News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi, everybody. It's time for another edition of "This Old Guitar." A few weeks ago, someone came by and was lamenting the loss of their favorite bass, an early to mid-70's Fender Jazz Bass and wondered if I could be on the lookout for one just like it. Well, with that in mind, I thought I would write about that theme; if I might borrow from Joni Mitchell, the "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" theme.

How many of us have talked at one time or another about the one that got away, or just the one we really should have hung on to? If you have played guitar for any appreciable time, chances are, you can relate. It is human nature to be on the lookout for something new. Just think of all those commercials for the "new, improved" version of Brand X. They don't keep doing that without good reason. And with musicians, it is very easy to fall into the mindset of "if I get this new one, it will make me better."

I am not saying there is anything wrong with this. Often times, new instruments are just what the doctor ordered. It's just that you might do yourself a favor if you look before you leap. As far as the fellow I first mentioned, his trading a mid-70s Fender Jazz Bass for a Music Man Stingray Bass sounds very much like a wise move. I would have done the same myself. But now we enter into that intangible twilight zone of guitars, the place you cannot quantify or put into words very clearly. Guitars to me are kind of like old shoes. Once you get used to them, nothing else seems to feel as good. Oh, you might want a few more pairs, but you still have your favorites.

With guitars - since most of us are not wealthy, at least in the monetary sense - we must be more selective. As far as my Jazz Bass friend goes, once he got the Stingray Bass, he enjoyed playing it. It worked well, and served its purpose. But after enough time goes by, you begin to reflect on your experiences. For a guitarist, your instrument is like your best buddy. You go through good times and bad times together. Or, more directly, you go through good and not-so-good gigs together. You rely on your instrument, and in a sense it becomes a part of you. You bond with it like a mate, sort of.

If my friend had not gotten rid of his Jazz Bass, he would not have those same feelings of longing for it. It is only from the perspective of moving away from something that we can see it for what it is. For me personally, I have gone through many instruments - though not as many as a lot of you might think I have, given my distinct position of being around instruments all the time. But nevertheless, I have played my fair share, and for the most part, I don't regret having moved on to the next one and next one and so on. The few I do miss I miss not so much for how great they were, but because of what went on in my life at that time, particularly in the music playing sense.

Recently, I was asked to play a few gigs, and my bass, a '65 Fender Jazz Bass, was not readily at hand. It was over in Indiana where I rehearse with some fellow bandmates, and it was just too much trouble to get right then. So I grabbed a different instrument to use, and it did fine. Used it for a different rehearsal and ditto. But then it came time to go out of town for a fairly serious gig, and I knew I needed my own instrument for this one. So I made the trek to get it and went out of town and everything went just like it usually does. A great gig, and my bass played great.

Now, I must admit that compared to the loaner bass I used, my bass did not play nearly as well. But I am used to it. We have been together for over fifteen straight years now and have formed quite a bond. I might occasionally use a different instrument for certain things, but I have come to realize that I will not get rid of my Jazz Bass. Many people have offered to buy my bass and for considerably more than what I paid for it. But no, this one is not for sale. Though it may now be worth several thousand dollars, the way I see it, I will still be out the eight hundred bucks I paid for it. None of that matters any more. I have become used to my bass. It does what it was designed to do. The rest is up to me. We have been through the good times and bad times together. If I want a different instrument, then it will be up to me to buy one. I will not consider selling or trading off the one I have now in order to get another one.

As for you guitarists out there, getting a different guitar can be cause for much inspiration, and isn't music based on that, anyway? So I say follow your desire, but be careful at the same time. Think it through. I know it may go against basic business principles, what with me being in the music business, but I can't tell you how many times I have actually discouraged someone from making a guitar deal, because I know what lies ahead for some of them. They will regret their decision and spend a lot of time and heartache trying to recapture what they have let go of.

I was once very fortunate. I was able to get back my first guitar, twenty-five years after having traded it for a set of bass guitar strings. Though it is of little monetary value, it means so much to me. If the time has come and you are thinking of getting another guitar, maybe you should hang on to what you have and add to your arsenal, rather than move one out to make room for another. On the other hand, maybe it is time to move up to a better instrument but be it a good thing or a bad thing, just remember, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Until next time,

Keep Rockin'