Tag Archives: Music

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!

April’s new video (and barely under the wire!)

This is the second of the two “short story songs” I wrote late last year. You can check out the other one here if you haven’t already. It makes 4 months in a row that I’ve put up a new vid. (Though I’m definitely just barely squeaking this one in on time!)

(However, I do still have one “in the can” for next month.)

As usual, I’m experimenting with what I can do with LumaFusion. Still don’t have the color grading and such down very well, so the two cameras don’t exactly match. I suspect that better lighting will fix some of that.

I did learn that I could–after jumping through some hoops–use my 10-year old Canon Vixia cameras with LF on the iPad. That’s good because they were bloody expensive when I bought them new and I hate to have them simply hanging around collecting dust.

(Come to think on it, I had to jump through some hoops back when I was using an old version of iMovie on an elderly Mac desktop.)

The next test I do will be adding in my Zoom H2 to up the audio quality. Plus, if I want to, I can throw my phone camera into the mix and do a three camera shoot. That ought to keep me confused.

So with no further ado I present…

Hemoglobin Overload

If you like it, please share it! Sharing is caring.

Schmutz In My Harp

Regular readers of this site (both of you) might recall how I had been working on bringing harmonica on the rack back into my act. In pursuit of that, I bought a sparkly fresh set of reed plates for my Lee Oskar C harp, which had gotten so old that it was all blown out of tune and, after some moderate kerfluffle, got them installed.

Only to discover that one of the reeds didn’t work well at all.

(Full disclosure: the pic is of a Hohner Blues Harp. I chose it because, unlike with the Oskar, you can see the reed plates when it’s assembled. They’re the brass bits in the picture.)

Now, taking apart and re-assembling a harmonica is a bit of a chore. The top and bottom covers are held on by wee little bolts and, in the case of the Oskar, weirdly shaped and equally tiny nuts. The bolts are sized so that when everything is tightened up, only a smidgen of the bolt comes out the other side of the nut. This is a good thing for a variety of reasons, but it makes it damned difficult to put the bolts back in. So, when I discovered that one of the reeds was only going to make odd little sounds I set the whole thing aside for later, sniffling a little bit about the $25 (+ shipping!) that I thought I’d just wasted.

Oh yeah. And the ~$6 I spent getting a stubby little #1 Phillips head screwdriver.

Then life continued happening and I didn’t get around to popping the thing open until yesterday. I thought maybe I could give recalcitrant reed a little prod and free it up. I got the bolts out and carefully placed where I wouldn’t lose them and pulled the top off.

What’s this? A little piece of brownish schmutz, maybe a bit less than twice the size of a kitchen match head. Tilting the thing made the schmutz drop off and a bit of testing (prior to messing about with the bolts again!) revealed that the reed was free to vibrate in its proper fashion.

But here’s the weird bit. When the harp is assembled properly there are no openings large enough to let mister schmutz get in. I mean, it was soft enough that if you poked it with a hairpin or something like that, you could force it in. But I certainly didn’t do that.

So I’d managed to inadvertently introduce ol’ schmutzy to the interior of the harp when I was originally re-assembling it. Without knowing I’d done so. In fact, I can’t for the life of me figure out just what the schmutz is made of, so I can’t even hazard a guess on how I managed to pick it up and secretly slip it into the works.

Oh well. I guess it’ll have to remain one of life’s little mysteries. Meanwhile I’ve got loads of practicing to catch up on.

New Year’s Greetings!

We’ll start off with a New Year’s treating, just to rhyme with the greeting.

For my friends and fans who are also ukulele aces, I’ve just finished a small document on lead playing for the ukulele based on the Pentatonic Minor blues boxes for guitar. This is five, easy to learn, interlocking patterns on the fretboard that allow you to play lead riffs and licks in any key. And, despite its name, there are other genres besides blues that these patterns will work for.

There are several pages of explanation and one page with all of the boxes diagramed out for easy visualization of them and their relationship with each other.

As is usual for my uke documents, this one is a pdf file and can be downloaded for free. Also as usual, if you like it and find it useful, the best way to say thanks is to drop a dollar or two into my online tip bucket (over there in the right column of this page). It’s the slow busking season here, kids, and you’d be surprised at how useful the occasional extra dollar is.

Download Minor Pentatonic Blues Boxes For Ukulele.

Happy New Year and happy picking!