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Playing the Field, or "Them Changes"

Playing the Field, or "Them Changes" published on 1 Comment on Playing the Field, or "Them Changes"

No, that’s not an innuendo – or at least, not a literal one.

For the last 14 and a half years, I’ve basically only played one guitar – a Steinberger GM4T. It’s a very unusual instrument – there’s no headstock (it uses special strings, which are tuned at the bridge), and the neck and fingerboard are both made of a graphite composite material which is very tough and resiliant (I’ve actually heard it’s bulletproof!) I’ve had other instruments during that time, but they tended to be very low-end, inexpensive guitars – nothing to write home about, and nothing I was particularly compelled to play. Many of them I ended up owning almost by accident (long story, but all perfectly legal, I promise.)

Up until fairly recently, I’ve been quite happy with the Steinberger – didn’t have any significant problems with it, and didn’t have any particular interest in checking out other guitars in detail. But in the last several months, I’ve been getting a serious urge to “play the field,” as it were. It feels a bit like having gotten married at age 15 (which is the age I was at when I got the Steinberger) and then getting a hankering for other women right at the cusp of turning 30 – which is exactly what I’ll be doing in a couple of months. (Turning 30, that is. Ahem… Please pardon the red-blooded male theme of this paragraph, folks.)

Why look for a new guitar? Time, for one thing – I’ve been playing that same instrument more or less exclusively for very nearly half of my entire life, which is a seriously sobering realization. I’ve undergone so many changes musically and personally since then, it’s kind of a wonder that I haven’t had the urge to change instruments before now.

It’s not just change for change’s sake, though – I’m genuinely interested in a different aesthetic, a new design, a different feel, and in many ways a more organic overall sound. It’s a kick to be finally learning about things like different fingerboard woods, scale lengths, and construction variations at such a relatively late date, but it’s a lot of fun – whatever complaints I may have about Los Angeles (and I have a bundle), there’s a host of musical instrument stores, from big chain outlets to cool independent shops. I’ve been enjoying traveling around to different shops, trying out all sorts of instruments, and probably driving a few guitar shop employees insane in the process…

So what new instrument am I looking at? A number of different ones, actually… I’m less inclined to get one new guitar as a be-all, end-all solution, and more inclined to find two or three different ones, with different features and design aesthetics. Fortunately, just about everything that’s been catching my eye has been relatively inexpensive – the few four-figure instruments I’ve tried out for a lark haven’t particularly resonated with me, so I’m looking at some much more affordable workhorse-style guitars instead.

The whole process feels like a manifestation of a larger and deeper shift for me – I’m feeling more compelled to get back in touch with the guitar itself, sans looping or studio trickery, than I have in a long time. That doesn’t mean I’m putting my Echoplex in storage – far from it! – but it does mean that my main thought lately is spent on trying to get in touch with the heart of the instrument itself.

I think a lot of this has to do with my father – it can be all too easy to take a person’s accomplishments for granted, especially when that person is your Dad. But having the opportunity to re-examine Leopold’s almost unthinkably intense devotion to the violin in the year since his passing has re-kindled a drive in me to PLAY. I can’t imagine ever having the sort of command of the guitar that Leo had with his violin, but there’s a lot I find myself wanting to do with the guitar that definitely owes a lot to Leopold’s awe-inspiring example. (Thanks once again for being such a stunning inspiration, Dad.)

I also think part of it is natural ebb and flow… somewhere in the last year or two, I reached a point with my Echoplex obsession where it felt like my head was going to explode from lack of oxygen, and it really feels time to bring myself back down to Earth, in a manner of speaking. I’m quite proud of Normalized – it’s very much in the “flipped-out and iconoclastic second album” tradition, a la Paul’s Boutique, Loveless, White Light, White Heat and many others I’m spacing on right now (it’s 1:00 in the morning, for Pete’s sake…) and it’s the culmination of a tremendous amount of work and exploration for me. And I still dig the heck out of looping – it’ll continue to be a serious part of my music for a long time to come (particularly in the live arena).

But right now I want to see what else I can do with the guitar in and of itself. Might be deep creative evolution, and it might be a mid-life crises five years too early – until I buy a sports car (or a bright red, pointy, heavy metal shred-machine guitar and matching Marshall stack), I say the verdict is still out.

1 Comment

I think the “metal shred-machine” guitar and Marshall stack would necessarily have to be accompanied by tight leather pants and perhaps some lipstick. Which would, all in all, be a very cool effect.

Odd to think of you playing a guitar other than the Steinberger; I have many many decade-old memories of sitting around listening to you play that guitar (do you still use the Rockman amp head?).


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