A Few of My Favourite Things: Guitars Are Number Two

Guitars are a timeless pleasure. It is near impossible to explain the beauty of owning a fine musical instrument that was built by hands that cared, and most people are content to buy good enough because in the end it will be relegated to the dark closet. In my life, I have owned seven guitars: a Series A Red Bullet, a cream Harmony Strat copy, a B.C. Rich Warlock from Korea, a Fender Fretless Jazz Bass made in Mexico, a fretless unlined Kubicki Factor Bass, a Fender American Standard Stratocaster and an Ernie Ball MusicMan Sterling bass [the final three were all made in California]. The first three guitars were beat up in front of mirrors while I pretended that I was a rock star every night; I sold the first, destroyed the second and let my students play with the third. The final four are my close friends.

When I was growing up music was on the radio and that was about it. I took some guitar lessons, but instead of learning Rick Springfield’s “Love Somebody” I was taught “Twinkle, Twinkle”, so I quit that. My first three real songs were taught to me one evening by a drunken uncle of my best friend: “Wipe-Out”, “Louie, Louie” and “Pipeline”. In Grade 9, I joined the Jazz Band and was taught some chords by Perry Williams so that I could play with the group. I played in lots of versions of the same band – they all sucked – and walked away from the instrument with a fear of the stage for over a decade.

Then I became a teacher…at Teacher’s College there was always a chance to play for students or at a party, so I began jamming with friends there. When I came to Toronto, the guitar took on a new life as I had an opportunity to play at school once a year with the other teachers. I quickly realized though that there were too many guitar players, but that if I played bass, then I could aways have a chance to play. With one of my first paycheques, I bought the Fender Jazz Bass after trying every bass in the GTA. I chose a fretless one because it sounded warm and acoustic. I picked the sunburst finish, because I had read that the better wood goes towards the transparent finishes. I played it in the dark, I played it every chance I had, and I loved it even though it said Made in Mexico on the headstock [I later sanded that off]. Sting was my hero and I wanted to play like he did.

I lost a tonne of stuff when a storage locker was broken into about eight years ago. The insurance company settlement allowed me to purchase a used Kubicki bass from a nearby shop. Nobody wanted it, because there are no fretlines and it becomes impossible to play in tune. It felt like my best friend. Despite the futility, I purchased it and ran all the way home. For a few years, all I did was play that thing. It feels and sounds like warm butter. It looks like a Thunderbird from the 50s, and it was handmade in California in the early 90s. I spent one year playing jazz at Humber College twice a week until midnight, until I learned how to read chord changes and improvise. I was on stage twice at The Rex with a truly talented group of players, and that matters to me.

One Christmas on PEI, I was given a real Fender American Standard Stratocaster by my ex-wife. I had really wanted a Gibson Les Paul, but this is the one she wanted me to have, and for me not having chose it, this guitar has proven to be a steady horse that lets me do anything I ever would want to; from Nine Inch Nails to Ray LaMontagne. The colour is brilliant and I do love it, in my fashion.

The last horse is the one I begrudge. I never chose it, it feels like a pitchfork in my hands, and it is my unholy albatross. The frets were supposed to keep me in tune after  failed gig at The Black Swan with the band, Etch. It is a black cherry MusicMan. It’s the girl I can’t shake, and who I know I need for certain times when it has to be loud, easy and fast. I guess it reminds me of the band, who I left because my life was overwhelming me then, but as I listen tonight to the three songs we recorded that one summer I can be so proud to have played with those guys.

The guitars are symbols and become metaphors for specific times in my life. Not many men would be so lucky to have learned to play with such amazing people and still be able to pick up their favourite hunk of wood, and act like a 12 year old rockstar in front of a mirror every night of their life.


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