I’ve had three really great guitars. The Ovation I bought in Hamilton in 1978 – a round back acoustic – the Glenn Campbell model. It was the loudest acoustic I’ve ever heard; it kind of projected the sound and was perfect for the Negative Theatre gigs where we had no PA – we played some pretty big rooms with that guitar. It had a high action and I used heavy gauge strings to get my sound.
After we split up I found a 76 Telecaster in Capital Music – I had to borrow money off a friend to buy it. Blond and well worn, I found it impossible to tune and hard to play or get a good sound out of. My friend needed his money back and I had to sell it.
When I formed the Spines I used the Ovation for a time; put a pickup on it and it was fine. I bought the little Rockit 60 watt amp that I still use and the only problem was the feedback when I hit the dirt pedal.
I walked into Beggs Wiseman music shop early ‘81 and there she was – the Gretsch. It was hanging in a rack, sideways and it just stood out. A Country Gentleman – a Blackhawk – a Chet Atkins – mid sixties – hollow body – semi acoustic. It had been tampered with – a heavy brass engraved scratch plate had been fitted and there were repairs on the back under the clip-on belt-buckle shield.
Ray Ahipene-Mercer sold it to me, he said to use heavy gauge strings because of the floating bridge.
In the 90s I damaged my left ring finger wicketkeeping and had to use a bottleneck on that finger – it was the only way I could play. I delved into the blues at that point and wanted a solid body with lighter strings I could bend.
I ran into Greg, the guy I had sold the Telecaster to all those years back. He was broke and sold it back to me. I was ready to play it and got wonderful sounds out of all those old sweet spots in her neck – totally freed me up into being more a lead guitarist.
So I changed to lighter strings on the Gretsch and the Beast Girl was born.
She always had a vibration in the air inside her as the Ovation did but now with some overdrive I could control this huge low ringing feedback. I use a lot of open strings in my chords and these would sustain and vibrate through the body of the guitar into my gut and back up into my arms and fingers – it’s like she’s playing herself and I’m just guiding her through the changes. I’ve written so many of the songs on her anyway.