What’s in a colour?

Did you know that the colours that Leo Fender originally assigned to his stratocasters and Telecasters were all colours of cars made in the 1950’s and early 1960’s? Colours included Candy apple Red, Fiesta Red, Olympic White, Sea foam green, Daphne Blue, Sonic Blue and Arctic white. One of the rarest colours was “Gibson Gold” which appeared for a short period in the late fifties and is rarely seen today. Perhaps it was Mr Fender’s recognition of the growing popularity of Gibson’s Les Paul goldtop guitars which were gaining an important foothold in the guitar market at the same time.  Whatever the case the colour had a short shelf life and was replaced by Aztec Gold in the sixties which became a staple in the Fender colour chart.

Original stratocasters from the early sixties now fetch phenominal prices which are further enhanced by the desirability or rareness of a particular colour. In the early 1960’s John Lennon and George Harrison acquired matching Sonic blue Fender Stratocasters with mint Green scratch plates. Imagine the price that either of these two strats would fetch in todays market!

Keep Strumming!

Beginner or not, the case for the classical guitar

 

I’ve owned many classical guitars and have always advocated that a classical guitar in reasonable condition is a great first instrument for most students. Sorry to all you Jimi clones out there who have decided that electric guitar is the only way to go but I have to give the classical guitar its due. With absolutely no shame and much gratiude, I happily acknowledge the debt that I have to my seventies Suzuki nylon string, which I hammered daily, nightly and any time in between. In its later life it even earn’t the scars of battle – or is it the rites of passage? – showing deep plectrum scrapes that eventually appeared on both sides of the soundhole and reminded me of the many great nights where food, wine, song, love and laughter were the only necessities. Eventually it was passed on to a student who hopefully has passed it on down the line. At least that is the dream. One thing that I can certainly say is that the beaten up old box of wood and strings never let me down.

So why choose a classical guitar for your first instrument? Let me stress at this point that no guitar will ever be the best option for everybody but here are some of the reasons why a classical guitar can contribute to a positive beginning for many novice guitar players.

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It has a nice wide neck for finger placement, it is easy to cart around, it hurts tender fingers far less than do its steel string counterparts and because of its size it fits comfortably on the body. I also believe that because of its wider neck width it can aid in developing finger strength and dexterity. From jazz to blues to flamenco to classical and, yes folks, even very cool versions of rock classics, the good old classical can be a guitar player’s reliable no frills go-to instrument. It always sits nice and handy in the corner ready for action. I wonder how many thousands of times Willie Nelson’s beaten up old classical has helped him to write another hit – and if you didn’t know about Willie you should check him out because he is one of the master songwriters of the last 50+ years.

The case for this often maligned instrument has been made even more compelling in recent years because of the influx of so many well made and relatively inexpensive models coming out of the better Chinese guitar factories. Now for no more than $250 you can purchase a solid top classical guitar that in addition to the top will also have a quality laminate on the back and sides and very reasonable geared machine heads. If you go for one of the  instruments in the $200 and upwards price range you will even get a bone nut and saddle!

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The guitar photographed here was hand built in 1979 by one of the important Japanese luthiers, Hiroshi Komori. It has his maker’s stamp on the label and a beautiful spruce top with jacaranda back and sides (jacaranda has been used quite often by Japanese luthiers and is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Brazilian rosewood). I have not owned this guitar forever but like all great guitars I feel connected to it, almost like it was made for me. Check out the lyrics to Neil Young’s “This old guitar”- you’ll get the picture. Neil is referring to Hank William’s old pre-war Martin which Neil now has in his possession but he could very well be talking about my Komori or any other well loved and treasured instrument. The good ones certainly have a special character and like Neil’s ‘old guitar’, even though the Komori is an expensive instrument, just like my old Suzuki used to do, it leans comfortably against any wall and is rarely in its case. Every now and then it winks at me and demands to be played … Go figure.

Did you know …

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New York has long been known the world over as the “Big Apple”. The term was coined by touring jazz musicians from the 1930’s who used the word “apple” as a slang expression for any town or city they were performing in. New York was always considered the big city and jazz musician’s came from all over to play there because of the widely held belief that making it in New York meant that you had really made the big time. So to play in New York was to play in the Big Apple.

Did you know …

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While there could be no argument that the American music scene both before and after World War 2 was dominated by the virtuosity of so many African American musicians, unlike their white collegues they could not expect to enjoy the same working conditions. While they would perform up to six sets a night entertaining their white audiences, they were not allowed to frequent the clubs they performed in other than when they were sweating it out on the bandstand. When the band would take a break, it was the norm for the African American musicians to congregate outside the venues that they were largely responsible for filling while they waited for the next set to begin. One can only imagine the impact that waiting around on a cold winters night had on precious fingers and voices.

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The revolution that was bebop and the birth of modern jazz

DSC_0351 (2).JPGMiles Davis says in the prologue of his autobiography, “Listen. The greatest feeling I ever had in my life – with my clothes on – was when I first heard Diz and Bird together in St Louis, Missouri, back in 1944 … Man that shit was so terrible it was scary.”[1]

It must have been an amazing feeling to actually be there when the massive tidal wave that was bebop hit the music scene. For jazz musicians used to the easy swing of the big band era of the thirties and forties, this new musical invention must have been, as Miles suggested, ‘scary’. On another more egotistical level, there was a feeling of personal insult amongst many of the leading swing musicians of the 1940’s who saw this wild new music as a flagrant disrespect for the jazz that these old legends had fought so hard and suffered so much for. Certainly they were right, bebop was a departure from form. I would argue, however, that it is in fact a logical extension of swing’s fast four-four beat but without the uniformity of swing’s accents or the consistent beat of the bass drum.

In essence any common chord progression could be used in the bebop style because the progression was merely the harmonic vehicle to showcase the musicians’ virtuosic ability. Clearly this was not a music designed for easy listening, a fact that, as I have already suggested, would have upset older, more established musicians who were used to entertaining their audiences by giving them what could be easily enjoyed by the average listener. Bebop challenged these boundaries and promoted itself as an art form that required its audiences to listen intently rather than dance. This effectively removed jazz from the mainstream of popular music, which would have only polarised many of the jazz establishment even further.

Not that this would have concerned the ‘boppers’; the bebop message was never aimed at achieving mainstream acceptance. Its many detractors notwithstanding, it offered to its followers a chance to buck against accepted norms in much the same way that folk protest music and then rock music harnessed the voice of change in the 1960s. This was undoubtedly the case for young musicians like Miles – bebop was the chance that they had been waiting for. It was their opportunity to be part of a totally new musical direction that not only challenged the accepted status quo but gave the new generation a unique voice that set it apart from what had gone before. In the eyes of these young lions bebop was the hip new injection that jazz was waiting for and its creators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were the new stars to be emulated. They and those like Miles who immediately followed them were not only young and supremely talented but bored and rebellious and committed to their art. In short, they lived for playing. Each one of them heard a fragment of the future. It was when they came together that ‘modern jazz’ was really born.

Keep music live.

[1] Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe., Miles: The autobiography, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.V

Miles, as a thought for the day…

“We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it?… Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change. Do you not see then that change in yourself is of the same order as nature?” ~ Marcus Aurelius 121-180 AD

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This is a beautiful photo of a young Miles Davis, one of the greatest bandleaders and musical creators of the twentieth century. From everything I have read of the man he was uncompromising in his determination to embrace change whatever the cost. As so many before him and after him he was a true artist and undoubtedly a twentieth century icon that in musical terms places him beside so many luminaries that include the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Jeff Buckley, Woody Gutherie and so the list goes on.

Is it possible that as Marcos Aurelius suggests we as humans are meant to keep seeking and embracing change? I certainly agree with his contention because I believe that as students of the guitar we naturally reflect that energy because for most of us as practising guitarists we will always be seeking to improve on the point at which we think we have arrived. I know it sounds deep but try to remember: music is a meditation. So keep on strumming.

Washburn Parlor Guitar, John Holland guitars, Sydney Inner West guitar lessons

For Sale: Washburn R314 K Parlor Guitar Number 84 of 250 (Collector’s Edition)

In 2008, Washburn Guitars decided to celebrate 125 years as one of America’s premier guitar builders by initially offering for sale 250 individually numbered guitars from various iconic models they had built since their humble beginnings in 1883.

To authenticate the instruments even further, they were artificially “aged” to look like they were in fact 125 years old. These original 250 instruments are different from the later mass produced options in that the tops are solid, not laminate, and the build qualities are substantially better.

From the very beginning, the Parlor guitar was a staple for the Washburn company. The Parlor was a smaller bodied instrument that as the name suggests could be played in the small front parlor rooms of well-to-do homes. For me, though, the vision of a thousand old blues players singing away their troubles on these lovely little guitars is a far more appealing image. These guitars have such a great acoustic blues tone!

Smaller than a concert guitar, the Parlor guitar has had a major revival in the last decades and original pre-1900 instruments now fetch substantial dollars depending on their quality and condition. [For more information on this instrument go to Guitars: “For Sale: Washburn R314 K Parlor Guitar Number 84 of 250 (Collector’s Edition)“]

 

Price: $1050.00