No, not your wife or hubby…(though congrats if that’s your situation). I actually mean your next instrument purchase. And usually, this is a purchase that happens much later in life..beyond the point of the “starter” guitar purchase that someone buys for their kid. Instruments come into our lives for many reasons. When we find a really good one, it is like getting married in some ways. We commit, grab on and grow together. It’s the feel of the neck. Maybe a new tone that we heard in our head that someone finally made manifest in an instrument. Maybe it opens up a technique that we’ve been working on. As a friend said about trying my blue Spector Euro6LX (before he joined the Spector family of artists), “It’s like it has energy to give.”
There’s a whole variety of factors that come into that decision. But when it happens, it happens. And after a time, you learn to not question when it does, and figure out a way to get the money together. Because if that instrument goes…the regret you will feel is very real. It leaves you changed. The regret of loss is worse than the pain of the the effort, time and money spent on securing it. And the good ones will pay for themselves.
Sometimes, it’s a marriage or a long term relationship. Sometimes that instrument just gets us further along the way until we meet the next instrument that we realize is a next logical step in our evolution. I played a Rickenbacker for awhile. LOVED it. Wasn’t enough growl. Like some other players who have similar tales…that was the last bass I owned before I found my Spector. The Ric was a step that got me there while I was still searching for the tone I wanted.
Like good friends, there can be some great stories to tell behind how we find an special instrument. Sometimes it is simple as “I found my bass at the music store, knew it was right, and out came my wallet.” Or “I hit “Buy It Now” on eBay.” Sometimes, it’s a yet little more convoluted and interesting in how it happens.
I’m grateful for all the ones that put food on my table and a roof over my head. I figured I’d share some stories in my blog as to how I found my instruments, or (in some cases) how they found me.
I’m kicking this blog idea off with a story of an electric guitar. Jump in the way back machine with me for a moment…back about 15 years or so. I was heading out for a weekend gigging with a Celtic rock band, while I was also in the process of starting to separate from my ex-bf. I asked if we could talk further about the details of separating when I got back from the weekend of shows.
The conversation was not received well. While I was out gigging, he closed my bank account, changed the locks to the house, and generally cut me off from our shared finances. Unannounced. As a result of his actions, I was on the road, on a “weekend warrior tour” with a band in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with only $100 cash in pocket. That was the moment things shifted straight from a feeling of “I want to figure things out about our relationship” to “yeah, you just helped me figure out EVERYTHING about where this is going.”
I came home from the gigs, stayed at a friend’s house, and went work on Monday. I suddenly realized I had nothing in terms of an electric guitar; I had lost a really quality Epiphone Black Beauty copy. I talked to the store manager and borrowed a guitar that day to make my lessons work. I came out from lessons that night and realized this wasn’t a sustainable situation.
The store has a yardsale /general junk pile that they pull out of storage once a year and try to make money off of. Old cases, abandoned repairs, new old stock….you get the idea. They had an abandoned Melody Maker electric guitar…it had come in for repairs and the owner abandoned it. It had been through a house fire, then badly restored to playability, and rewired..complete with a thick black swirly acrylic pick guard that Eric Clapton would proudly slap on The Fool. Someone even threw a mismatched tremolo from another guitar on it that surprisingly….works. This was after applying some wood filler to spots where another bridge had been. And the finish…like a fine clear orange peel over a piece of mahogany. Note the amount of sarcasm I’ve loaded that statement with. Yeah….the restorer had never heard of sandpaper apparently.
For all it’s downsides, the guitar had a mojo to it. It was like a Melody Maker and Brian May’s Red Special guitar had a baby. And when you picked it up…well, lets just say looks can be deceiving.
A year prior to finding myself in my new situation, I had tried to convince one of the store managers to sell it to me for $100 (the $100 was offered in lieu of all the sweat labor and costs to restore it properly…because…yeah.) He declined me as he felt it was worth more. The logo was gone, the serial number was burnt and mostly sanded off. The finish was a mess…and everything original was gone. And, it was an abandoned repair, which meant it cost the store nothing.
Unsurprisingly, the guitar was still sitting there at the end of the yardsale. No one gave it a second look. Clearly, nobody else had felt it was worth what my manager had felt it was. It was packed up and thrown into storage shelving with all the other unsold items to wait another year.
So, I’m standing there, outside my lesson studio. Everyone had gone home. I had nowhere to go…this was day one of 9 months of couch surfing at friend’s houses or sleeping on the couch at work. Day one of rebuilding….everything.
The “Fuck it” moment hit.
I walked over to the yardsale clutter and started digging through a pile of cases. I found the beaten vintage case, yanked it free from under a top heavy pile of clutter, and opened it. The smell of a long gone ghost fire hit me as the case opened…reminding me of it’s history…but the guitar was waiting. A stray, abandoned soul. Quiet.
Saying this aloud to no one but the kitschy vintage slab of mahogany laying before me; “Well, I don’t have a home anymore, and neither do you. Looks like we’re in this together now.”
I walked back to my studio. Upon plugging it in…I was astonished. The guitar made up for it’s kitschy looks in tone and playability. I had no idea what the fire did, but that guitar was (and still is) ballsy as fuck. It was a gem.
No one at work said boo about me appropriating the guitar after that. I bought strings, cleaned it up, did a setup, and played it. I laid claim to it, played it onstage at the store’s open mic events, taught with it, nothing was said, and the topic was no longer up for discussion. The guitar had lounged for over a year in a junk pile. And the staff knew I was starting over again from scratch. As I taught with it, gigged with it…slowly wearing the bits of the finish off the back of the neck from daily use. No one else wanted that instrument, and there was no reason to keep it from me now.
For awhile, it seemed I would not get many of my instruments back, so I purchased a 2002 Gibson SG. I had always wanted one, and someone was selling a limited edition instrument at a price that was too good to pass up…like, roughly the cost of a pair home studio monitors. Ebony fingerboard, moon inlays…it was a knockout. At the time, I half considered yanking the pups from the Melody Maker and dropping them in the SG, just to consolidate gear and keep my acquisitions lean. As quickly as the idea came, I decided against it. Somehow it felt very disloyal to do to an instrument that had put food on my table when I was starting over.
The only changes I’ve made other than string changes and adjustments was in 2017; I had a new nut installed on this guitar, and had the tech at Sam Ash RVA set it up. It plays faster and better than ever before. It has pretty much usurped the SG’s spot as my #1 guitar.
More stories to come…thanks for staying with me to the end!