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Automatic Fine Tuning

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Automatic Fine Tuning A.F.T. album cover
3.55 | 66 ratings | 11 reviews | 30% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1976

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Great Panjandrum Wheel Pt.One (14:25)
2. Gladioli (4:41)
3. The Great Panjandrum Wheel Pt.Two (15:45)
4. Queen of the Night (3:49)

Total Time 38:00

Line-up / Musicians

- Paul A. MacDonnell / guitar
- Robert Cross / guitar
- Trevor Darks / bass
- Dave Ball / drums, vocals

Releases information

Charisma CAS 1122

Thanks to Atavachron for the addition
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AUTOMATIC FINE TUNING A.F.T. ratings distribution

(66 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(30%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(39%)
Good, but non-essential (26%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Absolutely brilliant one-time project from this mostly instrumental foursome released by Charisma in 1976, the dual guitar lines of Paul A. MacDonnell & Robert Cross, bass and drums of Trevor Darks and Dave Ball weaved together neo-classical metallics in a way no one had yet attempted - save Brian May - and predates Michael Schenker's Bachian fugues, Uli Roth's Paganini chops and Yngwie's chiming compressed harmonics by several years. 'The Great Panjandrum Wheel' parts 1 and 2 encompasses nearly a half hour and makes up the bulk of the album, a hugely ambitious undertaking for a quartet of headbangers in '76, and is jam packed with slippery, painfully well-conceived harmonies, laserbeam tech guitar bravado, heady time signatures, and reliable, unobtrusive rhythm from Darks and Ball. 'Gladioli' has more contrapuntals and playful constructs and the record continues to cook, smoldering along with rarely a slow or unsure moment, always surprising, and would quite easily hold its own against the lot of Baroque-style hard rock. A must for almost any faithful Progmetalhead or Prog Metal historian, hearing AFT is like discovering someone did Psychedelic rock before Syd Barrett was walking.

Review by b_olariu
5 stars Criminaly underrated band and album in my opinion, delivering some of the most stunning heavy prog albums of the decade. The album was released in summer of 1976 and was not a comercial succes, not by far, because the band tried and succeded to gather all the neo-classical and barock arrangements with heavy prog elements in one single unit - Automatic Fine Tuning - the response from the media and public was minor, so they disbanded soon after and they gone almost unnoticed by many prog conoseurs and heavy prog lovers - the mid to late '70's prog was no longer something to talk about . The album was way ahead of his time delivering some superb guitar chops made by Paul A. MacDonnell and Robert Cross very very intristing for that time, very strong harmonics and smooth arrangements on 6 and 12 strings, aswell as the guitar duel between them leaves no comments, excellent. The rytmic section was provided by Dave Ball on drums who also done the vocal parts on Queen of the night and Trevor Darks on bass. The album sounds close to what Yngwie Malmsteen or Joey Taffola done, but they've done it ten years after AFT, that means AFT influenced some musicians from later decades. Great barock hevy prog album with smooth harmonics, great musicianship. AFT has 4 pieces , one of them is divided in two - The Great Panjandrum Wheel part 1&2, more than 30minutes of real feast for all listners, the cherry on the cake here, the rest are aslo very strong. This album sounds so original that even after 30 years is still present and is a real pleasure to listen to, one of my fav albums ever. Recommended to everyone intrested in discovering heavy prog of the highest calibre with a vintage sound. This band was a big discovery for me and has a special place in my collection, very funy and intristing art cover too. 5 stars for sure for this treasure of the '70's
Review by The Whistler
3 stars NEENER-NEENER-NEE! 3.5

Sometimes, one wonders why one writes reviews. In the case of Automatic Fine Tuning's essentially eponymous (and sole) album, I feel as though this was a challenge from my reviewer brethren. After all, how could I, the Whistler, NOT Ian Anderson, someone NOT known for his brevity, possibly write a whole review about this album? It's short; it's not even forty minutes long. It's very samey; these guys really milk the ole "heavy pork" style. And, it all sounds the same...

Well, I've got a good start. After all, I just burned up a paragraph talking about myself. But, on to the music. Automatic Fine Tuning was basically four dudes who utterly ripped off Iron Maiden a few years before that band's invention, so that takes guts. I know it all sounds the same, but if you like that whole "undying riff-fest" thing, then do I have a treasure from the vault for you...

Starting off on an un-ambitious foot, the band kicks into gear with "The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Part One." It's largely what it sounds like...if the name conjures up about fifteen minutes of instrumental classical/medieval riffage. Don't get me wrong though, these lads know their stuff. The rhythm section is very professional, but your attention will doubtlessly be won by the twin guitar attacks. It's the guitars that lead the track, constantly changing the speed and the riffing so that you never get bored.

Call me crazy, but my favorite bit of noise on this thing is "Gladioli." It's slightly shorter than "Panjandrum," about ten minutes shorter in fact. But the speedy lil' Mozart inspired (?) riffage is just so darn CUTE that I can't help but commend it. Humor is something that the classical/medieval metal genre is often lacking, purposeful humor at least, but "Gladioli" delivers.

But when that old familiar riff starts up again, you know that you're in for "The Great Panjandrum Wheel, Part 2." Is it more of the same? You betcha, right down to the time. Is it just as good? Uh-huh. In fact, it's better, quite a bit better, because it's even more varied, with guitar tones poppin' outta all angles, and the bass and drummer get to make use of the faster tempos to show off a bit more.

After the rushing climax of "Panjandrum 2," it's odd that we turn in a totally different direction to finish this puppy off. "Queen of the Night" is a much more bluesy number, with the guitar tone sounding almost like a harmonica this time around. And it has LYRICS! SUNG lyrics no less. Fancy that. Unfortunately, they turn out to be a cross between fairly pedestrian Gothic imagery, and some more pedestrian...barroom imagery? Family these guys are not.

And that's about it. The riffs are good, if never terribly memorable. No, this is not music for humming along. It doesn't create any particular feelings, or cast any specific mood. It doesn't show off shocking skill of guitar, bass and drums. It's art metal groove, seemingly designed for the pretentious headbanger in all of us.

So where does that leave us? With a very interesting band. It's easy to see why these boys never hit it big time; they might be Iron Maiden dreams with High Tide technology, but they lack the latter's atmospheric impact and the former's songwriting. Still, I imagine that's why the band collapsed: one foot in the seventies and one in the eighties realms of metal does not a stable lineup make (and don't forget a quick glance to the sixties! There's a definite psycho influence to this affair).

But, any fan of guitar based heavy rock is going to find this thing interesting. The twin guitarists, Paul MacDonnell and Robert Cross, are both quite skilled six stingers, and the variety of pedals and devices they use ensure that their instruments are able to ape harmonicas and church organs very nicely (for the best example, pay close attention to "Panjandrum 2;" I swear to God that thing sounds like a violin at one point!).

Naturally, their sound is going to make one draw a lot of associations: everyone from Brian May to Martin Barre to Tony Hill to Steve Hackett to Robert Fripp to...I dunno, Django Reinhardt and Keith Emerson and your uncle Leo. Even if it's not very memorable, it is by no means unpleasant, and anyone who is a fan of loud, structured jamming with a proggy bent will find something to love. In fact, it IS a pity that the band did not survive. Another album perhaps, and their nascent songwriting genius might have been unlocked, or at least we could have gotten a live album out. Considering the period, and what kind of a band this must have been, a live document would have been invaluable.

Review by Wicket
4 stars Classic Rock + 70's Era Prog + Jams = Awesome

While this entire disc only comprises 4 songs (two of which are about 14-15 mintues long), it feels a lot longer. And while there is no song structures, per se, it just seems to feel constructed, ordered, planned. Many guitar solos featured throughout this disc start mainly to feel like a free-flowing improvisation, but once you get into the two-part "Great Panjandrum Wheel", it's too long complex to feel like improv.

That's sort of the majesty about this disc. It still feels like good ol' fashioned classic rock from the mid 70's, yet it's complex, long and sort of sophisticated enough to plant a firm foot in the realm of prog rock. It's an interesting disc that sort of plays to both tastes, which is perfect for me because I'm a fan of both genres. Prog rock fans can enjoy the long songs and the semi- complex nature of it, classic rock fans can enjoy it because it is a pure translation of that 70's hard rock sound in prog form and jam band fans can love it because, well, it is essentially a 39 minute long jam disc.

Which is fine for me.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Automatic Fine Tuning's career was short, but they managed to left a document of high-octane instrumental guitar Rock.These Englishmen reputedly came from Reading and were led by the duo of Paul MacDonnell and Robert Cross on guitars with Trevor Darks handling the bass and Dave Ball being responsible for the drumming and the scarce vocals.They recorded their only album ''A.F.T.'' for Charisma in 1976, the sessions took place at La Maison Rouge Mobile in Ridge Farm, Surrey.

The sound of the band is all over the place, borrowing the twin guitar lines of WISHBONE ASH and taking them to the next level, throwing complex twists ala KING CRIMSON, some Heavy Rock pounds in the vein of T2, more melodic parts along the lines of CAMEL, extended Fusion instrumental mannerisms and even some sort of Classical orientations, which was the trademark of the band.Even more impressive they did it by producing two 15-min. long instrumentals without falling in cliche soloing or excessive jams.It appears that one of the electric guitars has somewhat taken the role of keyboards in the album, the sharp and furious lead parts are complemented by lovely Classical-styled soloing.Very strange, but this works pretty well for most of the album's length, which has a nice flow and an unmet spark.Extremely accomplished musicians and composers at the very end, the bass work is great and the drumming is even greater, almost flawless.The long tracks are of course the peak of the album, lots of nice leads and rhythms, melodic and almost dramatic-sounding solos and plenty of well-placed breaks.The farewell ''Queen of the night'' is the only track to feature some vocals and apparently moving into a more straightforward Rock vein.Credits should also go to Americans Loyd Grossman and Neal Grossman (the album's producers) for the excellent work on the album as well.

The band propably dissapeared after the release of the album and only Trevor Darks has been spotted a couple of years later as a member of Gilli Smith's Mother Gong combo.

Guitar-fronted, mostly instrumental Prog Rock with fiery soloing, challenging moves and even some fascinating melodies.To be discovered, one of the best 70's outputs within the simplistic formation of guitar/bass/drums...3.5 stars.

Review by Sagichim
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars A.F.T are a four piece band from Reading England led by guitar players Paul MacDonnell and Robert Cross, this self titled album is their only one released in 1976. I really wanted to like this album since it seems to be right up my alley but I just can't get into this at all. I bought the album years ago and played it quite a lot since then but unfortunately it doesn't click, so I'm officialy done with the album now. The concept of it is simple, a dual guitar attack accompanied by bass and drums no keys involved, very much inspired by bands like Wishbone Ash and Rush, even early Iron Maiden comes to mind in a few places. Apart from being inspired by heavy hard rock and progressive rock bands there's also some classical influences for a good measure. Unfortunately the band's strength turns out to be their weakness, while trying to produce an all instrumental album leaning heavily on guitar interplay, it's eventually all you get and that's not enough. Don't get me wrong these guys are pretty tight and definitely know how to play, I see a lot of positive reviews for it but sadly there isn't anything memorable throughout the album to make you wanna come back, this non stop jaming is very tiring and exhuasting.

The album is mostly instrumental, there are 2 short tracks one with vocals and 2 long pieces, but it doesn't really matter where you put your finger on the album it always sounds like your in the same place. The sound is very good and supposed to be a heaven for all you 70's guitar aficionados, both Cross and MaCdonnell's sound is strong and crunchy, and with all those blazing solos I should have been dancing like a madman. There are a few problems with the album, the first being there's not much of songwriting here, yes they came up with a few riffs, ideas or leads and of course some of it is good but it's not enough to my ears, they pretty much grind their ass off with solos. The second problem is related to the first, it's the relentless same kind of sound that just doesn't let go, after a while your dying for a break but it never happens. The third problem and the most important one and I may be hunted down by fans of the band for this but I gotta say that although these guys can certainly play I'm missing something that's called soul and feeling, it's just too technical for me. Their fast paced dual guitars is their strength but they certainly overplay it. I don't want to sound so negative because this album has its qualities and of course may appeal to fans of the genre, it even starts out nicely with a few cool ideas weaved together but unfortunately the whole thing just goes over my head without leaving anything memorable, not even a second of it. While there are a few good moments they are overshadowed by the rest of the album. 2.5 stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars AUTOMATIC FINE TUNING were a four piece band from the UK releasing this one album back in 1976. A dual guitar led quartet and many mention WISHBONE ASH although this record only has vocals on the short closer. The album is dominated by the massive "The Great Panjandrum Wheel" at over 30 minutes but thankfully divided into two fairly even parts with a short track in between because that's 30 minutes of what I would call one dimensional music where the guitars are just relentless.

My favourite spin of this album was the first one but I tired of this quickly. Now if the guitar was my favourite instrument we'd be talking a different rating but even still I just find that 30 minutes of music to be a composition that is far from adventerous or interesting to my ears. Just my humble opinion and I do prefer "Argus" to this one by a fair amount. The ratings for this one are all over the place for good reason.

Latest members reviews

5 stars Hailing from Reading, Berkshire, Automatic Fine Tuning was a innovative British band whose sole release is their mostly instrumental 1976 album A.F.T., whose centerpiece was conceived as a rock guitar symphony. As such, the music is very influenced by baroque and classical music. Automatic Fine T ... (read more)

Report this review (#1738595) | Posted by Replayer | Tuesday, June 27, 2017 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Make no mistake about it, people. This is pretty much the definition of a guitar-oriented album. If you're the sort of person who dismisses Steve Vai or Al Di Meola and their ilk on the basis that they utilize too much technicality and not enough "soul", then you'll probably not like this albu ... (read more)

Report this review (#640468) | Posted by Dr. Judkins | Friday, February 24, 2012 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I guess this album is one of those who polarise the opinions on PA and among music lovers in general. It has got five stars and now; my two stars. Please let me explain.... This music reminds me a lot about the musical approach The Shadows had to their music. They too were pretty Paganini in ... (read more)

Report this review (#256413) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Found this LP in a record store,4 bucks,couple of weeks ago.Read about A.F.T. on this site,never heard of them before,I was also atracted by Charisma label,one of the best in prog circles.Music have pretty raw fell,like it was recorded live in studio in just one take,basicaly one 40 plus minute ... (read more)

Report this review (#183891) | Posted by ljubaspriest | Saturday, September 27, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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