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Category Archives: Music recording

Why Musicians Speak Cryptically

Cryptically. Yup, that’s a word.

When I was a young teen, I’d read interviews given by seasoned musicians and was often left wondering precisely what the hell they were talking about a great deal of the time. Folks like Eric Clapton would refer to getting ‘lost’ or ‘out there’ and I wondered if it wasn’t some vague drug reference.

I began playing guitar at seventeen, and was, for much of the time, sorely aware of how poor my playing was. I was super-conscious of every little hiccup, always thinking about what I was doing, and as a result often made major mistakes, sometimes even forgetting the words to my own tunes.

By the age of twenty-nine, I was beginning to feel the urge to follow another path and leave all of my influences behind. This did not happen overnight, but began to make itself apparent only when I ceased to care about what these influences were doing anymore.  I began to play with rhythms and chord voicings which appealed to me, rather than spending time attempting to figure out what someone else was doing. Later still, I began to feel that words and vocals were somewhat unnecessary. I would sometimes ‘hear’ nice melodies in my head, but there were no particular vowels or consonants that would seem to fit, so I would stumble through a the process of picking these melodies out. This was at once awkward and time consuming. Having had no formal training in music, I decided to learn all of the major and minor scales, bit by bit.

I practiced for an hour a day for over a year, seemingly getting nowhere, although I could easily tell that I was gaining in dexterity. I absolutely could not remember all of the minutia.

One day while another guitar player friend was over, my son Sterling walked into the studio and asked me to figure out a song for him. It was She Talks To Angels by the Black Crowes. He handed me the CD and I plopped it in and hit play and picked up my acoustic guitar.

“Oh well, there’s your problem, the guy is in an alternate tuning.” I reached up and re-tuned first one string and then another, still engaging in the subject at hand with my friend, and absent-mindedly began to play the song, “Here, just do this.” I told him, showing him the fingerings.

It was at this point that my son motions toward me, looks at my friend and says, “How the hell did he do that?” to which my friend responds, “I have no idea.”

I looked at them both. “Do what?” I asked. I didn’t know what they were referring to.

“Have you never played that song before?” my friend inquired. I responded that I had not, that I’d only heard it at various times, but did not listen to the Black Crowes. He just looked at my son and shrugged.

Some days later, I was listening to an Aimee Mann CD when something I’d never heard caught my ear. I grabbed my Tele, plugged it in and began to fiddle around as my mind wandered aimlessly. I don’t know how much time had passed, but after some amount, I ‘woke up’ to what I was doing. Then it hit me. I’d been sitting there playing my ass off without even thinking about it. This was light years away from where my journey had begun.

After so many years, I finally came to understand what others were referring to when they’d talk about going into that ‘place’ in their mind. I call it the Zone, and it’s a completely sober experience. It’s a place in between your ears that doesn’t have eyes, or conscious thought. It is akin to driving down the expressway and then ‘waking up’ after having driven several miles. We’ve all done it. It’s kind of dangerous and thrilling all at once, but somehow or the other, we have maneuvered an automobile at a given speed between two lines without really being able to recall precisely how much time has passed.

This is the Zone. When one enters this place while playing guitar, one is not consciously thinking of what one is doing, the fingers develop a mind of their own. This is where the best stuff happens.

Here’s the best tip: Always be recording when you’re playing. It’s like taking photos while you’re on vacation, believe me. You want to have this on tape in order to prove that you really went there. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve never visited the Zone, there’s always a first time.

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My Thoughts Since the Passing of Walter Becker

It seems we rarely give pause in respect to the passing of time, until we reach a certain point in our lives, and only then do we regard it peripherally. Additionally we give little thought to the passing of time in the lives of others as well. Especially those figures who are of the semi high-profile sort. As much as some of us like to think that we know about what they do, in the end, we find that we know very little, and that in reality they were little more than punctuation in our own lives.

The weight of this observation didn’t hit me until this past Sunday evening as I lay in bed. I had, as one could guess, been preoccupied with listening to music the majority of the day, and had not listened to the news until switching on my radio that night.

As soon as I heard the announcer mention the name of Walter Becker, I knew what words were to follow. Walter was one whose name would rarely be mentioned in context with anything else within the past forty years. One had to know who Walter was in order for his name to be familiar.

Walter looked like the guy you’d see in the seventies, sitting outside the mall waiting for a ride. One of the most unassuming bottom-to-top-to-bottom-to-top-again success stories in modern American music, Walter lived out his life in obscurity, in plain sight.

It occurred to me that this man had lived and died within a period of 67 years, and all that I knew about him could easily fit into a thimble. Even though throughout the years, I had painstakingly reverse-engineered his guitar leads and his bass licks, and had attempted to capture his ultra clean, rich lead tones to no avail.

Had Mr Becker not partnered with Donald Fagen during college, both men may have easily faded into the backdrop which is composed of the rest of us, and aja, one of my ten favorite albums of all time would never have materialised.

With the death of Glen Campbell last month, and now that of Walter Becker, the passing of time has become all too apparent to me.

We never know when we’ve caught our last trout, or completed our last composition.

What Is True Will?

You’ll often hear ads on television and radio which promote motivational speakers. These speakers often focus on the use of ‘will power’ in order to get monumental tasks accomplished. Thousands of posters, and countless memes have been dedicated to the use of positive thought and will power.

But what is will power, and is anyone actually in possession of true will?

How many times can you recall yourself saying something to the effect of, “I’ll never do that again”, or “From now on, I’m going to______________”? But how many times did you find yourself doing ‘that’ again, or forgetting the vow you solemnly made to yourself ‘from now on’?

These sorts of shattered illusions are what expose the true measure of our will.

When I was twenty years old, I made a short list of objectives that I fully intended to accomplish by the time I was thirty. I didn’t reach any of the goals. Not a single one.

But my intentions were good, of course. It seems that we always start out with the best of intentions in whatever we endeavour to do. Right before things go straight to hell.

So for the next thirty years, I was determined to see if there was one thing in my life that I could see through from beginning to end. One thing – surely couldn’t be too terribly difficult to accomplish. What, then, was the one thing that I was certain that I could devote the rest of my life to? Well, the one thing that I valued among everything else was music. I had begun my quest as a songwriter around the same age that I’d made my list, and it is true that I had not abandoned the journey. The fact was, that I had yet to be come successful at it. My dream was to be able to play several instruments tolerably, engineer sound, and produce my own material. Bands such as Todd Rundgren and Steely Dan were huge influences in this respect.

Success is a term that is generally associated with money and being well-known, respected among one’s peers, and the like.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and although I had learned a great many things in relation to the field – I was working in a retail establishment which sold musical instruments and sound equipment – I had still to make the strides that I had intended by the time that I was forty. Often it was necessary to remind myself why I had begun in the first place.

Throughout the course of rearing two children, and working all kinds of day jobs, I redoubled my efforts to set money aside for musical gear, and recording equipment. I also set aside one hour a day to practice at my craft, this was apart and completely different from the actual playing of music, which would consume even more of the time that I had precious little of.

By the time I was fifty years old, I had become connected to my Muse, and was writing profusely. The musical path that I had begun was a bit of a surprise, but I followed my Muse wherever it led without question. I completed my studio, which I christened Good Intentions, and chose ‘Hell Paving Company’ for the name of my publishing domain. It cannot be said that I was not acquainted with the irony of it all by this time.

In 2014, I tore my studio down with the intent of erecting it in another, more suitable room of the home. All of my gear sat in a corner collecting dust for the next three years. Chronic Fatigue is a cruel mistress, and my life had been slowing to a crawl since I had contracted it in November of 2007.

Then one night last month, while lying in bed, I was listening to the 20 odd sketches of tunes that I had recorded into my Android. I stared over into the dark corner that hid all of my recording equipment.

“Starting tomorrow, I’m going to start putting my studio back together, even if it kills me.” I told myself. The task was daunting.  But I knew that if I died before getting the tunes – which the Muse was still being so charitable in supplying me with – properly recorded, I would go to hell. Hell is a completely different place for writers. I imagine it to be a place where only poorly maintained manual typewriters exist, paper is at a premium, and the thoughts come too quickly to transcribe.

Mainly, however, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving these tunes orphaned. Nobody except I had heard them, and my task was to get them recorded and give everyone else a chance to hear the wonderful imagination that the Muse is so blessed with, for you see, I do not feel that these pieces of music are mine. I have been assigned a task, and it is up to me alone to complete these pieces.

Eight days later, although my back and shoulders were killing me, the studio was together, and I found myself becoming painfully reacquainted with the plethora of cables and the routing of which I had all but forgotten.

Today I fired up all of the components, and with the exception of the ancient synthesizer, everything seems to be working. Maybe if I just jiggle the handle….

So I have discovered that perhaps there is indeed a bit of true will left inside of me at the age of 61. And that I may have, in fact, discovered the meaning of true success.

 

Overuse Of the Word ‘I’ Reaching Epidemic Proportions Worldwide

Having received more than a few inquiries from my Facebook friends and ReverbNation associates about my intermittent activity on the Internet, the following explanation is offered. As most everyone knows, these sites are capable of consuming huge hunks of time and it is with this knowledge that I have made a conscious decision to avoid the computer in order to devote all of my energy to songwriting, recording, and turning wrenches. Therefore, for the past month or so, I’ve been immersed in recording, guitar repair, and cylinder head work.

Inasmuch as the songwriting portion goes, there is, what I like to refer to as ‘passive’ songwriting. That is to say that I don’t ‘try to write’. It has become my modus operandi to simply let the music and songs come to me as they will, and the process works out rather well. Once in the ‘recording mode’, the songs just begin to filter down, and all that is left for me to do is to get onto tape what I hear in my head. That may sound somewhat esoteric and arcane, but this is simply the best way to describe it.

If I try to write, everything tends to turn out sounding redundant and contrived. This I hate. Once the process begins, however, it is something that is quite constant, and I find it more conservative in regard to total time spent to give myself over to it completely until such time that it ceases of its own accord, thus my absence from the Internet sites is duly noted and addressed.

I do like to post a blog on occasion when a subject comes to mind. It helps me keep up appearances.

A bit more on writing to those who may be interested.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was reading a piece I’d written earlier.

“You’ve used the word ‘I’ too many times,” he observed. It was humble pie directly to the face. My own advice had come back to haunt me.

“True,” I conceded, “but I was writing about me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you can always reword a sentence to avoid overuse. You used it six times in one sentence.”

He was right. I was identified with my subject matter and there had been a strong emotional attachment, which explained everything.

For many years now, it has been a practice of mine never to write a song in first person. To my way of thinking, this leads to no good. It also is the best way to develop writer’s block, create boring subject matter and come across as being self absorbed. When one writes in this fashion, the possibilities are immediately limited to ones’ own experiences. I don’t intend to speak for anyone else, but life has been pretty boring insofar as writing songs about me goes.

At best, all first person writing is good for is a couple of sappy love songs, and few more blues songs after the relationship has gone kaput.

Now, we all can name songs which have been written about courtship, and then there’s a couple of wedding tunes, but can anyone name a ‘We’ve Been Married Twenty Years’ song? Not too many ‘Honey, I’m Picking Up a Gallon of Milk and a Newspaper, See You at Six’, or ‘Meatloaf Serenade’ songs out there, are there?

Sure, there are songs full of promise, and tunes such as ‘I Love You More Today Than Yesterday’, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Dude was married when he wrote that.

This isn’t to reflect badly on marriage, it’s just that there’s such a limited amount of material there.

Unless you want to count that stupid ‘Pina Colada’ song by that guy whose name I don’t even remember.

Oh yeah. Rupert Holmes. What a dillweed.

Damn it.

Now that nonsense will be playing in my head all day long and I won’t get any work done. Sheesh. I hate that freaking song.

See why I stay off of the computer when I’m trying to write and compose?

Recording Mythology, Pt. 47 / Habits Were Made To Be Broken

 

 

I was listening to one of those radio stations on which they loosely format their programming around Big Band era music, but will play almost any contemporary vocalist whose tune has, over the years, achieved ‘standard’ status. There was a Barry Manilow song being played, and I was paying attention to the arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment.

 

 

Barry came up in music the working man’s way, through jingle writing. He was responsible for the old MacDonald’s commercial tune, you deserve a break today, so get up and get away to MacDonald’s. His own break came in the way of getting discovered by Bette Midler.

 

 

It occurred to me that, since his accomplishments in earlier recordings, that as his carreer progressed, his arrangements had become somewhat formulaic, and as a result, all his tunes had taken on the same shading. In other words, Barry had begun to sound like himself.

 

 

I soon began to wonder if this wasn’t actually true in everyone’s case to a great degree, even my own, and what could be done to thwart the development of this, what I considered to be, a terrible hinderance to creativity.

 

 

I recalled a thread on Facebook of which I’d been a participant, where scalar practice was being discussed, during which time another individual, who was not only a formidable guitarist, but instructor as well, repeated the mantra “practice, practice, and then forget it all”.

 

 

Practice, practice, and then forget it all.

 

 

This is a rock of advice which will always contain more secrets than it will reveal. The problem is that barnacles of habit will begin to form, and the rock itself is forgotten. More often than not, one may come to repeat the phrase like a parrot, for the dissemination of such advice is generally much easier than heeding it.

 

 

Those who discover the true purpose of practice understand the value in ‘forgetting it all’.

 

 

Many individuals fail to take the same advice regarding production work, however. These habits may begin innocently enough via ‘favorite settings’. After having recorded for over twenty-five years, I cannot for the life of me understand the logic behind these favorite settings, be it on an guitar amp or a stereo compressor. The fact of the matter is that, for every new recorded tune, the dynamics will change considerably. Unless you are recording all of the songs at one time (unlikely) or the style is identical for every tune (Boston), you are going to want to change the settings of one or both in order to convey the difference in feel of that respective song.

 

 

Albeit I have a ‘basic’ setting for my vocal mic compressor, I still have to torque down the attack or release time depending on whether I’m recording an alpha screamer or a beta boy tune. Sometimes I may crank up the compression for the effect itself. Fact is, you simply can’t ‘set it and ‘forget it’.

 

The constant redialing of settings assures that at least every tune won’t suck, just in case one may.

 

And turning the knobs also keeps potentiometers from oxidising.

 

 

Another habit that may creep in is the order of processing units. It’s too easy to lay out all of the stomp boxes based on how they look coolest, but in what order will they achieve the best sound? This is a point of contention among guitarists and shouldn’t be discounted.

 

 

Then there’s the subject of which instruments to include in the composition. We might be tempted to follow Barry’s lead and involve the entire symphony orchestra on every number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every tune that I write to emulate the sound of God emerging from the clouds.

 

 

For instance, during one session, I was working on an elusive sound bed. The finished product was destined for a tense underwater scene in a big movie production with a colossal budget and a cranky client. I was so desperate to capture an ambiant sound I was hearing, that I groaned down into an empty coffee can and… good Lord, that was it! But dare I take such a low-tech risk with Mr. Cranky himself? Well, if my procedures were drawn into question, what he didn’t know would be referred to as a trade secret, and therefore could do him no physical nor emotional harm.

 

 

I socked on the headphones and held the closed end of the can to my guitar mic and groaned hard and loud. I laughed as I reached over and turned the reverb onto ‘cathedral’ or ‘oil tanker’ or whichever, and blended a wee bit in. Presto. I hit the record button. It took a few dry runs to get the breathing breaks right and then it required double tracking both groaning and humming so that the proper ‘ethereal feel’ was achieved, but after a little work and a bit of oxygen deficit, I had the sound bed that I needed. The rest was just guitar swells using false harmonics, a slide, a volume pedal, and delay.

 

 

How did my ‘trade secret’ end up sounding? http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/3137441-trouble-brewing

 

 

The point here being, if we don’t continue to try new ideas, devices, and/or settings, we risk falling instead into the same predictable habits, thereby becoming boring, and we’ll never know what we may be missing.

 

 

Playing it safe and falling back on a proven technique only sounds fresh for so long, kinda like Tom Morello using that ‘wild & crazy’ string stretching effect in every single freaking lead that he plays, and that becomes pretty tiresome rather quickly, according to reliable sources.

 

 

One might do well to ask oneself, ‘What does the song call for here?’ rather than pouring over banks of presets and asking ‘What sounds are available for me to use?’ The first question is open ended, it allows our mind to ponder different possibilities. The second question limits our imaginations to some other goofball’s ideas.

 

 

In another scenario, I was tapping on everything I could find, using a drumstick, a mallet, even my fingertips. I was hearing something between congas and tabla, but not bongos. Nothing I had was giving me the sound that I required and soon I was in my milk crate, throwing boxes around. With nothing to be found, I went to my repair bench and picked up a coconut shell half that I used primarily to create wood dust. I clattered it on the bench ala Monty Python horse hoofs. Ah! An idea. I picked up the other half and re-mated the two halves with hide glue. After it dried, I bored out two of the three ‘eyes’ of the shell and alternately slapped on the openings using my fingers. Knowing that I was almost there, and realising that one more larger hole would give me more variance in tone I needed, I used a paddle bit to make a one inch hole in the side of the shell over which I could cup my palm while slapping the first two holes with my fingertips.

 

 

Many of you may be thinking, ‘Dude, that’s too much damn work,’ but in the end I got exactly the sound that I was looking for, and all it cost was a little time. Granted, it wasn’t very loud, but that’s what clever use of proximity effect and reverb is for.

 

 

Just in case I’ve piqued your curiosity, here is how the resulting ‘percussion’ turned out:

 

http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/10472671-un-poco-andante

 

 

Remember, the hard part is the fun part, so if you don’t enjoy being uncomfortable by constantly having to break old habits to make room for new ones, you’re probably in the wrong business.

 

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 46 / Twenty Years After Hell Froze Over

 

New Years Eve.

 

I didn’t have anything to do.

 

I refuse to give the police state more leverage against me, so I didn’t get on the road at all, nor did I set off any fireworks.

 

The county that we live in has outlawed fireworks, restricting our ability to celebrate freedom from oppression. Right. Naturally, thousands of normal folks are forced to become ‘outlaw for a night’ and take the scenic thirty minute drive just over the county line where mobile firework stands appear and disappear within a week. Needless to say, the skies around here burn on the holidays.

 

The dude down the road must spend a fortune on thunderous nuclear warheads which he patriotically detonates with fierce defiance every July 4 and New Year, so we just watch his money explode instead.

 

I quit drinking.

 

I no longer allow the government to tax my pleasure. It had become apparent that they, as well as big alcohol, profited far too much from addiction, depression, and violence, and I despise crony capitalism. I still miss a good glass of wine, but my CFS had gotten in the way anyhow.

 

As far as pot goes, I used to enjoy it when it was a inspiring buzz rather than a useless stone. The new stuff sucks. And once the government gets a taste of the revenue they can obtain in taxing the stoners in Colorado, we’ll see who “won”.

 

Coffee is my drug of choice now. French Roast.

 

To be completely honest, I had no yearly resolutions to make. I work on big things in a nine year cycle, so this was a typical night for me.

 

I decided to settle in and review a concert documentary which I’d stumbled across a few days before.

 

Jeez,” I thought aloud when I came across the DVD, “twenty years have already passed since this concert was recorded!? Where has the time gone?”

 

Believe it or not, 2014 marks two decades since hell reputedly froze over.

 

The Eagles formed innocently enough back in 1973 when Glenn Frey and Don Henley sat down to try and write a few songs together. Things coalesced, and the band got really big, really quickly.

 

In the ten years that followed, there were minor personnel changes. There was the addition of Don Felder, later the departure of Bernie Leadon, the addition of Joe Walsh, and finally the departure of bassist Randy Meisner whose shoes were filled as well as could be expected by singer/bassist Tim Schmitt.

 

The perfection that such an act expects from themselves and one another takes a toll over the years and as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In many ways it had gotten to where they were competing only with themselves. By 1980 the fellows couldn’t stand to look at each other so they parted ways.

 

The friction was supposedly the worst between the two who had started it all. When asked if the band would ever perform together again, a frustrated Henley replied, “Yeah…when hell freezes over.”

 

Tough odds to overcome. 

 

But hell froze over fourteen years later. The members last comprising the band were carefully reunited with the assistance of Irving Azoff, everybody shook hands, and rehearsals quietly began.

 

If only everything could be done so expertly.

 

Now, I was always impressed, above all else, with the quality of the songwriting of the members, thus was a fan of the band off the bat, so my objectivity in this respect may be drawn into question, but few acts have garnered my monitary support throughout their entire existence, and the Eagles were no exception.

 

There was one album which I didn’t buy due to my severe distaste for all things cowboy.

 

Never caring to stand out, I certainly never have gone out of my way to fit in.

 

The explosion of the urban cowboy fad in the mid seventies was too much for me. I heaped scorn on anybody who wore boots, and especially a hat. Pure Prarie League, Michael Murphy, Marshall Tucker, and many other acts that ‘went cowboy’ received the butt of my ire. To this day, I do not own a copy of the Eagles ‘Desperado’ album, so that should prove something.

 

Finally, the band hit their stride in bucking trend and playing to their strengths. Dead-splat in the middle of the disco era, the Eagles were writing gems like Hotel California.

 

The performances presented in this reunion concert were absolutely spot on.

 

Most of the best songs throughout the band’s tenure were there, and the absence of Meisner was held in silent respect by their not attempting to perform any of the tunes which he’d penned and sang. A sensible move. Schmitt did a couple of his own memorable songs instead. He’s a fantastic bassist, and also sings as good a high harmony as anyone, but there’s only one Meisner.

 

This is a sticking point for me: I’ll always remember Tim as being a member of the band Poco. He wasn’t in the Eagles long enough to replace the image I have of Meisner in the lineup. To be honest, it took me a while to get comfortable with Walsh as a member of the band. He’ll always be part of the James Gang to me.

 

The guys claimed to be nervous their first time out before an audience in so long, but once on stage, the professionalism which they’d honed from previous years and countless tours came back in a performance which melded the five into one, and it all appeared so effortless.

 

When the band began the opening chords to songs such as ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘Wasted Time’, I held my breath. These fellows were really putting themselves to the test, but they delivered with astounding accuracy. This was no half-assed concert put on on in an attempt to make some fast money. It was obvious that the band was hell-bent on proving, not only their durability, but their merit, and they did it with colors flying.

 

Professionalism at this level is something to behold, and nothing short of mesmerising.

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 45/ Ghosts In The Machine

Recently, I was at a client’s home tuning the family console piano when he asked me if I’d like to take a look at his latest acquisition.

This fellow is in the habit of acquiring some pretty interesting stuff from time to time, so of course I told him that I’d be glad to have a gander at his new toy, at which point he held up a finger and slipped away, reappearing momentarily with an old acoustic guitar case. He popped the latches, opened the case and extracted an old Martin.

“Oh! An old 00-18!” I enthused.

He peered into the soundhole, “Ahh….yes, indeed it is. Reputedly a 1961. Here, tell me what you think about it,” he said as he passed it to me while I still sat at the piano bench.

As I began to chord the instrument and play, my smile slowly melted. I held the guitar out and looked at it in disbelief. All it wanted me to do was play The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” on it.*

“Where did you get this guitar?” I asked him. “This is awful. This guitar has hardly been played.”

“Why do you say that? What do you mean?” he asked with a confused look.

“As you are well aware, these instruments are made of several types of wood from different trees. Well, it’s only through continued playing that the seperate pieces of wood become familiarised with one another, and that the instrument becomes whole, and learns to talk. I don’t mean to get all esoteric with you, but these things open up as they are allowed to resonate. They have to be played before they can learn to talk.”

“This guitar isn’t familiar with itself at all,” I said, staring at it, “It doesn’t speak music; it doesn’t even recognise it’s own voice. This is a terribly sad guitar. It has spent nearly it’s entire existence in this coffin of a case,” I continued, waving at the case in disgust. “The worst kind of afterlife for a living tree, is to be killed, and then turned into an instrument that is never allowed to breathe, let alone speak. This poor guitar only knows a couple of songs.” I said.

My client stood there with his arms folded looking somewhat incredulous.

“So where did you get it?” I asked, handing it back to him.

“Well, I can’t believe that you can tell all that just by holding it and looking at it, but you are correct indeed,” he said, “it has hardly ever been played.”

He went on to tell me the story behind the 00-18. It was a tale that is repeated far too many times: Some well meaning parents invest in a really nice guitar to present to their only child on his 13th birthday. The kid plays around on it until it becomes apparent how much work is going to have to be invested in becoming proficient on the instrument, at which time the guitar goes back into the case and into the closet, never to be pulled out except when the owner moves from place to place, or someone wishes to see it.

If android phones had been invented back in the 60s, a lot of the guitars made at the time would still be like new, but luckily, most kids weren’t as lazy back then as they are now.

Most like-new old guitars (or ‘closet classics’ as Fender likes to call their clones), are really a mixed blessing when you find one, and almost every one that I’ve ever played hits me on a visceral level in the same way.

Guitars that are destined to become pretty but miserable trophy wives for some wanna-be guitar player are sad instruments once they’re discovered and unchained. They can’t rock and they can’t play the blues. They haven’t been taught any language by their owners.

They sound like Buddy Holly’s Stratocaster did, new and virgin.

It’s weird, but the first thing that most players will do is play some lick from the appropriate generation when they first pick up one of these instruments. It is as if that is all that the instrument knows how to do. It is the only language. The musician merely responds; he is generally unaware that he is attempting to communicate with the instrument.

There is no soul, no mojo, no voodoo. Only the ghosts of dead trees.

It may only be my imagination, but when there are ghosts in these instruments, I hear their stories, they talk to me.

My client had obtained this particular Martin via the original owner in lieu of losses contracted through the same. He was hoping to recoup some of those losses in the sale of the guitar.

He told me that he had already received several offers of varying amounts, but none that quite suited his expectations.

“Why not give it to one of the girls?” I asked him, knowing that both of his daughters played.

“Oh, it’s too nice for that; it would just get banged around at coffee houses and stuff. I’d like to see someone get it who would really take care of it.”

“Dude,” I replied with a bit of exasperation in my voice, “this damn guitar has been ‘taken care of’ its entire existence. What it needs, is to be played for a change. Why not forget about top-dollar this time.” I suggested, “Do this guitar and your karma a favour instead and let the player who you believe will give it the best voice have it. This instrument deserves a home and a loving pair of hands. You owe that much to it.”

That’s how I feel, and that is my advice to anyone who has such an instrument tucked safely away inside some closet: Play it or sell it to someone who will.

 

 

* The song was originally an old Blue Ridge Mountain folk tune called “Tom Dula” which ingeminated a true story. I have been unable to determine who the songwriter was.