News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi everybody, and welcome to this month's edition of This Old Guitar. In our last column, we discussed that phenom product of the late 60s, the tuck and roll Naugahyde Kustom amp. I received several comments about that article. Most of them were fond remembrances of someone's experience of having a Kustom amp of their own. I also had several people ask me about finding a particular guitar or pickup. You know, where someone is after that special sound. I also watched some of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards and made note of Queen's Brian May playing his signature guitar, the one he and his father built from scratch. So you may be wondering, just where all this is heading? Frankly, I'm wondering the same!. No, not really. It did strike me that all of these put together actually became the basis for this article: exactly what is it that inspires a guitarist to want a particular guitar or amp?

Guitars are thought of as unique, in that people really identify with the one they play. More than perhaps any other musical instrument, it becomes a part of the person playing it. So what moves us to that one instrument? Is it the sound, the shape, its identity with a famous person or group? My guess is all of the above, plus other factors.

I started to think about this when I considered my own experience with wanting certain guitars and amps, starting with my last article on the Kustom amp. For me, it revolved around that time period when I was just getting into playing in the high school garage band in my early teens, and when one of my favorite bands was the Fanatics, a popular Louisville group. I thought so much of Bobby Tribble, their bass player. He had a black Kustom amp and a Hofner Beatle Bass, and, man, o' man, wouldn't I love to have that rig! All of the world will associate the Hofner Beatle Bass, of course, because of Paul McCartney, but for me, it was really Bobby Tribble. He was someone I actually could go and watch and be inspired to be like. And you know what, I got a Kustom amp and Beatle Bass. And like any other instrument I had gotten prior to this, each time I was energized to play some more.

Many years later, I have been able to play and use many different instruments and have discovered that the combination of a Kustom amp and Hofner bass are truly lacking in quality. Even for that time period. But, man, were they cool, which leads me to the next part of this: if the gear inspires you - good enough.

A dose of talent and a good supply of inspiration and commitment will take you there. Probably most, if not all, guitarists have craved having a particular guitar because one of their favorite musicians was playing that model. Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, you name it. I believe that is fairly specific to the music biz. Not totally, but heavily tilted in that way.

I recently was asked by my good friend Greg Martin to be on the lookout for a certain Gibson SG, like the one Eric Clapton used in the seminal power rock trio Cream. If I know Greg, he is trying to perfect that elusive "woman tone" Clapton made famous. I also had the privilege of playing a gig recently with local guitar legend Steve Ferguson, and ultimately our conversation centered on Telecasters and that perfect Tele pickup. I also had a customer last week comment on how he saw Brian May on the R&R Hall of Fame show, and how he was inspired a few years back to find the very rare Guild Brian May Signature model guitar. He was after that beautiful tone Brian May gets. So is it the look, the sound and/or our admiration of one of our heroes that moves us to get that guitar. Whatever it is, it's real and lives inside us in our emotions and, hopefully, comes out through our own creativeness.

My friend went on to tell me that after he got the Guild Brian May guitar, he realized he couldn't stand it. Couldn't get used to it or the sound and got rid of it.

And that leads me to the next part, which is this: when you really get down to it, it's the player, not the guitar. When I think of several of my local friends, I identify them with a certain guitar: Greg Martin, Les Paul, Steve Ferguson, Telecaster; Ricky Mason, Stratocaster; Ricky Feather, Danelectro. But I know that no matter what guitar they might be playing, they will undoubtedly sound like themselves. And that, my friends, is the ultimate compliment. These guys have style, and it lives and breathes in them. Their guitars simply become the instrument for their expression.

Some guitarists go their whole lives and can't quite get to this point. But don't be discouraged. Never say `never,' as they say. The guitars will help inspire us. And through our continued efforts, we will make more music. And who knows, maybe one day you will be the one on stage who is providing the inspiration, whether you know it or not, for some teenager anxious to join a band. You will be playing your guitar, and he/she will be imagining themselves playing that same guitar, waiting for their chance. They will get that guitar of their dreams, and the excitement will filter through their hands onto that guitar, and the creative process continues.

I have found myself many times saying to someone that there is nothing wrong with a guitar player wanting a fine guitar. But ultimately, it comes down to who is playing that guitar.

And, oh, by the way, that Hofner Beatle Bass and Kustom amp I got when I was in the 10th or 11th grade? If memory serves me correctly, I got that rig from The Fanatics' Bobby Tribble himself. He was and remains one of my early influences.

I guess that's all for now.

Until next time,

Keep Rockin'