Thursday, September 28, 2006

Guitars


I was recently rooting through my study looking for a book when I must have jostled something and my ovation fell in an El-Kabong fashion, right on my head. I then sat on the floor and cradled this guitar, while it returned some memories to me.

When I was young and immortal I damaged my hearing with electric music. I decided to go with acoustic guitars. I first purchased a Yamaha Twelve-String, but soon realized that I was spending half of my time tuning it and the other half of my time playing out of tune.

From there I purchased a big box maple Guild. (Robert in the Brownsmead Flats has one almost like it.) This instrument had sound. You could strum it, set it down, go out for dinner and drinks and those strings were still humming when you returned later that evening. Unfortunately that instrument was previously owned by someone who had the strings on too tight and I tried everything I could do to straighten the neck out, but never could. That was when I bought the Ovation and have had it now for well over 30 years. Oddly I don’t think I’ve played more than a hand full of times since I moved out here nearly 20 years ago.

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, one’s whole identity was formed by the guitar you had. I was a Gibson kid. I was probably 12 years old when I first tried a 1963 Gibson Firebird. I was probably fourteen years old when I got my first SG Special. It was the perfect guitar for me. Not fragile like an ES-335 or a Johnny Smith, and not a heavy thick model like the Les Paul. I just liked the look and the feel.

Another memory came back to me as I sat there on the floor. It was of the time when I did all my writing at a café that had entertainment on the weekend. The owner of the café saw some microphone stands for sale in the paper, and asked if I would be good enough to pick them up. I was familiar with the area and I had a jeep that could hold all sorts of stuff, so off I went. I had a suspicion who I’d be buying the mike stands from. Sure enough, as I pulled into the quasi private community, up his driveway, he met me at the back door. It was The Gibson King himself; Les Paul.

Les took me into his studio to get the mike stands. I got four of them. He helped me load them into the Jeep. We chatted for a while, and I had to ask him if he had any guitars for sale. He said, “Follow me.”

We went back into his home and I followed him into a large room that had probably twenty guitars, each on a stand arranged in a semicircle. There were several Les Paul models there and even some experimental Gibson models I had never seen before or since.

I zoned in on a brown EBO bass. I hadn’t had a bass guitar since I sold my scroll neck Baldwin some years earlier, and the EBO was the bass version of the SG special. I wanted it.

Les plugged both our guitars in. He started playing something like Walking Whistling Blues. I listened for a moment in awe that I was in a room alone with Les Paul watching him play. He said, “Are you planning on trying that bass out today?” Holy shit! I was getting a cue to play bass guitar along with Les Paul. I did my best, which wasn’t very good, but playing guitar with Les Paul will always be a memorable in my life.

As it turned out Les was asking three times the amount a new EBO would have cost me at the most expensive music shop in town. I passed on buying the bass, but the totally free experience of playing with Les Paul was priceless to me.

14 Comments:

Anonymous gearhead said...

I started out on a Kay double bass.
Went through a couple of junker electrics.
Then on the way to a gig in 1975 I bought a Fender Precision Fretless.
It was $535.00 with the hard shell case.
With the crummy Fender tail peice, and the maple neck, the tone is soft. Perfect for jazz or country.
My eyes were opened when I played a P-base with a Bad-Ass tail peice, brass head nut and Ebony fretless inlay. WOW!!!!!
But no. I keep it stock, just like the day I first saw it.

8:07 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Fretless, eh? I always wanted one of those, but not a Fender. I just didn't like the look of Fenders, nor did I like their amps. Give me a Gibson with an Ampeg amp and joy will be with me.

The Baldwin I had was once owned by the bassist of Vanilla Fudge.(or so was the story) It was big, white and heavy, but the scrolled neck gave it some charm. It was OK, but they should stick to pianos.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Great story Guy! Definetely a keeper as the brain synapses give out, this is one you want to reserve for the last few brain cells. There you were at a crossroads.

My first guitar was bought at a Victoria pamn shop and boy did I get taken - not knowing how to play, I was awed by the salesman's rendition of "Stairway to Heaven" (cliche or what but back then they did not have NO STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN signs posted). I spent the next few years bleeding all over that guitar learning how to play.Ity was supposed to be a handcrafted guitar made on Galliano Island - probably whoever's first one.

My next guitar was an Ovation - Signature model and I also still have it though as you, it also is gathering dust along with my Takemine (wonderful on board electonics - plays well through an amp - the Ovation tends to want to howl with feedback, my electric Gibson Victory(with a ton of custom work) and the twelve string for when you are tired of playing alone.

My buddy P. has a Guild -you're right great sound- and we now do way not enough jammin'. Funny how the things you really like doing get pushed out of your life by some force without you really realizing that it's happening until the guitar takes a life of its own and bonks you on the head.

I'll take your bonk on the noggin' as a message from the cosmos to get together with P. and do some howlin' at the moon!

3:04 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Moosehead, I'm glad you are inspired by my pain and unfortunate circunstances. But hey, everyone needs a muse.

I have considered getting a violin recently. I've never played one, and I'm not quite sure which style of music I would land on.

I started with playing rock on the guitar, went to folk and country, then to Classical and finally to Jazz when I stopped playing. I get bored and move on. Guitar doesn't lend itself to my favorite type of music which is minimalist opera, so I am more of a listener these days.

Be sure to record your work and send me a CD. I just would like to hear how bad I'd sound if I continued howling at the moon at my age.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Syd said...

Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?? Les Freaking Paul?

If my brother were alive, this would kill him all over again. He collected rare guitars, btw. Wish I knew more about them to expand on that, but I didn't pay enough attention, sadly.

5:56 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

What happeded to his collection?

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Fat chance of that becoming a CD! Minimilist opera??? O K, now I get it - you just like watching big busted women on TV with the sound turned off.

You're sending mixed signals here..."I'm considering getting a violin"..."What happened to his collection?" Watch this Guy Syd...as you know,he has been known to fake orgasms!

6:52 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Oh my friend who lives in the Canadian sticks, there aren't large breasted women in minimalist opera. It's nothing you've been exposed to. Find a link for Philip Glass, or Einstein On The Beach, see if you can down load a clip or two. Better yet, one clip will do, and keep playing it over and over for four and a half hours and you'll understand what minimalist opera is all about.

And Syd, your brother would love what you just said about him. Oh the irony. You are truely my sister as well.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Good news!!! Those voices you are hearing in your head aren't in your head after all - they're Einstein on the Beach playing in the backround!!! Just kiddin' Bhud - I don't know that I will listen to it for four hours straight though. There are two things I won't argue about - taste in women and taste in music. Maybe sometime this winter between shovelling out from the snowstorms... Perhaps the best minimilist music is silence... Now let's see if I got the lyrics down, one two three four...dang I got it wrong again. Oh the pain and pleasure of living in the hinterland. I'm hearing voices again...what's that in the backround...violin music??? OK OK I'll fou quah now. Love these rainy days but as you know Guy, winter is coming and that is not necessarily a good thing for people like me who are always procrastinating. Oh hell, I'll worry about it later.

12:26 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Ahhh, you are beginning to understand, Grasshopper...

2:20 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Les Paul? I'm impressed! I own a Gibson Dove, which is totally wasted on an aging woman who can only do simple chords. But I love it.

2:46 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

How long have you had it? I look around at all the things I no longer use and occasionally I give things away. I gave away six 35mm SLR last year to people who told me they needed a camera. My guitars may be next.

3:13 PM  
Blogger tapirgal said...

A wonderful post. I loved reading your story.

9:44 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Thanks, Tapirgal. It is a fond memory.

6:14 AM  

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