travails with my guitar




 1. travails with my guitar / april '09


I’ve double checked both my diary and my body clock and just as I thought - I am overdue my mid life crisis.

Buying a ‘Harley’ and disappearing into the sunset isn’t really an option. I fell off my last motorbike and even my last ride on a cycle ended up with me examining the paint finish on the Audi that hit me.

That left me with either growing a funny shaped beard or getting the school band back together.

But these options wouldn’t involve spending the kid’s inheritance money before it got anywhere near them. This is of course a prerequisite for any mid life crisis purchase.

Then it hit me. Something that reflected me perfectly; the archetypical 60’s child who has spent his adult life “playing with himself in a darkened room” (my wife’s description of my musical activities) …… my own rock fantasy……

(cue heavenly choir) ……. A custom hand built guitar.

My personality expressed in wood and wire.

Before I take you on this journey to find my new guitar it’s probably useful to tell you where I begin my travels. I’ve not played in a band since my school days, instead I built on my experience from my old career as a sound engineer and have put together my home studio based around a 16 track recorder and a mismatch of musical instruments, all of which I play to various levels of incompetence. I once categorised my musical ability as a victory of enthusiasm over accuracy and in retrospect I got that note right. I write and record my own songs that nobody ever hears.

I’ve played at the guitar for 40 years and have added a variety of other instruments each time thinking “maybe this is the one”. I have a tenor sax (I sound like a cat having an orgasm after coitus with a drainpipe), a mandolin (why I thought tuning eight strings would be easier than six is still beyond me), a bass guitar (why I thought four strings would be easier than six when you don’t play chords unless you’re Phil Lynott is also beyond me), a keyboard and a synth module (I started fantasising of playing with all ten fingers and ended up multi-tracking a finger at a time) and a mouth organ (just don’t ask).

Despite all these diversions it is the guitar that I return to, the guitar that I love and the guitar that never fails to frustrate and excite me, (by rights I should put some comparative comment about my wife within these brackets but I love my gonads even more than my guitars). 

My acquisitive nature with other instruments has also been reflected in my search for my perfect guitar over the years. Maybe each time I obtain a new guitar, I hope that this is the one that will make me sound good?

Listing the guitars I have owned in the past would take up far too much of both my and your time, so I shall restrict myself to the current batch. I have a Fender Stratocaster, a very cheap german bass guitar, a Tanglewood acoustic and a Line 6 Variax 300. It is the first and the last that have caused me the most conflict in recent times, but as you will learn, combined they have led me to the particular path I am about to take.

The Strat has always been my favourite guitar. When I stood in front of the mirror playing the tennis racket, it was a Strat I was strumming in my mind. Only last Wednesday I had to explain to my wife I was practicing my forehand volley.

I bought my Strat about ten years ago and it ‘fits’. My musical heroes – Richard Thompson, Guy Garvey, Robbie Robertson, and John Lennon have all been known to strap on a Strat.

I love the neck and the shape and the signature sound but I hate it when I plug it in to record.

It’s noisy, it just doesn’t record well in my set up, and it’s frustrating in the extreme to listen to the noise floor grow ever louder as I record track after track to counter my inability by the subterfuge of multi-tracking.

I bought the Variax 300 two years ago because I wanted the versatility of the different modelled guitars it hides within its electronics. I initially imagined it would be something I used occasionally, when I wanted a particular ‘tone colour’ for my home doodling. Instead it has become the guitar I use virtually all the time. I use it through a Pod XT Live which enables me to control the Variax, and it gives a wonderful selection of sounds.

But I don’t love it.

It feels cheap, it looks cheap and it plays cheap, it’s only saving grace is that it was cheap.

Three weeks ago I broke a string on the Variax while using it to record a Strat setting (out of phase middle and bridge pick up setting if you’re interested) After a few curses I looked sheepishly at the dust covered Strat in the corner and saw the immediate solution.

I played the Strat and it was like remembering my first girlfriend – instant affection and memories of what we once meant to each other.

If only I had a guitar that looked and played like a Fender but could give all the sounds I wanted to record.

There it was; the perfect project, a mid life crisis purchase and an excuse for a new guitar.

Immediately there were two options open to me. I could build it myself, but as my wife is always keen to point out, I “can’t even put up a shelf”. Alternatively I could get someone else to build it. Much as it pains me to admit it, my wife is right. I’m not sure I know which end of a saw you are meant to hold.

I needed to find someone who did know this and probably more.


 ......PART  TWO