Guild D40 Bluegrass Jubilee

I have always had an eye out for Guild guitars. Ritchie Havens played one and Ralph Towner as well. These are both artists that have ringing open sounds and chords that are not easily analyzed. Ritchie used an unusual technique with his enormous fingers and Ralph had a more intellectual approach to the guitar having switched from being a concert pianist. Two disparate and unlikely influences of two sides of my musical personality. and repertoire as well.

photo by Sharon Cheema

This “Bluegrass Jubilee” was hanging in the store on consignment, and I gave her a whirl. I was exploring alternate tunings around this time and had written a half dozen or so songs in DADGAD and/or DADF#AD tuning. I needed a second guitarIn concert this poses a problem. Either you play all of your dropped tuning songs one after the other and then retune the guitar, or you balance your setlist and retune each time you need to. Or you buy another guitar. 

Photo by Sharon Cheema

The D40 (built between 2003 and 2005) has a lovely ring to it despite it not coming from the “golden age” of Guild Guitars, but crafted in Corona, California. I like the antique sunburst and the Mahogany back and sides give her a sweet and rounded tone. Perfect for my songs. A handy partner to the loudness and clarity of my Martin.

When I get my Greenfield, this guitar may be the “one too many” I have heard tell about. I am pretty sure I will play it less and use it less, so I may put it back on the market. 

photo by Sharon Cheema

Martin D28

Made in 2010, this instrument has been my “go to” guitar for most things. I had been in the market for a Gibson J 45, and I was looking at dealers who dealt in vintage instruments. I talked to my pal Joey at Audiomanie who has worked on most of the guitars that I own and is familiar with my playing style (s) and repertoire. He said “I know you are looking for Gibson, but I just got this D 28 from a Godin Guitars sales rep. who bought it in the American mid-west because it is an amazing sounding guitar!” I was skeptical at first, because…you know…sales people…. But Joey is a friend. He really did have my best interest at heart. Anyways, I picked her up and immediately was able to bond with this guitar. It made me want to play Neil Young songs, Joni Mitchell songs and Gordon Lightfoot songs. I had forgotten that these three Canadian artists used D 28s in their music making. Of course I had to own this guitar which was essentially new. Only slightly played by the Godin rep. I guess he didn’t want to be seen playing a guitar by the competition. like a Jeep salesman driving a Land Rover…..

photo by Sharon Cheema

My mum had recently died and had left me some money. Not much, but enough to  pay a few debts and to be able to purchase the guitar which is the most expensive one I have ever owned. I have recorded with her and performed with her almost exclusively when I have acoustic gigs. I often reference my mother when talking about this guitar, and am reminded of her love for me. 

I love just about all aspects of this guitar. I put a fishman pick up in it, and I ususally play it through a little pre-amp which gives me the right sound for both my fingerpicking and my more rhythmic strumming. She is great at low and high volumes and I have never had any issues with anything. She can never be replaced, but is going to become my “gig” guitar because the guitar that I commissioned two years ago from my friend Michael Greenfield is finally built and I am going to pick her up this week-end. The new guitar will most likely be my recording guitar and won’t see much road use. Too valuable.

Photo by Sharon Cheema

Hagstrom “Swede”

 probably built around 1970

I traded two “name” guitars (Gretsch and Fender) for a “non-name” guitar. The Hagstrom Swede looks like a Les Paul, but is not an imitation. I wanted something on which to Rock that could stay in tune. I was a big fan of Focus and their lead guitarist Jan Akkerman played a Swede (although vintage footage of the group usually shows him with a Les Paul..…) Around the time I got this guitar the French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was playing with Daryl Stuermer who endorsed The Swede. They both name dropped Larry Coryell whose music I don’t generally care for, but he played a Swede as well.

One of the main attractions for me was the truss rod. The Hagstrom used an I beam instead of the normal truss rod. The two guitars I traded both had warped necks, so I was getting a guitar that held it’s tuning. 

My guitar is no longer “stock”. I took off the pick guard for starters. I put in a Bone nut to further enhance the sustain. I also put in a brass bridge after having my hand chewed up some sharp ridges on the stock bridge. The machine heads are too beautiful to change, but are a pain when changing strings because they are too big for a stringwinder. I pulled the pick ups and put in some Bill Lawrence “blade” pick-ups. I had to rout a bit as the pick-ups were larger slightly than the originals. In the mid eighties I was very into fusin guitar. There were great advances in Analog to digital converters. I installed a Roland GK 1 pick-up and used the Swede as a controller. Midi required a really stable instrument for proper tracking. The Hagstrom is great that way.

I haven’t used the guitar synth part for ages as my ability to play keyboard has improved, but I still record with the Hagstrom. She is Heavy. I have flat wounds on her, so I can get top speed and minimal squelch. The biggest problem with the Hagstrom was the binding on the neck. Canadian climate (and probably Sweden as well) has times of great humidity and other times of great dryness. These two factors cause wood to expand and contract, but has no effect on nacré or whatever the plastic was that bound the neck. Most guitars don’t have this. Anyway, the plastic cracked and was unstable when reglued by the luthier.  Little bits of it would come off and the resultant gap on the side of the neck was disorienting and annoying. 

Eventually we just ripped them and Joey laid new binding meticulously and now she is better than ever. With all the changes I have made, it is probably not even considered a Swede any more.

I love to play her. Funny that I can’t find any pictures of me playing her. I know there are some….

Post Script photo by Sharon Cheema


Today in one of my grade one classes the subject of Passions, talents, gifts (aptitudes) came up. I said “I am lucky to love playing music and love kids and love teaching, so I am using my gifts!” Several children offered their own desires and talents. One little girl is a gymnast (can’t do a cartwheel yet…lol), another child interupted to say he was a good listener….. There were soccer stars and hockey stars and a pianist. 

I have a favourite student in this class. We aren’t supposed to have favourites, but this boy reminds me of my happy tenure doing music therapy at Giant Steps. This little boy is very articulate and very individual. The “suits” have labelled him a “high functioning Autistic”.

He reminds me of some other children I have taught who were a pleasure to interact with. “T” was very reluctant at first to even be in my class. First day he said “I don’t like you!” Because I had some boundaries. He tried some stuff on for size, not realizing that this isn’t my first rodeo. After that day, he rushes in to be beside where I sit and he participates pretty well. 

Today as we were all discussing our aptitudes and skills that we enjoy working at, I asked “T.” a direct question. I asked him “and what is your special gift?” Without batting an eyelid he said “I am good at doing nothing!” with a huge grin on his face as he lay on the floor beside where I was sitting. I cracked up and he was obviously pleased with himself for causing me such glee!

I aspire to be good at doing nothing! 

Zelf On A Shelf……Dr. Seuss

Walden 12 String

A 12 string guitar is a special tool that I don’t use very often. Sort of like a spark-plug puller. Something you don’t use every day unless you pull spark plugs every day. I could have easily just borrowed one for the amount that I play it.

I love the sound of the 12 string. Gordon Lightfoot uses one for great rhythmic pulse. “Poor Little Alison” comes to mind. I also loved the sound in the popular music of my adolescence. The Beatles (George) used one in their middle period, and of course George’s “My Sweet Lord” The Stones also used a 12 string on tunes like “As Tears Go By”. Harmonium was a huge Quebecois group that revolved around the beautiful 12 string of Serge Fiori. There was also Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd who used it on certain ballads. All fine and dandy, but I got my 12 string because of “All Along The Watchtower” Dave Mason played the 12 string before Hendrix enters….Such a strong and forceful intro to a great song. chung chung chung-a-chung chung….. and of course The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn,Turn,Turn” and Tom Petty who made the electric 12 string Rickenbacker’s reputation. Ralph Towner’s 12 string music was also a colour I wished to explore.

I bought a “name brand” 12 string. It was a used guitar hanging in the rafters at one of the more disreputable guitar joints (Jack’s) on Craig Street (now St. Jacques). Kids would go up and down this one block of stores that sold musical instruments. Fun to browse and dream. The Easternmost store was Steve’s Music which eventually ate up the smaller independant stores and was recently forced to move.  Now the whole row of stores was expropriated and is slated for demolition.  

The “name brand” guitar I bought was absolutely untuneable. 

It reminds me of the old joke: 

Q. “How do you tune a 12 string guitar?”

  1. “Nobody knows”

They are hard to tune, but part of the charm is the slight wavering of adjacent notes that are just slightly out. like Lennon and McCartney singing in unison. Glorious, but unmistakably different timbral qualities to their voices. A chorus pedal can sort of fake it.

Anyways, the “name brand” guitar was a “piece of shit” It had a great booming sound in the store, but I had not tried it enough before buying. When I got home I found that if the G chord was in tune, D wasn’t and if C was in tune then perhaps A minor wasn’t. You get the idea. I bought it for the “brand recognition” factor which ironically I have forgotten. The neck also had a visible twist that I had neglected to see in my enthusiasm. 

I only owned it for a week before returning it to the store for a refund….easier said than done from the asshole that ran the store. He was open to a trade, so I checked out the Walden which was hidden away near the rafters at the farthest corner of the store.. 

He grudgingly pulled it down. “Jack” was not a man who moved a lot. “Grouchy old prick” describes him pretty accurately.

Anyways the Walden played better than the last one and so the swap was made. He tried to rip me off more by charging for the case, but I saw the hand written price tag on it said in small print  “case included”. He waddled, grumbling, to the depths of the store to retrieve the case. I left there vowing to never go back. 

On most 12-string guitars, the octave pairs are configured so each high octave string precedes its low octave mate when you strum down across the strings toward the floor. I reversed the bass string configuration to be like the Rickenbacker 12. I like hearing the bass string before it’s octave. Just a matter of taste. I had to have the nut and action changed to suit this. I also put a Fishman pickup on her. She still holds up well. I have made demos with it, and played her “live”, but never used it in the “real studio”. (yet).

Walden Six String

I probably never needed another steel string flat top guitar after purchasing my Walden G3030CE. She is a beautiful guitar. Top of the Walden line. Designed in the USA, but manufactured in China. I bought  it used. I traded some equipment (micro Moog) and some cash for it about 8 years ago. Before then I played only nylon string and electric guitars. I wish I had had it for my second CD “Boy Blue” which could have benefitted from the more robust sound of Steel strings for certain tunes. 

The Walden six string opened my playing up to sounds and techniques that are unique to flat tops and my playing and songwriting were definitely influenced by these new options. I love this guitar, and yet, she is nothing special.

The red cedar top and Rosewood back contribute to the overall depth and clarity of this guitar in all registers. The mahogany fretboard is facile and the ebony bridge contribute to a very fine and classy guitar. 

There is a stigma amongst guitar aficionados for guitars that are made in countries other than USA and Japan. I have heard horror stories and tended to student guitars  that have been shoddily made for the low end of the market. My guitar has been hand crafted. There is much craftsmanship in the Walden. It appears also that there is pride taken in the work. I was worried about how the materials would stand up after time, but she is still unwarped and true. 

I usually leave the Walden at school for accompanying the students. It is a real work horse. Because of it’s reduced perceived value, I am not as careful with it as I am with some of my more valuable instruments. 

The Walden also got me interested in other steel string guitars. Uh Oh!

Nobody Home by me. Recorded on the Walden 6


They’re pebbles. So what? You may say. But these pebbles are not just pebbles. There is one that is long and black and opaque like a triple sized licorice flavoured jellybean. I pulled it out of Great Slave Lake when I was at the first Arctic and Northern Jamboree just outside of Yellowknife in 1968. I gave it to my mother to add to the other treasures I had previously given her from family trips to Lake Huron; the Gaspésie; P.E.I. ; and Nova Scotia. 

Mum kept these pebbles in with her sewing stuff and when I was still little and she was sewing I would pretend I was a doctor I would play at her feet and hum and rub these tiny cold pebbles up and down her calves “fixing her” like a doctor would while she operated her little Singer sewing machine or darned socks or sewed patches on pants that had been ripped to shreds by some stupid adventure I may have imagined I was on while at once defying the laws of gravity and common sense and the limitations of cotton or denim. 

All the pebbles had several things in common: They had to be smooth and be interesting in some way other than just that they were from a place I had visited. Some had stripes, some were opaque like the first one in this essay, some had a bubble or a tiny flaw caused by erosion. There was a flat one that resembled driftwood. All of them were cool to the touch and viscerally pleasing to me and a little inside intimacy I shared with my mother. 

Eventually the number of stones outgrew the sewing kit and my mum moved them to a desk drawer and she kept a few of her favourites in a tiny brass replica of a clawfoot bathtub on the top of her writing desk. 

When my mum grew old and started downsizing, she offered her pebble collection to me. I accepted.

I had had my own treasures. My dad had brought me a piece of petrified wood from a business trip to Arizona. Turned my world around to think that wood could actually turn to stone, much (I imagined) like the witch Jadis turned the fauns and dwarves and creatures of Narnia into stone. There was also smooth beach glass and dried samples of butterflies, a Cicada shell, a sand dollar from my Papa’s trip to New Zealand and there were odd feathers and an empty broken Robin’s egg. 

As I outgrew the nest and lived in places other than home, these first treasures of mine did not make the cut of being necessary. I had new treasures. A nascent record collection, a stereo, a guitar, and books. Boxes of books. Shelves of books and images to hang on the wall. 

One of the first posters I remember owning was a poster of Dennis Hopper on his Harley giving the camera his middle finger.

I had seen Easy Rider with my cousin Thom and I related totally to the outsider, rebel, counter-culture images in that film. The poster is lost to history now, although I just Googled it and got the image above. My mum took the poster down when I first left home to go to University. I guess she didn’t want guests who would stay in what had become the “extra” room to be greeted by a middle finger.

Another significant poster I had is one that I stole. It was Allan Ginsburg’s poem “Howl” set in a very psychedelic print . It was on the wall in a rec. room at a hospital and I remember coveting it and then making my nefarious plan to make it my own. I never actually displayed it. Perhaps it was shame from not getting it honestly or maybe it was just too much to see every day. I do remember recognizing the idea that having something for my pleasure alone robbed others of the opportunity to discover it, but that was after the fact.

I also had a treasured image of a Rhinoceros by Durer. The Rhinoceros party was my favourite political party as a teen-ager. They were absurdist and irreverent and satirical. Everything you would want to govern a country.

Vote for me!

I have several objects that have historic value to me only. My great grandfather’s carved Book Of Common Prayer. My Grandfather’s father was a Stone Carver in London England in the late 1800’s.

I have had so many silly objects that are important only to me. Among them a bust that had a light inside (probably used to display brassieres) We fondly referred to it as “The Tits”. They eventually became damaged and were left on the curb in the great upheaval. I also have odd and unusual shaped boxes that I would put old keys and other treasures in.

I have a brass fire hose nozzle that is dear to me. I intend to make it into a lamp one day. I have used it as a candle holder.

Bought it at an apartment sale in 1983 when I lived on Aylmer street in the heart of the “McGill Ghetto” (older residential neighbourhood filled with University students that has homes typically partitioned into small cells). They are solid brass, so quite heavy.

For some reason I don’t throw out sunglasses. This is most of the pairs I have owned since I was 18. One pair at the bottom of the Sacko river. I have always worn the same model (Ray Ban Wayfarers).

Dead Ray Ban collection with hilariously
offensive bumpersticker

Bigger rocks that are perfectly imperfect.

Rocks from the shore, Rhode Island.

Heart shaped stone between a rock and a hard place…

The tub with guitar picks and feather

Such random items bring me joy. Bric a brac. I have lassoed comfort and fond memories in these odd treasures. On the surface these items have zero value. They are not the only things that bring joy and truth, but to me, they are souvenirs of infinite renewal and beauty. I love them and do not wish to part with them, but I will let go of them. When the time comes for me to leave this life and return to dust, They will lose their magic, but may catch someone else’s eye.