30 for 30: Guitars

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

11. GUITARS

Kurt Cobain with a Fender Mustang guitar

I play guitar, and have done so for fifteen years. I have owned several over the course of my life.

My first guitar was a Fernandes Les Paul. Now, Les Paul guitars are usually made by GibsonFernandes was some knock-off company.

I only got the guitar because Neil Finn played a similar one. It broke down a lot, and it was very heavy. At this point, I thought all guitars were this heavy. Trying to do jumps and rock moves were very hard. I didn’t realise Pete Townshend’s Rickenbackers were a lot lighter.

I did my first ever gigs, in high school, with it. In my first ever band – Parker. But the guitar was just a pain. I don’t think I ever even sold it, and it’s likely at the bottom of the stairs at my parent’s home.

My second guitar was my first acoustic. It’s a lot easier to practise on an acoustic as you don’t need an amp. My poor parents put up with me and my amp for long enough.

I don’t even remember the brand of this guitar (maybe Takamine). The cool thing about it was it was black – not like ordinary wood colour – a la Johnny Cash.

It was an ok guitar. It did the job. But by then I was playing around Sydney a bit and needed a decent guitar. I was also about to meet Casey, who knew more about guitars than anyone I ever met. I sold this nameless acoustic to the drummer of some band I was in that went nowhere.

And I never bought another bad guitar again.

The Maton EB808

My first proper guitar is still my favourite guitar. Maybe there is something in that – maybe she’s affected how I feel about guitars. She’s a Maton EB808 – with no cutaway or pickup.

I was never a great guitar player, but I loved playing this guitar. I know a lot friends who learnt guitar in their teens and 20s and have given up save the occasional strum. And they always have average guitars. A cheap Yamaha or something.

This guitar cost me almost every cent I ever saved up to that point. I never bought ANYTHING even a quarter of the price. And she was totally worth it.

Again, I decided to buy it because Neil Finn uses it. It’s slightly smaller than a normal guitar (three-quarter size) but it sounds rich and full. There’s no strap bolt where the neck of the guitar meets the body, so you need to strap it to the headstock – old school 60s Dylan style.

I think every musically hearted person just needs to find their right instrument. This Maton EB808 is mine. I learnt everything cool on her. Finger picking, Travis picking, harmonics, odd tunings and more. My guitar playing got a lot better very quickly. I wrote my first ever songs with her.

It’s with her that I started my practise of putting stickers on guitars. I know some people who think this is horrific. For me – I figure I’m never going to sell them. I liked customizing my guitars. So this Maton EB808 is covered in stickers of bands that I’ve collected from many years. And it’s something I did to all my guitars.

I also had to get a pickup installed (A pick-up is the bit of electronics that’s added to this essentially wooden box, so you can plug it into an amp). Jeff worked at Maton at the time so it was sent to the proper factory for a proper Maton pickup system. It’s a little thing, but it now means you can’t find one in a shop quite like mine – no cutaway AND a pick-up.

This will be my last possession on earth. The one thing I would save in a fire. Please bury me with this guitar. It is, in short, the most important physical item I have in the entire world. What else would it be if not a guitar?

A '69 Thinline Telecaster

My first decent electric was a reissue of the ’69 Fender Thinline Telecaster. Small, thin – it’s like a spear or a machine gun. It’s a very sexy guitar.

As usual, these were bought because heroes had it. This time, both Sloan and the Posies played 69 Teles in photos. I had no real idea about electric guitars at the time, but I was learning. And I knew I wanted to sound like Sloan and the Posies.

(Photos are, of course, misleading. Who knows why they are playing a guitar live, and if it has anything to do with their recordings. Annoying case in point was the Zombies, where the front of their box set Zombie Heaven, has Chris White holding a Gibson SG bass. But that amazing bassline in Care Of Cell 44 was played on a Fender P-bass. False advertising, I say)

I still have this electric guitar and it’s the electric I’ve used the most. Telecasters are such well used guitars – they are work horses. They are tough to break – and tough to sound shit. They were light and I battered mine around, sometimes hitting it on things to make sounds.

It’s my favourite electric guitar. I’ve flirted with other things, but this is the meat-and-potatoes of electric guitars for me. I’ve bought other guitars for strange or particular sounds. But 99% of what I like can be used on this fantastic guitar.

Before I got pickups in my Maton EB808, I needed to get an acoustic guitar I could use to play live. For reasons unknown, I decided to buy a whole new guitar. A Maton 325.

The Maton 325 is the guitar that everyone in Australia has. Maton being an Australian company, and the 325 being the entry level model. It’s a very good guitar, but nothing special. It’s good to have a spare but I could live without it.

I have no idea why Maton calls their guitars crap things like 325. How good are names like Stratocaster and Mustang? I have the same problem with companies like Nokia and their 4410s, 5510s, 8847s and crap like that. Just idiotic.

Chris Murphy of Sloan with a Mustang Bass (cherry red with racing stripes)

At some point, I realised I was never going to be a great guitar player, so I decided to go wide. I bought a piano, a drum kit, and even cooler – a Fender Mustang Bass.

Again, it’s a small body bass – bass guitars are usually big and cumbersome. But I found the Mustang to be very playable, and it sounded great.

I chose the Mustang bass because, again, Sloan used one. The Rolling Stones also had one – but both had these cherry red coloured ones with two yellow racing stripes. I couldn’t find one of those, so I bought a simple white one, and used it for years.

My band always had problems finding bassplayers and there was times I’d play bass. Then Lazy Susan needed a bass player and I took it up very seriously. I often think that I am actually a bass player – I love everything about bass.

Playing bass opened up my musicianship as well. I got to play for a variety of bands that needed a fill-in guy. From the blissful Australian rock of Modern Giant, the clever indie of Arbuckle, punk bar band Free Beer, the fiddly and melodic songwriting of Bryan Estepa, and the weird tunings but stunning songs of Josh Pyke. With guitar I have a style (I call it Teenage Fanclub), but with bass I’m a confident soloist and versatile.

I did eventually find a cherry red one with those all important racing stripes – and I sold my white one to Joel. After my Maton EB808, this is my favourite musical instrument. I can not wait to get back to Australia and become a bass player properly. Who wants me?

I was gigging so much at one point, I decided I needed a spare electric guitar. Because I was in love my with Mustang bass, I got a Fender Mustang guitar. Bright blue and has racing stripes. Mustang guitars are the sexiest guitars in my book.

It’s kind of a weird guitar. It’s got a particular, jagged sound. Similar guitars are favoured by Elvis Costello and Kurt Cobain. It’s an attack guitar – and I wrote some very nasty songs on her.

Unlike the Tele, this guitar is odd. That oddness led to an amazing moment for me. My friends, Red Riders, supported the Shins, and they let me guitar tech so I could meet them. I got my records signed and they noticed my guitar, and asked if they could try it. So there I was, Sydney’s Metro theatre, wacthing the Shins play amazingly with my guitar.

I must have been earning too much money at one point. I went guitar crazy. I ended up buying a 12 string Rickenbacker 330 off eBay. It’s what George Harrison uses in A Hard Day’s Night, the Byrds on Mr Tambourine Man and so many more. This was a weird colour too – cherry red with black details.

This was a mistake. I never used the thing. I spent more time tuning it than playing it. 12 string guitars are a pain. The sounds it makes don’t interest me – but I had to learn that. I sold it when I left Australia. It was a cool guitar to own, but it was not a guitar I loved.

I also acquired a Fender Lap Steel. Why? No idea. I thought I’d learn. I can make sounds on it, but I know nothing about playing it. It’s very cool though – it came in a very cool case. I thought about selling it, but now I think I will spend some time learning this instrument. It might take, it might not. We’ll see.

My Art & Lutherie Ami guitar, with stickers

When I decided to stay in London, I bought a guitar. I went down to the legendary Denmark Street and played around on several guitars. In the end I decided on an Art & Lutherie Ami. It is again quite small – the size of an old fashion parlour guitar – and blue. Again, no pick-up and I am looking at getting one installed.

It’s covered with stickers now – when I travel, I buy a sticker from a souvenir shop and put it on this guitar. Paris, New York, Morella, Rye – wherever I am. It’s now the souvenir of my travels. I have played it live in London pub open nights and written some songs on it. It sounds great.

It’s a weird shape so I’m looking at options of how to get her home. I might need to pay for a custom guitar case. We’ll see.

I went one step further than a sticker with this guitar. I superglued a music box to the frame. It plays La Vie En Rose and the body of the guitar amplifies the sound quite nicely.

There’s no guitars I have my eyes on at the moment. Maybe one day – but right now I’ve lost the dream of owning a fuckload of guitars. I don’t go to guitar stores all the time anymore. I don’t use all my spare change on guitar strings.

God, there’s even a good chance I will never buy another guitar again. Is there a better sign that I’ve found my instrument?

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