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This week, stories with some strings attached — four hundred and some-odd, at least…
Maybe it’s the punk rocker in me breeding an inherent mistrust of nostalgia, or maybe it’s the fact that I grew up in family of musicians so there were always guitars around the house, but I’ve never understood why guitarists get so attached to their instruments. Music is a trade as much as an art, and guitars are simply tools for pursuing that trade. Sure, they’re expensive and hard to replace, but so is a good set of socket wrenches, and no mechanic ever gave affectionate nicknames to their socket wrenches.
An acoustic guitar is a wooden box, essentially, and when you strike it, it either sounds good or it doesn’t. Some of that quality is inherent in the box, but most of it comes from you. A crummy instrument can make a good player sound worse, but no amount of high-quality, expensive gear can make a lousy player sound good.
Now I play a little guitar, and sometimes I’ve been paid for it, but my trade is writing, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, anywhere and anyhow that I can — on manual and electric typewriters, on crude early word processors, on Macs and PCs and longhand in spiral-bound notebooks and on the backs of envelopes and grocery bags. I have preferences for where and how I work, of course, but they’re only that — preferences, not prerequisites. I’m just interested in getting the job done, and I can’t be bothered to remember the specifics of my first long-ago typewriter any more than I remember or care the make and model of the first guitar I ever played.
That makes me an outlier, I suppose. Because many guitarists — maybe most, professional and otherwise — are sentimental, even superstitious, about their tools, and they love to talk about them. Classical-guitar teacher and journalist Julia Crowe has collected those stories in her new book My First Guitar, which will be published next month. The 70 musicians represented here span a wide range of genres. There are electric-guitar pioneers (Les Paul, Dick Dale), classic rockers (Peter Frampton, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Page), jazzmen (George Benson, Pat Metheny), classical soloists (Sharon Isbin, Benjamin Veredery), shredders (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai), and the great uncategorizables (Richard Thompson, Daniel Lanois, David Tronzo).
Seventy people, all talking about the same thing, are going to give you 70 different answers, 70 different stories, 70 different melodies. And the instrument, as always, is ultimately less important than the player…
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