Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Axes pt. 1

I guess I’ll eventually get around to my exes but this morning I began to think about all the guitars I’ve owned.

I grew up with a huge acoustic guitar in the house. My dad got it for my mom when we lived in Laclede town in the mid 60s.

When Channel Nine, St. Louis’ public station, first appeared on our TVs it was pretty primitive. It was actually kinda hard to watch. There was a woman named Laura Weber who taught folk guitar. I think she was in her garage. I remember a lot of bricks. We ended up buying her instructional record and book. I think I learned a few chords in it before I got the Mel Bay books at the library.

Anyway, my mom tried to learn from Ms. Weber but quickly lost interest.

I didn’t think there was anything strange about the guitar because I didn’t know any better. I later realized it was like trying to play a tree trunk strung with barbed wire. The neck was as wide as an adult’s leg.

To make matters worse, I thought nylon strings were uncool, so I strung it with steel strings. My fingers were black with bruises and bloody. I thought it was because my fingers hadn’t built up the necessary calluses yet.

In 8th grade I lived in the country with my dad for a while. We were given 2 weeks to complete a project of our own in shop class. It didn’t seem beyond my reach to build an electric guitar. The other kids watched its development with interest.

My dad helped me find the materials. He had a band saw he inherited from his new wife’s deceased ex. (Were you able to follow that?)

We found a piece of hardwood in the driveway that was perfect for the neck and a flat piece of pine at a saw mill for the body. I was able to buy a completed rosewood fret board, acoustic guitar bridge, and tuning gear at a local music shop. Finding the fret board made it suddenly seem like this was going to happen. I wasn’t sure how I could build one.

I think I stole the body design from Paul McCartney’s guitar on the Ram cover.

Maybe my dad had a jigsaw because I was able to cut into the body for its electronics. I assembled the whole thing with Elmer’s Glue and painted it black. Even though it was glossy paint, it certainly didn’t look like a real guitar paint job.

I actually learned all my Mel Bay guitar chords on that thing. The glue eventually softened and the neck bowed. I think the strings were an inch and a half from the neck when I finally gave up on it.

My first real guitar was the one I got from the Mel Bay grab bag box for $25.00. We were living in the attic of a mansion in Gaslight Square on Westminster Place. It was owned by Richard Hirschfeld who was an antiques dealer in Gaslight Square. I grew up believing Richard was the famous caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s brother. My mom told me she was watching a documentary about Al and there was no mention of a brother in St. Louis. After a bit of detective work, I learned Richard was Al’s cousin.

As usual, I digress. When I was going through the box at Mel Bay, I found a guitar with a body made out of Formica. I laughed at its ugliness. It occurs to me now that it was probably a vintage Sears Silvertone classic.

The beauty I picked out had 5 pickups, a series of rectangular plastic toggle switches, and a huge round knob that looked like one of those rheostat dimmer switches you use for overhead lighting. It was green sunburst and had a strange odor. It was hideous and I loved it. I can’t believe I never got a picture of it. It looked a lot like the iconic Regent guitar Hound Dog Taylor played, except for all the knobs.

My favorite activity in those days was catching the Bi-State bus downtown to buy strings at Ludwig Aeolian Music. Ludwig’s was a piano store but they had a guitar and drum shop in the basement called “The Cave”. It was run by a great guy named Bob Powell, who must have loved kids.

One day when I was down there he showed me a Crown Les Paul knockoff. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. He showed me a Wurlitzer keyboard amp and told me I could have both for $200.00!

I was obsessed; I couldn’t rest until I had them. I figured out I could make payments with my school lunch money if I could just find someone to cosign for the loan. My dad came through again.

I guess this is going to be a multi-parter again. I didn’t think I’d have so much to say and I haven’t even gotten to the good guitars yet!

I think the pics speak for themselves. If you imagine the Hound Dog Taylor guitar with a lot more knobs and green you'll get the idea of my Mel Bay guitar. john Steffen is playing my Crown Les Paul. I think I had my first real Gibson by then. I'll get to that in the next post.


Anonymous said...

I gave up on that guitar because my hands are small and I simply could not reach around the neck of the guitar. For many years I felt wimpy and guilty for not sticking with it, then one day you told me how very difficult that guitar was to play!

By the way, I got the Laura Weber book with no accompanying record from Carolyn Dixon when they moved to Alaska.

Your Mom

Anonymous said...

As soon as I read man's last name, I immediately thought of the caricaturist. Also, I had always wished you had gotten a picture of the guitar because they way you described it, it sounded interesting. You had told me the story of the guitar you bought with your lunch money but I don't remember you telling me much of a story other than you bought it by saving lunch money and your dad cosigned though I'm sure you've told me the whole story.