News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

I was talking with a couple of friends recently, both of whom are professional musicians. They make their living playing their guitars. During both conversations, the idea was brought up about how they might be spending too much time messing around with their gear more than they are concentrating on making music. Since I have been involved in music, particularly guitar-oriented music, for quite some time, topics such as these are common. Between performing and recording music, owning a music shop, appraising and to a lesser extent, doing minor guitar repairs, I can bring a varied perspective to my friends' dilemma. Their conversations reminded me of an opportunity I had to spend some time many years ago with a well-respected guitarist who summed it up well. We will get to that bit shortly.

Just as a painter paints from a palette of many colors and may use several brushes, so will a guitarist use many guitars, and probably several amps. Using a pick, plucking with your fingertips, effects pedals, and so on add to the aural color spectrum. Certain instruments and gear definitely create a specific sound, and reflect the attitude of the musician. Imagine Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock playing the Star Spangled Banner on a flat top acoustic guitar. Or Joan Baez doing a traditional folk tune on a Gibson Flying V. It's just not the same. (Though the idea of either is alarming, nonetheless.) So, if you play guitar, and stick with it long enough, you will find yourself thinking about matters of gear. To plug in or not? That is the question. Well, actually, it goes a lot further than that. I believe it was Frank Zappa who popularized the phrase "Shut up and play your guitar." Being that musicians are somewhat creative folks, thinking about this and that, experimenting and such, it is easy to see where a guitarist could get caught up in all this stuff about gear and the like. I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with this, quite the contrary. Variety is the spice of life and so it is with music. Create with all you can, providing you can afford the stuff.

Playing and recording with different people, plus working at a music shop and doing a few repairs along the way has made me to realize some very basic things. If it plays and sounds like you want and stays in tune, then the rest is up to you. Whether talking with a fellow guitarist or answering a question from a parent who is thinking of purchasing a guitar for their son or daughter, it comes down to the basics.

All this reminds me of a time when I was still in high school, learning to play the guitar, with dreams and hopes like everyone else. I had the opportunity to talk with the late great Chicago blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield. He was very kind and friendly to me. He was a person who would play from the heart. When a person has worked with Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, Steve Stills and on and on, they speak from experience and with authority. We were sitting around admiring the nice, vintage Les Paul he had. He mentioned that he would like to acquire some more vintage instruments, if only he could actually afford them. At one point he paused, let the guitar lay in his lap, put his hands out before me, palms up, and said, "you know, it's really all in the hands." He was a humble person, and I found that experience to be humbling for me, too. Because when you really get down to it, it's the person playing the guitar that matters most. We will seek out new and different guitars to help color our world. Maybe the next one will be just the inspiration we are after. Who knows? It has been nearly 30 years since I had that conversation with Michael Bloomfield. He's gone now, but my recent conversations with my buddies, whom I greatly respect, brought his words back to me. To remind me, and perhaps those around me, that it is really all in the hands.

Well I guess that's all for now

Until next time,

Keep Rockin'