The holiday season made me think of my first Christmas guitar, a story many guitar players share. Our first guitar and what it meant to us. How we got it and what became of it.
It was the new revolution: the British Invasion. Only this time their king was guitar, by George; as in Harrison. John, Paul, George and Ringo wanted to hold your hand, Mick and Keith couldn't get no satisfaction, and The Kinks really got me. Here in the colonies, the girls screamed and the boys dreamed – of getting a guitar of their own. I too, like so many others, answered the call to arms.
It was Christmastime in 1965. I had just turned eleven and all I wanted was a guitar. Electric. Any one out of the Sears catalog would do. My, how I loved to immerse myself in the Christmas edition of the Sears catalog. I don't remember being very specific, I probably just wished for an electric guitar. After all, hootenanies were passé, the accordion was being rocked into oblivion, and weren't all the guitars plugged in on Ed Sullivan?
Christmas morning came and Santa was dear ole dad and he never let me down. Though naïve about guitars and amps, he did his level best. And there waiting for me was my brand new, shiny red Truetone electric guitar. It was made by Kay, and it came from the Western Auto store in the Iroquois Manor shopping center.
It was a red solid body single pickup beginner model for $35. I remember all this because I can remember seeing this guitar hanging at Western Auto. It was a reasonably well-made guitar. Definitely good enough to learn on.
Though not out of the Sears catalog, it could have been, only it would have said Silvertone, not Truetone. The same guitar could have been bought through any number of mail order catalogs, bearing that company's house name. Silvertone for Sears, Truetone for Western Auto, Old Kraftsman for Montgomery Ward, and so on.
But wait! We'd forgotten something. The amp! There was no amp. My parents didn't think about that. So I remember on the Saturday after Christmas me and my dad went to G.E.S., one the first of the membership club style stores. It was across from the old International Harvester on Crittenden Drive. We picked out a small beginner no-name model amp. Coincidentally it, too, was $35. A little gray black tube powered starter with an 8" speaker.
I was ready to rock. I dragged that guitar, literally, by it's neck to my lessons at Central Conservatory on Taylor Blvd. Being slight of build, the guitar was about as big as me. We never got a case for it and in my innocence, I never thought to ask for one. I just assumed this was how I was supposed to do it.
This went on for a while. In the spring and summer of '66, my mom took me to my lessons. While I was working through "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "On Top of Old Smokey," the Beatles and Stones were working out on "Ticket To Ride" and "Get Off of My Cloud."
It was after 6 months or so that an old music store ploy came into play. (You know the one.) Back then, all the kids were learning to play guitar, taking lessons, etc. One Saturday the store manager called my dad in to tell him all about my talent and how he would be doing me such a favor by retiring the old red Truetone and getting me one of these shiny new Epiphone electrics they just happened to sell there at Central Conservatory.
Boy, they just didn't who they were dealing with. My dad, the hard working, blue collar American that he is, saw right through the store manager's B.S. and I do believe told them where they could stick that shiny new Epi of theirs! And that marked the end of the beginning of my guitar odyssey. Though I kept taking lessons on my Truetone, interest waned, and somehow it made it's way to the closet.
It didn't matter if it was a Truetone, Falsetone, or Epiphone. I could barely carry a tune in a bucket, and within a year or so, the closet or corner is where my guitar ended up. At least for a while.
A few years passed and by the time I hit 14 or so, the urge hit again and this time it was gonna be bad. It was gonna groove. It was gonna be a bass. So it was Christmas once again and I got a bass. A VOX Panther.
Now it was time to join a band in earnest, a high school garage band. The Truetone, by now, was largely forgotten about. It was old hat. No longer cool. But it was to still have it's place in my music life. While the VOX bass was to carry me on into my role as a bass player for going on now some 27 years, the red Truetone would still lend a hand.
That VOX bass needed new strings, and, as a teenager with little money, what better way to make use of that all but forgotten Truetone than to trade it for a new set of bass strings. Considering that bass strings in 1970 were about $25 a set, it didn't seem like such a bad deal. So my first Christmas guitar ended up as a set of bass strings.
So if we may, let's fast forward 25 years to 1995. By this time, I'd gone through many basses and music endeavors. and was the owner of the Guitar Emporium. I had seen literally thousands of guitars pass through our shop.
Somewhere along the line, I began to think about the little red Truetone and how it got me started onto all of this. But I never came upon it. I would occasionally see a sunburst version, or a butchered-up version, but no, I was looking for my very own. With some regret, I wished I would have bought those bass strings way back when.
Then one day it happened. A customer came by looking to buy a new Paul Reed Smith guitar. He mentioned having a little red solid-body guitar to use as a to trade in. He thought it was maybe a Truetone or Silvertone. Or something like that.
At this point he really got my attention. I explained that if he happened to have the guitar I was looking for, that I would be more than fair in terms of trade-in allowance on a new PRS.
So we left it at that, and a couple of days later he came back in, and sure enough, he had my very first guitar. A shiny red Kay-made Truetone. The same one Santa brought in December of 1965.
It was pretty much just the way I had last seen it. How many hands it had passed through we'll never know. But for whatever the reason, it made it through all these years relatively unscathed. We settled on a trade-in price; I think I allowed about double what a guitar such as this might really sell for today. Which, by the way, still isn't a whole lot. But this was one instance where this guitar was going to come back home.
And home is where this one is going to stay. It sets in it's stand next to the couch. Always ready to be picked up and played. Whether a trip down memory lane or in my feeble attempt to blaze a new trail. It's ready.
P.S. As a post script to this story, sometime in the early 1990's, my little G.E.S. amp appeared in our shop. I haven't a clue where, when, or how. But it is unquestionably my first amp. I let it just set safely and out of sight in the basement at Guitar Emporium for I suppose a year or two. Unsure as to what to do about it. Then when the Truetone arrived, it all began to make sense. I suppose some things are just meant to be. So it, too, now sets next to the Truetone, ready to be called into action. In fact, I've used that amp a number of times at home the past couple of years, whether working on Bodeco, Dan Gediman, Duke Robillard, or any other music.
I guess ole dad knew what he was doing after all.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you.