Thursday, July 10, 2008

Maximum strength GAS relief

Fortunately for me, my bout with GAS coincided with Guitar Center's 4th of July sale weekend. Now, I know I've previously said I hate Guitar Center, but I'm willing to shop there if they're not making much profit off me. Come to think of it, I never got that mandolin... I guess they decided it wasn't worth it to sell me a mandolin at 20% off sticker price, like they said they would, so they just never called me back. It's What Jowen Would Do.

Also fortunately for me, the Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster doesn't seem to be that well-regarded by those who love Jazzmasters. The Mexican-made Classic Player model has some changes that make it not so much a Jazzmaster as a real guitar that looks like a Jazzmaster. The Jazzmaster, as I understand it, isn't exactly a real guitar so much as it is a conflagration of eccentricities in the shape of a guitar, and to fix a number of its flaws risks robbing it of its real essence. Even more fortunately, the store didn't have one because the one they got shipped was defective and they sent it back. So a fool and his $800 are not so soon parted after all.

I did, however, turn my attention to a low-end acoustic 12-string, which I might actually get some good use out of in my increasingly theoretical singer-songwriter role. After trying a couple and a night's deliberation, I decided on a very nice Yamaha FG720S-12 which I got at $270, $60 lower than usual. Eat it, Guitar Center. I played it and played it until my fingers couldn't take any more, which wasn't very long because I hadn't played much in a while and 12-strings are a bitch to play. Then I played some more. I would have written this post sooner, but I was too lazy to take a picture of it, and then once I got around to it I found that I had no batteries new enough for my camera to turn on.

This is the first guitar I've ever bought entirely on my own. All of my previous guitars were either chosen for me by my dad, given to me by my dad when he got better ones, or bought after much consultation with my dad. Because of that, I feel like this is the opportunity to teach myself to do a little guitar maintenance. Adjust the truss rod, make a new saddle, file the nut. Maybe install a pickup someday. It might make it seem a little more personal.

I've always been a packrat. As I get a little older, I'm starting to look at all of the crap that I've hoarded over the years and evaluate each piece on how much I'd miss it if it were gone. In the past I've said that guitars become like your friends, and each one is a beautiful and unique snowflake, blah blah blah, but I'm feeling a little more pragmatic about it these days.

For example, my first proper guitar was a white Fender Strat. It was real sharp, but it had a duff neck and it wasn't getting any better no matter how much we tried to adjust it. We traded it in on an amp, and I don't miss it at all. On the other hand, we had another old beater acoustic that we thought sucked for a long time. One day, though, my dad made some adjustments and it transformed from an unplayable bastard to silky smooth. As the years have passed, this cheapo guitar -- which was already about 12 years old -- sounded, played, and held up better than at least three other more expensive acoustics. I'd be really choked if I lost it.

The one guitar that I miss the very most, though, wasn't even my guitar. When we first started the band, Graham didn't play guitar. He proved to be a quick study, though, and before long the time came for him to buy his first real guitar. He got it second-hand before the age of Craigslist, without someone with him to tell him if it was good or not. Fortunately, he got really lucky.

We dubbed it New Wings, as was our custom. (My guitars were Wings and Acoustic Wings.) New Wings was, on paper, an unremarkable stock Mexican Standard Stratocaster, but two things made it special. First, the previous owner was a smoker, and because of that there was a cigarette burn on the headstock and all of the plastic parts on the guitar had yellowed and given it a cool, aged look. Second, it had the single nicest neck I've ever seen. My better judgment tells me that it must have had the same shape as every other Mexican Strat out there, but in your hand it felt wider across the nut than usual. Because of that, the neck gave the impression of being thinner than usual, which made it really comfortable for leads, yet with a solid enough depth and heft to make chords easy to grip onto. It had absolutely perfect action: low enough to make playing anything a breeze, but with just enough fight in the strings to keep things from bending all over the place.

Graham played it most, of course, but I played it plenty and used it on at least a couple recordings. We both loved that guitar, and when it got stolen we were both really choked. Graham replaced it with guitars that are nicer on paper and, to be honest, better sounding, but they'll never be New Wings. If anyone sees a sunburst Stratocaster in a pawn shop somewhere covered with UBC/Riverside school paper/Radiohead stickers, buy it. We'll pay you back.

I think that every time I look at a guitar, I'm hoping to find another New Wings. I feel like I've got a few now -- Wings II, Wings III, and Wings IV -- that are really great and cover all my bases, so I think I've done pretty well. If I'm being really honest though, although I wouldn't trade any of them straight up for New Wings, none of them will ever be New Wings either.

So will this new 12-string be New New Wings? Probably not. But I can hope.

Current Music: Ron Sexsmith - Exit Strategy of the Soul

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