I think I'm in a phase of reinvention. I recently acquired a Fender Telecaster. I've always shied away the popular makes and models of guitars. I traded my 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 for a massive store credit at one of the few remaining civilised and independent music stores, Parkway Music in Clifton Park NY.
The Gibson had been hanging on the wall for two years, gathering dust. In previous years I've used it to create feedback drones that sound vaguely like a French horn. I almost used it on the track 1983 on our last album, A Working Museum. But I didn't because I've got a Guild Star fire that does everything the Gibson can do and a lot more.
When I bought the Gibson I really wanted a Starfire but the Gibson was there, I had the cash, and I needed a decent guitar.
It was London, 1990. The Gibson was hanging in the window of Macari's on Charing Cross Road. It was a Friday morning. They wanted twelve hundred for it. I had seven hundred in my pocket because that's what I'd decided I was going to pay for it. I made the offer which was refused out of hand. I pulled the money out of my pocket and started counting it. The guy in charge told me to put it away but I carried on counting.
Money was scarce in England at the time.
'That's our wages,' I heard one of the assistants say.
The manager told me I was wasting my time but I carried on counting out the money, laying it down on the counter. When I got to five hundred and he said I could have it for nine.
'All I've got's seven hundred,' I said.
I'd got to six hundred and sixty in used twenties by the time he capitulated.
'Alright, seven hundred, cash, you bastard.'
I never much liked Macari's.
The problem with owning a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 in perfect condition (with chrome pick-up covers) was that crowds gathered round it. Fat blokes, blokes with beards, checked shirts, shapeless brown corduroys; balding blues players, blowhards, nerds and manual readers. I thought the Gibson was going to be a chick magnet but I was disappointed.
It sounded pretty good, especially when I discovered the front pick-up. I played it through a fifteen watt Ampeg Jet combo amp. It put out a fierce signal, distorted the pre-amp stage, horrified sound engineers in th more sedate venues.
In 1991 I played it with The Pretty Things. Dick Taylor turned to me between Midnight To Six and Don't Bring Me Down – 'I can't believe the sound you're getting out of that guitar.'
It was one of the greatest moments in my musical career.
But still the guitar had to go.
The last time I used it live was on The Rutles tour in 2004. Since then it's hung around, waiting to be of used, and making me feel guilty as I churned out tracks using less valuable, less sought after guitars. I tried to put it out of sight but never relegated it to its case – I would have felt even more guilty knowing that such an asset was stored beyond potential and effortless use.
And anyway, I was using the case for one of my other guitars, one that I could smash into the front of my amplifier in a wailing cacophony of distressed wood, metal and plastic.
You'd never do that to a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330.
The Gibson made me a better guitar player, mostly because it gave me confidence. I no longer suffered the disdainful looks that real musicians reserved for the young men and boys who gamely scrubbed away behind lesser instruments, with their questionable intonation and bow and arrow action.
I would get my axe out, and once I'd learned the swagger, the assuredness of one who has invested money in their calling, those fuckers knew I meant business.
But there was no fun in it.
So finally I took it along to the music store and we thrashed out a deal that made us all happy. The 330 went to a collector in Japan where I'm sure it'll adored and fawned over in a manner that suits it – that guitar was always a bit of a Prima Donna so I'm sure it's having a great time.
As for me, I've had a load of equipment repaired, I've got a Tascam 38 1/2” eight track machine with Teac heads in practically perfect condition, and a Mexican Telecaster. Stuff I can use! And I've still got store credit.
I spent a long afternoon trying out every Telecaster in the store. The ones made in Mexico are good but the pick-ups are shit. There's no point even plugging them in. The trick is to find one that feels good and has a good acoustic sound.
I found a second-hand one with all the tags and guarantees still attached. Plugged into an amplifier it sounded disgusting but it felt good so I took it. I sanded the lacquer of the back of the neck, changed the bridge saddles for brass ones, lowered the action, replaced the pick-ups, rewired it and changed the tone control capacitor. Now it sounds great – my first Telecaster!
I used it the other night at Atwood's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People told me afterwards how good I sounded, but nobody commented on the guitar. I finished the show with a full five minutes of intense feedback and ended up swinging the guitar between the amp and the mic stand in a whirl of oscillating feedback.
You wouldn't do that with a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330. You could, but you wouldn't.
It might not be a chick magnet but I obviously mean business with my customised Mexican Telecaster. I've already chipped the paint in a couple of places. I was going to sand off the metallic red finish but I think it might just take care of itself in time. It'll end up looking like the big green Microfret.
I'll tell you about that one another time.