Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Search For The Holy Grail - Part 1

I started trying to play guitar when I was about 16 years old. We had an old Kalamazoo parlor guitar, around the house, the whole time that I was growing up, and I figured out how to play "Smoke On the Water", "LaGrange" and "Wild Thing" on it. Daddy took the Kalamazoo to Saudi Arabia, when he first went over, and somehow managed to break it. So, he threw it away. I wish I still had that thing.

A couple of years later, I picked up a 1960s Harmony Dreadnaught acoustic, in the original hardshell case, at a yard sale in Mississippi. It was not a bad guitar, at all, and I started learning chord fingerings by trying to play the songs in a Beatles "easy guitar" book. I later acquired a Yamaha FG-75 acoustic, and continued working on the Beatles book, along with a few others.

Of course, most of the time I was playing, I was hearing an electric guitar in my head. I had briefly had an old Kay electric, along with a crappy little amp.  But I never learned how to play anything on it, and it was long gone by the time I was actually beginning to make recognizable sounds on a guitar. (I wish I knew where it ended up, too. It was one of the Japanese-built Kays, which we all thought were total trash, back then, and I just lost track of it.)

I wasn't getting a lot of support for the guitar playing, at home. I think my parents just considered it another noisy phase I was going through. So, I never got any lessons, and I couldn't afford an electric guitar and amp, so I muddled along on the acoustic.

The first week that I was in college, Johnny Broyles and I went into a junk store in Martin and I found a Kingston (Teisco) electric guitar, case and amp, for $5.00 (this was 1979)! The top horn of the Strat-like body of the guitar had been sawn off, and then the guitar had been painted white with, apparently, brushed-on house paint. I scraped the white paint off, which exposed the red and black sunburst paint on the guitar. But, I couldn't get it clean enough to suit me, so I cut photos and text out of a bunch of CREEM magazines, and covered the body. Then, I clear-coated over the glued-on magazine pictures.

It looked pretty good for a punk-rocker.

The neck on that guitar was really nice; hard maple with a rosewood fingerboard. It was dead-straight, and I could set the string action really low. Ease of playing, compared to my flat-top acoustic guitars, was phenomenal. Suddenly, I could easily bend strings, and play chords past the 5th fret.

That guitar improved my playing, immensely. Once I got a VOXBox ( a small distortion unit which plugged directly into the output jack of the guitar, and accepted the guitar chord in its own output jack) and I could get the fuzztone/sustain that I was looking for through the little 3" speaker amp, I was in guitar heaven.

This set me on a slippery slope, however. If a crappy little five-dollar Japanese electric guitar could produce a quantum leap in my playing, both the sound and the enjoyment of playing, then what would happen if I got a different/better guitar?

That started me on my own personal quest for the Holy Grail: a guitar and amp which would allow me to play the music I heard in my head.