The Guitar Shop

The "Guitar Shop" intrigues me, I don't know why as I've been in many in various countries around the globe. Strangely they all follow the same formulae - 100's, if not 1000's of guitars crammed in to all sorts of places. All carefully placed so if you so much as breathe on one it's bound to smack in to its neighbour. The hardest place ever to actually find a guitar shop was, most surprisingly, New Orleans, despite being swamped with live music in every bar. One thing in favour of the US is the ubiquitous Guitar Centre. Industrial sized sheds, totally soulless but crammed with zillions of beautiful shiny guitars, from the carpet tiles up to dizzying rafters, requiring a cherry picker to inspect the stock. They have not only the biggest range of guitars but prices too. From a $100 to a PRS $ 100 000 custom built effort inlaid with slivers of unicorn horn. AND they were the most enlightened store I've ever been in - "Would you like a blast" ? enquired the sales assistant gesticulating at the Unicorn. Unfortunately the worst place I've ever been in is our very own, in a manner of speaking, HARRODS - some £20 k special EC Limited Edition Strat, not a unicorn in sight, the suited ok selling it wouldn't let me touch or play it and just talked bollocks about its potential collectability, passing judgement before I could get my wedge out. However Guitar Centres aside, most shops have poor quality ancient shop fittings, a bit of low tech mdf slat wall, faded gig posters, dead flies, rust and have never seen a hoover or any other form of suction. Surly youth assistants, who've never seen sunlight or a vitamin. Goateed over weight owners loitering behind the counter, talking drivel and ripping off the occasional blistering lick - I guess they do have to know a few and have plenty of time and gear to practice. So now it's a hot afternoon in London. Boilingly tropical infact. I do Tin Pan Alley - what a dump, talk about resting on your laurels. As it's so hot I decide to walk, rather than do Gas Mark 6 on the tube and check out a couple of other BIG names in the guitar shop world. One having something to do with royalty and the other the Devil - probably always been a link there come to think about it. How disappointing, cracking web sites but in reality like me Nan's best room and she's been dead 36 years. It's really bloody hot now and the specimen behind the counter (who to be fair was very pleasant), was wearing a thick wooly hat pulled tight down around his face. I wondered if he'd had some sort of cranial problem and was trying to keep everything in. He could barely move for guitars, pity the same could not be said for customers. Rack up on rack. Must be at least £ 100 000 + if the ticket prices are to be believed. God knows why they don't buy a tin of paint and a coffee machine - let's face it you'd get a better reception on a used car lot. At least on a car sales pitch they do not look at you thinking "can he drive" ? I just know Skull Attack's thinking "can he play " ? - and I'm thinking "Jesus what should I try and play " ?....... Same the world over. Do I really want to spend £ 3 500 of my hard-earned on an instrument that hasn't been cleaned or re-strung, in a grubby room with a sofa out of the Young Ones, while beanie bonce shreds his heart out, demonstrating the inadequacy of my musical dexterity ??? I can only assume the formulae works and I need to take heed !!! I'm off down the tip to find a sofa.

Lee Ritenour

Soho, Saturday afternoon. Looking round the hot sweaty queue, from my even hotter casual repose on the sunny side of Frith Street, I wondered if we were all really the same, those of us with a common interest ? Was I like them ? A bunch, or rather line, of middle aged badly dressed men, some clearly flouting the venue's published code. Some grey pony tails (Why ?????), not all on the same head fortunately. The ubiquitous obligatory Japanese tourist - I've no idea what they thought they were standing in line for but passed the time photographing scaffold. Then we had a few lucky, (bet they doubted it) teenagers with dads or grandads and several 40 something Thai ladies, don't ask why. What better place to spend a hot and humid afternoon in London - anniversary olympics my arse, why do we put up with repeats ? - but in a dark night club, albeit air conditioned to the point where I wished I'd worn my coat. Lee Ritenour was doing a question and answer session with a few demo's thrown in, before playing his second night at Ronnie's - which sadly I missed. What a genuinely great, entertaining bloke. Lots of interesting anecdotes and none of the Guitar Godliness he could've laid on very thick. A brief nod to his gear - I hope he's not sponsored, as they will be disappointed. Good to hear that most of his gear is standard kit and within the grasp of us mere mortals. Nice story on his German effects pedal too. Some good advice, we've all heard before and usually ignore - practice makes perfect, particularly if you dedicate your life to it AND learn all those notes, all 20+ frets worth, not just a few on the dots. Then practice getting to each and every one FAST (All that being said and on a side note Steve Cropper says he ALWAYS follows the dots....) Then the bit we all dread, at least if this was a comedy act, which it certainly wasn't. The main man wants somebody to join him on stage to help demonstrate technique. Unbelievably 20 half wits stick their arms in the air !! So by my reckoning that should have been 10 of the full shilling if you had to rely on them. Thankfully we didn't. I suppose it really is something to say you've JAMMED on stage with Lee Ritenour at Ronnie Scott's. CLAMMED more like. Clearly everything these two hapless volunteers ever learned instantly vacated the cranium and fingertips. A very brave effort but cringeworthy. All in all an excellent afternoon's entertainment from one of the best - more Audiences to come on a monthly basis, check it out on Ronnie Scotts website. Well worth a tenner whatever the weather.

More Sound Stuff…

What puzzles me about all this Vintage Sound stuff is nobody, or very few of us still breathing and in control of all essential faculties, actually know what these critters sounded like when they rolled off the belt at Fender. Here I'm referring to my earlier blog on vintage pickups, please keep up. Just what exactly has a little rust and half a century added ??? Or taken away ?? And don't forget that most of those Guitar Gods of the day were probably using pure nickel 12's or 13's with a wound 3rd - bet you never thought of that - let those fingers bleed if you want authenticity. While were at it I'm not convinced about all that wood nonsense. Let's face it a great guitar player could make a scaffold board & baling wire sound good. Soulful & bluesy ? If only you could ask those poor bastards shackled in the plantations all those years ago. That's really where it all started and they didn't even have an instrument. More on wood stuff later !!

In Search of that Vintage Sound ?

Beautiful sunny day so I thought I'd spend it over the bench and stripped an early 1960's Fender Strat pickup that's been dead to the world for some time, despite my best efforts and customer's lucre. Being the curious type I thought it was time to dig deep and look for that mysterious Mojo hidden inside. My labours revealed some interesting points - The pickup wasn't potted, just a meagre rub of wax around the outer windings & base plate. A 1961 inspected recently revealed no wax too. Once in the dusty depths (literally) I attempted to unwind & recover the precious wire but realised there was more to life and the sun wouldn't be out forever. Flatwork certainly wasn't, clearly a trades description issue there. "Warpedwork" would be more accurate. Pole pieces did not sit true, hard to say if badly fitted or ravaged by time. The former I suspect. Magnets were varying diameters, some perfect & shiny, some pitted & some with a flaking coat of varnish. Bit of rust creeping in top side just to add to the mix. ......Oh ! and a little piece of paper wrapped around a withered shrimp stating said pickup was assembled by Gert on the afternoon of Friday..... So !! There's the answer - cobble together some parts, cheap as you like, wrap them together in a slapdash fashion & get that sought after vintage sound....... ... and don't forget the shrimp, I think it was a brown one.

Big Stuff in Middlesbrough

I've just had a bowl of cereal that tasted like the smell of a pet shop. That reminded me of being a kid and made me think of this and Anish Kapoor's plans where I grew up - What is art ? I've no idea. I'm not sure of the merits of paying huge sums for commissions. Do artists of this ilk then move in to the same category as rock stars and footballers ? Will they ever again create for lesser sums ? Or for love of their craft ? Some would say they deserve it, having never been acknowledged by the general public and receiving little reward, perhaps not even a living wage. Boundaries are becoming blurred for the sculptural medium, with the advent and rapid progression of engineering technology. Engineers have always been in the shadows. Occasionally acknowledged for their structural input but I wonder in reality how much of the design and form is actually due to the engineer ? Probably quite a lot, once beyond the original fag packet sketch. Years ago in the Industrial Revolution engineers covered all these disciplines. There were few, if any architects. Brunel was a great architect, but only ever thought of as an engineer. I do sometimes think the concepts you see delivered only come about to prove a point - Set a challenge, we can do it, use different new techniques, with a new material on an impossible site - aren't we clever ??? Historically this has always been the case with new materials and ever advancing technology, latterly to satisfy society's demands or needs. But not to throw down a gauntlet to satisfy a whim or fancy. I'm not sure that is acceptable or an ethical use of resources. Bizarrely the sculptural antithesis of this is only a few miles away. That is why I so like Gormley's Angel of the North. It IS sculpture as the man in the street knows it, in a simple understood material, originally local to the region, in a form we can understand. It is solid, in your face, awesome. A proper sculpture for the layman to get his teeth in to and walk his dog round. A poor man's Christ the Redeemer with rain and rust because he'll never see Rio for real. As for the proposals around the Tees, it is fantastic. True maybe the money could be better spent on social infrastructure. But we all know that such budgets are not transferrable or negotiable, squandered by committees. So grasp it quick. This is is a truly blighted area, depressed, neglected, industrial contaminated waste land, inward looking, narrow minded, eroded people. Some will appreciate it, most will scoff. But at least it will bring something to their lives, promote small discussion in bars and work places. They will even visit the sites to jeer. I could've done that. What a waste of money. But they will have had a day out and who knows maybe some latent seed will spark and germinate ? The dog may also have had a good walk. I look forward to seeing them all complete. It's a worthy investment.

1961 Strat

Got my first US import due in any day... hope it fares better than the last one, posted all the way from sunny Liverpool. Watch this space. Well it did. Amazing. Must have felt like the Prisoner of Zenda with a plec instead of a spoon. Took me ages to open the packing case and was most impressed with the faded blond inside. More precisely a beautiful aged 1961 Fender Stratocaster. Never a lover of technology and a fully paid up member of the Luddites I have to say the communication and tracking was brilliant all the way from Houston and on my doorstep within hours. Thanks to Acts Crating & Transportation Services and their man Lace.

Ray’s ES 339

Just off to pick up the new Ray Lonsdale piece, based around an ES 339. Hoping to get a trip round Ray's workshop at the same time. Should be very interesting. Still can't decide whether this should form part of the new shop sign - or not. Bound to get some fuckwit try and weigh it in. All thoughts considered on this matter, please let me know what you think........

Stephen Fry

Just back from a very late but excellent night at The Establishment Club, hosted at Ronnie Scott's. Strangely was sat next to Stephen Fry. He's a big bloke ! Doubt he'll remember me and didn't get chance to flog him a guitar. We were sat right at the front but made a swift, wise move, back a row, after Mr Fry said his piece. Star of the show was once again Terry Alderton and his hilarious Two John's sketch. I forget the name of his stooge but the little guy was an incredible singer and piano player, reminded me of Dr John. Hats off too to Scott Capurro the host for the evening - very risque and funny man. If you get chance go - it's twenty quid well spent.

Creative Quarter

I took my own advice and emailed them again. A reply ! Automated I grant you, but at least there is something out there in the ether. Apparently they only work three days a week so will get back to me. Now that leaves the door wide open for a smart arse response, but I will wait and see. Watch this space......