I was reunited with my blue acoustic guitar. A friend has had it on loan for about 18 months. It is a cheap guitar with a chip in the finish below the pick-guard area. It has grimy old strings on it – and I can’t play it very well at all (it’s why it was on loan) but it was very nice to be reunited. The other day I strummed all the chords I knew – it’s not that many – and it felt good. And right. And one day (or more likely over several days) I will work at getting a bit better.
But it was nice to have the guitar back – in the time that one was away I acquired a very nice 12-string Guild acoustic. So it’s going to be a lot of fun with two guitars in the house, a chance for me to improve by picking the brains of any guitarist that visits the house. And a chance to hear the guitars sounding good (both of them that is – if two guitarists visit the house at the same time).
I’ve had my blue guitar for more than 15 years and it’s been a decoration as much as it’s ever been an instrument – truth be told – but it’s also written some songs, been played by some great players and it’s stood up to my hacking about.
I write about music but I don’t know that I’ve ever written about the tools of the trade – the instruments. I’ve looked at the best instrumentalists – from rhythm and lead guitarists, to pianists, bassists and drummers; talked about favourite and least favourite singers but I thought we could share some stories about the instruments. These tools of the trade become so much more than just the workhorse for gigging. They become a part of us; they have personality – actually, they enable us to explore our own personalities, to develop and grow; they have heart and soul and feel like part of our (musical) heart and soul. They become an extension of the player/owner.
They are important. And the story behind an instrument is what stays with us if the instrument moves on. That story is added to by the next owner.
My first instrument was my first drum kit. It was a second-hand starter kit, a no-name collection of drums – very old. On the bass drum was a hand-drawn logo that said “Keep It Country” with a picture of a guitar and a cowboy hat. First thing I did was remove the front head of the bass-drum, leaving it empty. I was embarrassed by the Keep It Country skin. (I’d love it now!)
The kit was ghastly in so many ways – but when I opened the garage door to find it on Christmas Day – I was 12 years old and had only been playing the drums for a couple of months at this point – I didn’t care about anything other than the fact that I had a real drum kit. My own kit! (Well, I didn’t care about anything once we removed the Keep It Country skin).
My uncle – not a drummer – had a go and pierced the skin of the floor-tom on the first day. The wire brushes that came with the kit looked like tiny clasps of witches’ hair. The drumsticks were taped together.
It was a disaster – but it was amazing. On went the Beatles and Wings records and I tried my best to play along with Ringo and Paul.
A couple of years on from that I got my first “real” drum kit; a Tama. With Sabian cymbals. It was flash. Well, compared to Keep It Country it was super-flash. The cheap kit was traded in as part of the deal and this new blue Tama (with Sabian cymbals) was my kit for the next decade.
I joined my first band with this kit. I was 16. The other guys in the band were 26. We played a cover of Nirvana’s On A Plain. And a bunch of “originals” that sounded a lot like Nirvana’s On A Plain. I lasted for a few auditions but we never gigged. The rehearsal space was sold. The band was over. I never even knew the band’s name – or if it ever had a name.
But a year later one of the members rang me and asked for me to join his new group. I was in a new band – all covers. I used this kit to learn a lot of great songs from the 1970s and 1980s. Songs by Hoodoo Gurus and The Chills. We even had a go at Ray Stevens’ Guitarzan.
My drum collection grew – congas, bongos, timbales, cowbells, tambourines. It grew and grew. An extra crash cymbal here, a splash cymbal there.
That kit was stolen – but it had played gigs around the North Island; it had moved from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington. It had played terrible covers and even worse original material. It had been worked hard. And I was really upset to lose it – even though it was in need of maintenance.
The replacement kit is still with me now; another Tama. There are Sabian cymbals again – but there are some other stray cymbals too. This kit even made it to the South Island. Mostly it lives in a shed these days. It had a lot of time off. But it’s been getting a run again over the last two years. It’s played Irish music and improv/noise; it’s played covers and originals. It’s been loaned to others. It’s been hit very hard. It’s (so far) survived. It even plays (a form of) country music now.
We have guitars and drums and loads of percussion instruments. We have harmonicas, ukuleles and a piano. Somewhere – though it’s not likely to ever be used again – we have a recorder. And now we have so many of these instruments as furniture, as decorations – as conversation pieces. As tools of the trade – but as tools that now carry plenty of stories. And in some cases they are sitting, waiting – ready for a new story.
I can’t play the piano at all – but I like to think there’s time for some lessons. We had friends staying one weekend and were very lucky to hear some beautiful piano playing. And we heard a bit of Chariots Of Fire also.
There’ll be other times to come where the piano will sing. The guitars will ring. And the drums will clatter and chatter. And it’s a reminder of the fact, a very physical, visual reminder, that music keeps us happy; that music is about ideas and enthusiasm, it is about colour. That music is community. That music is the best. Oscar beats the keys of the piano like they owe him money. (It’d be nice to think that becomes the case I guess…)
It’s nice to have the collection of instruments back – and maybe this collection will grow…a banjo, some more guitars, a keyboard, more drums!
What instruments do you have? What are your favourites? Can you play them all? Are there ones you have that are purely decorative? And what stories do you have about the musical equipment you own? What bargains have you picked up? What have you sold that wish you still had? And do you agree that musical instruments can help tell the story of the house where they live and the owner, as well as providing the (ongoing) soundtrack?