Before you can play the guitar… (Conclusion)

August 22, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 13? (Click Here)

It was glistening, and that’s not word I use lightly (or often, or at all if I can help it – don’t ask). Freshly patched, sanded, shellacked, restrung, tuned, oh it was an incredible surprise. Like asking the quiet boy to a movie and finding out he’s a great…. So anyways, my guitar was gorgeous, but what about the sound?

Steve, delightfully Bilbo-esque and wonderfully passionate about his craft, came in behind me. He lifted my guitar, ever so gently, off the workbench and cradled it in playing position. “Do you know what this is,” he asked. I shook my head. “It’s a solid body Fender from the 70s, made in Japan. It’s a beautiful guitar. You just can’t go out and buy one of these. Where did you get it?” I told him my story – the much abbreviated version : )

“Listen to this…” he said.

He strummed his pick across the strings and the small room was instantly filled with richness and warmth. Wow. The lush sound resonated all the way into my bones. It had character, was mellow but strong, and a real layered depth. I wondered how many hands had played it around how many campfires, how many bus trips it had taken over how many miles. I felt a thrill. Now it was mine.

“Now listen to this one…” He picked a shiny black Johnny Cash special off the wall. It’s sound was weak, too high, and empty. Like a four year old trying to sing the national anthem – just cute. “And this one sells for $4000.” He went back to mine and played us a blues song. The guitar came alive. The room reverberated with music and feeling. I couldn’t stop saying “Thank You”.

When I left the store, $190 dollars later ($40-my b*t, mr. tambourine man!), it was with a digital tuner, a blues song book, and an extraordinary guitar. Best birthday present I ever bought myself! “Before you can play the guitar” has been such a journey, that now the “after” part should be a breeze. That pawn shop ipod stopped working weeks ago, but I don’t care. It’s time for the real music to start.


Before you can play the guitar… (part 12)

August 14, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 11? (Click Here)

The call from Steve came through to my office the next day. He gave me my long awaited second (or is it third or forth by now?) opinion and I promised to head over right after work. My second trip to the Music store was entirely different. I was greeted, by that very same bouncer, as a minor celebrity. I was pointed to a narrow set of stairs in “the back” and told to wait for Steve in his workshop.

The intimate room smelled of shellac and wood dust. One wall held a rack of freshly polished guitars, hung close and friendly. The opposite wall was organized to hold hundreds of tools and parts. He kept his pliers and screwdrivers in a long row of brown Tim Hortons paper cups. Now that’s what I call recycling! The workbench was covered with a soft green felt, the same colour as the divine plush in my case. The atmosphere was close, but not stuffy, like I’d walked into a hobbit hole and Bilbo would be home any minute.  

And there, resting quietly on the felt, almost unrecognizable in it’s new incarnation, was my Fender guitar… 

Stay tuned for the shocking conclusion!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 7)

July 4, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 6 of this blog serial? (Click Here)

He had a pained expression on his face. I guess it’s tough telling anyone their loved one might not make it. He took me through the symptoms: warped neck, loose tuners, broken nut, dead strings, battered body, and that Band-Aid. Do you want to know what it was covering up? Nothing. As in empty space. As in a hole! He stared down at the instrument and shook his head. I had to agree with him. It didn’t look good.

“But it’s a Fender,” I said.

He shrugged and gave me directions to a technician, conveniently located on the other side of the city. “Steve can fix it for you. It’ll cost you about 40 bucks,” he said. He told me that I’d still be stuck with a cheap laminated guitar, but fixing it would be a lot cheaper than throwing in the towel and buying a new one. “And if you’re just learning…” he reasoned, tapping his chin stud thoughtfully.

I asked him if he could at least re-string it for me so I could fool around with it. He said that he could not, in good conscience, replace even one string. “It’ll just make it worse,” he said. And I, of course, believed him.

Stay tuned for part 8!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 5)

June 30, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 4? (click here)

I suppose I have to apologize for the title of this piece, “before you can play the guitar”, because I did “play the guitar” (technically speaking) at this point in our odyssey. I dimmed my bedroom lights to set the mood for my long awaited acoustic debut. It was to be a very intimate set, since the audience (consisting of one husband) had been banished to the living room.

After propping myself into position with pillows and finding the perfect balance of the guitar on my lap, I let loose. This abandon lasted all of 10 seconds, more than enough time to discover the importance of the tiny battery powered box that Mr. Pawn Shop had thrown in to sweeten the deal. Only, my second hand tuner didn’t seem to be able to make up its mind. My E string was flat on the first pluck, then sharp, then flat, then the little needle on the tuner started swaying, casually and unhurried, from one extreme to the other. I turned it off and on, and even replaced the batteries, but nothing helped. It eventually gave up on decision making altogether, and wouldn’t even commit on which note I was playing.

So the tuner was a dud. No problem. My musical background includes sitting through countless 7:30am high school band practices with flute in hand. Tuning up in a room full of groggy teenagers can’t help but give you an ear, if not for perfect pitch, then at least for knowing when you’re way off. So I cleared my mind, Jedi style, and got in tune with vibrations of the universe. Pluck. Flat? Sure. Why not. I turned the key a full turn. Still flat? I kept turning. The note was slowly tightening into something familiar and–


The string snapped with the adrenalin loaded pop of a balloon! It caught me totally by surprise. Like the time my husband drove a golf ball through our kitchen window (from the inside!), you never believe these things will happen to you until you’re sitting there shaking from the shock of it. All I wanted to do was play the guitar, so much for that. Who cares about tune when you don’t even have all the strings!

I burst out crying. What with the birthday crisis, the pawn shop wheeling and dealing, and the simple, brutal disappointment of a disappointment, I couldn’t help it. It was definitely time to make use of that audience in the living room. I dragged myself off the bed and trudged, in pure glorious misery, down the hall, sobbing all the way.

“What’s wrong?” asked my husband when he saw my red face come round the corner.

“I think I got ripped off,” I wailed.

He sighed and held out his arms. I ran headfirst into his hug and clung tight, sniffling.

“It’s too soon to know that,” he said.

Stay tuned for part 6!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 4)

June 27, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 to 3? (click here)

I walked out of the pawn shop twenty minutes later carrying the guitar, a busker’s dream case with lush velvety green lining, a digital tuner, and an ipod with a case (don’t ask), all bought for a total $220 cdn. Halfway through our haggling, I’d started to feel a little guilty. I wasn’t used to the merciless back and forth and sneak plays. But after listening to my quarry whine to another customer about the cost of the oak banisters he was installing as part of his total home renovation, any trepidation I’d felt dissolved.

My proudest moment? I had the man down to $230. I knew he wasn’t moving, per say, but maybe I could get him to bend. “My personal budget was $200,” I said. “The highest I could possibly justify is $220, because I could keep telling myself it’s only one twenty dollar bill more.” Sure he dropped the extra ten bucks, but something tells me I’ve got a long way to go before I should take on the New Delhi Market. sigh.

Only one thing separates guitar players from the non-playing public (hint: it’s not the guitar!). Only guitar players know how fantastically “cool” one feels walking down the street carrying a beat up guitar case. There’s really nothing like it. I put on my best tortured musician pout and headed for home. But I had no idea how quickly my sidewalk act would became the real deal. I should really have checked under that Band-Aid.

Stay tuned for part 5!

Before you can play the guitar… (part 3)

June 26, 2008

Need to catch up on parts 1 & 2? (click here)

Everything I knew about pawn shops, I’d learned from the movies. And sure enough, when I walked in, the first thing I saw was a sleazy looking scruffed up man behind the counter. He leered at me and I smiled back cheerfully. My plan was to play the naïve university student looking for my first guitar. You know, laid back, chill, financially wishy washy. I figured it would give me the edge if things got ugly on the bargaining table. I wanted my ruthlessness to catch him off guard. Just as long as he didn’t suspect the truth, that my backpack was disguising a woman in crisis, one who was leaving his shop with a guitar whether he (or she!) liked it or not.

Wouldn’t you know it, a pawn shop with a dozen acoustic guitar cases on display only had one of the actual instruments in stock! The man brought me fate’s “pick” from the back of the store and I was sold by the first strum. Ok, honestly, I was sold by the name Fender on the neck and the magical fit and balance of the guitar in my arms. The sound was miserable, completely out of tune and made worse by my hack strumming. But the guitar just felt, somehow, right. There was no doubt that before whatever tragic circumstances had brought it to the pawn shop, the guitar had been loved. Its worn blond wood body bore the scars of a thousand campfire sing-alongs, and I laughed when I found a Band-Aid stuck to its side to prove it!

Stay tuned for part 4