May-June 2009

Flowers is a guitar lover, and he sees the power that the instrument can bring to music. And that can be said for the impact of guitar on folk music, arguably more so than any other instrument. What is it about the guitar that speaks so directly to us?

Unlike many kids my age, I was already deeply in love with the guitar long before John, Paul, George and Ringo stepped onto the tarmac in New York. My family worshiped country music and attended live music events, and although the fiddle, bass and drums seemed interesting, it was the guitar that moved me. I could make out the sound of the guitar on the songs on the radio, even though the tonality of the guitar seemed always changing, ever magical.

I loved the looked of the guitar, though I lusted more for the sleek surrealism of Leo Fender's work than C. F. Martin's. The Fender catalogs showed a world of empty beaches with bikinied girls plucking the strings of unplugged Jazzmasters and all the top rock artists beaming with all their new Fender gear, even if you never saw them playing Fenders again.

The real world turned out a little differently. My dad could play a bit, and he picked up a Mexican acoustic guitar that turned out to have some serious glue problems and pretty much fell apart in short order. However, I was hooked. I had already figured out how to play the first 12 notes of the Bonanza theme song. My dad's next purchase was a huge archtop guitar and a little amp that picked up the ball games on KFI quite clearly. This guitar was too big for my ten year old hands, although I occasionally banged on it. It wasn't until my dad purchased a solid body electric (that at least looked a little like a Fender) on Mother's Day as a gift for my mom that I really got the hook. I don't recall if he got her anything else. The guitar and accompanying amp were made by Rodeo, a fine Japanese company that at least got the look of the guitar right. Unfortunately, the Rodeo had glue problems, too, and the binding curled up and fell off the neck within a few months.

I saved my money, and went through several more really cheap instruments including a Harmony thin hollow electric that I think was never really in tune once. In my sophomore year in high school, my dad took me to a local music store and bought a nice acoustic guitar, a Gibson B25, a sort of lower cost student model. Once I got it home and played a G chord, I felt like a real guitarist for the first time. I learned a Gram Parsons' song, Hickory Wind, that day. About 30 years later I realized that I had the chords mixed up, but in my bedroom that afternoon I realized that I could learn to play this thing.

For me, although I still play electric guitar often, there is something about the acoustic guitar that makes it very special. Maybe it's because you can really feel the notes with an acoustic tucked against your body, maybe it's because the acoustic guitar is more intimate.

My personal guitar story is very similar to many I've heard from fellow players, and usually centers on details of how bad their first guitars were, and how great it was when they finally landed a decent instrument.

Maybe the moral is to buy a good guitar once you've determined you're a player. By the way, for the last several years my main acoustic has been a 1964 Gibson B25. Good luck, go see a live band.

Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He's released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard's and Paul Simon's revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.


All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed