I’ve played the guitar since the summer after I turned 12 (1964, to put it in context; the year of the Beatles). I started playing my step brother’s acoustic and tried to play along with songs by the Ventures, Dick Dale and The Fabulous Wailers (A Seattle band, not Bob Marley’s group). I was actually pretty good at this because the muscle memory from playing the violin for three years carried over to the guitar fairly easily. When my step brother moved out of the house, my parents bought me my first electric: a single pickup Kay hollow body archtop ($69.95) $30 of which came from the trade in from my violin.
The guitar was an attempt by my mom and my new step-dad to focus my attentions in some positive direction, as I wasn’t (for various reasons outside the scope of this column) coping well with life in general, and haging out with a bad crowd. (I was arrested for vandalism: writing vulgarities on seats in the local movie theater with a felt pen.) The Kay wasn’t really what I wanted in a guitar, but my parents told me that if I continued to have interest in the guitar, showed progress in my ability to play it, managed to avoid another arrest and stayed out of trouble in school, they would match how ever much money I managed to save over the course of the next year and buy me a nice guitar. I think this ploy managed to succeed beyond their expectations.
Over the course of the next year I managed to save $150 dollars from various sources: picking beans, my allowance, doing extra chores around the house, bottle deposits and stealing change from my mom’s purse. I ended up buying a used 1963 Custom Telecaster (this was the fall of 1965) for the sum of $175, (less $25 trade in for the Kay). My parents kept up their part of the bargain, perhaps relieved they didn’t have to match $150. I can’t remember exactly why I settled on the Tele, but I do rememeber I’d chosen it over a Hagstrom III. I think it may have something to do with how easy it was to play, since the fat neck and high action on the Kay were things I hated even more than the total lack of treble the guitar managed to produce from the pickup mounted up near the fretboard. I do think I made the right choice, though.
I still have that guitar. It accomplished what my parents had hoped it would for the most part: my grades improved and I had no further brushes with the athorities. Moreover, it has given me a rewarding lifetime activity and provided me with a sense of identity I might ontherwise not have. Music is a the prism through which I experienced the spectrum of life as it unfolded before me. It helped me to understand not only myself, but those around me and spurred my curiosity towards many things.