Guitars: A Personal History...
I was a late comer to guitar playing. I was a singer in my high school band days, and not a very good one at that. I got much better when I finally picked up a guitar and made myself learn to play it. I’m not a very good guitar player, but I have a good ear and it has helped me learn better pitch and many other countless things.
Learning to play wasn’t easy for me. I’m dominantly left handed, which means there was no hope of me learning guitar right handed, so I learned all the major and minor chords backwards on my friend's righty guitars. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I traded a case of beer for a Harmony ES335 knockoff that I was able to flip the strings and play a true lefty set up guitar. It opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve also been blessed my whole life to have had a lot of friends that played guitar very well. I seem to pick up a great deal from just watching and listening to people play.
I can’t be sure, but I think that old Harmony guitar is in a closet at my brother’s house in upstate NY. I gave it to him after I bought my first real axe. I taught my brother how to tune it and showed him how to play barre chords. From there, I showed him that you could play EVERY Ramones song there is with the knowledge he now possessed, and he proceeded to learn every one of them.
Every guitar I own has a story, some long, some short. Other than the Harmony I gave to my brother and an Ovation acoustic I sold I have every one that I’ve ever owned. So, since everybody else has done a post on their collection here my twist on the subject. A historical and personal walk through my collection of guitars…
1967 Gibson ES330
This guitar was the first real instrument I bought. My father made me turn over all my paychecks in the summer of 1984 to save for my pending year away at the University of Maryland. The last check I received, I slipped into my pocket and jetted up to Alto Music in Poughkeepsie NY to pick it up. It is the older of the ES line of hollow body guitars. It’s distinction is that it is fully hollow vs it’s younger semi hollow brother the ES335. This is a great guitar. It was certainly a factor in me not doing so well at UM that year. Fitting that it’s red.
1985 Fender ’62 reissue Telecaster
A check showed up in my mailbox at UM one day (some scholarship money of some sort) and I immediately had Jackson take me to Venemen’s Music in Rockville MD to buy a Tele. Because of the lefty thing it had to be ordered. I waited months for it to arrive and grew impatient as the lame ass music store guys would blow me off when I’d call about it. Out of the blue one day, Milkyum called me from NYC to tell me he was in Manny’s Music Store and they had four lefty tele’s in stock but Elliot Easton of The Cars was in the store playing them and might buy them all. I had him put a salesman on the phone right away and I begged the guy to hold one back for me. The dude acquiesced and I collected my refund from the assholes at Venemen’s and two weeks later I was pretending to be Keith Richards.
1969 Gibson Les Paul Standard
When I finally managed to graduate from college, my mother was asking me what I wanted for a graduation present. I really wasn't in need of anything at the time, but one day at work I over heard my supervisor, who I knew played in wedding bands, say he got a new Carvin guitar and he was happy with the fact that they had built him a lefty and shipped it to him within a few weeks. I asked him what he was replacing with the Carvin and he said, “…an old Les Paul that won’t stay in tune. I’ve left it in the basement for a year now because it sucks so bad”. Needless to say, the dude was not very bright. I asked him what he’d take for it and he seemed surprised I was interested in it at all. I said I give him $350 for it sight unseen. My folks gave me $300 which I turned over to my supervisor and told him that I'd give him the other $50 on payday and to bring the guitar to work that Friday. The guy seemed so shocked that I was giving $300 for it that he said, “…I’ve got it in the car, you don’t have to give me the other $50, the thing plays like shit”. It did have a few issues which I fixed easily, but I got a great deal on it. A guitar player for a band I recorded last year took in to his luther for a full set up and it plays like butter now.
1985 Ovation 12 string
Bought this with the first credit card I qualified for. Jackson hates Ovations and for good reason: they don’t really sound that good. I think they can sound good, but a twelve string is very limited sonically. Good for playing REO Speedwagon songs. When I hit the lottery, I’ll pick up a Guild 12 string to replace it.
1991 Guild JF-30 Jumbo Acoustic
Right after I moved to Atlanta I knew the severance package that my former employer had given me would not last that long, so the smart thing to do was to blow a crap load of cash foolishly on a guitar, right? My friend Brain took me downtown to Rhythm City and I decided to have a lefty JF-30 custom made for me. When the dude stepped away to go get the paperwork for me to fill out, Brian says to me in a hushed tone, “Dude, you know who that is?” “No” I said, “That’s Derek St. Holms from Ted Nugent’s band”. And sure enough it was. I of course asked him a crap load of questions about his life in Ted’s band which he seemed a little annoyed about having to answer, but I was dropping more than a grand on this guitar so he couldn’t tell me to fuck off. I did shake his hand when I closed the deal and four weeks later this beauty showed up. It is my all time FAVORITE guitar and has probably been played more than any of the others. It sounds fantastic and records very well. I love the blonde flame wood all the way around it.
2001 ’52 re-issue American made Fender Telecaster
An extravagant indulgence plain and simple. This is the guitar I had always dreamed of owning. It was bonus time, I had gotten my wife something nice a couple of weeks before and she said (I swear), “Why don’t you just buy it…”. That’s why I love her.
Crappy Agile shallow bowl Electric/Acoustic – Crappy Korean made Tele Knockoff
Bought both of these the first time I came up to NYC to visit Jackson and record at Smoke & Mirrors. The idea was to leave them at their studio so I wouldn’t have to travel with guitars after that. The acoustic sounds like crap and the Tele is at Jackson’s house being used as a cat litter box. It is virtually unplayable. I may try to replace the neck on the Tele, but chances are that it would be just as cheap to buy a Mexican made Fender and leave it up there.
Korean made SX Electric/Acoustic
Liked the sound of this small body acoustic this guy brought into my studio one time and thought about getting one. Before committing to buying an expensive one, I decided to buy a cheap one and try it out. Before I could do that, Cathy and my daughter bought one for me for my birthday two years ago. I took it to my guitar luther and had him install Schaler machine heads, new bone nut, and tail rest, and have a complete set up done on it. I love the way it plays and sounds now and have no reason to have to pick up an expensive one. It has a wide flat fret board sort of like a Les Paul. I can bang it around and travel with it easily.
So there you have it Tony Alva’s guitar collection. I’m really not jonesin’ hard for any particular guitar right now, but I have a feeling that a one of the jumbo Gibson acoustics is in my future sometime:-)