Love at first sight (or sound?)

Reminiscing about purchasing my first guitar and subsequent important additions to the family, coachinguitar asks if its possible to be monogamous in a world of tantalizing tones and sleek bodies.

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I started out playing on a strat, I know not what, having been taken to the store to choose my first guitar under the guise of a birthday gift, which in reality was more likely down to my father hoping I’d finish what he started and learn to play. I selected a white body something with numerous switches and pickups, whammy bar, etc, as this obviously meant it could do more right? I’ll never forget the dragon design, its red body snaked around the top horn and in its hand a blue orb shot fire onto the pickups, to a ten year old still obsessed with role playing games, it looked awesome. It was a mule! Action so deadly it removed fingertips, its shrill tone cut through my box amp with no balance and the occasional electric shock. It was a slow start, occasional explorations of The Edge’s riffs on U2’s Rattle and Hum aside it mostly gathered dust. A few years later Metallica’s black album had me scrambling for the guitar, where was it, in the cupboard, under the bed? By now the beast had become even less player friendly. To my dismay advancing to a superior model would require a demonstration of commitment on my behalf, so I barred until I was ready to break determined to master the Hammett/Hetfield onslaught. With some progress made and the possibility of reliving a youth precariously through me my dad consented to taking me to another, more verified guitar shop. A prior binge on the likes of the tone greats such as Clapton, SRV and Hendrix once again had the Stratocaster fixed firmly in my mind and i left there with a gorgeous USA start plus in metallic grey, lace sensors, locking machine head tuners, Schaller lock straps; this was serious kit! Which arrived at just the right time in my life, learning to play guitar second time round was animated, an obsession, all day everyday I’d listen to Cantrell from AIC and his wah like gliss, McCready from Pearl Jam whose melodic solos would sing endlessly, Nick McCabe’s swirling sound effects, Marr’s layering of parts to create otherworldly textures. The Start Plus was so versatile it allowed me to get as close as I could whilst studying my favourite players and then she stuck with me as I adventured out into the unknown and began writing riffs, progressions, solos and songs of my own. As much as this guitar loved to go Blue I was hitting my peak at the nasty end of teenagedom and angst was rife, I was playing in a spikier style, listening habits leaning towards Nirvana, Senseless Things, NIN, Kerbdog and suddenly she wasn’t being handled with due care anymore. Hurtled into drum kits, thrown to the floor and landed upon, stickered, beaten and abused, I genuinely believed that my instrument deserved all of my love and hate in equal measure if it was to truly be a vessel for me to communicate my emotional state with. It soon became a modded monster owing to the essential repairs needed just to be able to continue playing shows, less than basic engineering meets gaffa tape chic. Over the coming years I was on expedition, looking for what would be ‘my’ guitar, many came and went in quick succession; Schecter, Les Paul, Epiphone, Jackson, Ibanez were all extensively sampled but nothing took. The Stratocaster had really staked its claim on me, and so it was, one fateful day, reading the new issue of Guitar magazine, I saw her, a Custom Shop Ancho Poblano with hand wound pups and a baseball bat for a neck. A quick visit to Regent Sounds to be disappointed with a not in stock response, but, the delivery was expected and sure enough the following day my phone rang and I returned to be greeted with the most elegant balance of form and function I’d ever seen.

Plugged in she sustained for infinity, voiced chords like a choir and was surprisingly fast despite the chunk of the neck, which itself allowed for more wrangle as opposed to the sleek plus. Content I had found my match I did what was necessary to make her mine, the staff remarked that this was the fastest turn around of a Custom Shop in the UK ever, none of them had even had the chance to play it, and they never would!

Subsequent band practices saw my playing reach new heights, the right tool inspiring me on, spending more time on exercises and practicing repertoire, a new guitar or any bit of kit for that matter stimulates creativity to no end. We’ve gigged extensively, this wood was not meant to stay in her box, and the Ancho is now my primary electric. A companion for life, or so I thought, until last week when I investigated the new Guitar Guitar store in Camden, they’ve really gone in with high end models in all major brands and some boutiquey bits n pieces to boot. I must admit, my eyes strayed, the overwhelming sense of guilt and betrayal has become too much, but I have to be honest, I want her so. Guitar Monogamy, is this possible?

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Who was your first, your last, your everything?

What’s caught your eye recently?

How large a collection is necessary to meet the guitar players needs?

Do you feel guilt, shame, and obsession?

Share with us here and we’ll try not to judge, promise.

6 thoughts on “Love at first sight (or sound?)

  1. It’s a rare pleasure to get to interact with an article so close to my heart in premise, and authored by none other than one of my most important mentors, I’ll nevertheless keep this brief and succinct!* (*results may differ from those promised…)
    But phewwww, boy, could I go on and on in answer to those questions! Here goes.

    I’ll have to admit as much as my first couple of guitars were my intro to a whole new world, I never settled into a steady relationship with one until I purposefully geared up for starting my college music course at the inspiring, challenging, at times testing, Oaklands campus of Welwyn Garden City.

    I’d been playing purely in a hobby capacity for several years, and after quitting my first go at university in favour of music, I knew I wanted some serious hardware. I thought long and hard about what I wanted and needed in a guitar based on my playing style and physical dimensions (tall, lanky, handspans like stretch armstrong, and a dislike for carrying large slabs of wood over my shoulder…)
    It was the Ibanez RG42 limited edition in zebra grey. At the time retailed for £430 rrp, I was lucky to find it at one store online that still had one and reserved it over the phone the same day.

    Lightweight, contoured to your body, 24 frets (I was obsessed with ability to jump up 2 octaves at a whim at the time), thin neck, light action, maximum speed and reach for my spindly fingers. It had a fixed bridge with absolutely no prospect of whammy-bar induced tuning-loss, and boy was that amazing to me at the time!

    It sported a custom Ibanez humbucker with an active circuit. And so began my love/hate affair with a device that could run out of batteries mid song, downgrading my sound from Tom Morello to a whispering John Mayor who’d just woken up.

    But when the battery was full, and the ‘awesome switch’, as i called it was ON, the meat of the sound that guitar rewarded me would catapult my enthusiasm and playing to the next level. Perfectly in time with my collision with new and exciting (and scary) music genres offered to me while studying at a music school. The guitar has suffered greatly under my whip. Has been played in too many towns to count, and has had so many bumps and nicks and scrapes that whether or not I could ever bring myself to sell it, it wouldn’t go for much at this point. But to me it is priceless.

    These days I am playing a relatively new addition to my family, (or harem, if you will?) in the form of a glittering silver Gretsch with Bigby Twin Tail whammy array. A guitar that does what the Ibanez could not quite nail,… warmth and versatility.
    I play for a few outfits these days that require anything but the chugging, soaring, wailing sound of an Ibanez with a built-in Mario power-up. And so my old RG42 has sat in its gig bag for many a year now.

    This comes full circle once again now that I am setting my sights on an old flame, something of a forbidden love that I was never quite able to commit to in my younger guitaring years,… A Cort-made Manson style rock guitar in the style of none other than Matt Bellamy’s signature. The guitar that convinced me to end up where I am today as a musician. It is currently retailing for a modest £430 (ring a bell there?… deja vu at its best) And not only comes packing some serious humbuckers, but also has a killswitch. A KILLSWITCH!

    Need I say more?…..
    Great article and I love the discussion around this subject immensely. It is an insight into the human condition, of which music is ever the demanding mistress.

    A… KILLSWITCH Alan!….

    Keep on rockin’,

    Mark

    1. Thanks for getting involved Mark, its really fascinating as a process to reflect on that first guitar, the one upon which we cut our teeth (and fingers). I think reminiscing on the journey undertaken holds a lot of value for both measuring where we’ve gotten to as players and how we might look to progress from here. Thank you for your kind words, I have had the honour of working with many student musicians over the years and remember your dedication, commitment and passion clearly. Your Ibanez really was an awesome colour and had a great body shape, super fast neck too, or was that just you?!
      I am glad that you continue to play and are out there in several units, I guess this is really where the monogamy idea is tested the most; can one guitar fulfil all our needs if we regularly have differing desires? The versatility of your Gretsch sounds great and yeah a Bigsby is endless fun. I think that is why I always opt for the Strat, it can try nearly anything, not always to the required level but she can always have a good go, you know, regardless of genre.
      I had a Cort acoustic in the past and was surprised by the quality of the instrument against its price point; several colleagues and player friends have also found the same. There are many parallel’s between your style and that of Bellamy’s, you both have a very smooth legato, very even and clean attack, can move effortlessly from grit and dirty riffage through to gentile harmony and emotive melody lines. Thanks for raising the idea of signature guitars, my Strat plus was effectively the Clapton signature, minus his signature and the varied pups, I did however add these later, the pups, not the signature that is. It’s a fantasy question but if you could have a signature axe whom would it be with and what would make it identifiable as being yours?
      Oh and what the heck is a killswitch?!

  2. She was a fender Stratocaster hanging high in a music shop called “Greensleeves” in my local town. Her contours evoked something in me that would only make sense a couple of years later when I began to fall for other curved goddesses. She had an ebony fretboard, vintage styling with a wine red coat, skinny headstock and oversized inlays.

    She was my first but she was never mine.

    First was an Olympic white Encore, cheap, unforgiving and frankly dishonest. But many lessons learned.

    Then a Les Paulette, Heavy set, loud, beautiful in a classic way, determined to break my back but honest and responsive to subtleties’ lost on the Encore.

    On the side: a Telecaster Custom. Not American or Oriental but from South America. This was maybe her downfall, but who knows. I bought her some new silverware, but this only made her gloat louder and with no more than the same finesse. She became superfluous to my needs. Left lonely at the back of the studio. She left there with one of my best friends who would treat her better. Tragically he accidently broke her neck.

    University, foolishness of youth and access to credit, advanced my romances with dangerous effect. A Gibson SG, Expensive, unnecessary but oh so good. I had to run my fingers all the way up to her 24th fret to make her scream.

    A Gretsch Nashville, a red head, a country girl, wide around the hips yet fluffy, unclear in her delivery. Beauty is only lacquer deep. She was unceremoniously trafficked to fund a round the world plane ticket.

    My search still goes on. Who can I afford? Who am I worthy of? These are the questions I now ask. What happened to the Wine Red, Ebony fretboarded Stratocaster? Where is she now?

    I believe there is a guitar out there for everybody; but you’ve got to have fun finding her.

  3. I remember it well. I used to play my old man’s charity shop Chantry so much the paint had come off the fake fingerboard. Hilarious! I begged them for a year for an electric and on Christmas I unwrapped a Gear4Music red Strat copy and a small 10 watt practice amp. It was amazing. I think I cried. Or almost did. Never been so grateful. I learned for a couple of years on it and played my first few public performances on it. However, after I got to an ok standard, I craved a real one. My dad exploited my desperation and I had to go round an old man’s garden for weeks and pump a soak away out for AGES in the freezing cold. (Old man is a gardener, so I guess you can call it cheap labour). Eventually the day came and he took me to Anderton’s to buy my first Fender. Mexican, standard, black and rosewood. I was so excited, I was shaking like a shitting dog. I text SO many people who couldn’t have given less of a shit about it during the 20 min car journey home telling them I now had a Mexican strat. That started the Strat sensation. Another Mexican followed. A Japanese too. Then eventually I saved up and bought my #1 on finance. A John Mayer (sorry!) signature. It follows me everywhere. At some point I flirted with an SG special for a few months. I was SPOILED for my 18th and got bought a cherry red Gibson 335 which is now my pride and joy. I’ve recently had it refurbished and it’s sounding better than ever. I went halves on a standard American Tele for my 21st. That’s being neglected. Really need to dig that out!! Treated myself to a “well done for making playing guitar your actual job” present last December and bought a Goldtop Les Paul. It’s a monster (mainly to my shoulder) and I have a lot of fun doing the rock thing on it. Had a bit of a Clapton obsession in the summer and bought a lovely Jap 54 reissue on a whim. Lovely guitar, but I’ve now got too many and it doesn’t get touched. Very sad. If anyone’s interested, drop me a line!! I’ve waffled on for far too long! Some nice anecdotes on here. Happy playin’ ?

  4. fire

    My first encounter with a guitar was at the age of 6-7. It was a Spanish acoustic which ended up getting treat more like a Pete Townshend guitar at the end of a Who set…I turned 9 in 1985 which was such a defining year.. I remember browsing through my dads cassettes and finding the adventures of Thin Lizzy thinking who the hell are these? The single finger riffs, power chords and dual solos captured my attention in a big way I just had to get an electric guitar!!! He also borrowed his friends Thin Lizzy live videos for me and I remember my jaw being on the floor watching Gary Moore playing his outrageous solos on that Peter Green Les Paul. It was in the same year back to the future hit the cinema and that kinda sealed it for me!

    In the spring leading up to my 10th birthday my parents picked me up from school and told me that they’d seen this black Columbus electric guitar which looked a bit like Marty Mcfly’s and would I want it as a Birthday present? haha!! I didn’t have much knowledge about electric guitars other than it was black with a sharp strat like body and a tremelo!! ” I’ll have that one please!!” The shop threw in a 15 watt practice amp and a chord book in for good riffage!! From then on I was sold!! I was an instant guitar addict!! Not only discovering all these cool bands and artists like Thin Lizzy,Cream,Hendrix, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses..but at the same time I was learning how to play guitar alongside these songs and subconsciously picking up the artists techniques just by ear!! It would also train my timing which is essential..I would sit and keep rewinding the cassette or moving the needle back on the vinyl to nail that riff! This method of learning went on to shape my whole way of playing. When you first hear any song with a classic guitar line your blown away then you learn how to play it!! That builds your confidence so much, especially at a young age!!!

    A year past and santa brought me a red 88 squire strat which took me to that next level!!! I started up my first Little Rock/punk band called Satans Sausage( best band name ever)purchased a few boss effects pedals the super overdrive and a flanger!!

    red start

    I think I used the red squire strat until I was about 15-16 then acquired a blue one! By that time it was early 90’s and my influences were growing with the likes of Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and pearl Jam having a big effect on my playing style and song writing!! I began to look into guitar tones a lot more and realised I couldn’t afford half the gear that my heroes were using so I had to utilise what I had at the time!! It kinda makes you work that bit harder!! Heading into the mid 90’s I started using a Ephiphone Les Paul when on first play I thought where have you been all my life.. no offense to the strat at all, it had been my main instrument since I first started but the Les Paul was more suited to my style..By the end of the 90’s I started a band with my good friend and creator of this blog!! It was the first time I’d really pushed my creativity in any band with the use of heavy and warm tones! Collectively we used Strats, Les Paul’s and a late addition being my Schecter! I think the combination of these guitars in any band sound great whether live or studio.. I also got heavily into boutique pedals and amps around this time looking back I reckon I could’ve opened my own shop the amount I’ve bought and sold..

    Richi's pedal board

    For the last 10 years I’ve played my Firebird V which has been the old faithful in the bands Ashes of Iron and Hyde and Beast…It’s so versatile in tones with the vintage mini humbuckers giving me so much control and range! I’ve also had my Schecter s1 + modified with a bareknuckle black dog pickup and the phase reversed(peter green influence) in the neck pick up.
    I’ll sign off and avoid the monogamous euphemisms and quote what many guitar players have said for decades!! It’s true what they say… “constantly in search of THE TONE!!! ”

    Richi rig

  5. My first encounter with the guitar was at the age of 14, It was a white Les Paul custom copy made by Encore. It featured some terrible tarnished gold hardware and weighed about 12lb’s, none of that mattered to me though, because it looked identical to a guitar that I had seen Izzy Stradlin play.

    After a year of guitar lessons the guitar all but sat under my bed for three years, whilst I enjoyed every skate park in the home counties. However my love for music developed in this time thanks to my battered iPod making me once again dust of my “cheap” Les Paul copy and attempt to learn every “Hair” riff from the 1980s . After a year of playing, I decided it was time to go to college and once more focus on the Guitar.

    I started college in 2009 with a new guitar, A mid 2000’s Kramer with a Floyd Rose tremolo and Seymour Duncan pick ups. Best of all it only cost £99.00. Long story short this is where I met my new tutor Alan Richardson and learnt very quick I would have to practise at least six hours a day to catch up with my fellow class mates. After a year of Scales, Chords, Theory and consistently trading Japanese guitars, I got my first big boy guitar, A Gibson Les Paul Traditional. After a year and a half of paying finance combined with a deposit from my 21st birthday, it was all mine!!! this is the one I should have never let go off. The poor thing got slung low on a thin leather strap throughout my final terms of college, through my Joe Perry phase playing in london clubs and hammered well into my degree.

    After years of playing Rock and Blues my guitar hero’s gravitated more towards Fender players, I found my self listening to J Mascis, John Frusciante, Hendrix, George Harrison and Mike Bloomfield all the time, I realised the time had come to chop in the Gibson and grab myself my first American Fender. For the last four years I have been searching for the perfect Stratocaster and thats how I landed on my current obsession.

    After working at Coda for a year and a bit and playing every secondhand Fender that came through our doors a Fiesta Red 1964 Jaguar fell into my hands. After playing it every day for three weeks I finally decided this was the guitar I had been waiting for!! Now to say this is a players guitar would be a understatement its been refinished, re-fretted and played to the perfect worn in state. Anyway I love it, Its short scale so I can use heavy strings and makes me wanna play “Blood Suger” riffs all day long. Its been played just about everyday over the last year and has been the first electric guitar to really fit the timbre of my acoustic roots band. As for the future a slab board Jazzmaster or Transitional Telecaster would be nice, but to be perfectly honest I feel as settled as I ever have with my current JAG!

    Enjoy your playing guys!

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