Acid Heroes

August 7, 2012

Ace buys a new guitar

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Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, & Bass Guitars - Competition Music in Fort Worth, TXI bought a new guitar yesterday.  I hadn’t had one since 2000 when this tweaker chick broke my one good  guitar in a fit of pique.  And since then, I’ve been banging away on this $20 Good Will guitar for the last 8 years, which was more of a toy than a musical instrument.  So I decided it was time to up-grade.  Walking into a guitar store is always a nuerotic experience for me.  All the guitar store employees are virtuosos and musical snobs.  So I always imagine them looking at me and thinking:  “WHAT?   You think YOU’RE a musician??   I spit on your guitar pick!!”  But that could be my imagination.  I had actually bought a guitar a couple weeks ago, this $140 clunker — the cheapest guitar in the store.  But I couldn’t squeeze any magic out of the thing.  So I was hoping they would let me trade it back in and up-grade to a better guitar for a couple hundred more bucks.   But they didn’t have to do that.  They could figure: “You’re stupid enough to buy the thing, now your stuck with it.”  So it was a tense situation.  I explained my situation to the young guy behind the counter.  “You’ll have to talk to James, the owner,” he said.  James looked kind of like a 50-year-old Jimmy Page.  James was a dapper fellow, he moved like a dancer, and had vaguely haunted eyes.  He examined my clunker guitar for tell-tale nicks and scratches.

“The only thing I did to it was, I changed the strings,” I said.

“You WHAT?” said James, with an expression that implied that I had done something really stupid and he was repressing the urge to slap me in the face, and then throttle me around the throat until I was dead.  James had a manner that immediately put you on the defensive.  (For some reason, I wondered to myself:  “I’ll bet nobody ever calls him Jimmy.”)

“Yeah, I changed the strings to see if that was the problem,” I said.  “But that didn’t help, so I put the original strings back on the guitar.”

“Man, would you LOOK at those strings!”  James announced to everyone in the store.  “I’ve never seen anything LIKE that.   What did you DO to those strings?  They’re completely smooth as if they’ve been sanded down.”

I stood there feeling really stupid, wondering if I had deformed, spastic  fingers or something.   Had I somehow ruined the strings while I was hammering out my tender love ballads in E-Flat?  I kind of felt like I was in  a proctologist’s office and the proctologists suddenly announced:  “Would you look at the stool sample this guy just produced?  I’ve never seen anything like it!   What kind of an asshole would produce something like THAT?”  So I felt vaguely humiliated, as well as slightly pissed off, like: “HEY!!  Don’t be talking shit about my shit!”  But, on the other hand, I’ve never compared my stool sample to other people’s stool sample.  So what do I know.   So you have to defer to the experts.  Thats what its like walking into a guitar shop.  You’re helpless.  You’re at their mercy.

Anyways, James agreed to refund my money, minus $25 for having to “clean the dirt off the neck,”  which was nice of him. 

Then the young salesman took me into the next room to help me pick out a new guitar.   Now buying a new guitar is tricky.  Its kind of like buying new shoes.  The shoes might look great and feel great while you’re trying them on in the store.   But then, after you walk around in them for a week, you develop these hideous blisters on your feet, and they have to amputate your feet at the ankles, and then you get gangreen and die a slow, hideous death.  Buying a new guitar is like that. Only more painful.

Plus,  I’m the worst shopper in the world (the previous guitar I had strummed 3 times and bought it on the spot. I HATE trying to decide.).  The salesman showed me 3 different guitars and I strummed them a bit. 

“Do you like THIS one or THAT one?”  he said.

I’m trying to comparison shop.  I can never decide.  “Well, I like the tone on that one,” I said.  “And I like the action on the other one.  But that other one is bigger.”  I wondered if that counted for something. I held the guitar up-side-down and peered down the neck, as if searching for important clues.  “Hmmm,” I said.

Then I played a few of my riffs on the guitar.   But I’m nervous because I think the salesman is judging me.  They’re all goddam virtuosos and snobs that work at guitar stores.  Plus, they have to deal with musicians all day long, and musicians are all egomaniacs, or flakes, or drug addicts (or weird combinations of all three).  So they’re a hardened lot, guitar salesmen.  Plus, they’ve heard every guitar riff in the world, 8 hours aday for 20 years.  So they’re jaded.

There’s a famous story about Jerry Garcia.  He worked as a salesman in a guitar store for a short while before he became famous.  This customer came into the store, picked up a guitar and whipped off about 4 or 5 hot-shot, fancy-pants guitar riffs in quick succession.  And then he suddenly stopped playing and put the guitar down.  Garcia looked at him and said:  “Whats a matter?  You run out of talent?”  So working in a guitar store can turn even a nice guy like Jerry Garcia into a snob.  Its inevitable.

So I tell the young salesman up-front:  “My biggest problem is I’m a mediocre musician.  I have clumsy fingering.  So number one I need a guitar thats easy to play.  And I need a guitar with a nice tone.  And one where it stays in tune all the way up and down the neck.”  In other words, I want a really great guitar for as cheap a price as I can get away with.

“I know what you mean,” said the salesman.  So he’s sympathetic. Or is he just setting me up with salesman charm to pawn off a piece of crap on me?  So paranoia reins on both ends of the transaction..

The salesman goes in demonstration mode and strums away on the different guitars.  But whichever guitar he plays sounds great because he has actual musical talent.  So I want that guitar.  But then, when I play it, it still sounds like me.  So thats fucked.  Its a shame you can’t just buy talent. That would simplify the process.

“Man, thats a nice bit you played,” I said.  “What song is that?”

“Thats something I wrote myself,” he said.

“Sounds like something that would get played on the ALICE radio station,” I said.  “I mostly  just write songs myself.  I could never play in front of people.”

“Oh sure you could do it,” he said.

“Are you kidding?  Its hard enough for me to play in front of one person in a guitar store.”  (I really am nuerotic.)

“It is a stressful situation in a guitar store,” he said.

He asks if I want to see any more guitars.  “Forget it,” I said.  “I’d never be able to decide.”  So I just grabbed one and told him I’d take it.  $400 out the door, minus the $120 that James was knocking off for the trade-in guitar.

As the salesman was ringing up the transaction, I said to James:  “Of all the art-forms I’ve dabbled in, music is the weirdest. If only it was clear-cut, like:  For X amount of dollars you’ll get X amount of magic from the guitar.  And if you pay $50 more, you’ll get X amount more magic.  But it doesn’t work that way.”

James laughed.  Or smirked.  Hard to tell some times.

“I was a cartoonist for 15 years, and cartooning is a pretty simple medium,” I said.  “You got the paper and the pen and it works the same way every time.  Its linear.  But music is different.  Its more ethereal.  It seems to be there one moment, and then its gone.”

“Where’d you get your cartoons printed?” asked the young salesman.

“Magazines like HIGH TIMES and MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL,” I said.

“HIGH TIMES, isn’t that the pot magazine?”

“Yeah.

Then a guy burst into the store and said:   “My band is going to be opening for Smashmouth!”  This set off a round of congratulations, followed by some unintelligible mutterings that sounded vaguely like: “YOU DIRTY NO-TALENT BASTARD! WHY I HAVE MORE TALENT IN MY LITTLE FINGER THAN YOU HAVE IN YOUR WHOLE ETC ETC….”  But that could’ve been my imagination.

Well, to make a long blog short, I walked out of that store with my new guitar.  

 As I walked down the street, I thought to myself:  I’ve accomplished just about everything I wanted to accomplish in this life, aside from finding lasting happiness (and that never seemed part of the equation).  I’ve published books.  I made a living as an artist for 10 years. I got my picture on the frontpage of papers.  I got hit on the head with a chair and suffered a perforated eardrum.  So its been a full life.

But the only thing I still want to do is make a hit record and have it played on the radio.  Not for the fame or the money or the chicks (thought I’ll take it), because I’ve already had enough experience with that shit to know it can just as easily back-fire on you as the other way.   But just for pure bloody kicks.   Like working on a puzzle, to see if you can figure out how to connect all the dots.  Why not.

Later that night, I took the guitar out and played it a bit.  It sounded great.  It has some magic, and it really fit my style (thats assuming I have one).  I like it.  I better like it.  Because I know that bastard James isn’t going to go through this shit with me a third time.

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2 Comments »

  1. That is a good blog about the guitar purchase. Did you ever think that you might be Jesus or the Buddha or both and that you have been reborn to take care of cats?

    Comment by Head for the hills — December 17, 2014 @ 5:46 am | Reply

    • I am not Jesus or Buddah. I sm the Free Man. Kevin Freeman. Incarnated on planet Earth -thanks to Csrol’s generous 5 dollar donation — to splatter my brain cells across the walls of Santa Rita penal institutution. I have spoken.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — December 17, 2014 @ 7:01 am | Reply


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