Archive for March, 2008

Rediscovering the Guitar

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

When I was in high school my father gave me one of the best presents, and it was only incidentally a material present. Physically it was a 1972 Fender Telecaster electric guitar. In fact, I probably paid for most of it, and he made up the difference between that and the more affordable model which was called the Jaguar. The gift was his advice and counsel to re-direct from the lower model, but it was not just the money – it was the encouragement that this was an important lifelong purchase and that I owed it to myself to buy the right guitar, the more substantial one. He told me to “…forget about the price and buy the right guitar”. At the time I knew nothing about guitars other that I wanted to play and that I had already outgrown the acoustic guitar that I used to teach myself how to play.

It was clear though that the Telecaster was a fine instrument, although I thought its styling seemed a little understated. It hardly seemed flashy enough to be “cool”, and why buy an electric guitar if it doesn’t look “cool”, right? Little did I know that I was purchasing, not a stoic or staid guitar, but rather one that was timeless and beautiful in its own right.   Cream colored body, white pickguard, rosewood fretboard and classic Fender styling. No need to hold out for the blond ash neck. That would have been nice, but the store, Chuck Levin’s in Wheaton Maryland, did not have one in stock. While that feature might have been nice, it may also have been overkill.  I had found the “right” guitar with my father’s counsel, and that was the perfect decision from day one – a decision that I continue to appreciate to this day.

The lesson was important, and I could only appreciate it later, and upon reflection, but he was saying that this will be important to you since you may own this for the rest of your life. Furthermore, if having the right guitar at the very start helps insure that you stick with the pursuit, then that is a consideration as well. He was saying that art is important and is worth investing in. He was also saying the same about me – I was important to him; I was worth investing in. He probably never knew how much I appreciated this lesson and his investment both material and spiritual. I did however tell this story, slightly differently in his eulogy back in 1992.

I played and learned with abandon back then, and even into college. Since college, I may not have played as regularly, and there have even been stretches of years at a time when I did not play at all, but since that day when we bought my guitar I have always been a guitarist.

The best news of all though is that now, for whatever reason, I have taken to picking up the guitar at least twice a week recently and I have been enjoying it immensely. I now even find myself browsing the Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon, tolerating the noisy new guitarist showing off and trying out the gear.

Fortunately, guitaring is like bicycle riding, muscle memory being what it is; once you know how, revisiting it after a layoff means just knocking off a little rust from the skills and not learning again from scratch. It’s a great feeling. Mount up, choose a direction and start pedaling, or picking, in this case.