya think? But being misled, by definition, means another party was mis-following, willingly, and probably enthusiastically because they are susceptible to the magic of marketing buzz words.

Here's the deal: words and phrases like sinker, tone, vintage, retro, handwired, point-to-point, hand crafted, Plexi, tweed, blackface, top boost, classic, signature, pro, reissue, thin-skin, old-school, mojo, etc., are marketing buzz words that have unstable meaning (and sometimes no meaning at all apart from the meaning the deluded consumer projects into them). These words are what philosophers call synthetic. They are moral and even emotional terms that depend wholly on social conventions and subjective interpretations, that are fluid and ever-changing. There are no legal definitions for any of these words and are therefore used and abused by marketers. One of the worst cases I've seen lately is Gibson's use of the word "bumblebee" to fool customers into shelling out more than $100 for run of the mill capacitors in costume -- or "chromyte" to disguise the use of balsa wood. What a joke. "Bumblebee" and "sinker" and other bullshit terms resist empirical measurement even with precise operationalization. For example, you'd think that when you buy a guitar with a "nitro" lacquer finish you're getting some kind of old school finish like they had back in the 50s or 60s but the "nitro" today is nothing like the stuff from back in the day (the stuff was an environmental nightmare). But it's "nitro" -- whatever that means.  Oooo, nitro.

Buying sinker wood or vintage this or that is like buying a rainbow or magic beans. Getting fooled with terms like sinker or handwired or tweed-tone is playing a fool's game. This goes on all the time in all areas of commerce. For example, I ate at Bonefish the other day and they were selling Kobe beef hamburgers. This is total bullshit. Nobody in the US is eating Kobe beef. You cannot even import Kobe beef to the US but they are free to use the term "Kobe" even though the beef came from a feedlot in Iowa. The magic word "Kobe" makes the beef taste "better" in the confused mind of the consumer. Ooooo, Kobe. Kobe beef. Kobe beef has a nice ring to it in place of plain old beef. But even "beef" is misleading, as we have discovered recently. Your "beef" may actually contain "pink slime" (i.e., lean finely textured beef). So they use "beef" to cover over the fact that we're eating slime. Even the word "beef" is not as solid as we imagine. And let's not even get me started on "tuna" -- you're probably not eating actual tuna. And just like "Kobe beef" being sold in the US not meat from Kobe there are a lot of folks buying "Honduran mahogany" necks that are not from Honduras.

Marx once wrote that under capitalism "all that is solid melts into air." No shit. When you gaze into a synthetic buzz word you're gazing into a distorted mirror reflecting back your own mental bullshit.

Synthetic determinations are contrasted with analytic determinations. For example, if I buy a guitar that weighs 7.8 pounds that is a purely analytic determination. It weighs 7.8 pounds or it does not. Either/Or. Yes or No. Simple. Unemotional. Boring. Can't get the tribe whipped up into an emotional frenzy with stuff like, if it's 7.8 pounds of pure vintage sinker awesomeness then we're in a whole new realm. A fretboard radius is 12" or it is not. Current measurements, impedance loads, plate voltages, etc., can be measured. Although, we have to be careful and admit that the analytic specs of an object may not always provide us with the information we need to know regarding performance but if I'm on the market for a guitar and I'm confronted with a term like "vintage" to describe a fretboard radius, for example, this is far less preferable to, let's say, the measurement 7.5" or whatever the case may be. "Vintage" sounds good to me but 30 years of experience tells me that I don't want anything to do with a fretboard radius of 7.5 inches. In fact, a word like "vintage" will actually throw you way off course. Old Fender guitars shipped from the factory with those 7.5" fretboards but after 40+ years of play, and multiple refrets, the radius expands to what is actually a "modern" 12" radius. You want "vintage" but you're getting a guitar that plays nothing like a real 1963 Fender Strat that has undergone routine repairs and maintenance. What you really wanted was the non-vintage real vintage 12. The word threw you off. The synthetic bullshit term, as we see here, actually had the power to twist what was objective and send you off on a wild goose chase filled with frustration and diminished performance.

The problem is that most people confuse synthetic terms for analytic terms. Or, really, the terms seem to possess a kind of power all their own to overcome rational thought. And, in some ways, they really are independent forces. Companies energetically help us delude ourselves by deploying fast numbers of synthetic bullshit symbols. For example you can buy guitars with signifiers like '58 that were not manufactured in 1958. That would seem like a simple thing: either the guitar was or was not made in 1958. But instead of 1958 it is '58, as in the "spirit of 1958." Who really knows what '58 is supposed to mean. Les Paul sounds conventional compared to '58 Reissue as if there's a special factory hidden behind the world where old-timers are still cranking out 1958 Gibsons. Fender does the same thing with their "60's" Strat, etc.. The word "sinker" is not an exception to this practice. People imagine that "sinker" is analytically precise when, at the end of the day, in a court of law, sinker means as much (nothing) as "rainbow" or "happy." When you buy a "sinker" neck it's no different than buying a happy rainbow neck. Now, PRS may lose in the court of public opinion but they did nothing that other capitalist firms don't do every day: coat their products in synthetic voodoo bullshit to eager consumers of voodoo bullshit. Hell, even the ad copy put the word sinker in problem quotes but people still went for it. I mean, really, when they put it in quotes you should know it means bullshit on top of bullshit.

PRS has generated some animosity over their 'stinker' mahogany necks, however, buyers had to be willing participants in their own delusion by falling for synthetic and emotional marketing terms. PRS et al can only hand you the rope but you have to put it around your own neck. It takes two to tango in this world of marketing spin.

Emile Durkheim once wrote that even today we have the mindset of primitives and this PRS "sinker" controversy is a perfect example of how delusions and irrationality pervade the domain of commercial activity and marketing. People who fall for synthetic determinations in the world of musical products are no different than those who fall for "Hope" or "Change" or "Liberty" or "Salvation"when some cynical political/religious entrepreneur is selling bullshit to those eager to shoot themselves in the foot for the advantage of somebody else.