I am not sure if it is the same for other instruments and musicians, but a guitar can be a personal item. The old story of BB King running back into a burning building to rescue his guitar “Lucille” is well known. For a singer-song-writer a guitar can be a confident, and a trusted companion. I am not sure if it is the same with basses or drums? Perhaps a guitar accompanies lyrics more and therefore it is an instrument of harmonies and accompaniment, feelings and personal memories?
Recently I have been looking for a new guitar. My old one has a cracked body; it does not hold the tuning to well now. But buying a new guitar is more complicated than it once was. Being left handed I was used to having very little choice when it came to deciding on what guitar to buy. For many years I played a right handed guitar “upside down”, and I changed the strings around; over the years I have learned to play a right handed guitar upside down, but keeping the strings as they are, so I am playing the chords upside down! But the feel is “wrong” and the neck of a right handed guitar is twisted to suit a right handed player.
So my search for a lefty was complicated, not because there was a lack of choice, but because there was a lot of choice. The online “shopping experience” is a fickle companion; and it does not beat going into a shop and trying the guitar out. There is very little choice when it comes to buying locally; most of the lefties are “up north or down south”.
I got my first guitar at the age of 7; it was a Spanish guitar with steel strings! It was actually a guitar from Spain, brought back to the UK in the 1970s when Spain got rid of Franco and began opening its borders to cheap package holidays. I guess the woman who advertised these guitars, in the local paper, wanted to claim some of her holiday money back and exported some of these small guitars with her to sell. My parents did not know anything about music, and the woman did not let on that I was holding the guitar “upside down”, they bought it any ways.
I taught myself to play the guitar from books in the Carlisle library from The Who’s “Tommy” song book and a few Clash song books I had bought. I wrote my first punk songs on this Spanish guitar and although the sound must have been terrible, it was all I knew, therefore wonderful. These songs later became songs in the punk bands (Business Controlled, Havana Affair, Frenzy) mentioned in this blog. As punk came along I painted the guitar with various symbols and designs. In the end I gave the guitar to a friend called Ste, who wanted to learn to play guitar. After that I lost contact with it.
The 2nd guitar I bought was an Kay electric right handed guitar that I bought from the local “Evening News and Star” paper, it came with an amp, and I started playing in bands with it in the late 70s when I was still at school. It had a tremolo arm and I broke strings the first time I played it rehearsing. This guitar I sold; I wanted a better guitar as I was taking music more seriously. I saw what I thought was a better guitar in a National newspaper and I asked my parents to let me borrow the money to buy it. They refused, the guitar would of cost £79; I only had a few months to wait until I was legally allowed to withdraw money from a small legacy, but with my parents saying “No” I was determined to get an even better one (and more expensive).
Music Maker was a guitar shop at the top of Devonshire Street, Carlisle. It was at the top of a flight of stairs and in an attic room. After gasping for breath climbing the many stairs and opening the door I was surrounded by guitars of all shapes and sizes, and yes a few left handed electric guitars too. There were 2 Antoria Gibson copies, one in sunburst colour and the other in black. Their cost was £215, a small fortune for a 16 year old boy still at school. But I withdrew the money from my legacy and bought the black Antoria guitar. This guitar weighed a ton, a complete contrast to the other guitars I had tried. I have played with this guitar in all the punk bands that I was involved with, it has been an excellent guitar and I still I have it today, and now I am recording music again it is still part of my musical journey.
After the Antoria I needed a better acoustic and I bought an Eko left handed acoustic. It was not great, it had laminated top and sides and the tone was sweet but quiet. The bulk of my songs I wrote on this guitar, and it is the closest I have come for it to be BB King’s “Lucille”. There is a recording of it on the page “Business Controlled” in this blog where I am recording a song called “Vive La Resistance” it had a great action on the neck and playing it was a dream, but it was too quiet for busking. I tried to make it a semi-acoustic by putting a humbucker puck-up across the sound hole and drilling a hole in the body to insert the jack input…it did not work too well. I am not sure what happened to the guitar, I think I sold it as I needed the money (why did I do that?).
Another guitar I bought was a Classical guitar, which was not a good buy. I bought it from Northern Sounds music shop at the top of Botchergate, it being a right handed guitar it felt “wrong” although I still have it.
After I had joined the Red Aligatorz in 1985, I needed a louder acoustic guitar, and I bought a 2nd hand right handed Yamaha guitar from my classical guitar teacher, Pat Robinson. I paid £50 for it and it had a lovely bass sound, louder and suitable for busking and giging. I used this guitar throughout the Aligatorz gigs and later on in Amsterdam and also in London. It being a right handed guitar it still felt “wrong” but as I was “strumming fuck out of it” it did not seem to matter too much; the scratch plate is at the top and my fingers have worn away the wood on the bottom! It is a good guitar still, but with the crack in the body it does not hold its tuning…I will be operating on it soon, and I hope to produce a new Frankenstein shortly!
You might think this is an over indulgence to write about my guitars, but instruments can mean something to a musician, and for me guitars (and other instruments I play) have always been a good companion. I am not sure what I will buy next, now it has more to do with the feel and the sound of the instrument, and let that determine what I play on it.