While my Guitars Gently Weep
If you are a guitar player, you will understand this story completely
I was fifteen years old. She was obviously a few years older, but still in great shape. She had a curvaceous body, a slender, elegant neck and here is the bit where you realise I’m not talking about a woman, she had just been re-strung with light gauge steel strings and she was ready to play. My first guitar, given to me by my brother-in-law and the instrument by which I began my musical education. I soon learnt those first three chords, quickly realising that steel strings can dig deep into soft, tender fingers as yet unhardened by constant, repetitive practice. I wish I still had her now, but she is long gone, replaced by ever more expensive instruments. Gone, but not forgotten.
I don’t regret many things in life. There really is no point, you cannot change the past, so I learn to live with them and move on. However, I have owned many guitars in my life, all of which have taught me something new and added to my repertoire of musical techniques and understanding. Some of those guitars I still have and others, and this is the bit I now regret, no longer with me.
So this is the tale of the lost guitars. The fond remembering of the different parts they played in my journey and like an old mans recollections of the loves of his youth, a nostalgic vision through rose-tinted glasses of what wonderful companions they have been.
The first one.
The story has to start with that steel string acoustic given to me when I was a complete musical novice. Her action, which is the distance between the fretboard on the neck and the strings, was quite high. Initially, it took a lot of painful effort to even hold a string down and create a note. She would constantly fall out of tune as the machine heads which hold each string taut, had a habit of slipping and therefor changing the strings pitch. I found out how to tune a guitar very quickly, as it needed doing so often. She was the guitar that put the necessary callous on the ends of my fingers. Hers was the voice of my first simple melodies, hers the first accompaniment to those beginner’s easy songs. After only a few months, she moved on to another learner and if she is still around today; I don’t know. However. she was my first and you never forget your first.
The valuable one that got away
I bought my first electric guitar from a friend of a friend. Back then I knew very little about guitars and I needed a cheap second hand starter guitar and he offered me his ancient (1963) Burns Jazz Split Sound Sunburst for a mere twenty-five UK pounds. She was a marvellous instrument to play, although quite heavy when compared to the acoustic I was used to. Punk rock was the music of the day and fortunately for me it was a genre that credited energy and verve over musical ability. I joined a band. Cranking up the volume on a borrowed amplifier with built in distortion, we played and screamed our three chords and the truth but musically my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to play something cleaner and more melodious, and I felt I needed a guitar better suited to my aspirations. I coveted a genuine Fender Telecaster, made in the USA and not Japan, so my first electric had to go, adding to the funds saved for something I thought would be better. An older and wiser musician saw my advert in the local paper and immediately agreed to my request for the same twenty-five pounds I had paid for it. Money in the kitty for my soon to be purchased Fender.
It was years later that I discovered the rarity of my erstwhile Burns. The value to collectors of an example of English guitars from a period when Britain ruled the musical world made it a desirable addition. I saw one for sale on eBay recently. If only I had two thousand pounds, she would be mine again.
The one that I loved
Can you call it love? An attachment to an object, not a person? A Golden maple neck in stark contrast to a black Telecaster body and tortoiseshell scratch-plate, she sounded as good as she looked. Clean, bright fender tones so I could pretend to be picking out a lead melody just like Dire Straights (it was possible it was more like that band in my head than in reality). She could also give a mellow, bluesy sound limited only by my slowly improving technique, and because of her, my technique got better. With her by my side, I felt I was a real guitarist with a proper player’s guitar. Alas, circumstances change and in desperate need of finances, I had to let her go. I play mostly acoustic now, and have no real need for such a fine electric guitar, but I am tempted if cash flow allows, to buy a similar instrument again if only to just to gaze on her and occasionally play that superb combination of form and function.
The one too beautiful to play
I don’t have the skill to play jazz, although I believe it is a genre where there is no such thing as a wrong note, just possibilities. The twin pickup, thin line semi hollow-body guitar beloved by jazz musicians was something I had never considered playing. When I saw her in the shop window, her beauty bowled me over. Deep, rich sunburst, the curved body shape was accentuated by the violin like f-holes on each side. All that glitters is not gold but this Epiphone Sheraton had gold coloured pickups, bridge and machine heads which reflected in the glossy surface and scratch plate. If Midas had a guitar, this would be his. It didn’t matter what it sounded like as she was aesthetic perfection, however she made a pretty good tune too. Eventually I reasoned that as I never played her, she had to go and I duly sold her on. I wish, however, she was still hanging from a mounted bracket on my wall to the envy of every guitar player I know.
Every guitarist will tell you that the number of guitars needed is always, no matter what the amount, one guitar more than the number of guitars owned. I for one would like at least the four more guitars mentioned here, and then my collection would be perfect. Except of course for when the next, just what I need instrument that comes my way.