Manchild With Guitar

The human body is an amazing thing. As I become one with my new guitar, under the skin of the fingertips on my left hand small pads of calluses have formed. They are a sign not only of a new adaptation to an instrument I haven’t picked up in over forty years, but they link me back in time to a young teenager struggling without instruction or even much talent in a log cabin in northern British Columbia.

Back then, I talked my mother into buying a cheap acoustic guitar out of Sears or Eaton’s one winter. I laboured over that guitar long hours, with the strings set so high above the frets that the calluses must have grown twice as high as they are now in the bruising effort to get a clear sound.

I managed to get some sheet music and an instruction book or two. I got bored quickly with Michael Row Your Boat Ashore and The Streets of Laredo in the doong-ching-doong-ching,  or doong-ching-ching style of the bass root note first and then the rest of the chord in 4/4 or in waltz time.

P1020163Most of the music for guitar was chords with the notes reserved for piano or voice. I wanted to play the melodies, so I coded all the notes to the guitar fretboard, like 6-1 or 5-3 (guitar string – fret) in my own version of tab notation. By doing that, even though I could never sight-read notes all that quickly, I  slowly managed to read music through sheer repetition.

I bought a variety of Beatles sheet music at the all purpose music/electronics store in Smithers, BC. I think one was Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah. Then Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman. And Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. Even given my lack of technical skills (although I learned how to play arpeggios a little) I transcribed the complex chords and notes of Classical Gas into my system, and managed to eke out a version that at least I could recognize. (By the way, there’s a series of video lessons on how to play Classical Gas the right way by Mike Herbert on YouTube…)

But then I came across a couple of Ventures instructional records which had diagrams on how to play Walk Don’t Run, Pipeline, Apache and Tequila with the tracks on the record demonstrating simplified versions. This was incredible! I was a rocker, sort of, all of a sudden… (I’ve chronicled some of this before.) Although even then, the Ventures were becoming passé, as we moved more into the era of the Beatles, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones.

(But take a listen to the band in this video from 1989 playing Sleepwalker with the amazing Jeff Baxter on slide guitar.  Baxter played with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers in the 1970s and still works as a musician although he has a second career going as an expert on missile defense, of all things. )

That brings us to today. For my birthday recently, my wife bought me an electric guitar and I splurged on a Fender amplifier called a G-Dec. The G-Dec is like many amplifiers in one, with controls to simulate an incredible array of effects. There’s a built-in drum and bass machine. You can set the key it plays in. There’s a tuner which assists my tin ear immensely.

P1020164The guitar itself is a lovely instrument. I just like to look at it. It’s a Speyer, which was the house brand of guitars custom built for a local store called Prussin Music. I’m told they were built in the same factory in China that builds Washburn guitars.

The Speyers have been discontinued. The store decided to go with the more typical lines of, for instance, Squier guitars from Fender that simulate Telecasters and Stratocasters. Their own line was put on sale, and I think I got a great guitar out of it. The body is smallish and hollow with a thick top and a couple of cutouts. The action on the neck is great and the sound seems really good.

I’ve rounded up some wonderful instruction books and my wife donated a couple months or so of guitar lessons. I’m starting off in a much more advantageous learning position than that lad blowing on his fingers on a cold evening by a kerosene lamp.

Of course, I’ve picked up a book of music from the Ventures: The Ventures: Pipeline, 25 Surf/Rock Hits Arranged for Solo Guitar. I’m working on Walk Don’t Run right now, in a somewhat more complex version than I learned as a kid. Still sounds cool though.

P1020165There’s a great version they did of Runaway, the Del Shannon hit, in there too that I’m going to learn next, and maybe a few more after that. Then it’ll be time to move on from the Ventures to other music.

It was sad, though, to learn this week of the passing of Bob Bogle, one of the original pair of bricklayers who started the Ventures 50 years ago. All these years the group has been going strong, especially in Japan where they are revered. There have been occasional personnel changes. The long-time drummer Mel Taylor died in 1996, for instance, and his duties were taken over by his son Leon.

picasso blue guitarTrying to learn Walk Don’t Run and playing around with some of their other songs, I’m understanding how the jet-propelled drumming was a huge part of their sound.

My wife tells me the guitar looks right on me, and it makes me feel good to play again and to struggle with the learning of it. I rub the tips of my fingers and think of a long time ago.



For some more posts on learning (again) to play guitar see Aging Guitar Enthusiast,  Aging Guitarist’s Current Favored Resources, The Impatience of Learning Guitar, and The Aging Guitarist Keeps On.


Notes on images, from the top:

1) My new guitar and amp. I don’t even have to play it… I just like how it sits around.

2) Close-up of the Speyer. I’ve tried to find some kind of guitar it resembles, but no luck so far. The body is really rather small, although the neck is full size.

3) Walk Don’t Run sheet music…

4) Picasso’s Blue Guitar. I’m not really feeling this blue.

Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Guitar, Heroes, Internet, Music, Remembering

8 Comments on “Manchild With Guitar”

  1. […] the original:  Manchild With Guitar « Quirk Social Bookmarking Tags: announced-on-their, awarded-their, deals, electric, features-on-july, […]

  2. Fencer,

    Very admirable of you to pick up the guitar again! I tried learning when I was about 22–took some group guitar classes and really tried for a couple of years. Crappy coordination doomed me. I picked it up again about 15 years after that and spent another three or so years really putting in some effort, but the coordination still wasn’t there. So I have an electric and acoustic sitting in the corner of my study, mocking me every time I walk in.

    That Speyer is a pretty looking thing. Good luck in your efforts!

    -scott c

  3. fencer Says:

    Hi Scott,

    That’s a shame… although you must have some good knowledge of music and the guitar after all that. Maybe some other instrument would be more rewarding for you… although I hate to think of those guitars standing by unplayed.

    I’m going nowhere in particular with my guitar playing. I’m interested in learning how to improvise so I can rock out better, for my own amusement…

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  4. Hi Fencer,
    This post is a real walk down memory lane, all those good songs of the ‘Sixties.

  5. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    Nostalgia is a beautiful thing!


  6. James Johnston Says:

    Just bought a Speyer semi acoustic, as in your story.
    If you look at it from the back, it has a similar shape of a Les Paul Jr.
    Double cut. Very thick top, easy to play with low action. Fun instrument.

  7. fencer Says:

    Hi James,

    Another Speyer owner!

    I still have the one I wrote about above. But then, over the years, I bought a mutt Strat Bullet (various different parts than original) for the whammy bar, and also an Epiphone electric acoustic.

    It’s fortunate I don’t have a lot of money or I’d be buying way too much guitars and gear.

    Thanks for coming by and commenting.


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