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guitar stories


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My First Guitar

I always wanted to play guitar.  From the time I was a mere child.  My grandpa bought me a toy guitar with a white palomino horse on it - I believe there's a picture of it on my website.  I asked him "how do I play it" and he mimiced the sound of a "tres" a doubled-three-stringed guitar that is used in traditional Cuban music.  I couldn't figure it out but I tired. 

Years and years later, I decided I'd learn guitar. Fell in love with a guy in college, or so I thought I was in love; what I "loved" was that he played guitar, the one thing I longed to do.  He said to me "get a guitar and I'll teach you".  I bought a used Guild D-44.  I'd seen Richie Havens in concert at the university I attended.  I went back stage and asked him to show me his guitar.  He is a very rhythmic player as I anticipated I would be and wanted a guitar that would take the same sort of beating. He had a Guild D-50.  I searched the "BuyLines" and found somone selling a Guild.  The guy had bought a Martin - his "dream" guitar and was selling with me.  My Mom gave me $400 which she borrowed against was then known as "MasterCharge".  She didn't know why it cost so much - why I couldn't go to department store "EJ Korvettes" and buy a guitar.  I knew in my heart I wanted to become a "professional musician" so I needed a "professional guitar" and it would cost.  I promised I would take a friend who also played (took the boyfriend) so that I wouldn't be "duped".  I knew it was the right guitar when my boyfriend turned to me and said "do you want it...cause if you don't buy it, I will...".  The case was crappy, made of cardboard, but my guitar was a beauty.  A dark, golden sound.  A thinner neck than on most acoustics (known as the "super-thin neck" at Guild) with ebony fingerboard and mother-of-pearl-dot inlays.  Like Liz, I took the guitar home and soon as I tried tuning it, broke a string.  I almost cried.  I went down to 48th Street "instrument row" in NYC, and bought a couple of sets of strings.  No such thing as portable tuners then - I bought a tuning fork - you bang it against your knee or a table and hold it by the bridge and match the sound of the "a" string to it.  It was good becasue it developed the ear, tuning each string a 4th away, til you got to the "b" string which is a third.  I loved my Guild, still do.  Even though guitars are traditionally considred "female" mine is male.  I named it affectionately "Alphonso" after my favorite Frank Zappa song "St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast".  Hey, what do you want from me, I was in collegeMy boyfriend taught me a three chords on which I learned just about the complete Bob Dylan discography. How great to play along with "Isis" form the album "Desire". I bought some songbooks on my own and listened to my records and soon I was playing the songs of my heros, Joan Armatrading, Janis Ian, Lennon and McCartney. Reading chord charts and depending on my ear was good. I switched to the Leonard Davis Center of Performing Arts at the college I was attending (C.C.N.Y). The big change was when I enrolled at The Guitar Study Center, a school run by Paul Simon's brother, Eddie Simon. The instructors were all working musicians - they were playing on Broadway or with well established artists-during down time they taught. I cut my "guitar teeth" there. It was an amazing time for me. I have continued to play my Guild. Through gigs, demos and ultimately on my first CD, "Laughed Last" through my recent recording "Hi-Octane Coffee". It still sounds like a dream and although I play my Takamine more often in live situations, it's still my number one. Pasqual, the gentleman who serviced my Guild for years (Alex Music Repair) recommended my guitar was getting old and I should consider not touring with it (change of climate is hard on guitars) so I use it for writing at home and recording. It's a right of passage, your first guitar. Every song I've ever written was composed on my beloved Alphonso. I'll always cherish it.

Lili Anel



Me 'N' My Gee-Tar ...

For years, I've wanted to learn how to play the guitar. It's one of my carryover New Year's resolutions. Like cellular rollover minutes, but different.

Last week, I was poking around an antique store which is really partly an antique store and partly a "stuff" store. And I spied a guitar that was hard to miss because of its color: pink. Not all pink, mind you, but pink is involved. I strummed the strings and it sounded reasonably in tune. The price was crazy cheap and included a case. (A nylon case, not a hard case, but I like the nylon case idea better.) And to top it all off, it was 20% off.

So I didn't buy it.

Why? I dunno. Because I'm a dork, that's why.

But I thought about my Barbie Dream Guitar this week, thinking I should buy it because 1) it's so cheap that even if I lose interest in the whole guitar-playing idea in a week or two, I'd hardly be out any money, and because 2) it's pink!

Pink is far from my favorite color, but this baby was just too kitchsy to pass up. Even though I passed it up.

So today, I took a walk to the antique/stuff store and told myself that if the guitar was still there, it would be mine.

And there it was, right where it was last week. And I noticed that it was missing a string, but I didn't care.

The sales lady wrote up a receipt and when all was said and done, I paid just over $27. We slipped it into its case, I slung it over my shoulder, and instantly felt about 1,000% cooler. How many uncool people walk around with guitars on their backs? Um, none.

When I arrived home with my BDG, I IMed L.A. Dave and he wanted a picture immediately, so I fired up my laptop with the built-in camera, snapped a couple of shots, and sent one off to him. This one (note the excellent – and completely unintentional – use of chiaroscuro):

I had described the guitar to L.A. Dave, pre-picture, and he wrote, "It sounds flamboyant," which is the word that was hanging in the air when he suggested that I name it.

"Flamboyant" made me think of Hank Azaria in The Birdcage so I decided to name my guitar Agador.

I also IMed New John (who plays guitar) about my purchase and he pointed me toward the first chords I need to learn and then asked me what song I'd like to learn to play first, which was a terribly good question and one which I couldn't answer immediately, but then I had a flash.

One of the next songs I'd like to try in the studio is "You Believe in Me" by
Jeffrey Gaines. It's a pretty simple song, or so it seems, so I've decided that that should be the first song I learn to play because it would be fun to sing it, but it would be awesome to sing it and play it.

I think me and Agador will be very happy together. Inside a pocket on the case is a guitar strap, which set me to thinking that I should get extra campy and BeDazzle it with "Agador."

Right after I buy a BeDazzler. Which will be never.

For campy I am not.

But musical I am. So I'm excited to learn how to play.

It's pink!


My guitar


Jeffrey got his first guitar when he was 15. He traded in his vintage drum set which he now realizes was worth a lot more than "the $1.99 guitar" the shop owner handed him. He still has it though - that was over 20 years ago. What is this powerful bond we have with guitars?

I guess I was about 11 when I first picked up a guitar. It belonged to my older brother and even though I never saw him play it, he would never allow me to touch it. He kept it way in the back of his closet behind a large sketchbook, a pile of smelly sneakers and his cherished comic book collection.  

I never was a kid who liked to follow the rules so one afternoon when he was out I sneaked into his room and after poking around in his dresser drawers for loose change, I remembered the forbidden instrument. The fact that it was off-limits made it all the more enticing.  

The first strum - though horribly out of tune - was pure magic.  I spent the next hour plucking, picking and sliding. I had no clue what I was doing but I fell in love with the sound. 

I had taken keyboard lessons at school and taught myself a few tunes on the recorder but somehow the guitar was different. Holding it against me I felt strangely powerful, as if I had connected with some mysterious force. As I embraced the smooth, beautiful curves of polished wood, a bond seemed to form between us. It seemed so happy to be free. But all too soon my brother returned and I quickly and reluctantly stashed his guitar back in its lonely corner. 


It was my brother who introduced me to Joni Mitchell and although I didn’t actually “get “ her until years later, there was something about her sound that totally mesmerized me. I knew that everything she played was authentic and from the heart. And I knew that she played the guitar like no one else I’d ever heard. This wasn’t just entertainment – there was love in that music…and pain. The music gave voice to her soul. I thought she was brilliant. I longed to play like her. I wanted to be her.

Through the years I have sought out and discovered other artists who speak to me – usually there is a guitar involved. They make it seem so effortless. Legends like Carlos Santana and BB King don't just play the guitar, the two become one and in that moment nothing exists but the music. Did you know that Lucille actually saved BB's life? Now that's a loyal instrument. And I recently read that Jimi Hendrix got his first guitar out of the trash. It only had one string but he’d sit for hours trying to get every sound possible out of that one string – and another genius was born.

I didn’t become a genius.

I continued my piano lessons for awhile, learned how to read music (sort of) and was able to play a few pieces. I even wrote a song or two but like most teens I lost interest when my social life picked up. Now my kids are teens. Where did the time go? 

This summer my six-year-old nephew bought his first guitar. He saved up his allowance for months. I went to visit a few weeks ago and spent most of my time trying to tune the thing. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I could make a more harmonic sound come out of it. Unfortunately one of the pegs refused to stay put so all my efforts were in vain. I guess the dissatisfaction must have lingered in my subconscious because I began scanning the net daily for affordable used guitars. Last week I found it.  

I’ve observed that whenever there’s a pivotal moment in my life a mirror appears, someone who shares so many things in common with me that it transcends coincidence. Call it synchronicity or serendipity or kismet - it was all of that. Her name was Liz ( coincidence? ) and although we looked nothing alike she did resemble my lifelong best friend. She was moving to Boston, not far from the little town where my mom grew up and where I spent all my summers as a kid.

She lived in University City just blocks away from my old apartment. I met her at 30th Street Station and as I picked up my guitar for the first time, I felt that same strange force filling me. My entire being was smiling – beaming - and I became giddy with excitement and anticipation.

As I said goodbye and wished my mirror luck, she handed me an electric tuner and a purple pick – my favorite color. On the way home several people stopped me to ask if I played and to share their guitar experiences. I was in the club now. 

After just ten minutes at home, I popped a string while tuning it and could hardly wait ‘til the next day to get it replaced. I was hooked.   

In the guitar shop I was surrounded by guitars and guitarists. Suddenly I belonged to an elite group consisting of rock stars, songwriters and blues singers.

I practice every day but I must admit it's harder than I thought. I have so much more respect for all those guitarists out there. I didn't know there was actual pain involved!  But last night I got a new wave of inspiration when Jeffrey gave me one of his picks so now I am determined to see this through. I know I'll never play like Jeff or any of those other guys who make it look so easy but if I can just learn to play one song I will be ecstatic and if it happens to be one of mine I can finally check one dream off my list.