Tuesday, October 07, 2008

On Playing Guitar

My first musical performance was in Miss German's second grade class when I played Somewhere Over The Rainbow on a Melodica. I moved on to play the clarinet in the fourth grade.

In the spring of 1963 I got my first guitar. It was a circa 1940's Harmony Patrician that had a bowed neck and the strings were at least an inch above the neck at the 12th fret. It was strung with Black Diamond Strings which came in one heavy duty size that was sure to induce bleeding of the fingers. Along with the guitar I got a pitch pipe and an extra set of strings. All for $20 from Wills Pawn Shop.

About a year later my Dad bought me a 1957 Fender Stratocaster for $150 and an amplifier from the local Western Auto store.

I traded the ancient Stratocaster two years later for a shiny new Gibson Trini Lopez Standard, which I still have.

I also saved up and bought a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb which I also sold. I wish I still had it.

However I am more than satisfied with the instruments I currently own.

I think many of folks my age go through a period where they would like to get some of the things they could not afford when they were younger. Guitarists refer to this as G.A.S. or Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I've been there and found it is less than satisfying. There are several magazines devoted to all the nice old guitars floating around that are currently priced beyond reason.

In fact that $150 1957 Stratocaster that I traded in 1967 is possibly worth around $20,000 in today's market, especially since it came with the original tweed case.

Instrument manufacturers have taken note of this and now produce affordable reproductions of older instruments. They also produce top of the line custom made instruments for wealthy musicians (which is somewhat of a misnomer).

Aside from learning more and more about playing the guitar, I have also learned how to adjust my guitars to respond to my touch.

One of my favorite guitars is a pieced together Stratocaster that I have assembled from parts. The body is from a Japanese stratocaster copy. The neck is from a 1980's American Stratocaster and has a roller nut. The tuning keys are Gotoh locking keys and the pickups, pickguard and electronics are manufactured by the Carvin company using 3 AP11 Carvin pickups with the center pickup wound in reverse to cut down on 60 cycle hum. The neat thing about the electronics is a switch that turns on the bridge pickup so I can use all 3 pickups at once or the neck and bridge pickup. This is not possible on a conventional Fender Stratocaster.

The other guitars that I own, aside from the Trini Lopez, are fairly low end but they are very playable.

I seldom use my 1974 Ovation Classical Electric Model 1613.

Likewise I seldom take out my 1971 Giannini 12 string Craviola.

I have a 1966 Hagstrom HII-B1/F400 bass that seldom gets played.

I also have an unidentifiable mid 1960's guitar that hasn't been out of the case in years. I modified that one with a preamp and some phase switches for the pickups.

I picked up an Epiphone Special II that is sort of a Les Paul thing for $75 at a music show auction. I put a string bender on that guitar. I don't particularly like it because the pickups are overwound and are made for distortion. At least it plays well.

When I turned 40 I got a guitar made for Willis Music Company by Samick. Willis used the brand name Yakima on this line of instruments, but I was assured from the staff at Willis it was manufactured by Samick in Korea. The guitar has lots of inlay on the neck and both sides of the slotted headstock. The top of the neck is carved. The top is solid spruce, but the back and sides are laminated. It doesn't sound bad, but it's definitely not going to compete with a solid wood guitar. It was discounted because of a blemish on the side.

My other six string acoustic is called a Seagull Grand. This is a parlor sized guitar with a regular sized neck that joins at the 14th fret. The top is solid Candian cedar. The back and sides are triple laminated Canadian cherry that run in oposite directions. The headstock is tiny. I've ground the tusq saddle down as low as I could. It is my favorite sitting on the porch/picking guitar. The sound is not loud, but it is very musical. Like some of my other instruments, it has a blemish in the top. There is a small crack in the wood grain that is not all the way through. It could be repaired, but it doesn't bother me.

I have another parlor guitar that dates back to the late 1800's which is made by a company called Harwood, From a city in New York state that bears the same name. The guitar's top is made from ancient spruce and the back and sides are rosewood. It needs to be repaired, so I seldom play it. The tuners are ancient and appear to be hand forged. The ivory buttons are disintergrating. The neck is V shaped. I imagine this is to eliminate warp. I don't know what wood was used for the neck. I imagine it is mahogany. The slotted headstock is squared off in Martin fashion. The back of the headstock has a strap button and the Harwood logo branded into the wood. The logo is also branded inside the guitar at the butt of the neck.

My other guitar that gets the most play is a DeArmond M-72 model that I purchased in 2004 during a close out. I really like this guitar. It wasn't what I ordered. I ordered a red guitar and the company sent out a grey guitar. But it grew on me. It has two DeArmond Goldtone pickups a tune-o-matic style bridge with a stop tail piece. The top of the guitar is flat and made from flamed maple, the back is mahogany and is chambered to cut down on weight. The neck is mahogany with Grover tuners. The single cutaway is rounded in Venetian style.

As far as amplifiers I have an old Yamaha G50-112 that is a solid state amplifier manufactured in the mid 1970's. It's in excellent shape. It has a 4 band parametric eq and a wonderful spring reverb.

A few years ago I purchased a Pignose G40-V. I do not like the internal 10 inch speaker at all as it is harsh and too bright. However when I hook it to a 12 inch woofer it brings out the warmth of the tubes.

My favorite amp is my mid 1970's Fender Vibrochamp. Fender makes the best amps in the world in my opinion.

The Vibrochamp is so simple and the sound is so musical despite the little 8" speaker. I hook the Piggy and the Vibrochamp to a Zoom pedal for reverb, delay and tremolo. It's funny I like the tremolo from the pedal better than the internal tremolo on the Vibrochamp.

If I could just get one of those Talent pedals to connect my guitars to I'd be all set.

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