Guitar Politics

It Was The Summer of ’69

I’ve been reading the news. It’s not healthy.

But I have stayed true to the resolutions I made 400 years ago on January 1, but modified it slightly. For those that have no inclination to scroll down, I made 3 resolutions. First was to lose my Thanksgiving & Christmas ham, potato, beer, cheese, beer, chocolate, candy, and beer weight. I have stood on the scale almost every week since then. Progress, right? Second, I resolved to finish projects. Well, believe it or not, Project Garage Mahal is continuing at pace. Week after next, Sarah will take Charlie out of the house to avoid the fumes coming off of an entire garage floor covered in epoxy. It’ll be pretty, and I’ll have plenty of pictures and maybe a concomitant witticism. Third, I resolved to give parity to the Trumpian shitshow in DC and my guitar. I read until my eyes bled, then I played until my fingers bled.

I find it so difficult to peel away. The Donald almost kept the government open for a whole year. So close. He’s so damn crazy that the story of The President of the United States paying hush money to a porn star to keep their sexual dalliances quiet barely made the news. It’s not even particularly interesting that Donald Trump had an(other) affair right after his wife gave birth to his youngest son. I mean, Donald Trump declared that he’d give his wife a week or two to lose all that unattractive pregnancy weight, and this affair was a whole month after that, so what can you say? The Stormy checks out. I mean Story! Story checks out. Silly keyboard.

I got my first real six-string on Christmas morning 1995, so like 5 years ago, right guys? I wasn’t lying about my fingers bleeding. Right at the nail. I literally cannot touch my fretboard without sharp pain shooting through my fingertips up my arms and into my brain with an unmistakable signal that says “Stop Doing That You Idiot!”. If you haven’t played guitar before, you might not recognize step as progress, but it is.

It’s amazing how bad I got. My pinky finger is almost useless. But my fingers remember what to do sometimes before I remember what the song is. It’s really weird. I had the entire intro of a familiar song picked out before I heard Mick’s voice in my head sing “Ayangeh. Aaaaynngieeeah.” Oh yeah. Angie. Thanks Mick.

But I think I’m coming up fast. Just need my fingers back in fretting order, and I’m getting there. I have a habit of trying to learn songs so hopelessly out of my skill range that I discourage myself, but I usually learn a cool riff or three before I decide I need to return to the high-distortion power chord noise of my NOFX listening youth. This week’s version of Dive-Right-Into-It-ness is Zepplin’s version of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.

Morning coffee, morning homework, and all the picks I just found under my chair cushion.

It’s difficult.

Jimmy Page fingerpicked the intro, and I’m not, because come on. I am actually pretty good at fingerpicking since I spent a lot of time with my classical guitar, but this is just an exercise. I’m not opening at the Mercedes Stadium anytime soon, but if I was, that’d be fine because nobody could hear me (that’s a Garth Brooks concert joke. All the best jokes have to be explained). So after fumbling through the first page a couple of times, Sarah asked me why I never played any songs where you strum the guitar. Good question, and that’s mostly because I can’t sing and play guitar at the same time, and because I can’t sing. But I switched from Babe I’m Gonna Leave You to Banana Pancakes. Then to Atlantic City. I love Atlantic City because it’s relatively easy to play, the lyrics are as fun as they are ridiculous, and you get to use your Springsteen voice that you won’t let anyone not bound by blood or marriage ever hear. And sometimes not even then.

They blew up the chicken man.


Guitar Politics

I’ve been doing this wrong since Middle School

Yes yes, I read all about Fire and Fury and everyone around Trump describing Trump as incompetent. And I read all about JeffBo Sessions restarting the war on legal marijuana by killing the Cole memo. And as reliably as a tweetstorm after an unflattering chyron, Trump created a distraction, continuing the time-honored tradition of using the justice department to harass vanquished political opponents with the goal of imprisonment. Sure, it’s not necessarily an American tradition, but #MAGA amirite? But I think we can all agree it’s about time that the FBI finally looks into those damn emails. Color me some shade of surprised and use a heavy coat, because you’ve got to overcome a nice blend of nausea and jade. Pink hat.

We did, however, learn directly from the First Daughter herself that Donald’s Homer Simpson Orange hair comes from a distinctly Trumpian blend of a Just For Men coloring agent and Trump’s impatience not letting “brown” sit in for the manufacturer’s recommended time. Sip a scotch on that sentence. Let it marinate. That’s beautiful poetry.

Eagle-eyed readers of the post directly before this will remember distinctly that I have made some New Years Resolutions. Being that my new year resolutions aren’t even a week old, I kept true to my requirements. Guitar before Washington: I read a sweet post on Guitar World about getting back to the basics.

This is Steve Vai. He is a better guitarist than I am.

Steve Vai standing in front of a wall no one has with a hot pink cord plugged into a guitar he invented. Photo Credit: Guitar World

It turns out that I have been holding the guitar wrong. The big part covers your face, and the pointy sharp end goes near the part of your body where pointy sharp things don’t usually go. Also, guitars have 7 strings. I was unaware.

Steve’s idea of basics basically boil down to the one thing that every guitar instructor has ever told me: perfect practice makes perfect. Practice takes time. If there’s one thing that parents of young children are lacking, it’s sleep. If there’s two, it’s sanity. If there’s three, we get sleep, sanity, and free time. Free time. That’s what’s needed for guitar.

Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of time for Raffi’s There’s a Spider on the Floor (on the Floor), even though the only tab I could find was for a ukulele. But time for scales and sweet riffs, well, not so much. However, I am traveling an awful lot for work in the next couple months, and there’s not a whole lot to do in your hotel room. Usually I watch stand-up on Netflix. And by “usually” I mean literally every time for hours. So damn, I thought. Maybe I should drink scotch. Then I thought I should noodle on the guitar. So I looked at travel guitars. They look like they’re total shit, but it’s hard to judge a guitar’s playability from a picture. And it usually doesn’t take much more encouragement than “Hey look, Guitar Center” for me to justify going into Guitar Center. So into Guitar Center I went.

Travel guitars are a unique breed. They’re basically the only guitar you’ll ever see where the first two criteria are not “Cost” and “Sound”. “Looks”, also, barely matter if you’ve got the rest of the secret sauce.

Martin Backpacker and Emergency Paddle

The first guitar I picked up was the Martin Backpacker. I hated it immediately. I have no review for it other than I hated literally everything about it. Sound was terrible. Comfort was non existent. It’s impossible to hold and it looks stupid. It was, however, cheap. I played it for 10 seconds and have no further review.

Next up: Traveler Guitar Ultra-Light.

Weirdest guitar you’ve ever seen. Also, it’s practically silent.

No, the picture isn’t truncated at the head. That’s what it looks like. It weighs nothing. It’s light. The action is surprising decent. The tonal quality is non-existent. I couldn’t tell what it would sound like at all. I could strum as loud as I wanted to and could barely hear the thing. The one I played didn’t have the metal guitar-shaped leg piece installed, but it was still way more playable than the Martin. I played it for a relatively long time actually and almost considered buying it. I put it back on the wall, where it looked ridiculous, and played some of the other “Travel” guitars. Baby Taylor. Little Martin. A Disney guitar with flowery shit burnt into it.

Disney guitar with flowery shit burnt into it.

I kept coming back to that ugly Traveler Ultra-Light. The Guitar Center rep told me that we could make it happen, that he’d work whatever deal I’d need to walk out with it, because he knows that he sold a lot of them around Christmastime and he assumes that more than a couple are coming back. It weighs less than 2 pounds and it’s 28 inches long. I was tempted.

Starting price is $299. For those not good at maths, that’s almost $300.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. I’d pay about $100 for it. I can get an Epiphone or even a(nother) Strat for $300. There’s plenty of guitar gear I would trade $300 for, and this isn’t one of them. Not close. So, I tried the Little Martin. Didn’t like it. I tried the Baby Taylor. Liked it better than the Little Martin, but not nearly as much as the (uh, $700) GS Mini sitting right above (that Taylor is Discontinuing!!! Ugh!). The Disney ones played exactly as you’d think a Disney guitar would play.

But here’s my conclusion: Besides the horrible Martin Backpacker that I wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole, and besides strategically packing the overly priced Traveler Ultra-Light in my carry-on, I’m stuck with either checking a guitar (“Travel” or not) or checking my luggage if I’m flying somewhere. I’ve already got a travel-ready Squier with a hard case sitting in my house largely, unfortunately, untouched, and since I fly Delta as often as feasible, my first guitar is checked free. Maybe I’ll do that since it’s the low low price of free.

When I’m done, I’ll catch Chapelle on Netflix.