My First (Electric) Guitar

It was December of 1987 and I was looking down the barrel of my 14th birthday. By that point I’d been playing guitar for a year and change(first lesson was August of 1986.) Of course I wanted to start out with an electric guitar. It wasn’t like I’d been inspired by acoustic troubadours and the coffeehouse crowd of the late 50s folk scene. No, I was inspired early on by Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Angus Young, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck. Strats, Les Pauls, Telecasters, SGs and Marshalls oh my! I heard classic riffs and wanted to make that noise, too. I wanted high voltage, baby!

But the deal was that if I wanted to learn to play guitar I had to start out on an acoustic guitar, then eventually we’d discuss electric guitar options. I wasn’t much of a deal maker at 12-years old, but it seemed like a reasonable agreement to me. So in August of 1986 my mom took me to Paradise Music and I picked out a nondescript dreadnought acoustic guitar, a cheap case to put it in(imagine the difference between a $50,000 coffin and a pine box…my case was a pine box), and a Mel Bay guitar book. I had the beginners kit for learning the guitar.

I began taking lessons from a guy named Jim. Jim was a really nice guy. He was an accountant at one of the orthopedic companies in town, divorced, and lived in a single room sadsack apartment. Despite all of that he made me feel comfortable and he had a easy way about him. He wasn’t a rock and roll guy, really. He was more of the folksy acoustic guy, but he loved the Beatles and was willing to give it the old college try when one of the first songs I brought to him to teach me was David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose”. On acoustic guitar.

I got good pretty quickly. All the lessons he gave me I practiced meticulously(I had no social life, so what else was I gonna do?). We never got into theory, just mostly chords and timing; quarter, half, eighth notes, and all that jazz. Once I’d gotten chords down we just started to learn songs mostly. After a year I started hinting at getting an electric guitar to my parents. “We’ll think about it. You’ve got a birthday coming up in a couple months.”

So I was left with a big old question mark. Will they or won’t they? Do I have a say in what I get? At least the color? It was mostly left at that, with the assumption that I was probably going to get an electric guitar for my birthday. But what kind of electric guitar? No idea. Of course in my head I was thinking an SG or some pointy guitar like a Jackson or Charvel where I could do divebombs with the Floyd Rose Locking Trem and the color was some cool splatter design. Or maybe cheetah-striped.

My birthday is on December 2nd and it was the week of Thanksgiving. I was starting to get restless wondering if there’d be an electric guitar presented to me the afternoon after school on my birthday. So one day while the parents were out I of course started snooping. Checked their closet. Nothing. Checked the basement. Nothing. I decided to look under their bed and jackpot. Under the bed lay a black electric guitar case. Hardshell. I didn’t pull it out because I felt that would be crossing some moral line or something, but I could make out the wording on top of the case: Fender.

You know, I hadn’t even thought about a Fender Strat. I was a big fan of Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, and of course Hendrix. My mind instantly rewired to the idea of a Fender Strat and I was in. 100%. I had to play it cool for another week, not showing my cards and keeping the poker face on tight. If my parents were to find out I’d been snooping then maybe they’d take the Strat back. So for the next week I had to keep my excitement to a dull roar. I did it, but it was hard.

December 2, 1987 arrived. I was officially a 14-year old guitar-playing nerd with a hefty cassette tape addiction and could play “Hell’s Bells” on an acoustic guitar that had the action of a Dobro. I was waiting for this day for what seemed like forever. Well, in some ways I sort of was. The dream of having an electric guitar goes back years for me; from seeing my uncle’s band playing on live local TV at 5 or 6-years old, to messing with a beat up old electric in another uncle’s attic, to watching Woodstock on PBS as a kid and feeling electricity rush through me seeing Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix lay it all on the line. I’d been working up to this moment my whole life.

I got home from school around 3:50pm. My mom greeted me at the door and said “Happy Birthday! When your dad gets home from work you can have your present, then we’ll go get pizza.” So we waited till 4:20 till my dad rolled in, at which time they both went back to their bedroom and came back out with a black guitar case that said ‘Fender’ on it. I gave my best “What???” look, at which time my dad said “Don’t look so surprised. You knew you were getting this”. “But no” I replied, at that point not caring. I just wanted to open that case up.

I set the case on the kitchen table and proceeded to unlatch it. Inside laying in a bed of black velvet-y looking liner was a blue Fender Squier Stratocaster. It was magnificent looking. My Excalibur. Apparently my guitar teacher Jim and had helped my parents in finding this thing of beauty. It was at the same music store, Paradise Music, that I’d gotten that cheap dreadnought a little over a year before. It was a Made In Japan Squier Strat, and only two years old. Not sure if it made it into the store on a trade-in or what, but I felt pretty lucky that they found it when they did because I imagine it wouldn’t have last long there.

Besides the guitar, they also bought me a little practice amp. It was small, but it did the job. Had an overdrive section so I was good. This was the guitar that took me through middle school and high school. It was my only electric guitar for 5 years, until my senior year when I bought this dark blue Fender Squier “rocker” edition with humbuckers and Floyd Rose trem. I financed that thing and my mom was pretty floored that I did that. Turned out the guitar was junk for the most part, so after a couple years I traded it in for a Fender 12-string acoustic guitar. I did end up buying another Fender Squier Strat just like my first one, only this one had Fender Lace Sensor pickups and was a burgundy color. I think I paid $350 for that one. It was maybe two or three years newer than my original.

Eventually I sold it to a guy I worked with. Though that one was in much better shape with nice upgraded pickups, I decided to keep my original blue Strat. We had a history. It was my first electric guitar. I just couldn’t see myself selling that guitar for $200-$250. It wasn’t just a guitar I’d be selling. It’d be all the memories, the songs I learned on it, the finger pricks I got restringing it, and the eventual pickup upgrades I’d sloppily do myself. I even tried putting a floating trem on it once, drilling two big holes on either side of the original trem. That new trem only lasted a few months before I took it off and put the original back in(weird holes visible and all.) I was in the Guitar Licks guitar contest and got fourth place with that guitar when I was 16. And my Junior year of high school I performed in the Talent Show at the high school with that guitar.

My senior picture with the Squier

That guitar still belongs to me. It’s seen better days, with now missing pickups, a janky truss rod, of course two big holes on either side of the tremolo, and wiring that’s seen much better days. But I don’t care, because out of all the guitars I’ve ever owned, this is the one that means the most to me. It was the gateway to rock and roll guitar for me. It always sounded and played..just right. There were nights in my little practice room when I could get that crappy little practice amp to sing. It was that guitar. It held some sort of magic in it. Still does, I think.

At some point I’m going to bring it back to life. It deserves that. It’s not living up to its full potential locked away in its case in the basement. Whenever I open that case it’s like a time machine. I crack it open and the smell is intoxicating. It still smells exactly the same as it did 36 years ago when I opened it for the very first time. There’s new car smell, and then there’s new guitar smell. Nothing like it in the world.

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