My First Great Guitar

Gibson 175D (1959)

Serial # A31813

This is my 1959 Gibson ES 175D in the loving and capable hands of Sharon Cheema (I bet you didn’t notice the guitar either!) The guitar was recently returned from the luthier where I had extensive repair and restoration work done by Joey Rosito. New frets; re-set inlays, dressed fingerboard; a kink taken out at the 14th fret. Yay F# is back. Proper (authentic) tail piece and bridge installed and replaced Machine Heads.

I found this guitar in 1976 at Izzy Cohen music on what was then called Craig St. Next to Steve’s music in Montreal. I had recently discovered jazz guitarist Joe Pass who played a similar model and was starting the huge learning curve needed to play this sort of music authentically and passionately. I had $20 to my name when I first put my hands on what was to become my lover, my confidante, my companion and sometimes my nemesis. I gave Izzy the $20 and asked him to put the guitar away for three days while I gathered up the $500.00 needed to purchase this used guitar. I entered into a summer of slavery, but I got that baby! My mother thought I was nuts (which is entirely beside the point) but she saw my passion and lent me the bread. This is the first quality instrument I ever owned. My confidence, ability, and endurance all took a huge leap forward as I plunged into a life dedicated to musical pursuits.

This guitar has toured with me, been across Canada many times, down to Australia, she played herself through the travails of my first CD. she has been seriously dropped twice, splitting open like a ripe watermelon and causing me great grief and pain. If it is possible to love an object more than I love this guitar I would be surprised, and yet it is just that, an object. my true values of worth are of health and happiness, family and friends and I would gladly trade my guitar if it was needed to restore any of these elements of my life. My guitar is just an object, but the way she sings, you can tell she is loved and I feel like stroking and caressing her for hours. She makes me play beyond my capabilities and make me seem like a better musician than I am.

En duo with Dave Turner. Photo credit Sharon Cheema
Funky case. Photo credit Sharon Cheema

While undergoing a financial strain around six years ago due to a marital breakup I was forced to look at options to keep a roof over our heads. One of those options was to sell off some guitars. By far the most valuable one was this one. I had a page open looking at comparable instruments and their value. Suddenly I was confronted by my two daughters with tears in their eyes imploring me to never get rid of this guitar. One of the tenderest, hurtingest and most beautiful moments in my life.

At rest.

My First Guitar

My first guitar was (and still is) an Ariana nylon string classical guitar made in Japan in the late 1960’s. Ariana was the “budget brand” of Aria guitars. This was a cheap guitar. I had borrowed it from my older brother and learned the basic chord patterns needed to play bits of contemporary folk songs. I had discovered Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. My brother had “Songbooks” by these artists, but they never really sounded right. There was no mention in the books that the chords were not in the same key as some of the songs….to make matters worse, I could tune a guitar to itself, or to a recording (many recordings from the sixties were not A440), but sometimes things could have been easier if they had said “use a capo up a fret in order to play these chords in the same key as the artist. The internet has made things a whole lot easier. But i digress.

Even with the difficulties mentioned above, I made quite a bit of progress and when I was in tenth grade I was hospitalized for several weeks and the guitar was a great distraction, comfort and pass-time for me. My brother decided to upgrade his guitar to an Aria classical and he gave me the Ariana. I remember knowing chunks of songs and cool riffs I had heard and amassing quite a repertoire without actually being able to play one song from beginning to end. The “Reach For The TopTheme”, “Sunshine Of Your Love” etc. As it turns out, this was annoying to some. My dad asked whether I knew any entire songs, to which I replied in the negative. I then embarked on learning a song in it’s entirety. It was either “Hobo’s Lullaby”, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” or “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. In any case, those were the first three.

Even with all the other guitars I have owned and played, this humble friend can still wreak new melodies and patterns out of me. She is not loud, but she is loved

guitar neck

I used to leave the guitar at the foot of the stairs in my parent’s home and pick it up on the way by after sleeping or hanging out in my room. People were always warning me that it was not a good place to leave it. One day as I woke from my nap in the mid-afternoon, I descended the stairs and saw a guitar neck and  the top part of a smashed guitar at the foot of the stairs. I freaked out

….everyone was saying “I told you so” and then I realized that the rest of the guitar was not there, and on closer inspection the neck was not my beloved Ariana after all. My brother had found the neck while he was on a walk earlier in the day and decided to play a practical joke……NOT FUNNY!

The Ariana is not exactly “Trigger”, but has spent years in my hands as I learned my craft. She is beloved.

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Not quite as bad as “Trigger”
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Lot of varnish stripped off…practice!