Sunday, January 1, 2012

Guitars in My Life

1965 to Present

Note: If you are reading this, don't imagine for a moment that I think any of this is or should be important to you. I posted this stuff for me -- as a reminder of where I've been (but also as an organizational tool, for if I put this into pages of hard copy, or even in computer files, I would most likely lose or scatter it into bits and pieces beyond reassemblage). Guitars, being for a number of reasons iconic and symbolic to me, serve as hooks of recall about a life lived: mine. I am about to turn 60. This seems a good time to look backward.
Guitars in bold/italics are guitars I still own.

* Asterisked are pictures of the actual guitar. All others are images of the brand/model from the Internet.

1) Christmas 1965: I think it was this Teisco et-100 guitar that my parents purchased at E. J. Korvette in Southgate, Michigan for $40, if that.

I was 13 years old, almost 14, in the eighth grade when I got this guitar for Christmas. I found this picture on the Internet, and it seems to be the guitar I remember . . . I have a picture of the actual guitar in a box somewhere, I think (and hope). I frequently polished it, because, for me, guitars have a "cool" factor visually.

I began to take lessons from some guy in Wyandotte; I don't remember his name . . . perhaps with a little effort I could dredge it up. I got a Mel Bay workbook. I still remember the first song I ever learned on guitar. If you asked me to play it for you, I could, as if 46 years have not passed. I owned this guitar for a year. I loved it until I outgrew it, which didn't take very long. I sold it to Billy Jambeau, I think -- a Grosse Ile High schoolmate. I will have to ask him.

I suppose the hook with guitars started a year earlier, when I was 12. I was in the Boy Scouts. We had to do a skit, so I convinced three others to join me in making moptop hair cuts out of shag carpet material, plywood cut-out guitars, and etc. to mime the Beatles doing I Want To Hold Your Hand with the song playing on a phonograph. Or maybe it was I Saw Her Standing There; perhaps She Loves You. We might have done two of these. Preparing for the skit was quite a project. I think we were the hit skit of the evening. I became a Beatles fanatic. I wanted to play the guitar before very much more time had passed. I wanted to be like them.

2) Christmas 1966: Harmony Rocket H54, purchased from Hewitt's Music Co. in Dearborn, Michigan.

I owned it until the summer or fall of 1967. This was the guitar I used in the band with Randy Read, Jack Read, Jimmy Gronda, Pat Hancock, 45 years ago. I still have the receipt. It cost $117.50. For me, it was a Gibson substitute. I ended up not liking it for that reason, which led me to my next guitar.

I don't remember the circumstances, but Doug Henry, a guy a year younger than I, had something to do with me being invited into the band with the Reads and Gronda. I think he was the bass player. I remember stressing out over whether I should join the band, the main issue being whether I had the requisite confidence in my abilities. I didn't know much. I could play chords, including the rock bar chord. So, I made a pact with the universe, as it were, by allowing chance to decide whether to join the band. The very first no or yes that appeared in my field of vision, from any source, was to be the answer. As I recall, I was in a car with my parents, possibly my sister.. Within minutes there was a neon sign: Yes. It might have been blinking. Was it a vacancy sign at a hotel?

3) Summer 1967: Gibson ES125T

This was the main guitar for my band. If I could have any guitar back, this one is probably first on my list. It was older when I got it -- can't remember the year. Late 50s maybe? The action was good. It felt good with a strap -- nice and light, as I recall. Limited versatility for rock and roll, but it was cool.

I was 15 years old, in tenth grade at Grosse Ile High School. My bandmates were still at the junior high. Randy Read was about my age, but in a grade lower. The other guys were 14. We didn't practice very long before we started performing at the Youth Center on Meridian Road, a hangout for junior high teens; chaperoned, of course. Here was where I did the Boy Scout Beatles skit three years earlier. We played at the Youth Club all summer and fall that year. The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Louie Louie, Gloria . . . the usual stuff. Were we good? Absolutley not, but it was loud and fun. We also got a gig at the Trenton VFW, as well as at Flat Rock Junior High School, where I met a girl named Linda Gormly of Flat Rock. We dated for a little while, although I had to depend on rides and hitchhikes to get around. I got in big trouble by hitchhiking to Flat Rock without informing my parents. I complained that I wasn't out that late; what was the big deal? That may have been the beginning of what would become a very strained relationship with my mother.

What can I say? The issue was whether to be a part of the drug culture or not. I chose not. They kicked me out of the band, and I think Pat was the main culprit, a little prick for sure. That was the end of my band days, as well as my focus on guitars. It was a disappointment, certainly; nobody likes rejection, especially me. I liked being in a band, but I hated Pat, didn't want to get into drugs or trouble, and was insecure about my abilities. I didn't completely reject guitar, but it took a back seat to new interests: girls, my social status in high school, and, eventually, cross country and track.

Wow! January 7, 2011. I was at Elderly Music with Claire and saw one of these for sale, $1500. I was really surprised and pleased to be able to see one (manufactured in 1959), and to play it plugged in. It sounded awful for rock or blues application. This guitar is good for not much more than jazz, or as a vintage piece on a wall . . . in my case, as a memento, too . . . and I would never pay $1500 for that. I think I bought mine for about $150. The guitars I have now are supremely superior to this guitar in every way.

4) 1967 to 1969 (can't remember): Gibson LG-1 acoustic, purchased from a Grosse Ile peer -- there were two available.

I didn't play this guitar very much. They are essentially an economy version of a Gibson acoustic flattop, with plastic string pegs and bridge saddle, not even a full dreadnought size. I can't believe they sell for as high as they do right now. I think I paid $100 for mine. I gave it to my sister, Diane, to settle a debt, which was a mistake in retrospect. It then ended up in my brother's hands, who gave it to Chris Ferency, who lost it of all things.

My junior and senior years in high school revolved around the pursuit of sex, social status, and sports, primarily track in my senior year. And yet I never got laid. During these years I had an eye for Colleen Cuddy, Lena Rinna, Cindy Arcy, tenth grader, Barb Bennett, but nobody could match my affection for Leslie Callow of Kansas City, Missouri.

5) 1980 (approximately): Washburn Falcon, purchased in Dearborn (I think).

I bought this when I was married to Lee. I didn't get into it much; no opportunities to play and learn. Later, I bought a Peavey solid state amplifier to go with it, in secret. I hid the amp in the back of my closet. Actually, I have a habit of buying guitars without notifying my partner. I don't want the hassle.

6) 1990: Taylor 710 acoustic, purchased at Mid-Michigan Guitar, Midland, Michigan.

Great guitar, if not very projecting or loud. I owned this for quite some time, put a cool Highlander pickup in it. Sold it to Mike McKenna, then bought it back only to sell it again so I could purchase my Gretsch Brian Setzer.

7) 1998 (approximately): Taylor 814ce, purchased at Elderly Music, Lansing.

I liked this guitar at first, but I grew tired of it pretty quick. It had decent sound and projection, but for some reason bored me. Taylors pretty much started boring me because they were so mass-produced and ubiquitous, which is a silly notion since Fenders and Gibsons are the same way.

* 8) 2005 (approximately): Gibson Advanced Jumbo, purchased at Elderly Music, Lansing.

I liked this guitar for a long time, but grew more interested in electric guitars, and felt like it wasn't loud or full enough. I put a pickup in it. I sold this one to Dave Kostus, who still owns and plays it (January 2012).

* 9) 2006: Fender American Standard Telecaster

Purchased at Guitar Center, Saginaw for somewhere around $750 in combination with the Ovation, I still own this very nice Telecaster. Very cool looking with the vintage white body (yellow, really) and maple fretboard. It is your basic twang Tele, no frills, well made.

* 10) 2008: Gretsch G6120SSLVO Brian Setzer, purchased at Guitar Center, Saginaw.

This was a great guitar, but a little showy, big, and heavy. I thought the dice control knobs were stupid. The sound was great. Well made. I miss this one. The Bigsby trem bar was way cool.

* 11) December 31, 2008: Fender Jaguar Special HH, purchased at Guitar Center, Saginaw.

Made in Mexico, but really a quality instrument. For the money, this is one of the best guitars I have. I still own and love it. I can get multiple sounds out of it. It feels really balanced strapped on. It has that surf guitar look, feel, and sound -- but you can rock it and blues it, too.

* 12) 2008 (09/23): Gretsch acoustic G3590, purchased on ebay for $500.

This guitar had birdseye maple sides and back, was thin sounding with weak projection. It might have been great plugged in, but I wanted to sell it to help pay for the Epi (below). This guitar was very playable on the fretboard with nice, low action. For a light, quiet player, it would be a great guitar.

* 13) 2008 (12/17): Gretsch acoustic G3523, purchased on ebay for $190.

I bought this because I liked the one I bought for Claire so much. My sister Andrea is using it. It is a great knock around guitar. Update (February 2012): I gave this guitar to my sister, just because.

* 14) 2010: Epiphone Casino Elitist, purchased from Guitar Center, Saginaw in June 2010.

Listed for $1500, but with a 20 percent off coupon, not to mention a $100 gift card from the track families, I got this for $1100 plus tax, a real deal. This is one well made guitar, indistinguishable (in my opinion) from the original Casinos like the Beatles used. I still own and like it. It has a distinct sound with the P-90s: dark, bluesy, clear, chimey. The pickups break up and growl. This is a fantastic guitar and will be willed to my son, Dan.

15) 2010: G400JV Gretsch Jimmy Vaughan Archtop, purchased new online for $1500.

is $3325; at the price I paid, a super bargain. This is the coolest looking guitar I own, and wonderfully made in Japan (Terada factory). Plus, they are rare; I don't think you can find a new one right now; and used ones are hard to come by. Gretsch stopped making them. This could be the guitar I would keep if I could have only one. It will probably be worth a lot of money some day. My son Dan can have it when I am dead.

16) 2012: Gretsch G6120EC (new), purchased from Guitar Center on January 18, 2011.

(As of today, 01/20/12, this Gretsch Signature Series Eddie Cochran guitar is on back order) It was very expensive, the most expensive guitar I have ever purchased. I will call it my 60th birthday present to myself, as well as my retirement reward.

(Friday, January 27, 2012, the Eddie Cochran was delivered to GC. I picked it up the same day. I also got a Fender Blues Junior Amplifier to put on my card for Dan.)

Today is January 29. So far, I have a good impression of the EC. I learned that the bridge is not attached to the body (free floating), which surprised me.

Eight Gone and Forgotten Guitars

Miscellaneous Acquisitions 2007-11: Ovation 1778T, Taylor 314ce, Gibson LG-1, Devlin Imposter, Rickenbacker 620, Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro, Epiphone Casino 50th Anniversary 1961 Limited, Fender Stratocaster .

These guitars were so short-lived, I did not form an attachment to them. The Ovation Model 1778T purchased at Guitar Center, owned for a little over a month; the Taylor 314ce, purchased at Guitar Center, owned for less than half a year; the Gibson LG-1 -- purchased from Bill Boley (the photographer) in Midland for $35 and sold on ebay for about $790 -- owned for maybe half a year; the Devlin Imposter, bought online, owned for a week or two; the Rick (used) bought in 2010 online and owned for a day; the Epiphone, purchased new at Guitar Center in December 2011, owned for less than a week; the Gibson (used) purchased at Guitar Center in December 2011, owned for 10 days; the Fender Strat, purchased December 27, 2011 and returned January 18, 2012. The last three purchases precipitated my acquisition of the Gretsch 6012 Eddie Cochran. I guess I got the bug to have another guitar; probably because of some depression during that time. Guitar acquisitions are like a drug, an addiction, and make me feel temporarily okay.

These guitars were returned or sold for various reasons: the Ovation, because I second guessed it and began to NOT like it; the Taylor, because I thought it was a cheap economy version of an 814ce . . . I sold it to Mike McKenna for $500 and the Taylor 710 (which I previously sold him); the Gibson LG-1, because my intent was to make money off it, which I did; the Devlin, bought in December 2008 for $199.95 plus shipping, because it was a chintzy, Chinese piece of shit, even though it looks cool in a photograph; the Rick, too much money for what it was; the Epi, because it was too much like the Casino Elite I already owned and, frankly, a poorly constructed Chinese version -- I swear I will never buy a Chinese guitar again; the Gibson, more than I wanted to spend at the time; and the Fender Strat because 1) the G string wouldn't stop buzzing, even after Mike Grocholski took a look and 2) in the end, the Strat just didn't impress (sound), even if it was a Strat. Of these, the only guitar I liked was the Les Paul, which means I intend to get another someday.

I can scarcely believe I bought this many guitars as ultimate rejects; likely a sign of a disturbed personality.