Yeah I’ve reached that age…
You know, that point where you think about some of the things that you wish you’d done but never seemed to have the time to do. In reality these are the things that you just never felt you could let yourself do or make the time for.
Lately I’ve been experiencing little flashes of insight about some of the things I never let myself do, or was too self conscious to try.
As I’ve gotten older, fatter, and sassier, I’m starting to loose some of those inhibitions.
One thing I’ve always wanted to do was know how to play a musical instrument. I can noodle out some simple pieces on a piano, hell I even gave trumpet a half-assed try. You know what held me back? Embarrassment that I couldn’t play the instrument perfectly after a few tries at a piece.
My folks tried to tell me that practice was what I had to do, but there was always this fear in the back of my mind that someone was listening and they were suffering from my attempts at music.
Well in the immortal words of Janis Joplin “Fuck That SHIT!”
I live with a classically trained professional musician and have for 23 years. I’ve heard the endless practicing and the swearing at not getting something quite right.
We were talking about something obliquely musically related and I said what I’d come to believe for most of my life ” Well I can’t carry a tune in a bucket” and he said “You’re wrong about that, I’ve heard you singing.”
I was mortified. I don’t sing unless I’m damn sure no-one can hear me.
I guess somewhere in the 23 years when I was singing… I wasn’t quite as alone as thought. Or I’d been singing to something on the radio without realizing it.
So there I was all embarrassed because… well… he’s a professional and my screeching must have set his teeth on edge.
Then he goes on to say, that my analysis of “Wailin Willie” in Grand Junction, CO was essentially right on. Willie was pushing his voice way too hard and was singing out of his range. Willie was attempting to cover these facts by turning the amp on his guitar up and inflicting sonic damage on everyone in the room so that hopefully they wouldn’t notice how truly bad Wailin Willies singing was.
Then he said that my singing in addition to being well within my range, was also in the right key and actually followed the melody line of what I was hearing, for example a song on the radio. He told me that I couldn’t do that if I was tone deaf and that I most certainly could carry a tune.
Now here’s where the midlife crisis come into play.
I’ve always loved guitars, and I’ve always wished I could play one.
I’ve loved Fender Guitars. The look, the sound, and well everything about them. Gibsons are cool too, but something about the Fender has always visually and acoustically appealed to me more than Gibsons.
So I came out of the closet and said “Lets go tour the Fender factory” late Monday evening. Tuesday Morning, we were walking through Fender in Corona and I was loving it.
After the tour, we wandered through the Fender Museum and I was having a ball. I think I did 4 loops around the museum.
Again I wished I could pick up one of these beautiful instruments like some of the youngsters present were doing and just play them.
After we left the Fender plant, we stopped by Sam Ash to pick up some music for a gig he’s playing later in the year, and I wandered into the guitar room. I didn’t see anything that was really impressive and frankly Sam Ash doesn’t do a very good job of displaying their guitars. So I wandered back to the sheet music and a beginning guitar book caught my eye. It was cool because I showed TAB and then later begins presenting TAB and standard musical notation. I was standing there reading this book and thought, “Hey, I could do this“
We leave Sam Ash, empty handed.
“Hey could we stop by Guitar Center? They’ve got a chromatic tuner I’ve been wanting to take a look at.” “Sure, we’re going right by the place and we’ve got nowhere else to be until this evening.”
We walk in to Guitar Center. It’s chaos… we find the tuner and he plays with it for a while. I’m walking around the store and looking at some of the Guitars.
I notice a few Fenders, there’s a few keyboards, some drums and an assortment of other stuff scattered around. I glance through a window to one of the sound rooms. There are stacks of Amps, and some guitars hanging on the wall. Most of all when the door to the room closes it’s quiet! It’s cool and there’s a stool so I have a seat and enjoy the silence.
This is a great place to escape the chaotic drummers, and insanely loud grunge guitar playing of the proteges of the Goth, Emo crowd.
Then I look up, and well It was a kind of magic…
Hanging there is the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever laid eyes on. I take it off the rack and it feels good in my hands. I strum the strings and can tell the low E is a bit out of tune with the rest of the strings but I don’t know if the low E is right and the rest are wrong or if ti’s the other way around.
Then I look at the price. Whew! Out of my range… I hang the beauty up and leave the room for the chaos of the main floor.
I find another handsome Fender from their Modern Player line that’s more around my price range. As I’m looking at it I notice two things. 1) this one is made in China, 2) The fit & finish isn’t quite up to what I’d expect.
In fact it was the roughness that caught my attention and made me look at the serial number. Yep, a CN prefix and the words “Crafted in China” on the back of the head stock. But it’s a Fender, it’s not as polished as I’ve seen or expect it’s also only $600.
I look at a few more Fenders, One from Mexico, Fender has an Ensenada plant. One from the US, Manufactured in Corona, CA. Which leads me back to the beauty in the amp room.
Yep, US prefix, She was made in Corona. The pickups are the standard production units, not the hand wound artistry of Abigail Ybarra, but this beauty is all Fender, all US and I’d just seen the factory she was made in.
As an aside Mrs. Ybarra is one of the sweetest people and she’s totally famous for hand winding the pickups for some, if not all of the biggest names in rock & roll.
I hate to hang the beauty back on the rack. She’s somehow crawled under my skin. I know I’m insane, I can’t play the thing. You don’t buy a work of art like that and not play it…
We leave empty handed, from the second store. We’re going to a Celtic music concert at the Redlands Bowl so it’s time to bail or we’re not going to make it.
Next day, after an interview that was annoying for a number of reasons… I ask “Do you think I could learn to play a guitar?” The answer surprises me “Yes.. I think you could and you’d probably enjoy yourself.”
So after some hemming and hawing, soul searching and acknowledgement that I am out of my fucking mind, we head back to Sam Ash and really look at the beginner books.
Having a musician with you when you’re trying to figure out if a primer is a good one or a bad one is a really nice ace to have in your pocket. We pick up two primers and the music he was looking for the day before.
We head to Guitar Center, I looked at the lower priced alternatives. I tried to see the merit in purchasing one of them. But none of them felt like they had the soul of the beauty in the amp room. Even another Fender hanging right there with a heftier price tag didn’t “feel” right.
Here’s my newest obsession.
The Beauty in the amp room is my beauty now. She’s a Fender Stratocaster… I’m using a borrowed amp. If it’s quiet here in the house I don’t really need the amp, but hearing the fullness of tone and the clear ringing tones is a serious treat.
I’m learning the basics, I’m doing it for no-one but me. While I was practicing this afternoon with the amp on, I wasn’t embarrassed when I screwed up a chord. Even my screwups can’t really make beauty sound bad.
I now know what playing till your fingers bleed can mean. (I’m not there yet but my hand stopped working today after about an hour of chord work.)
I anticipate that the chord work will continue for quite some time. I’ve got to improve the fine motor control, strength, and proprioception in my left hand. These things will take time. This is the last hobby for me for a while. I can get up at 6 every morning and be busy all day. When I start working a real job again, I’m not sure how I’m going to keep up with the interests I have right now.
I’ve decided though I’m going to pursue the things that enrich my life and put a smile on my face.
It’s good not to be embarrassed.