Mike Foster, Metamora, Illinois, A Fine Kettle Of Fish:
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want a guitar.
I hung out AKA “managed” a group of friends in a band called The Tempests at Spalding Institute (the drummer was a Canadian from Woodruff, John Moffatt) from 1962 on. I played a little bass if Tim Slevin, the bass player, was forbidden band nights by his parents. I just followed where Paul Burson, the rhythm guitarist, had his fingers on the top two strings.
In 1963, I had a girl friend who played a cheap acoustic. She played the usual folk dreck, but I learned one good song from her, “Take Her Out Of Pity,” by John Stewart and the Kingston Trio: G-E minor-C-D 7th, the same chords, I would discover, as dozens of other songs from Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” to The Shields’ “You Cheated” to The Safaris’ “Image Of A Girl.”
When I went off to Milwaukee and Marquette in 1964, my mom would send me money for haircuts. Well, I was already a fan of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Searchers. I didn’t need no steenkin’ haircuts.
I needed a guitar.
So I bought one from a pawn shop on Wells avenue, a nylon-string slot-head Marco Polo for $20.
Like most first loves, it was unsatisfactory. The strings were too high, the neck was too wide, it strayed out of tune, but it was my guitar. I bought a Beatles songbook of tracks from Something New, but they’d all been transposed into C, which was a dirty lie, so I didn’t learn “Things We Said Today” or “I’ll Cry Instead” for years.
But I had learned the beginning of “Malaguena.” A friend from Morton had taught me modal tuning that summer, which was easier: “Turn Your Money Green.”
I got good enough to folk around with Leadbelly’s “Titanic,” Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell,” Chad Stuart & Jeremy Clyde’s “Yesterday’s Gone” and “A Summer Song.” The Stones’ version of “It’s All Over Now” was, I decided, a folk song.
I started playing harmonica, Hohner Marine Bands and Blues Harps. It took me years to realize that Brian Jones used two, an “A” and a “D,” on “Not Fade Away.” “Matchbox,” however, was a snap.
My first really good guitar was a big Goya 12-stringer that I bought for $160 from ICC psychology teacher Tom Nelson with my first Illinois Central College summer school teaching check in July, 1972. I’d loved 12-strings since hearing “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” and “Walk Right In.” That Goya sounded so fine that I made myself learn barre chords at last just so I could play “Ruby Tuesday.”
In 1975, I added my first electric, a 1969 Fender Telecaster bought used at Don’s Music Land on Main street in Peoria for $150. The blues and Dion and Buddy Holly songs flowed out of it naturally.
I bought a 1965 Guild Starfire XII twelve-string from Paul Burson after he hung up his rock and roll shoes and retired from The Heard, the scion of The Tempests, for $385, what he’d paid for it. Later I would sell it to Tim Slevin’s son Drew for the same price. I think he still has it.
But the guitar that I had craved ever since I’d heard the first jingle-jangle of “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds in 1965 was a Rickenbacker 360-12 like McGuinn played.
In 1992, my ICC journalism student Josh Bradshaw, the student newspaper Harbinger’s Beatles and photography editor, stopped by to show me his guitar. It was a Rickenbacker 330-12.
I went home and grouched to my wife that “this 19-year-old kid has a Rickenbacker and I don’t.”
“Buy one,” she replied.
I purchased one that night online from Mandolin Bros, a gorgeous blonde (as is my wife) for about $750. Although the Telecaster is easier to play and to tune, the Ricky is my favorite axe.
My most recent (I won’t say last) good guitar is a Martin acoustic I bought from Tom Nelson (see above) for $600 in 1995. Local luthier Billy Cook installed a Fishman pick-up in it so I can plug it in.
I’ve played these with church musical groups at Bradley’s Newman Center and St. Mary of Lourdes parish in Germantown Hills, the acoustic folk trio Becker, Foster, and McDaniel with two erstwhile ICC teaching colleagues, and, since 1976, A Fine Kettle Of Fish, yet another descendant of The Tempests, currently featuring The Tempests’ lead guitarist and singer Mike “Kingfish” Boyer and his son Tony and Evan Crebo (who joined us when he was 12) and Mark Ulrich, vocalists and lead guitarists all three, Mike’s singing wife Margi, and brother-in-law bassist Jim Hennessey, drummer Brooks McDaniel, and me, rhythm guitar and lead and harmony singer.
So I have a Rickenbacker 360-12, a Goya 12, a Fender Telecaster, a Martin M-45 (?), a Fender lap steel #0077 bought for $75 from a Marquette friend, a bouzouki from Istanbul given to me by my daughter and son-in-law Megan Foster Campbell and Frank Campbell after their sailing trip took them there, an Oskar Schmidt electric autoharp with maximum chord bars, a Schmidt tenor guitar/ baritone ukulele that I gave to Jo, a Hofner clone Beatle bass stolen for $150 from former student Mike Yocum, and 22 assorted Hohner and Oskar Schmidt harmonicas (G flat minor included), and an Oskar Schmidt chromatic “C” harmonica that I call “Mustache Trimmer.”
I’m working on improving on all of those.
But one does not “work” on music.
One plays music.”
Jim Croegaert, Evanston, Illinois:
“The first piano our family had was a Gulbransen Dickenson upright which had been in the farmhouse where my mother grew up. My grandparents were moving into town (Sheffield, Illinois). It would have been early 1950s. I still remember that day. The truck made an opening in the hedge around our West Peoria yard (its other set of wheels was on the sidewalk) that endured as an “alternate” way through the hedge. That piano came to me eventually and we moved it enough times to test many friendships – especially the 3rd and 2nd-floor moves. I think it was originally a player piano and so was even heavier than the usual upright, which is saying something.
Regarding my band instruments: the first was a Wurlitzer electronic piano, which I bought with my own money as a freshman or sophomore in high school, and would have for years. I learned how to replace (and tune) its metal “reeds” as they were called. When The Tempests went on the road (as The Truviers) the agents and clubs wanted bands to have an organ, so I got an Everett, then a Farfisa, with which I had a love/hate relationship. There is no sound quite like it – the Animals and the Doors made particular use of it – but the quality of the sound is, well, debatable and somewhat limited.
I eventually added a Fender Rhodes whose tone bars I also became familiar with, and replaced the Farfisa with a Hammond M-3 with a Leslie. These two instruments, the Hammond and the Rhodes, I would move for years in my 1966 Chevy van.
I grew weary of the bulk and the sluggish action of my Fender Rhodes and when the band Hope began, we had two keyboard players, with our respective instruments framing the stage from each side. My instrument was principally piano, our organist using a Hammond D-3 (with Leslie) on the other. We alternated for a couple of songs each night. I acquired a RMI (Rocky Mount Instruments) which was the first (as far as I know) totally digital piano. It had some cool settings, such as a lute, which I could use with sustain and the volume pedal in some nice ways, and did on some of our recordings, notably “Find Him”. The down side was that it had absolutely no touch sensitivity. But it never required tuning and had a good sound. We shared the stage a couple of times with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band whose members were intrigued by it and impressed with the sound.
I have had a few different acoustic pianos, my favorite probably being the Premier baby grand that resides now with one of our sons. I still much prefer an acoustic piano over electronic but have a Yamaha P105 that I really like. They have come a long way in creating more of a piano feel in the keys. But I do wish at times I had my Fender Rhodes and my Hammond M-3 and Leslie. Those sounds are still unique and virtually impossible to really create digitally.”
Danny Sutton, Peoria Illinois, Quadrant 4:
“I played the drums in Fuzzy Dice, then Gulliver.
Keyboardist Kim Calloway left for college. “What shall we do ? You play the organ, Danny.” What organ?
The band purchased a Hammond M-2 and a Leslie. Not too shabby. I traded later for a C-3 and another Leslie. Then I went nuts and got a Rhodes, Clavinet, Moog, and string synth. You can make a wonderful noise with mediocre skill.”
Tom Burson, Rochester, Minnesota:
“Brother Dave Bird Burson inherited our old upright piano. My dad Joe Burson bought it from Zeke Sanders, who sold pianos at Justin Music on Main Street in Peoria. David’s grade school and high school classmate Greg Sanders ended up becoming a piano tuner in Peoria. The piano now resides at 1131 Coila Street Pensacola Florida.
I learned to play “Fur Elise” on that same piano.
Today one of my piano students, Grace, played “Fur Elise” for our music ecital at Assisi Heights in Rochester. She is wonderful. I told her she will still be able to play it when she reaches my age.
I saw Sr. Severina Caron, OSF, today. She is a friend of my eighth grade piano teacher Sr. Augusta who taught me Beethoven, Bach and Schubert.
Dixie, my mom loved “Fur Elise.” I often heard her humming it when she was back in the kitchen cooking.”
Drew Slevin, Osceola, Wisconsin, Unaffiliated:
“To All the Guitars I’ve Loved, Barn Edition: A Lesser Miracle in the Manger”
“I’ve always counted myself fortunate that family and friends provided me plenty of early exposure to rock and roll. One of my oldest vivid memories was during an early 1980’s Peoria, Illinois, St. Patty’s Day Parade, sitting on someone’s knee on a loud guitar amplifier, wondering if I was the only guy who felt like his heart was going to beat out of his chest.
Years later, a sweaty teenager with three years picking experience, I took a summer visit to the Foster farm with Pop [Tim Slevin]. While we were poking around on the property in a particularly secure corner of the barn, safe from sunshine and moisture, I noticed the unmistakable ragged vinyl ripping from wood of a well-traveled guitar hard case.
“Hey what’s that? Is that a guitar?” I asked pointing.
“Oh that?” The professor made eye contact with my dad. “Yeah, you should probably go take a look.”
I flipped open 4 stubborn clasps on that beat-up case and pulled back a satin cloth to reveal a ’64 Guild Starfire XII [formerly Paul Burson’s]. If memory serves, it was actually emitting light. Mike and Pop smiled silently as I inspected every inch of it, including the belt buckle bruises, chrome hum-buckers, F holes. The damn thing was close to in-tune! What a sound! By happy coincidence, I had just learned the intro to Led Zepplin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” which was met with approval from my noble Pabst-toting rock guides. Pop stepped away while Mike and I worked out a financing plan that seemed mutually reasonable, and just like that, she was mine!
These days she may not get the attention that she deserves, but that discovery and exchange was a revelation that would keep me collecting into adulthood. Many guitars have come and gone since, but I’ll never part with the Starfire.”
Jim Davis, San Diego, California:
“A Brief History of Time and My Guitar Universe”
“All of us who have played guitar have a romantic streak. We dream about the ones that got away and even more, the ones that might yet come to us from a dusty corner of an antique shop and make us fall in love again. Let me tell you a little history and tell you about a few of the ones that I wish didn’t get away.
My first guitar was a non-descript nylon string that was a friend, but I never loved it. The first guitar I ever loved was a Fender Duosonic. It was like a miniature Stratocaster with two pickups. I bought my Duosonic along with a Fender Deluxe amp at age 11 with money hard-earned from delivering the LaCrosse Tribune by bike through the frozen LaCrosse [Wisconsin] winters and warm mosquito summers. It had an ugly white finish that was wearing through to the yellow undercoat. I took it apart and sanded it down to the grainy wood and refinished it. While that would have ruined a valuable instrument, this was not valuable and made me love it all the more. I played Doors and Steppenwolf and top 40 in junior high bands in basements and parties and loved it.
The first one that got away. Before high school I saved up and bought a Les Paul that was advertised in the LaCrosse Tribune. It was probably the summer of 1969 and this was a beauty, specifically a black beauty and also distinguished by being a fretless wonder. It came with filed frets that were very low for jazz players. Sadly when I wanted to play rock and roll, that low fret wire kept me from bending strings and I sold it. That guitar would probably be a comfortable retirement if I had kept it. The 1969 Les Paul is the Holy Grail of collectors.
A huge step up in my guitar playing came from Mary Ellen Davis (nee Nestor) who taught me some basic finger-style blues and “Alice’s Restaurant” in New York City one summer. I sat out on the steps and worked hard to master what she generously shared. She was a big influence and is still a great player. Tip of the hat to Mary Ellen.
So in high school, I really didn’t play much electric. I did play classical and still love classical guitar. I picked up a Les Paul Junior for cheap. It is like a Gibson SG with P90 pickups. I didn’t love it, but it was a good friend. After high school, I took a job in Milwaukee as an auto worker with American Motors. It was mind-numbing. Assembly lines, unloading trucks and trains, welding, I did it all as I was a floater who filled in where ever needed.
At that point I decided that there had to be something better than factory work and decided to learn to really play. I bought jazz books and consumed Mickey Baker and anything else I could find. I bought albums by favorite guitar players (Early Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Savoy Brown, Climax Blues Band) and listened. I used to go to bars and listen to good players with the intent of recalling a few favorite licks that I could go home and master. That Les Paul Junior, the ugly step child of the Les Paul family, carried me through and kept me sane.
In 1975 at the height of the first oil crisis, American Motors laid me off. What seemed like a terrible thing was a stroke of luck. Returning to LaCrosse, I got the chance to play with a great group of experienced musicians who had played with Flying Free, a LaCrosse super group with Lenny Bahl who was and still is a superb and original guitar player. I bought a new black beauty with regular frets. We played originals and lots of Led Zep, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, Allman Brothers, et cetera. Great band and lots of fun. At the same time, I went to school for art, specifically art metals (think jewelry). With ten or so credits to go before a degree the band was breaking up (they went to LA and played in the same bars as early Van Halen) and I had discovered I was actually pretty good at math and since I always loved science and loved guitar amps I made the logical step of enrolling in electrical engineering at UW-Madison. Makes sense, right?
In engineering school, my poor Les Paul lived under the bed in its case and I lost my chops. It seemed to me that I would never find another band and after graduation I traded that Les Paul in on a classical guitar. Love lost! The classical was great and I spent many Happy hours with it. It was a Japanese Hirade. [image582] It too was sold at some point and I wish I still had it.
A beauty of a guitar I owned was a Gibson L5-S, a solid body styled after the classic L5 jazz arch top with special low impedance pickups made to plug directly into a sound board. [image294] That guitar was a joy to play with superb construction and finish. It went on Ebay for college expenses for my daughter. I miss it, but have no regrets because of where the funds went.
One last one. It was a Les Paul. It was the high school cheerleader and prom queen because it was just so damned pretty! With tiger stripes and a cherry finish it won me over in a heartbeat. It too went to college funds. [image279]
There is more, but that sums up some of the big ones that got away.”
Jon Davis, Lusby, Maryland:
“My favorite clarinets:
“My first clarinet came to me quite by accident. I had been playing flute and become somewhat frustrated so thought that i would try clarinet instead. I mentioned this to [his son] Egg (aka Jesse). It turns out he happened to have a quite well-used clarinet. It had been given to him by his brother who got it from a friend whose father had found it while bull dozing a landfill (the father eventually became a math teacher, which was more fun, but he found no more clarinets).
It was kind of beat-up but I brought it in to the shop and had it cleaned and fixed up. i played on that clarinet for my first couple years and enjoyed it immensely.
Eventually, i decided to “upgrade” and bought one well beyond the student model level, a Buffet R13 Greenline. The Greenline has the advantage that instead of being a piece of wood, it is a composite of the ebony sawdust and epoxy resin. It plays just as nicely as the solid wood ones but avoids the tendency to split under temperature changes. I still have this clarinet and it is my traveling companion. It has a deep, rich tone that my brother [Jim Davis] likes a lot.
Like many guitarists, I tend to go through many instruments looking for change and the “perfect one.” I have had many other clarinets since the Buffet. But the only one I still use is my Selmer St. Louis. It has a bit brighter timbre than the Buffet, but it is my favorite for tone and playability.
It was also the clarinet I used for the one and only time I have played “in public” at Schmidt’s wedding. [Dr. Frank Schmidt and Dr. Brenda Peculis married in Columbia, Missouri, in 2008. The song was The Beatles’ “Something” and Mike Foster and David Hoose played guitars.]
Only after I had been playing clarinet for many years did I find out that my father had dropped out of college (foregoing a music scholarship for choir) to play clarinet in a local jazz band. He loved it. And, of course, he got drafted. As far as I know, he never played again.”
John Moffatt, Sherwood Park, Alberta
“Back in the summer of 1962, my family had moved lock, stock, and barrel from Edmonton, Alberta to Peoria, Illinois in a 1958 Chevy, so we could take only the bare essentials for our year long stay. We left our pet cat at home, but we took a few pieces from my drum kit (snare, high-hat and crash/ride cymbal).
Once settled in our house on East Gift Avenue out came the drum pieces. That done, every time I saw one of the neighborhood girls walking by the house to see what a Canadian looked/sounded like, I would coincidentally start playing: “Walk, Don’t Run,” “Let’s Dance,” or “Sheila.” It was, as they say, “A great chick magnet.”
While I was so engaged, the neighborhood paperboy and manager of Peoria’s top rock group (as I recall) snuck up on me with the offer of a lifetime. Some friends of his “were on a mission from God to raise money to save their old Boys Club” building from destruction. The only thing that stood in the way of joining the group (known in the Midwestern states as The Tempests) was…no drum set.
As luck would have it, the lead guitar player (now known internationally as Kingfish Boyer), remembered that his dad had an old drum kit somewhere in the attic that he hadn’t played for a long time. Through the generosity of Kingfish and his dad Dodd Boyer, I was offered the use of said drums for the year. I think they lived to regret their largesse.
The trouble started when the local paperboy/band manager offered to help me repair the drums and prep them for action. By the time he got finished, I had a custom combination drum set that had no equal in the United States of America: snare drum, high-hat, the cymbals from Canada, bass drum, toms, and cymbal from the Boyer family, drum stool was our living room plant stand, drum covers (also known as blankets) from our linen closet.
When I wasn’t looking the paperboy/band manager spray-painted the drums lavender so it looked like they were all parts of a set. He got a deal on the paint. It showed. The problem was resolved when the pianist and singer, “Joliet Jim” [Croegaert] suggested having the drums placed well back on the stages where we performed that year.
I’ll never forget the tears of joy in Kingfish’s dad’s eyes when he saw what the paperboy had done with a few cans of cheap spray paint.
Me…I got out of town fast and high-tailed it back to Canada.
The paperboy was Mike Foster.
He’s still causing trouble.”
David Hoose, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
“First guitar: As a freshman student at Marquette University in 1964, my new friend Mike Foster convinced me that I needed a guitar. So we walked to downtown Milwaukee to a guitar shop run by an informative German man who not only sold me an inexpensive nylon-string acoustic guitar, but told me the meaning of my German name: pants, trousers.
First good guitar came a couple years later when I traded a real cheapie for a Gibson silk and steel-stringed acoustic.
Many years later, when I decided to play bass, I traded a Telecaster for a Fender P-bass. But that and a bass amp were stolen from my car after a jamming session, one night while stopped at a bar with one of my jamming friends. Since then, I’ve collected a nice Danelectro Longhorn bass, a Godin solid body bass, and a Washburn acoustic bass. All sound wonderful and play beautifully.”
Dean Wolff, Brookfield, Wisconsin, Surfing To Mecca:
“My guitar love is the first electric guitar I bought: a red Guild Starfire V semi-acoustic purchased shiny new in ’65. Great neck, wonderful warm tone.
In 1976 living in Peoria, I had all my instruments laid out in my living room to get serial numbers for insurance.
Illinois was the first state I lived in that offered vanity plates for your car and I had been thinking about what sort of plate would suit my vanity.
As I looked over all my instruments it occurred to me that a fitting number for me would be the serial number of my favorite guitar.
So I picked up the Guild and the serial number was 2168 and I thought Perfect. I was 21 in ’68.
Out of curiosity I went out to my car to see what my license plate number was, and it already was 2168.”
Art Karagianis, Woodstock, Illinois, The Ketchup Spiders:
“In 1965, my father got me a Les Paul Jr. and a small Gibson amp. Single black pickup, sunburst finish, two knobs (volume & tone). If I would have known that was basically all I was going to need to play rhythm, I would have kept it forever: it was a beautiful finish.
At some point, I ended up with a red 330 and decided it would be a good idea for refinish the Les Paul. I’ve done dumber things in my life; I just don’t recall any right now. Sanded it down and never finished the job. For some reason, I think Gary Richrath ended up with the LP Jr.
Currently I have a Newcaster guitar hand made in Taos, New Mexico, by Norbert Uchtel (probably misspelled that), a 1992 Fender Squier Strat, made in the USA and hand-painted by my son Gabe, and a green Mexican-made Telecaster, 1994.
We love those guitars so much because they’re inanimate, can’t boss you around, they don’t point out when you make a mistake: “Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them”.
Although yesterday my guitar did tell me I should do the dishes, run the vacuum, and fill the bird feeders before [wife Binky Slevin Karagianis] Bink got home. Frightening when my guitar starts talking to me.
I’ve an amp I bought from my friend Andy Trent that is a clone of a 1957 Fender Super.
My acoustic is a Dean Markley that is bird’s-eye maple, according to most people who see it. Love, love, love guitars.
Someday I’ll learn how to play”
Bob Miller, Creve Coeur, Illinois, Gun For Hire (no band):
“My first guitar was a Noble, a horrid knockoff of a Stratocaster. I usually borrowed a better axe to play from neighbors or bandmates. Later in ’65 I bought a real guitar, a red Fender Musicmaster from Billy Hill music. I played this for a year or so and traded it in for a Gretsch RocJet at Ben Ketay’s Reliable Loan Bank. The Gretsch was cool; it had a Bigsby and was similar to a Les Paul style. In ’68 I bought a Gibson SG special with P-90 pickups and a tremolo bar. It was a big step up.
My favorite guitars of my career started with a used ’59 Strat. I bought it at Don’s Music Land in ’71 and traded it for my longest lasting guitar from Matthews Music in ’73, a peach sunburst ES 335. I kept it until 1989.
My first Rickenbacker was a flipped over left-handed 370-12 twelve-string. I was a ’76 with a black finish and checkerboard binding. I sold it to Vintage in DeKalb in ’89. I’ve had three or four other Ricks, none of them were anything special. I only had one guitar stolen and not recovered…pretty lucky.
I have sold all my collectible vintage instruments. I currently own two fine Epiphones, a Gibson 335 blonde dot-neck and a Pelham Blue 339. I have a Hofner bass copy also made by Epiphone. that plays and sounds like the real thing, according to Hofner owners.”
I also have a sunburst rosewood fingerboard Squier Stratocaster that plays great and sounds like a Strat should. I have two small Fender tube amps, a Blues Junior and a ChampXD.
I have a buttload of pedals and use capos and slides in my repertoire of toys.”
Jim Mathis, Amsterdam, Netherlands, formerly from Peoria, Winter Harvest:
“It is too complicated to remember them all – and some of those departures remembered are, in retrospective, somewhat painful and stupid. My first electric was a solid body candy red single pick-up Eko from Hills Music. I kind of wish I had that one back.
But here in the now, I have the Fender Precision bass I got sometime late 60’s or ’70 and used in Ricky Spitfire and I don’t remember whether in Winter Harvest. This has a great pre-CBS neck that Ray Funkhauser helped me switch at Peoria Musical Enterprises (the good Lord bless his memory!). Also here is a middle 1960’s natural Gibson 330 (I not so smartly traded a Charlie Christian Gibson for that … but it is very good), An Ibanez SG, which is better than what Gibson sells now as an SG, and a 70’s Japanese Fender Telecaster that is on an extended academic visitation. That is set up Nashville style. I also own various acoustical things not very noteworthy, but useful.
What I am missing remains (sadly, but not forever) in storage in Wisconsin. This is a double bass that I took lessons on there and played in a trio that was gifted to me by Ella Burlison. Her husband Louis played in the Peoria Symphony. His name is engraved on the side of the head plate. That bass was made 1920’s or ’30’s, and it is not a plywood bass. A funkier bass than that one cannot easily imagine. ‘Relearning’ on a double bass completely changes the frame of what bass does.”
Tony Glass, Washington, Illinois, Sidetracked:
“There are guitars I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever not for better,
Some were sold off, and some remain…”
Those of us who suffer (?) from Guitar Acquisition Syndrome develop an attachment to instruments, not that many have little or no market value, but (in my case, anyway) they all represent some musical phase or other that took hold for more or less brief periods in our musical lives.
There’s the Tele-Franken-caster, which has been my tinkering guitar and main gig guitar; there are the matching Seagull 6 and 12s which, while not collector guitars by any means, fulfill my occasional fits of acoustic blues picking; there’s the Gretsch Bobtail, a resonator that my wife bought me for my 50th birthday—that’s my bottlenecker.
Then there’s Daniellelectro, or Danielle for short. When the Danelectro brand began to resurface about 15 years ago, I noticed some $350 12-string electrics at Elmore’s and thought yeah, right! What’s the catch?
Well, the catch is that very good guitars can be made inexpensively in Asia and sold for a pittance here. I bought Danielle on Ebay once I caught on, and she’s been been my “Byrds guitar” ever since. Every Ricky I ever tried at a music store played like crap (horrible action), so I never felt the urge to get my Byrds on with the real McCoy. For a song, however, a 12-string Danelectro through compression gets you pretty darn close. I have since found a dealer who actually knows how to set up a Ricky 360 properly, but I’m into other things right now.
I have a Korean jazz box, an L-5CES copy for the two or three months out of the year when I just have to get my jazz-minor-over-dominant fix. And then there’s the Les Paul—the ‘79 wine red that I bought new in high school, then foolishly sold off my senior year in college during a period of low cash flow. I “bought it back,” as it were, when I could afford to years later. It’s a different guitar, or course, but the same make, model, color and year, and without the faulty pickup switch that plagued the old one.
Anyway, you get the idea. There’s always the smart aleck wag who will ask “what do you need all those guitars for? You can’t play more than one at a time.” Seriously? So who has a tool chest with just one screwdriver? Obviously it’s someone who has never had to ratchet bolts or saw wood.
I have twelve guitars in my collection currently, thirteen if you include an eight-course lute that I acquired some years back during a fit of early music frenzy. Of these instruments, however, I have been clinging to one in particular, admittedly for more sentimental reasons than musical. But it was the first guitar for each one of my brothers, the first guitar I ever laid eyes on or heard played–a Goya classical from about 1962 or so.
No one remembers exactly when we got it, but it was acquired to replace an F-hole Monkey Ward’s Airline arch-top that my mom got for my dad for Christmas, 1959. He had been making some noises about playing guitar when the Kingston Trio got big. He liked Burl Ives, but also Andres Segovia. That’s where I get my eclecticism. Fortunately I did not inherit the affinity for Burl Ives.
Mom meant well–she probably got it cheap out of the Wards catalog, and it was at least an early inspiration, but was mostly remembered as god-awful and unplayable. That may have been exaggeration, but no one remembers what happened to it. It just faded from memory.
Dad bought the Goya a few years later, once he surmised that maybe the guitar was the reason he never got any better at playing.
Soon after, my brother Dan got interested in the guitar, at about age 13 or so, and in a short time had progressed well past the old man. Dan became something of a local wunderkind among the Fridley-ites, being able to memorize classical pieces rather quickly and amaze the house guests and neighbors.
So the Goya became his by default until he graduated to a concert-grade instrument, which Dad could never understand. To him, the Goya was practically a Stradivarius. In fact, while it sounded fine (and continues to), it lacked the volume and projection that is usually lacking in student grade instruments. You have to be an accomplished player to hear the difference. But Dad concluded that since he couldn’t hear a difference, no such difference existed, which meant someone was pulling the wool over his eyes (and ears.)
In any event, the Goya soon began its hand-me-down journey from Dan to Mike, brother number two. To this day, the Goya bears the unmistakable scars of his ownership–he sat on it and caved in the sound board along the lower bout. Fortunately it was reparable. By the time he left for the service in 1969, the Goya was passed down to Peter, who followed Dan’s footsteps but played more seriously.
My own “first guitar” was actually a Wilson classical–the one Mike bought after sitting on the Goya. Dad bought it off of him when he was hard up for some cash. I played for about two months until I got sidelined with a collarbone fracture (a sledding mishap over lunch recess). That broke my momentum and the Wilson eventually ended up in Pete’s hands as a flamenco conversion guitar. Eventually he adopted the Wilson; Dad eventually gave it to him for painting the house.
I got interested in guitar again after I re-discovered the Beatles around 1976, when I was starting eighth grade. By this time Pete had moved out and, but once in between moves he left the Goya at home and never reclaimed it. By this time, I had begun running through a succession of cheesy Les Paul knockoffs (an Ibanez and an Ames, which had a blonde neck bolted on to a black body) before acquiring my own Gibson, a ‘79 wine red Standard
I flat-picked the Goya like an acoustic guitar until getting a Yamaha 12-string during my senior year in high school. I made a couple more feeble attempts at classical guitar, and once I even worked out the Bach Bouree in E minor, the one made famous by Jethro Tull. While in college, I gave up on trying to play in bands and dabbled instead in jazz and acoustic pop.
After college, I moved out of the house, leaving the Goya behind with my folks, who just sort of abandoned it to the back of a coat closet where it spent several years just drying up. Hardly a fitting end for an instrument that was once the pride of the family
Around ‘90 or so, I got the classical bug but good and offered to take it off their hands if I paid for the necessary restoration work done on it, and since that time it’s been my foster child. One of the braces had come loose–which actually resulted in a cool distortion effect, kind of like when you put cards in the bicycle spokes of your banana-seat Schwinn to make it sound like a Harley. I liked that sound, but eventually it fell out completely. The heel was cracked as well–the most visible evidence of having turned to little more than kindling.
The Goya is a slightly smaller scale guitar than a full-size Tarrega/Torres classical guitar, which makes it easier to get those long stretches (the Bach Prelude in D, which requires a stretch from low F to a pinky barre on the fifth fret comes to mind.). It always sounded and still does sound better than any student grade instrument. I would almost call it a parlor classical, what the Stella as to the pre-war acoustic world, except not nearly as sought after.
I somehow can’t bring myself to part with this guitar because some of my earliest memories are of this guitar’s glory years, when a succession of enthusiastic amateurs from suburban Minneapolis coaxed the music of Sor, Giuliani, Villa Lobos and Bach out of this humble little beastie.
So many instruments are bought and promptly forgotten before anything resembling music ever comes out of them. I can only hope that the niece or nephew, or grand-niece or grand-nephew who inherits the Goya will give it a few more good years.
Lord knows it’s got some left.”
Lynn Maudlin, Escondido, California, various worship teams:
“I started playing piano at age 4 and took piano lessons at the USC Preparatory School of Music for six years, from the age of 6 until I was 12. I certainly enjoyed piano and loved music but didn’t recognize that I could love an instrument until I went to my first Girl Scout camp within a month or so of turning 12; there I was exposed to people sitting around a campfire, playing guitars, and singing folk songs. *Zing!* went the strings of my heart and I came home begging my parents to get me a guitar. Pleading. Harassing them. I lived in desperate hope that I might get a guitar for Christmas but my track record with Christmas presents wasn’t very good: I’d ask for a pony and be given a doll. I hated dolls. But that Christmas morning there was this large, strangely-shaped semi-triangular box and inside, praise God, a guitar! I was beside myself. Best. Christmas. Gift. EVER! Turns out my parents bought the guitar before the summer was even over and kept it hidden for months. Frankly, I couldn’t have stood my begging; I would have given it as an early Christmas present just to shut me up!
It was a no-name Japanese classical guitar, so a wider neck and nylon strings. I was given a book of chords and figured out how to tune it. A Scout friend’s older sister put together a group lesson for all of us kids who got guitars and wanted to learn. I did the group for a few weeks and then went to private lessons; within 5-6 months I’d plumbed her knowledge and I’ve asked a lot of guitarist friends, “hey, how did you do that?!” but have never taken any other lessons (this is not virtuous, btw, just history). I started writing songs that spring and stopped taking piano lessons. Since it saved my mother the long schlep from Los Freliz to USC, this was acceptable, as long as I was studying a musical instrument it didn’t much matter which one. At the age of 19 I came back to playing the piano – but now I was using it like a guitar: writing songs and playing charts rather than sightreading scores.
Three or four years later I got a 12-string (via a catalog, yikes! the action on it was soooo high!), also for Christmas, and that became my primary guitar. Finally, in my mid-20s, I was able to scrap together the funds to buy a Martin D-18 from a guitarist friend, starting my long love affair with 1960s Martins.
Now my primary guitar is a Taylor (Dan Crary Signature model – someone was selling one & posted a bunch of pics here, if you want to see what a similar guitar looks like http://www.flickr.com/photos/79602449@N03/) – I went into a Guitar Center in the mid-90s, knowing I wanted to get an acoustic instrument with a built-in pickup. Lots of my friends were playing Ovations and I liked their sound okay but they just felt all wrong. First, as a large woman, they don’t “fit” me – they slide right off my leg, if I try to play sitting down! The salesman asked what I play at home and I told him a Martin D-18 and 000-18, primarily, and he just looked at me – went and got the Taylor and I kind of swooned and he kind of smirked. So much for negotiating a good price! But it’s a lovely, albeit heavy, guitar, with a big, balanced sound and really nice neck action.
Somewhere along the way (late 1980s) I replaced my funky old twelve string with a Martin, must be late 1960s vintage; it has an open head (like this 6 string http://www.martinguitar.com/media/k2/items/cache/83ece112ec70792cd12dae2d991597dc_M.jpg) but, I confess, I don’t play it nearly as much as my 6 strings.
The little Martin 000-18 is my lightest and most portable guitar; it even fits in the overhead luggage space of many airplanes.
Loving the guitar and having the opportunity to own one has changed my life more than any other tangible thing. I am grateful, and grateful to those now nameless Girl Scouts who sang and played and exposed me to guitars and folk music: thank you!”