October 16, 2016

Like a Tree with a Microphone Stuck to It


It took some doing, but this nearly 60 year old guitar is finally resurrected and back in my arms again. The guy who sold it to me 25 years ago told me its previous owner had been Johnny Guitar Watson (which is a cool enough pedigree to stick with, true or not.) It was my main guitar from around '91 through '97 and I put it through hell during those years, subjecting it to more, I'm sure, than JGW ever dreamed of doing. It started out a bit funky (and not in the good way) and by the time I was done with it, it was barely playable, an elegant, largely useless wreck. Now, thanks, to Steve Streit (of Streit Stringed Instrument Repair in Berkeley) it is playable.

And man, what a great guitar it is. Leslie West famously described the Les Paul Jr. as "a tree with a microphone" and I know what he meant. Just a big solid hunk of wood with a screaming P-90 unceremoniously stuck on it. Even strumming it unplugged you can feel the resonance spreading through your body with every chord you hit. Partly the design itself, maybe, but mostly I guess it's the 60 year old wood. I noticed this when I first got it, playing it dolefully in my apartment trying to figure out what to do with my life. So many questions, but at least this thing was something I knew I could feel, deep down in my chest and heart, all the way down to the floor. Oh, yes very little has changed, except now it's possible to tune it properly. And then you plug it in and a giant wave of noise crashes over you. And everyone else. It's quite the machine.

I credit this guitar (and the Marshall half stack I acquired around the same time) with sparking the songs that were to start a pretty productive run of writing and recording. You know how that happens? You get new gear and it "takes you somewhere"? I wrote "More than Toast," "Swallow Everything", "Dustbin of History," the instrumental that became "Bridge to Taribithia", "Martyr" etc. in that smelly Oakland apartment with this crazy guitar and that amp, the downstairs neighbors banging on the ceiling with a broom handle and the hippie down in the garden yelling "play the blues motherfucker!" (I think he was yelling that at me, but it could have been just something he yelled, generally.) And me thinking, well, probably that's the extent of the audience that will ever hear this stuff, glad I'm annoying them at least. Like I said, some things don't change that much. Sorry, neighbors upstairs. You seem very nice and you did nothing to deserve any of this.

Posted by Dr. Frank at October 16, 2016 08:34 PM