I have a modest guitar collection if you compare to some. Each instrument I have and play, though, is as unique as a child. Each has its own “voice,” and no two instruments are exactly alike, even if they are identical models. Each piece of wood sounds a little different from all the others. You learn this if you are a serious player.
Instruments have their oddities, too. Sometimes, tuning is not precisely right on every fret, or the “feel” of the instrument varies. Some applies to guitars, violins, banjos, mandolins, any instrument of wood and wire. This eccentricity, like that of human voices, is a source of delight, not frustration. The reason I generally hate a lot of electronically created music is the sameness of it.
Human voices are like that. I like gravely voices, deep voices, angelically soft voices, and raspy voices. Each voice expresses who that human being is, at least in part.
My very first guitar of my own was a Yamaha FG-230 Twelve String guitar. My parents got if for me for Christmas of 1971, I think. I had started playing music with two great friends who were musicians.
Both would go on to professional music careers, one still in it. My friend Woody had a Hoffner bass like Paul McCartney played in the early Beatles’ music, but that year got a Fender Jazz bass. Paul, who already played a Fender Telecaster like a pro by age 17, got a Yamaha six string the same Christmas. We both loved old country music and bluegrass. Paul introduced me to everything else in the world–he liked all kinds of things, from Grand Funk Railroad to Dillard and Clark to the Incredible String Band.
We were writing songs and learning from one another. I went into the ministry, which plateaued my music for a long time until I decided they didn’t have to conflict with one another. I still have that 12 string. I still love it. The neck was really thick, but as it was all I had, I learned the entire Mud Slide Slim album by James Taylor on it by ear. One night, over that holiday break, Paul and I spent the night at his house playing our guitars all night until we passed out from exhaustion.
Like a human being, a guitar gets attached to stories and memories. I courted with that 12-string, played in church, composed some really bad songs and played CSNY, “Mrs. Robinson”and “Fire and Rain” on it late at night in the dorm in college.
That old guitar has ridden with me on the first tour I took during 1975 with a great little three man band through Georgia and Tennessee. We broke up after riding in a van together and realizing that we couldn’t agree on musical direction for the band. It has accompanied me at weddings, funerals, and late at night when I was too sad to talk about
I still love it, even more. No other instrument can touch the same parts of my heart as that twelve string. Like a good friend, our time together waxed and waned. Still, when I pull her down off the wall and strum, the songs come right back.
I can’t really explain why a chord shape feels like an old friend to me. But for 55 years or more, I’ve been serious about the guitar, and for 48 years I’ve played those chords on that 12-string, sung along, and pretty much talked to myself where I could hear something I’d never heard before. When I added new “children” to the family later, with names like Collings and Martin and Weber and Goldtone, I came to love them and hear new voices.
It’s not unlike a burning bush or a voice like the sound of silence on a mountaintop. Something more than you keeps breaking into the spaces to call you forward. I have a feeling there are still some chord changes, some melodies, and some unexplored rifts I haven’t found yet. So I keep pulling her down for a visit to see if it can happen one more time.
Not unlike this blog, which I’ve sent out there since 2011. To everyone who occasionally might get a laugh, a lift or some small insight of help, thank you for readings, and may this holiday season bring you joy and blessing!