What’s strange is that it’s probably the column I have received the most mail on. People from all over the world wrote me about equipment they’d lost and the interesting ways they lost their stuff. They were all GREAT letters. Sad yet entertaining. We all had a story or two or twenty. It was like a gear geek AA meeting.
My first home recording set up was an Akai ¼ inch 2 track and a Harmon Kardon cassette deck, no EQ, the only effects I had were a few effects pedals. I would program one of my primitive drum machines or use a factory preset non-programmable rhythm machine while I was recording that I would usually add my bass or rhythm guitar. And after a suitable take I would ping pong the tracks back and forth from the 2 track to the cassette, adding effects on the fly.
This month I will be discussing a much overlooked aspect of guitar playing and appreciation, the professional setup. As I always say – this is not MY Guitar until it is setup to my specifications. I think perhaps 90% of today’s guitar players do NOT have a personal guitar repair technician that they work with. People have a favorite video / music store with a favorite clerk that helps them with selections, a tailor, a banker, a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer… yet they don’t have a favorite guitar tech. Why? Here are three scenarios that will exemplify this point.
I’ve been earning a living with my guitars now for thirty odd years. I did a stint as a commercial artist for a couple of years when I finished high school — I say commercial artist, what I mean is I worked in a commercial art studio learning the ins and outs — but after a couple of guitar playing jobs I decided to focus on music as a career. I could earn more in a couple of nights playing than in a week of the day job.
It was late 1969 early 1970. I was 13 years old and had been learning guitar for about a year when I was given what I considered to be the key to a world of freedom. Mum & Dad said it was ok for me to setup my room in a shed inside Dad’s garage. The shed was the size of a small bedroom, about eight by ten in the old measurements. It was originally built from scraps of recycled building material from a 100 year old house and was initially used as a tool shed.
I was determined to find something that would allow for my inner bass player to come out – and then I discovered the wonderful world of baritone guitars. You know, those extended scale things with strings as thick as a bass that are an octave lower than a regular guitar. Yes, Nirvana was at hand!
Sure, you can rattle off scales and string riffs together and throw in the odd mode or two, but unless you’re thinking melody, you have not made music; you are not improvising. You may have confirmed that you know which building blocks fit, but you’ve created nothing new. Improvisation to me implies invention, and you don’t invent scales any more than an artist invents Cobalt Blue or Vermilion Red. Scales and modes are like the squirts of paint on a palette. You have to choose carefully which to use, which to blend. Start mixing too many colors and you wind up with mud.
George Harrison was my hero! OK, so he’s everybody’s hero, but you’ve got to understand, I’m a sitar player. The sitar is the love of my life – I love it more than my computer, more than my ’62 Telecaster, maybe even more than my orange tomcat who brings dead things into the house all the time.
This is not an article about why you shouldn’t drink. It is, however, probably one about why I shouldn’t drink. Many musicians, maybe even most, can drink and keep their equipment. Me? No dice. I lost really cool guitars, amps, effects – you name it, I had a knack for losing it.
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