Every Guitar Has a Story

One of the most common dreams that seems to pop into my head these days is the music dream. The old faithful ‘dirty bathroom’ and ‘oh God I’m back in high school!’ dreams are still pretty prevalent as well, but the one that seems to haunt my brain is the music dream. I’m either playing a new instrument, planning a gig, or coming up with a song in those dreams. The feeling of holding an instrument and strumming is strong, and it’s a visceral connection to music for me. Unlike the high school and bathroom dreams where I’m perfectly aware I’m not actually in some underground, cave-like bathroom searching for a stall that isn’t overflowing with excrement; or that I’m not four months late to a Geometry class. In the music dreams I do get lost in the feeling of playing guitar and that nervousness of pre-gig jitters is very real.

I know that it’s my head and heart haunting my sleep because I don’t do that thing I love so much like I used to, or like I should. I think about music constantly. Even going a month without touching an instrument, every day I’m thinking about the act to creating music; song ideas, project ideas, stalking gear sites and creating “wish lists” of gear. I think of all the guitars I’ve owned and then got rid of and it makes me sad. I’m not sad about getting rid of ALL of them, but there’s three or four that still hurt. Each of those guitars has a story to it that made the guitar that much more special.

First one would be the Rickenbacker 330 I bought in the summer of ’98. I’d gotten a bonus at work and my cousin and I decided to head to Woodwind and Brasswind in South Bend. I knew I was coming home with a new guitar, just wasn’t sure if it was going to be a Ric. But once I got there and saw the guitar on the wall, and the fact that at that time the guitar was less than a grand(try finding one for less than $1,800 nowadays) I knew it would be mine. And it was.

I recorded, wrote, and even gigged with that guitar for years until we had a baby on the way and needed cash to help pay for stuff while I was home with my wife and our newborn(didn’t get paid for FMLA leave way back when) I ended up selling it. But as you can see below, it was totally worth it.

While I never truly locked into the Ric vibe, I feel over time I would have been able to unlock it’s jangle potential. It was a beautiful Fireglo, and I do regret saying goodbye to it. I guess I do get some solace knowing I sold it a real Ric aficionado down in the Carolinas. It went to a good home. And also, I locked into the dad vibe pretty quickly.

The next one would be the Tobacco Burst American Stratocaster that my wife bought me on a weekend trip to Indianapolis. I can’t for the life of me think of why we were there, but I’m guessing it was just a pre-kids weekend jaunt to stay in the big city, go shopping, and get dinner. We’d gone to the Circle Center Mall in downtown Indy for some good old window shopping, then I’d mentioned maybe going to IRC Music, which was where I’d bought my Rickenbacker bass a few years before. We made our way to IRC and on the wall was this beautiful Tobacco Burst American Strat.

I started out playing Strats. A blue made in Japan Squier Strat was my first electric guitar, which my parents bought me for my 14th birthday, so Strats were my gateway to guitar. Hendrix, Malmsteen, Blackmore, and Beck were Strat wizards, so I was in good company.

By 1999 that guitar was in rough shape, so seeing a brand new American Strat in that great tobacco burst finish I was floored. Even more floored when my wife told me to get it. Huh?? What?? You don’t question something like that, so I brought home a brand new Strat with me from Indianapolis that weekend. To this day, it was probably one of the best playing guitars I ever owned. It seemed like back then I never had to take a brand new guitar to a guitar tech to set it up for me so it was playable. They were ready to go. The last guitar I bought for myself was a Squier Classic Vibe Jaguar. Even with the “55 Point Inspection” the guitar retalier touted this thing didn’t play worth a crap. I still had to have a guy work on it for me.

Of course, at some point we got over extended or I bought some other crap I didn’t need so I had to sell my Strat for something. I ended up buying some crappy Player’s Series Strat off Ebay to make up for that loss. Of course that was sold off as well.

My wife and I headed to Johnson City, Tennessee for our honeymoon in July of 1996. Why Johnson City? Well, that’s where she went to college and that’s where one of her good friends still lived and was going to college. She invited us down to stay at her apartment for a few days and figured that’d be a solid way to spend our honeymoon. We saw a huge Fourth Of July fireworks display, went jaunting in the Tennessee woods on extremely steep trails, and ate at some amazing Japanese restaurant. One one of those days we were out and about in a nearby town and saw a music shop in a rundown part of the city. I asked if we could stop and so we did. We walked in and I saw this white Rickenbacker 610. As far as Rics go it was kind of a plain jane model. Solid body, smaller body style, and just not much flash. But it was a Ric and I kind of dug it. It was also only $549. My wife was like, “Happy Honeymoon”, and I left that hole in the wall with a new guitar.

Not my actual Ric, but a close interpretation

There wasn’t anything truly special about the guitar. It had a nice crunch to its sound, was small and pretty light, but tonally it was kind of a one trick pony. But it was the circumstances around getting it that made it special. It was a wife that was cool with me getting a guitar out of the blue. It was also the first 6-string electric guitar that I owned that hadn’t been a Strat. A couple years before I’d bought another Japanese Squier Strat in a wine red finish, with lace sensor single coils. Great guitar(and another I wish I hadn’t parted with.) So this Ric was the start of a new era for me and my playing. I played it for years, and played my first actual gig with this guitar. It ended up going to the Ric aficionado in the Carolina’s as well.

The last one is an SG Special Limited Edition 50th Anniversary in TV Yellow finish. Normally, you’d think there isn’t anything particularly exciting about this guitar. It was probably $500 brand new. I bought it for $250, even though the owner only had it for a couple of days(buyer’s remorse.) But this guitar had some bite to it. The P-90 pickups had grit to ’em, and the guitar played really well. Didn’t go out of tune. It was perfect for when you wanted a nasty buzz and bite to your tone.

The actual SG

I wasn’t looking for a guitar, but my friend had reached out and had said it just wasn’t for him and wanted to know if I wanted to buy it. I said I’d consult with my wife and see what she said. If it wasn’t my friend selling it she probably wouldn’t have been as cool with my buying it, but since it was him she was cool. Plus it was right around tax refund time, so we had a little extra money.

That Epiphone played a big role in a music project I was involved in called Cambodia Highball with another friend in 2013. It was featured on a few tracks, and it had just the right amount of bite for some psych rock tracks we’d written and recorded.

There were also some family recording sessions involving me and all three kids. We’d all get an instrument and just see what weird noise we could make. My son always went for the Epi SG Special. He was drawn to it. I’m genuinely sad I don’t have it anymore to be able to pass that six-string baton to him, now that he’s turning 18 and is heavily into music(just like I was at 18.)

But the biggest reason I regret getting rid of that guitar was because that good friend I bought it from passed away back in 2017. It’s not like the guitar meant that much to him, as he only had it for like three days before realizing he wasn’t gelling with it. But the fact that I got it from him. It would have been a connection to him regardless. I sold it a good year and a half before he died, so it wasn’t like I knew he’d be gone. But it still stings.

One consolation is that I still have the Vox AC-15 I bought from that same friend the year before. It was another impulse buy on his part that proved to be a dead end. He probably hadn’t had the amp for a month before he reached out to me about buying it. I still had my Marshall JCM-900 50 watt half stack that I’d been playing through for 10 years, but I felt I was ready for a change. So I sold my Marshall head to a guy at work, the cabinet to my cousin for $50, and then snagged the Vox AC-15. It’s served me well for over ten years, and will probably serve me well for another 10.

I know we shouldn’t dwell on past decisions and regrets, but regrets are just decisions our future selves don’t agree with that our past selves made. But when money is involved, nothing seems nearly as valuable and important until years later when you’re maybe in a much better place emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Do I wish I could jump in the Wayback Machine and go snag all these instruments back from the jaws of internet auctions? I sure do. But in the end they’re just things. I’ve got the memories still; the adventures of finding them in the wild and making that impulsive decision to slap that card on the counter and say “I’ll take it!” The events surrounding these purchases are just as important. And it’s not like I’m without instruments. I’ve got guitars to play on. Their stories may not be as interesting, but I can still rock out on ’em. That’s what counts. I may not have those guitars to go downstairs to, plug in, and make some noise on, but I’m almost certain I’ll see ’em again. In one of those music dreams(I hope in one of those dreams, and not the dirty bathroom dreams.)

My “Rics”, circa 1998.

I also have all the music I made on those guitars, recorded and permanently displayed on these interwebs. Also, on a clunky old DAW downstairs where I can hear those six strings still buzzing with life and bringing my musical ideas to fruition. And I’ve got the memories and adventures that brought those guitars into my life. Those will always be there.

At least until I’m not.

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