It’s been awhile, and lucky me the end (sort of) of the hiatus/sabbatical/laziness comes to fruition in a self-serving post about what provoked me to play guitar and not quit. It’s just me writing about why I am not one of those kids with a poorly maintained no-name acoustic guitar in the corner with the same set of strings it had in the moving crate on the Hyundai Super Tanker on the way over from Korea.
As much of a veiled crack at guitar mass production as that may have been, it doesn’t change the fact that slave labor, awful wages and quality control indicative of Yugoslavian cars probably had a large effect on most of the guitarists in the last three decades. The reason many of us took to the instrument was because one of these easily available tree-destroyers was sitting around somewhere that we saw it, and instead of leaving it there, we just kept going back to it. In my case (technically, my Dad’s case – guitar case, that is) it was an Aria nylon string acoustic guitar my dad had under his bed. When I was really young somewhere in the range of monosyllabic numbers (Seven inched its way in) , after I figured out that one of the latches on the case had to move sideways to open the damned case, I would just sit there with it on my lap and hit the strings. The first instrument I’d ever owned was a drumset with paper heads on some of the drums, and stainless steel heads on others. It was basically something for me to move my arms against that didn’t consist of electrical wires or sharp corners. At the age of 2, I was just beating something to get out the aggression that developed from my parents not getting the correct brand of steamed carrots (I demanded carrots from non conflict countries. Sorry, Gerber-Libya) but in a fit of unadulterated preschool tricycle induced road rage, I broke the drumset. I was a mini Keith Moon (Half moon?) I dare say, but that still didn’t change the fact that I was, as a child, someone who was fond of percussive response.
So, back to the Aria Nylon string. I would remove it from the Pandora’s Box of a case and just lay it on my lap, hitting all of the strings with my hands. I was just happy getting some musical response from anything, despite having no connection to music with the exception of yelling at my sister playing her annoying radio on the oldies stations*. I was another radio kid listening to the pop stations; some of the first albums i’d ever owned were Hootie and the Blowfish, the Beastie Boys and Alanis Morisette. And even those were stretches.
Then came middle school. 7th grade requirement was to take a guitar class. The rules were simple, you only play the strings where you learned songs from. For instance, if we had only been taught Aura Lee or Yankee doodle on the high E string, we would lose our guitar privileges for playing any other strings. This is the quality of music instruction you get from a high strung (Had to do it…), anal retentive choir teacher who had no business teaching guitar. I didn’t particularly like the class, but most of it consisted of us sitting around learning some simple song for an hour while talking to our friends. I did well in the class because I had my dad’s Nylon string at home, and I could practice whatever I wanted, when I wanted (Back when I was a little overachiever, oh how times changed.) I was the kid people looked up to because I could play the first few notes of Walk this Way by Aerosmith, and to this day I still don’t even know the whole song. By the end of the class, we were still only allowed to play the G, B, and high E strings. I guess the teacher didn’t think wound strings were appropriate for innocent little middle schoolers, because that’s where power chords lie.
After that class was over summer came and I went to a summer camp. The summer camp had a guitar class in it, and I decided to take it. It was something easy to do, despite them having steel strings, something beginner guitarists usually avoid like the plague. The idea of pressing your fingers against things which are used to cut cheese and clay usually deterred most from touching the guitar. The thing was, I did pretty well in the “class.” Considering the teacher only knew Free Falling by Tom Petty, a three chord song consisting of the most basic of finger positions.
After I got home, I decided to take lessons at a music store. I’d been taking them for awhile when I had to take the same music class again. The first day, I still remember, we all got guitars and I started to play a Green Day song. The class was listening to me and the teacher yelled at me for playing other strings. I stopped and she pulled me outside and asked what I was doing. By then I was up to chords and some scales, so the teacher turned me into the TA for the class. Every day while most while sitting inside the class playing the second year songs consisting of most of the strings (They never played the low E string) I would sit outside in the sunshine of the lunch area with whatever guitar book my Guitar Teacher got for me, attempting to squelch out anything related to pop culture.
And thus brings me to the major factors in why I didn’t put the guitar down – it’s the reason I’m writing this. There are a few guitar related moments in my life which changed my outlook on music.
I remember in 7th grade english class, Nick Ferrantello and Nick Konapasik (I believe I messed up their names, but who cares) the “Nicks” as we all called them were the cool kids in school. They were good skateboarders, and one of them played Blister in the Sun on guitar in front of the class. A lot of the class was jealous, and I remember wanting to play that song too. I spent a long time trying to learn that, and I wanted to be the kid in front of class wanting to play like that, albeit remedial, it still got their attention.
Those guys made me want to play better in middle school, but few had as big of an effect on my guitar playing as Kenny Relethford, the oldest brother of my best friend at the time. He had an electric guitar. The electric guitar. It was always sitting out with the strap in a certain orientation so he’d know if someone played it. It was an Ibanez Destroyer II from the 80’s which his dad bought. I had been playing my Yamaha acoustic with Medium strings for the longest time (only a year) and when I played the electric guitar, it felt like heaven. Light strings, great action, comfortable, and it sounded amazing. It was eye-catching, so it was impossible to not notice any time I was at their house. Every once in awhile i’d go in there and play it, hoping he wouldn’t find out. A few times he did, and he was angry, but he was the reason I ever wanted to play electric guitar. Guitar Center was too far away, and I was too afraid to play plugged in anyway. This Ibanez Destroyer was always the beacon of light which I wanted to get to. After Kenny gained some trust, he’d occasionally let me play it if I played songs he wanted. I’d always talk a good game and attempt to coerce him into letting me play that guitar. Still to this day, I would buy that guitar off of him. It’s the first electric guitar I ever played, and started my love for electricity and guitar.
The shred phase of my life, and the aims for musical skill are all due to one man my dad worked with, Dorian. A church mandolin player with long hair who worked for the Government. From the sounds of him now, I would’ve brushed him off, but seeing is believing. He invited my dad and me over to see his guitar stuff. Long hair should’ve given it away, but I didn’t know any better at the time. I got to his apartment with my dad and his wife was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was a small apartment, but upstairs was the gateway into the world of guitar. I wasn’t a fan of shred metal or anything with guitar skill in it yet. I was a fan of some guitarists, but they were in pop bands or ska bands, nothing to aim for. My dad and I went upstairs and he pulled out his Charvel Model 6. It was a pink/red guitar with the black crackle finish on it (If I remember correctly) and a floyd rose. I remember him saying it was a bit temperamental, and at the time I thought he was just discouraging me from playing it, but now I know what he was talking about. Now owning 3 guitars with Floyd Roses, I know exactly what he was talking about. Anyway. He plugged into a rackmount effects processor and started playing. He introduced me to a guy named Randy Rhoads. He pulled out the tribute book, and I looked at the guitar tab. I’d never seen so many notes. A few days later, my dad bought me the same guitar tab book, and I bought the CD. I spent months looking at it, but still didn’t learn much. This opened up the door to Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, System of A Down, and all of the metal bands i’d never been exposed to, and that was the nail in the coffin, so to speak.
And now we come full circle.
Just an hour or two ago, I was playing my Ibanez RG1570, and since it’s blocked up, I can tune it to whatever I want. I tuned it down a half step and Flying High Again by Ozzy Osbourne came on. All of a sudden, I started jamming with it, considering I usually can’t because i’m in standard tuning. Playing to the song opened up a door to a room full of guitar oriented memories I hadn’t seen in a long time. I played the descending tapping riffs, the chords, and the inflections i’d become such a fan of when I started playing electric guitar.
All of it reminded me of why I do this stuff. Why I continue to pick up this stringed instrument every day, why I spend so much money on it, and why I always attempt something new, despite the fact that there really is no overall gain for anyone but me. Everyone has a reason they do something that means the most to them, and they spend too much money/time/effort on something which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t necessarily help anyone.
I say necessarily because if Nick didn’t play Blister in the Sun, Kenny didn’t have that Destroyer, and Dorian didn’t play a perfect rendition of Crazy Train on his Charvel, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this remembering why I’m sitting in a room full of creatively trimmed trees, oil-based plastic parts, and shop manipulated metals which cost way too much money. It’s why I sit here trying to learn a Derek Trucks song when i’m the only one who really enjoys the outcome. It’s why I spend time I could be doing classwork or trying to get a job harnessing the power of vibrations for musical joy.
Go ahead, complain about the democrats, republicans, Israel, Palestine, global warming, global cooling, oil, hippies, pacifists, war, hate, peace, jews, christians, muslims, athiests, hindus, buddhists, taoists, mormons, gays, lesbians, abortion, 9/11, homeland security, taxes, homelessness, government and whatever else you worry about.
I’m just going to play this here guitar for awhile.
Then i’ll worry about the rest of it.