Tag Archives: guitar

All About My First Guitar

Back in the mid-70s I took it into my head that I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly why, but there was a great chance that my about to turn 15 year old brain was thinking… “How to attract the female sorts!”

Yeah, I wasn’t alone in that then or now. Watch a lot of “history of this or that band” programs and you’ll hear many guitarists agreeing with my motivation.

So I asked my mom if I could have one for… Christmas I think, or maybe my birthday, and she went off on a classic mom rant. “Oh sure! It’ll be like your clarinet and you’ll never practice.” etc. etc.

Mind you, she conveniently forgot that she’d forced me to take clarinet in the grade school band class, when I really wanted to play drums. Being a temperamental new teen I huffed, “Fine! I’ll get one myself!”

Cue the fresh mom rant about how I couldn’t keep a part time teener job long enough to afford such a thing. Blah, blah, blah. I stormed into my room in an even greater huff, with a side of raised dander. Why? Because that’s where my comic books were!

You, gentle reader, may be thinking “Pray what, Mr. Hobbit, do comic books have to do with getting a guitar?”

Gosh I’m glad you asked! I don’t know much about today’s comics, but in them days the the back covers often had splashy ads for a couple companies that did the same thing. I only recall one of the company names and I’m not sure it’s the one I went with, but to give you an idea of what they were about the name I do recall is Junior Sales Club of America.

Both of them sent you a starter sample pack and you went door-to-door selling general greeting and/or Christmas cards. For your efforts you could either keep a percentage of the cash or choose prizes from their catalog. And right there in all their glossy comic book cover glory were pictures of a selection from said catalog. Need I mention that one of those glorious prizes was an acoustic guitar, and it came with a really cheapo nylon carry bag? It was love at first sight.

I ordered the kit and, unlike nowadays, the Post Office had it to me post haste. I started going out every weekday evening and most of the weekend days, either flogging them or hand delivering them to the customers. (No drop shipping for these folk. They all came to me.) Thank goodness for my bicycle. I covered a hell of a lot of area in my quest.

And, much to mom’s astonishment, in a little under 2 months my guitar arrived. And what a guitar it was. It was what you might call “Parlor Guitar” sized. It’s action was absolutely execrable and I had no idea that it was even possible to make it any better. (Though it might actually not have been possible with this little gem.) The finish on the extremely cheap plywood top was so rough you could run your fingernail across the grain and it would make a sound reminiscent of running a stick along a picket fence. The tuning gears made it a struggle to get it anywhere near well tuned, but I persevered.

(Bear in mind there was no such things as clever little clip-on tuners to help you with this task back then, and my ear tuning—with a tuning fork I actually convinced her to buy me—wasn’t so grand because, not to put too fine a point on it, I had a completely tin ear.)

This was a terrible disappointment to mom, as she had a terrific sense of pitch and had actually taught herself how to play the piano at a very young age. Maybe I should share that little story here at a later date.

Anyways, she’d sing a note at me and want me to sing it back to her. I could never even get in the right neighborhood, and was sometimes in an entirely different town.

In any event, I got a book of chords and some sheet music with the guitar chords on them and set to work. There was some bleeding involved before I started developing the necessary callouses.

And then—cue angelic choirs—I was watching the local PBS station and found Tracy Newman teaching folk guitar. I used to take the school bus and it would deliver me several blocks from home, from whence I ran the rest of the way because Tracy was on shortly after school let out. You can find some of her stuff on the YouTubes. She also taught banjo but I only found out about that recently.

I’d madly dash into my room, kick my little brother out, and close the door for a half hour of learning how to do this thing. Plus I fell madly in love with her.

Near as I can tell, as of about 8 months ago, she was still alive, kicking, and even touring occasionally. You go, girlfriend!

I’ll end up here with a few updates.

First, my actual dedication to learning the thing impressed mom sufficiently that the following Christmas she bought me a genuine Sears dreadnought guitar, complete with one of those extremely cheapo cardboard “hard shell” cases. Nowadays I’d consider it at best OK, but back then it was such an improvement I was completely delighted. I played it for a number of years before moving along to something a bit better. Though damned if I can remember what it was now, nearly 50 years later.

Second, while I’m still not someone you’d want to hire for your opera company, I can mostly carry a tune without having it gift wrapped.

Third, I play a number of instruments now, to one degree of skill or another, but the guitar comes in second only to harmonica (which I’ve been playing for nearly 60 years). Perhaps I’ll relate that story here at some point.

While this post is hardly great literature, I hope you found in at least mildly amusing. Please consider dropping a tip into my Ko-fi tip bucket (the link is on my homepage) if you’d like to help support me in my various artistic endeavors.

Whether or not you can do that, please leave a comment here. I’m much more interested in relating with folks than I am with just shouting into the void.

Last, but certainly not least, thanks for reading this!

Snake Suspenderz at the Blue Moon on 04/23/17

The mighty Snakez are delighted to be opening this show for the fabulous Bakelite 78!

Snake Suspenderz, trying to look innocent

In case you don’t know Snake Suspenderz already, we’re a quartet featuring vocals, ukulele, trombone, guitar, tuba and drums. We call our music “cartoon jazz” and we play a relentlessly quirky blend of novelty songs and hits of the 1920’s and 30’s, with a generous helping of original tunes written in those styles. By turns snarky, sentimental, and exuberant, the mighty Snakez bring wildly entertaining musical fun for the whole family and then some, fulfilling our mission to provide “hot jass, hokum and novelty music — with a bite!

Bakelite 78, keeping the speakeasy vibe alive.

Bakelite 78’s repertoire is an eclectic mix of swing, Dixieland, blues, proto-country, and cabaret, as well as a plethora of originals in hybrids of these styles.  Founding member Robert Rial arrived in Chicago in 2000, eager to engage in the music he loved most: dance orchestra music/swing, country-blues, dixieland, tin pan alley, rock and American folk. Bakelite 78 preserved the music of the early 20th Century, and the band was born to keep classic crooner vocals & speak-easy jazz/lounge/cabaret alive.

In 2009, Robert departed for Seattle and Bakelite 78 was rebuilt. The new lineup of musicians includes Robert Rial on tenor banjo, six string, tenor guitar and voice, Erin Jordan on accordion and voice, Austin Quist on upright bass, Erik Reed on trumpet, Sabrina Pope on clarinet, and Steven Baz on drums.

We’re going to party like it’s 1929! Come on down!

Pics From The Stables Gig

These pictures were taken back on October 22nd during the Georgetown Haunted History ToursSnake Suspenderz played both nights of the event, which is hosted at the The Stables in Georgetown. All photos on this page courtesy of Espresso Buzz Photography.

the mighty Snakez (l to r) salamandir, Hobbit, Sketch, Thadd

This was the first Snakez gig where we used my fancy sound system and I learned a lot of new things about it. The room is small enough that I only had to use one of my speakers as “house,” which allowed me to turn the other on its side and use it as a monitor. (Handy, but I really need to get actual monitor speakers in a smaller size. Especially when playing on a small stage!)

mixer/amp just to the left of Hobbit. “monitor” speaker in lower left corner.

All that aside, I’d never used the monitor channel feature before and it was cool figuring out how to put a different mix in the monitor (for the band) than I did for the house speaker. The mixer has a built-in selection of digital effects and when I fired it up it was set to #10 – Small Room Reverb. So I also sussed out how to add a bit of reverb to the house side without also adding it to the monitor mix. Both busses (house and monitor) have their own graphic EQ. We were getting a bit of that “pre-feedback ring” and, thanks to Thadd, I now know that cutting back on the 1k band often solves that.

It was a great gig with a terrific audience and I learned things. Can’t ask for much more than that…

Sketch, all lit up and looking artsy

… except maybe an artsy shot of Sketch, illuminated by his string-o-drum-lights.