Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My First Guitar

When I was about 12 my aunt and uncle planned a move from upstate New York to Davenport, Iowa. Because they were taking two cars they wanted a way to communicate and they wanted it cheap. This was before the advent of cellular telephones (I said I was 12, right?) and aunt and uncle weren’t interested in investing in the latest fad: CB radio (d’y’all remember that old song about the CON-voy? Put the hammer down! 10-4, y’all!).

But they knew I had a pair of semi-decent walkie-talkies, so they offered to trade for them and in exchange they’d give me an old acoustic guitar my uncle possessed. I don’t mean he haunted it. I mean he owned it…never mind. I remember not thinking too long about agreeing to the trade. I’d get to learn to play the guitar.

Deep down, I think I always wanted to play the guitar. I know I used to daydream as an even younger kid that I was part of a traveling group of friends and family, putting on rock-n-roll shows and moving on. There were plenty of precedents on the TV at the time: The Monkees, The Partridge Family, Josie and the Pussycats. I liked the idea of making music, hogging some limelight and generally having a good time with friends and strangers.

Anyway, of course I said I’d make the swap and that summer when I returned from the annual visit to my grandparents’ place in New Jersey, having offered up my walkie-talkies, I brought back to Phoenix an old beat-up Gibson acoustic guitar, with nylon strings. My mom took me to a music store where we showed it to the guitar tech. The idea was to put steel strings on the thing, which meant dropping the truss rod back down the neck. The tech gave the guitar the once over and asked its provenance. I told him how I swapped my $15 walkie-talkies for it. He said, as he surveyed it, that I got the better end of the deal, as the guitar was an old LG-1, probably from the late 1940s, and even though it was paint-spattered and a bit worn in places, it was worth around $1,000, give or take.

I’ve been playing it for more than 30 years now. It’s seen its share of clubs, street-side busking and plenty of traveling. It’s soaked up sweat and beer and the occasional rain shower. It’s sat neglected in the back of the closet or hidden under the bed, out of sight of curious youngsters. I pulled it out after a few years of a song-writing drought and, lo! it still worked! Now it’s hanging on my study wall in easy reach for a late-night strum. It’s got a mellower tone than my other guitars, and it’s even more worn and beat up than when I got it. But it’s still a fine guitar. Catch you on the flip-flop!

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