#1
Alright, I'm not gonna try to cover it up, I made this thread because I need people to fill out this survey for my university dissertation: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QHRTJBH

I'd be very grateful if you could do it, BUT I thought I may as well use this opportunity to try to instigate a discussion on the topic - if you have anything you'd like to say about any of the questions in the survey, please share!

What do you think of the fact that the VAST majority of popular music is in 4/4 or 3/4? Do you think music in unconventional time signatures could ever be as popular?

The main aim of my project is to find out if our incessant use of 4/4 is dictated by either an intrinsic preference that is natural to us, or the fact that we are just so used to hearing it because of the persistent exposure to it. So basically, is it learned or innate?

This is something that greatly interests me and it'd be cool to see what you guys think. Cheers!
#2
We like things that we can predict.
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#3
I've heard somewhere that people like an even number of beats per bar because we develop our sense of rhythm when we learn to walk.

EDIT: This belongs in Musician Talk though.
Last edited by sickman411 at Nov 20, 2013,
#4
Moving to Musicians Talk

in the meantime everyone listen to it being done right;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RaMTaAyVck
But boys will be boys and girls have those eyes
that'll cut you to ribbons, sometimes
and all you can do is just wait by the moon
and bleed if it's what she says you ought to do
#5
Writing in different time signatures is rarely anything but gimmickry.
...Stapling helium to penguins since 1949.
#6
Quote by Hydra150
Moving to Musicians Talk

in the meantime everyone listen to it being done right;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RaMTaAyVck


My bad. Thanks for that

Quote by sickman411
I've heard somewhere that people like an even number of beats per bar because we develop our sense of rhythm when we learn to walk.

EDIT: This belongs in Musician Talk though.


This is something I've come across a lot as well, very interesting. This would suggest that it's in our nature and has nothing to do with our repeated exposure to it.

There's a lot of interesting stuff on the music of different cultures, though. Some cultures have their own music in some crazy time signatures (odd ones included) and they don't think twice about it.

EDIT: http://www.phantomranch.net/folkdanc/articles/gankino-kopanitsa_ru.htm

Quote by Todd Hart
Writing in different time signatures is rarely anything but gimmickry.


Ignoring the artists that do it for these reasons (there's always gonna be a slight 'rebellious' aspect, some people will actively avoid the norm no matter what), don't you think we could ever see any other signature as equal with 4/4 and 3/4?
Last edited by 12Jim34 at Nov 20, 2013,
#7
OMG I JUST REALISED
Im listening to Time Out by Dave Brubeck while eating a Time Out chocolate bar

dat subliminal advertising, cool jazz/british confection industry collusion
But boys will be boys and girls have those eyes
that'll cut you to ribbons, sometimes
and all you can do is just wait by the moon
and bleed if it's what she says you ought to do
#8
lets see...

its got a good beat...i cant understand the lyrics..and i can dance to it...

try that in 11/8
#9
Quote by wolflen
lets see...

its got a good beat...i cant understand the lyrics..and i can dance to it...

try that in 11/8


I don't entirely understand what you're getting at... Everybody looks for different meanings and feelings in the music they like though. Some things that are important to some people - things that are vital to their enjoyment of music - won't at all be important to others.
#10
Quote by Todd Hart
Writing in different time signatures is rarely anything but gimmickry.

Yes...because no composers ever use it in a non-gimmicky way.

OT:
I think that people are just so used to 3/4 and 4/4. Most music on the radio, so to speak, is in 3/4 or 4/4. The basic pop song formula involves 4/4. Many top 40 composers write in 4/4 because it "works".
#11
Well, you could try to write a song that uses an odd time signature. It's hard not to make it sound strange. If you can make an odd time signature not sound strange, that's a skill. But for example "Mission Impossible" theme is in 5/4 but it uses a rhythm pattern where you actually count in four (two "long beats" and two "short" beats). That doesn't sound odd at all because it's kind of "even". Yeah, people like even things.

Also, 4/4 is easy music to dance to. And also if you play drums, you'll understand. It's really easy to come up with a drum beat that fits 4/4 because it has four beats. And usually the main beats are played on bass drum and snare (so your beat would be bass+snare+bass+snare, etc). But if you for example had to play in 7/8, you would most likely think it in 2/4+3/8 or 3/8+2/4. So it would be 4/4 that's missing one eight note. And that's what gives it an uneven sound.

But what's wrong with 4/4? IMO it's the best time signature. Also most traditional folk songs are in either 4/4 or 3/4 (those would be the most "natural" songs people have composed). And if they are not, they are for example in 5/4 and use an "even" rhythm pattern like 3+3+2+2 - you actually count in four.

It's just harder to write stuff that doesn't sound uneven in odd time signatures. It can be done but it's just harder. That's why most popular music is in 4/4 or 3/4. Also, popular music needs to be danceable.
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#12
Quote by Demon Wolf
We like things that we can predict.


This. I believe that our brains try to problem-solve how the music is going to pan out, and when the music does something *unexpected* (sudden pauses or dynamics, unresolved cadences, time changes etc) it's part of what contributes to the wow factor. Personally, I always have beats going on in groups of 5 and 7 swirling around in my head but most of the music I write is in 4/4 and sometimes 6/8 because it's often what works best for the music I write - not that I pay special attention to time signatures when writing, but it's just how I end up feeling things.
But I really like "irregular" time - but only when it's done well. Like Haste the Day's Wake up the Sun is probably the best 5/4 I've heard in metal. Animals as Leaders is something else. And then Brubeck's stuff like Take 5 and Blue Rondo A La Turk are also great. That's all my tired brain can think of at the mo.
#13
Quote by 12Jim34
I don't entirely understand what you're getting at... Everybody looks for different meanings and feelings in the music they like though. Some things that are important to some people - things that are vital to their enjoyment of music - won't at all be important to others.



im not sure i understand what im getting at either..i note your from england..that may explain alot...

ok..in the late 50s/early 60s...a guy named dick clark had a tv show called american bandstand...and they would play pop records of the day and the audience was mostly high school kids...and they would dance to the songs...seems like a silly platform today...but it worked for years...dick would interview some of the kids and ask what they thought of some of the songs they played on the show....a very common response..." its got a good beat..i cant understand the lyrics...and i can dance to it.."

the 11/8 part...the quick and dirty...pop music likes simple...nothing wrong with 4/4..it has a very strong pull for standards/pop & rock..country likes the waltz beat thrown in quite a bit

hope that helps
#14
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Well, you could try to write a song that uses an odd time signature. It's hard not to make it sound strange. If you can make an odd time signature not sound strange, that's a skill. But for example "Mission Impossible" theme is in 5/4 but it uses a rhythm pattern where you actually count in four (two "long beats" and two "short" beats). That doesn't sound odd at all because it's kind of "even". Yeah, people like even things.

Also, 4/4 is easy music to dance to. And also if you play drums, you'll understand. It's really easy to come up with a drum beat that fits 4/4 because it has four beats. And usually the main beats are played on bass drum and snare (so your beat would be bass+snare+bass+snare, etc). But if you for example had to play in 7/8, you would most likely think it in 2/4+3/8 or 3/8+2/4. So it would be 4/4 that's missing one eight note. And that's what gives it an uneven sound.

But what's wrong with 4/4? IMO it's the best time signature. Also most traditional folk songs are in either 4/4 or 3/4 (those would be the most "natural" songs people have composed). And if they are not, they are for example in 5/4 and use an "even" rhythm pattern like 3+3+2+2 - you actually count in four.

It's just harder to write stuff that doesn't sound uneven in odd time signatures. It can be done but it's just harder. That's why most popular music is in 4/4 or 3/4. Also, popular music needs to be danceable.


Some very interesting points, thanks for your response!

That's what I've been noticing more and more - people don't seem to mind time signatures other than 4/4 or 3/4 AS LONG AS it's not a jarring rhythm. Basically if you can't immediately tell it's not a common time sig then it's ok, like in your example with the Mission Impossible theme.

You seem to be heavily of the opinion that 4/4 is naturally the 'right' time signature and any other is 'wrong' unless we can disguise the fact. Do you think the common-ness of 4/4 is entirely to do with this then, or do you think the fact that we're just pretty much exposed to nothing else from a young age also factors into it? What about people from other cultures who are raised with other signatures as mentioned earlier - do you think if they discovered Western music and 4/4 they'd be 'converted'?

You mention the difficulty of writing in other time signatures as well - once again do you not think this is at least partly because we're just not used to anything else?

Quote by wolflen
im not sure i understand what im getting at either..i note your from england..that may explain alot...

ok..in the late 50s/early 60s...a guy named dick clark had a tv show called american bandstand...and they would play pop records of the day and the audience was mostly high school kids...and they would dance to the songs...seems like a silly platform today...but it worked for years...dick would interview some of the kids and ask what they thought of some of the songs they played on the show....a very common response..." its got a good beat..i cant understand the lyrics...and i can dance to it.."

the 11/8 part...the quick and dirty...pop music likes simple...nothing wrong with 4/4..it has a very strong pull for standards/pop & rock..country likes the waltz beat thrown in quite a bit

hope that helps


Ah I see the context now, it might also have something to do with the fact that I was born in the 90's

You mentioned that dancing was an important part of it; what about that link I posted earlier, about the Bulgarian folk dances that have been around for years that are in some very complex time signatures? That's normal for them, as 4/4 is for us. Why can't Western music incorporate some of this?


Thanks for all the responses so far people!
#15
^ I think it's partly because we are not used to them. But why we are not used to them is because people don't write stuff in odd signatures. It just feels easier to count to four than to count to seven. Some time signatures like 9/8 work because they have groups of three (3/8+3/8+3/8) or something like that. But when you have a time signature like 11/8, how do you count? Actually there are some songs in 11/8 that work. Again, if you can make an odd time signature not to sound odd, it's used well. A good example of 7/8 is a song called "Slava". But again, it uses kind of "even" rhythmic pattern (2+2+3). I'm sure those folk dances you mentioned also use this kind of even rhythmic pattern.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqYNAU905fA
The part that starts at around 1 minute is in 7/8. I think it sounds good because of the melody. The melody kind of feels natural.

I think when you write a song in odd time signature, it shouldn't think about the time signature too much. It should come naturally. And if you just naturally come up with a melody that uses an odd time signature, it doesn't sound forced. But many times odd time signatures are used because prog. So they are actually forced. I can imagine Dream Theater writing their songs like "let's put 7/4 here and the next bar could be in 11/8 and then two bars of 5/4, etc". Though I think they can make their songs work pretty well (though some parts can sound a bit strange and forced). IMO a good example of 9/8 use that doesn't sound forced is their song "Surrounded". It doesn't sound that strange (especially in the beginning of the second verse).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZrJvvD_29k
9/8 is used in the verses.
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#16
Accent patterns aren't necessarily the same as time signature. That's why "Take Five", "Solsbury Hill", "Whipping post", and "Money" work.
#17
Quote by Todd Hart
Writing in different time signatures is rarely anything but gimmickry.


Yes, like indian music. Thousands of years of gimmickry.

Western music has very well developed melody and harmony but its sense of rhythm is barely scratching the surface. To say anything else is gimmickry only shows your ignorance

My guess is that the amount of 4/4 is just a western taste, possibly to provide a very predictaple base for more complex harmonic ideas. If you listen to mostly percussive music (I play drums) then you get pretty bored with 4/4 but if you add the chords and progression it captures your attention.
Last edited by innovine at Nov 22, 2013,
#18
Quote by innovine
Yes, like indian music. Thousands of years of gimmickry.

I'm pretty sure he's referring to people who find out about different time signature and just force them onto whatever they write just to use it.
^^The above is a Cryptic Metaphor^^


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#19
A strong melody is the driven force behind anything. In other words, you can have an unconventional time signature but if it came as a result of a melodic idea it will work!
Examples: the Mission Impossible theme, Money by Pink Floyd, Take Five (especially the B part)
#20
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ I think it's partly because we are not used to them. But why we are not used to them is because people don't write stuff in odd signatures. It just feels easier to count to four than to count to seven. Some time signatures like 9/8 work because they have groups of three (3/8+3/8+3/8) or something like that. But when you have a time signature like 11/8, how do you count? Actually there are some songs in 11/8 that work.


Jerry Goldsmith's "Capricorn One" main theme. Not a song, but bloody awesome:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjGumnQ1cZ0
#21
Yeah, I think those folk songs with odd time signatures work because back when they were composed, they didn't know about time signatures. They just started singing melodies that happened to be in an odd time signature so it happened naturally - sometimes it's because of the lyrics. The lyrics just fit an odd time signature perfectly and that's why it sounds good. But nowadays people know what a time signature is so they start forcing odd time signatures in their songs - for example "let's write a song in 5/4". It's in 5/4 just for the sake of being in 5/4.
Quote by AlanHB
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#22
Quote by rockingamer2
I'm pretty sure he's referring to people who find out about different time signature and just force them onto whatever they write just to use it.


Yes. I believe this as well. I don't know about genre labeling but some of those new bands that sound a bit like metal combined with punk (screaming vocals often) with strange chords seem to just mix up time signatures at random times and it really feels like they do it just to try and be different. Yes, you can write pieces in custom TS that work but there's no sense in composing something that isn't "you" just for the sake of being original.

I'd like to ask someone who studied classical/early music. The composers considered musical geniuses of older times, probably spent an extraordinary portion of their life, time and effort writing music. There's great reason to believe they experimented a lot with all sorts of time signatures and possibly came up with the "optimal" ones, now therefore I must ask - are any famous pieces by classical composers written in unconventional time signatures?
How about traditional / ethnic / folk music from all parts of the world? Are there any "asymmetrical" TS-es (7/4 etc) used?
#23
Quote by fanapathy
There's great reason to believe they experimented a lot with all sorts of time signatures and possibly came up with the "optimal" ones, now therefore I must ask - are any famous pieces by classical composers written in unconventional time signatures?
How about traditional / ethnic / folk music from all parts of the world? Are there any "asymmetrical" TS-es (7/4 etc) used?


Quite the opposite, actually. Meter was hardly a thing unto itself until later in the Romantic Era, at least (I'm afraid I don't know enough to say specifically). There were a handful of standard meters, and most composers didn't feature anything else prominently. Weird time stuff starts closer to the 20th century.

Baroque and classical composers were all about form. The challenge of composition was in writing music that flowed from one section to the next between contrasting material. Pretty much everything was 2, 3, or 4 beats per measure, divided into 8ths or triplets. If there was a measure of odd meter, it was usually between phrases, rather than the basis of phrase.

But back then, there was no such thing as "4 on the floor", so 4/4 wasn't quite as grinding and repetitive as nowadays. Melodic phrases and the accompanying harmonic changes were often longer than a whole measure. You can listen to many pieces of classical music and be unaware of the time signature, simply because the composer isn't hitting you over the head with "HERE IS BEAT 1" the whole time.
Last edited by cdgraves at Nov 22, 2013,
#24
^
Yeah, I don't think that most classical composers were as interested in meter as they were in presenting a good flow, form-wise. Things like counterpoint were a much bigger deal than odd rhythms.
#25
Quote by cdgraves
....[ ].....But back then, there was no such thing as "4 on the floor", so 4/4 wasn't quite as grinding and repetitive as nowadays.....[ ].....the composer isn't hitting you over the head with "HERE IS BEAT 1" the whole time.
I suppose whether we like it or not, 4/4 is now beat into genes. (Bad pun intended).

4/4 is the time signature of almost all martial music and anthems. I believe the 4/4 has even commonly been referred to as, "march time", So, in one sense, it is the time signature that drives home propaganda and molds us into conformity. We fall into line, and march behind the 4/4 banner of common cause and unity.

Pete Townshend is responsible, as much as anyone, for putting the context of British martial and ceremonial anthems into the vernacular of rock with "Tommy".

Listen to "Go to the Mirror Boy". A 4/4 march in E major if there ever was one, interspersed with a 4/4 dirge in G minor, "See me, Feel me, Touch me, heal me".
Last edited by Captaincranky at Nov 23, 2013,
#26
Quote by Captaincranky

4/4 is the time signature of almost all martial music and anthems. I believe the 4/4 has even commonly been referred to as, "march time", So, in one sense, it is the time signature that drives home propaganda and molds us into conformity. We fall into line, and march behind the 4/4 banner of common cause and unity.


2/4, surely?
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#27
Quote by Dave_Mc
2/4, surely?

Yeah, though it's pretty similar to 4/4.
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#28
yeah absolutely, but i mean far as i was aware 2/4 was always considered the march. it's more marchey, really.

unless there are marches for i dunno horses? or do horses' pairs of legs go in synch? marches for spiders maybe?

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I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

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#29
Another interesting take on time signatures is sticking to one time signature for a lot of the song (e.g. 4/4) and then one bar of 2/4 in a transition or something. It often has a nice flavour too it if it doesn't sound forced.

At the end of the day, I might even say that I prefer music that doesn't stick to simplistic 4/4 beats as the predictability is 'boring'. There are plenty of songs in other time signatures that don't sound the slightest bit jarring:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp0OXICuZek
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#30
Quote by Dave_Mc
2/4, surely?
Yeah so, if march is 2/4, it still takes at least 2 measures for "Big Brother" to get "his" point across.

Here, a march, followed by a dirge, followed by an anthem....(and all in 4/4):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPzY30v9mtg

But I will grant you, if you want to "goosestep" to it, you'd have to do it in cut time.

A stirring piece is that one! One can almost envision a parade in downtown Berlin, circa 1939....

Do I need to print a retraction for that post, or have you guys redacted it enough already?
#31
BTW, why is drill marching in movies almost always counted as "Hup, two, three, four"?
Last edited by Captaincranky at Nov 23, 2013,
#32
Quote by Emperor's Child
Another interesting take on time signatures is sticking to one time signature for a lot of the song (e.g. 4/4) and then one bar of 2/4 in a transition or something. It often has a nice flavour too it if it doesn't sound forced.

At the end of the day, I might even say that I prefer music that doesn't stick to simplistic 4/4 beats as the predictability is 'boring'. There are plenty of songs in other time signatures that don't sound the slightest bit jarring:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp0OXICuZek

4/4 doesn't need to be simplistic. It's just a time signature. It's the same as saying that songs in C major are simplistic. You can do a lot with just 4/4 time signature (you can even make it sound like it's in some odd time signature when it really isn't).

It's not about the time signature, it's about how you use the rhythm. Many songs with a cool groove are in 4/4 but they have pretty complex rhythms and lots of syncopation. You can make simplistic stuff in whatever time signature.

It's the same with chord progressions. I-V-vi-IV is one of the most common progressions in pop. The progression itself doesn't sound like a cliche - it's more about how you use the chord progression. And the way the progression is used in mainstream pop is usually pretty unoriginal and predictable. Though sometimes you want your music to be really easy to listen to. You don't need to pay any attention to it and can already sing the chorus.
Quote by AlanHB
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#33
Quote by rockingamer2
I'm pretty sure he's referring to people who find out about different time signature and just force them onto whatever they write just to use it.


Why wouldn't you force it in to make it work?

It may sound shit, but so does a lot of music that isn't "forced in". At least give credit for someone trying to experiment.

Besides that's not the point. You think from one day to the next, you will suddenly write amazing odd time songs?

This threads premise pretty much sums up that THAT most likely is never gonna happen

People learn things, by forcing them through repetitive practice.


Also is it hardwired into our genes? I practiced a lot in weird time signature years ago, and I can now tap, sing, play comfortably in 5/4 and 7/8. In various rhythmic divisi.

Just those 2, and not the most odd ones out there, but the fact I can "feel" at least 2 now surely means it's not hardwired to solely 4/4.

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#34
Quote by Captaincranky
Yeah so, if march is 2/4, it still takes at least 2 measures for "Big Brother" to get "his" point across.


i just always heard marches were 2/4. granted 4/4 isn't all that different as you and maggaramarine said, but if you want to get pedantic, 2/4 is "the" march time. the way 3/4 is "the" waltz time even though i'm sure you could write a waltz in another time signature with crafty syncopation, use of triplets etc.

i dunno about the "hup, two, three, four" thing. I'm not sure everything in the movies is necessarily totally true, though.
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I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

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Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

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#35
Quote by Dave_Mc
i just always heard marches were 2/4. granted 4/4 isn't all that different as you and maggaramarine said, but if you want to get pedantic, 2/4 is "the" march time. the way 3/4 is "the" waltz time even though i'm sure you could write a waltz in another time signature with crafty syncopation, use of triplets etc.


OK, I probably should have printed a retraction on my earlier statement. I'll do it now.

"2/4 is traditionally referred to as march time, not 4/4"! I printed my earlier post hastily, and I was in error.

With that out of the way, 4/4 is easily adaptable to marching, as is using cut time for the cadence, over top of a faster 4/4 meter. Differentially, the important aspect for using 2/4 specifically, (or mixed with 4/4), would be a phrase length of measures NOT divisible by four. (Everybody seems to sneak in an extra measure once in awhile).

As for 3/4 time, it does show in country music time and again, as a waltz. I expect traditional and folk influences are at work with that. Everybody probably has heard, "The Tennessee Waltz", at one time or other. Mary-Chapin Carpenter's "Slow Country Dance", is a "tinkly 3/4 gem", albeit perhaps a bit depressing thematically.

Quote by Dave_Mc
i dunno about the "hup, two, three, four" thing. I'm not sure everything in the movies is necessarily totally true, though.
There were a lot of "war flicks" made after the USA back to back conflicts, (WW2 & Korea), I doubt that drill sequences were not at least mostly accurate, since that would have alienated the hoards of veterans in audiences everywhere.

In any case, "go to your left, your right, left...ad infinitum, was also used for the cadence". Which of course would be, 2/4 time.

12/8 sort of "masquerades" as 4/4 time once in a while. Listen to Al Stewart's, "Roads to Moscow". It's 12/8, and the rhythm stroking belies that fact, yet you're forced to count it, " one, two, three, four. Jus' sayin'. (you're good to go with a solid four count, until somebody throws in a measure of 6/8 ).

Just for laughs, listen to the song from, "Tommy", I linked earlier. See if you can't imagine goose stepping armies, with throngs of people shouting, "Seig Heil", during the anthem at the end.
Last edited by Captaincranky at Nov 24, 2013,
#36
there was no need to retract it or anything, i was just pointing it out

but
I'm an idiot and I accidentally clicked the "Remove all subscriptions" button. If it seems like I'm ignoring you, I'm not, I'm just no longer subscribed to the thread. If you quote me or do the @user thing at me, hopefully it'll notify me through my notifications and I'll get back to you.
Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#37
Quote by Dave_Mc
there was no need to retract it or anything, i was just pointing it out

but
No harm, no problem, my pleasure. I didn't want to leave wrong info up for our members or other readers......
#38
I'm an idiot and I accidentally clicked the "Remove all subscriptions" button. If it seems like I'm ignoring you, I'm not, I'm just no longer subscribed to the thread. If you quote me or do the @user thing at me, hopefully it'll notify me through my notifications and I'll get back to you.
Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?