My Axes

sxsw econ impactMusic is big business. You don’t need to look any further than the economic impact report for SXSW to see the proof.

In 2015, the festival injected more than $317 million into the Austin economy, as a result of its two-week run and year-round operations.

Yet, music is also art. And, art is a passionate, sensory expression of human emotion.

In this respect, I first became an amateur artist back in the early 1970s. My paintbrush was my guitar.

Harmony studentIn musical lingo, a guitar is an ax.

I got my first one more than 40 years ago, while still in grade school.

It was given to me as a gift by a friend of my dad’s …a used, kid-sized acoustic guitar, like the one in the picture.

My dad’s friend had clearly had it for awhile, perhaps since when he was a kid, but decided to pass it on to the next generation.

The first “song” I learned on it was the Mission Impossible television show intro, way back before Tom Cruise was born!

My first electric guitar was bought brand-new off the shelves of Skaggs-Albertsons department store with my first big paper route money.

Starter guitarThe shape was generally a Fender Stratocaster body, with the classic sunburst finish.

But, that’s where the similarities ended!

It had two pickups (instead of 3) and a whammy bar that was so awful, every time you used it, the guitar would stay permanently out of tune!

But, it was loud, electrified, and mine.

I spent many a night picking out the melody lines of early Elton John and Alice Cooper songs on that guitar.

Harmony acousticSince I was primarily a bass player, I didn’t buy another guitar until high school.

But, in my sophomore year, a drummer friend offered to sell a Harmony acoustic guitar.

It had the sweetest action, the most beautiful sound, and looked just like the one Jimmy Page is holding.

I paid $100 cash for that guitar and played it for at twenty years. It was my constant companion in college and early married life.

It finally met its end when, as a new dad, one of my little bambinos, accidentally knocked into its stand and tipped it over, breaking the neck clean off. I was on business travel at the time.

ovation acousticMy wife, Rebecca, knowing how much I loved that guitar, bought me a new Ovation acoustic — a guitar I had always wanted, due to the gorgeous full sound they tend to produce from their unique bowl design.

It was a loving gesture and I still have that Ovation, as my primary acoustic, but I still miss the Harmony.

It was so wedded to my brain and fingers that I couldn’t let its memory go entirely, so I cut the head off and framed it!

Gibson ExplorerBack to electrics, all throughout my high school years, I coveted one of the two coolest rock and roll guitars in existence, in my opinion — the original Gibson Flying V or Explorer guitars.

My best friend, Jeff and I, would go to music stores in our hometown of Amarillo or, whenever we would travel to a concert or school field trip, the local guitar shops. Whenever I saw a Flying V or Explorer, I asked to try it out.

I came very close to buying a Flying V several times, perhaps the closest was on a trip to Ray Henning’s Heart of Texas music store in Austin, back when it was in the spot where the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location is situated.

But, for some reason, I could never pull the trigger and, over the years, the craving has passed. To assuage it, I bought some other axes instead.

Gibson SGFor example, another Gibson I had a hankering for was the SG.

Not only did we share initials (“S”teve “G”uengerich), but I was attracted to its growing rep as the hardest rockin’ guitar in showbiz, courtesy of Angus Young and the bad boys of early AC/DC.

I owned a lovely tobacco sunburst SG for a number of years, before selling it while living in Louisville, Kentucky.

And, lastly, my friend Jeff sold (gave? traded? I can’t exactly remember which…) me his Gibson L6S.

Gibson L6SThat was/is a unique electric guitar, with multiple pickup settings and a melodic tone that appealed to a wide range of musicians.

Everyone from Paul Stanley of KISS to some of the greatest jazz playing talents of the day could be seen playing an L6S.

guitar-5The final electric guitar I bought was a Fernandez 3/4 electric.

It was something of an impulse buy, after seeing it in a holiday season edition of Forbes magazine, in one of those articles featuring unique and different gift ideas.

The jelly bean shape and built-in, practice amplifier where the sound hold is normally located, piqued my interest.

Upon receiving it, I’ve never regretted it, with the Fernandez becoming my current (and perhaps, last) electric guitar purchase. The neck has amazing action and the single hum-bucking pickup screams.

The simplicity of the set-up – an on/off toggle switch and a single volume control (who needs tone!) – are the epitome of rock and roll…I love it!

Last, but not least, the one acoustic guitar that I always had a hankering for was a Martin, because of their rich, extraordinary sound. But, I was always stopped short by the $1,000-plus starting price for a decent model.

martin backpackFinally, a couple of years ago, I bought a Martin back-pack guitar – basically a Martin guitar neck on the equivalent of a shoebox body – that was advertised for taking into the woods with you for campfire entertainment.

As you might expect, the play-ability is great, but the sound is so-so. They’ve stopped making them, the last I looked. But, it’s been a fun guitar to have around the house and, for $149, it was priced just right.

So, that’s it: those are my axes. And, if you ever come by the house, chances are you’ll likely see one or more mixed in with the furniture. Because, any more, that’s pretty much what they are – display pieces to accent a lamp or fill-out a sitting nook. Such is life!

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