Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Guitarist In the Making – Part I

DOD Overdrive PlusIt was the Summer of ’89 (perhaps a song should be written about it). A young lad at the age of 19 (yep, me) was working part-time at a prestigious university to make some cash for the upcoming sophomore year in college. It was there where I was convinced to buy an electric guitar.

I had been seriously into listening to music for quite a few years, and had dreamed of what it would be like to play my favorite songs, but never dared to figure out how I might do such a thing. But that summer a graduate student by the name of Bill somehow convinced me to do it. Perhaps he saw my love of music and thought it should be encouraged. Perhaps he simply had nothing better to do than convince an impressionable kid (who he assumed was gay because said kid had no experience with women, but that’s another story) to spend a few hundred bucks. Whatever the reason, he sold me on the idea, much to the chagrin of my parents.

I wasn’t willing to spend too much money, so we went to this dopey music store, which didn’t even specialize in guitars, to try some stuff out. Since I had no clue regarding musical instruments (playing the clarinet for a week in 4th grade hardly counts), Bill was in command. After messing around with the two models they had, he settled on a black Applause (Ovation’s cheap-o line) Stratocaster knock-off for about $250. The guitar was later dubbed "Applesauce" by my friend Scott, who humorously derided its non-brand nameness.

But that was just the beginning. I also got a really terrible Dean Markley 10 watt amp (the K-15, in “coffee and cream” color) and a bright yellow DOD Overdrive Plus effects pedal. I actually balked at the pedal due to cash concerns, so Bill took it upon himself to buy the pedal for me, insisting that I needed distortion if I was to have any hope of sounding like a rock guitarist (he bought a new compression pedal that day, so he also gave me his old Ibanez one, which I still use). I also picked up a hard case, picks, strings, and instrument cables. Now, with Applesauce and accessories in hand, I was ready to rock!

I soon discovered, however, that I did not rock. I had no ear at all for determining if the guitar was in tune. Even though I learned and understood the tuning process, I broke strings regularly. I was always schlepping the thing into work so Bill could tune it for me. To add insult to injury, the sound I was getting out of the amp and distortion pedal was terrible. He was right that I needed distortion so I sounded like a rocker, but he could’ve recommended a good distortion pedal (I guess I shouldn't complain, since I didn't even buy the thing)! It also didn’t help that Bill, who was already a talented player, was playing a Gibson Les Paul through a Boss Heavy Metal pedal and a sweet amp. I sounded like ass comparatively. Luckily, I was too inexperienced to realize just how bad I sounded.

I will, however, always be thankful to Bill for convincing me to buy a guitar, regardless of the fact that he didn’t have much patience teaching me. To this day I can’t think of one song he may have tried to get me to learn. He did, however, teach me:
  • Learning on an electric is critical to sustained interest.
  • Having a "bag of tricks" (his words, which I still use today), i.e., a stockpile of effects one uses to help shape the sound of a song, also goes a long way towards helping one stay with the program.
  • The glory of the power chord.
This last bit alone is probably the only thing that kept me going, for if there was any second while playing that I happened to get lucky and sound cool, it was because of my knowledge of how to play power chords.

Inexplicably, all the issues I’ve spoken of didn’t slow me down. I hadn’t learned much, and couldn’t play well at all, but I hadn’t given up on the thing. I packed the guitar up that August and threw it in the baggage compartment of a plane for my trip back to college. It was there where good things would be set in motion.


Anonymous Flynn_42 said...

I can't wait to hear what happens next. ;)

6:31 PM  

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