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

Treasures

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.

Tarantula Dreams

I met Sid and Phil exactly two years ago. (January 17th 2017) after Phil put out a message asking if anyone wanted to jam some Dylan? We meet regularly to play and to rehearse new material. It started off good, and we are now very good. Harmonies, subtleties and the fine touches that can make or break a gig. We are tight and loose and we trust each other.

We haven’t had as many exploding drummers as Spinal Tap. I hope Tony Odze our present drummer doesn’t explode. It is really fun to lay music over his drumming.

Last night Tarantula Dreams played a couple of sets at L’Escalier which is an Artsy Bar/Café in the heart of downtown Montreal. A small venue for a rock quartet, but a young, hip, artsy crowd. I wasn’t the only bearded, long-haired guy dressed head to toe in black. We play a repertoire that is “limited” to “only” Bob Dylan and Neil Young. We went over very well with this crowd. We rocked. It was transcendent.  It was a night where my guitar could do no wrong…every solo had a contour and told a story. I am thrilled that the Telecaster is glowing these days. Sid and I complement each other very well. He gets outrageous sounds out of his rig and his solos are rooted in Rock. I have a cleaner sound and on the Telecaster I get my Steve Cropper on.

The night could very well have gone differently if our bass player Phil had not found a solution to a particular problem. While setting up, Phil could not get a sound from his amp. We tried the usual tests. my guitar and cable in his amp, my guitar and his cable,  my amp, my cable his bass, the problem was the bass input jack was compromised…dead Bass.

Fortunately the venue is virtually next door to a music store. For the record, Archambault doesn’t rent equipment. Steve’s music is several blocks away and Phil has been shopping there for years (as have we all) and went there to see if he could rent a Bass. Rentals closed. Phil thinking fast, got the manager on the line and it was decided that he could buy a Squier bass and return it the next day and be charged a rental…pretty good. Ironically, Phil owns several dozen basses, but his home is half an hour from the venue. Like having spare tires in the garage, but not having one in the trunk and getting a flat on the highway.

We hit the stage only a few minutes late but made up for it by providing intelligent music from the heart.

tarantula dreams
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Phil pointing out the menu

Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster(Road worn made in Mexico) sunburst.

Tarantula Dreams at Gigzz

I bought this baby as a companion for the Tele. Same sunburst. I always loved Strats. I had a white one when I was in Winnipeg, but I sold it. Funny, I don’t remember selling it, and I don’t remember being distressed at it being gone. I enjoy the whammy bar although it makes tuning precarious. I don’t use it much, but it is sweet. The in-between settings get really great tones like Robert Cray and Mark Knopfler and John Mayer. I don’t generally play Hendrix or Clapton per se, but the Strat is a war horse for rock and roll. I virtually never play my Jazz repertoire on the Strat. I lent it to my daughter for a while, so a stock photo will have to do.

strat
SOrta looks like mine, but the sunburst seems redder and there is no whammy.

The best feature for me is the sculpted body. the curve in the back can accommodate middle-aged gut spillover. the contour on the front is also easier on the forearm. Getting it back soon.

Fender Telecaster

Fender Telecaster (Road worn made in Mexico) Sunburst

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David Young sketch of a Telecaster

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Not much of a story here, I was always attracted to the Telecaster ever since I heard Roy Buchanan in 1974 or 75. I bought “Second Contribution” and marvelled at the tones and screams he was able to coax from his guitar. Ed Bickert was also a Tele player, though when I saw him at Concordia University while I was a student there, I noticed his guitar was not “stock” He had had a Humbucker put in. His cool tones and great phrasing and voice leading influenced me a great deal. There are dozens of others (including Robbie Robertson and Pops Staples and Bruce Springsteen, Steve Cropper and so on….) but Roy and Ed were my top two.   

I needed an electric to use with a Janis Joplin Tribute Band  that could handle the loudness and cut through, so I went and tried this baby out at Audiomanie. I bought it for $750 dollars in 2011. I immediately ordered Fender Noiseless pickups and had them installed. I love playing this instrument and she responds quite differently from my other guitars. Intonation drives me nuts though. I replaced the bridge with a Mastery Bridge (think Rolls Royce of bridges) based on some advice from friends and the endorsement from Bill Frisell. It improved it, but did not altogether fix it. I then got a full fret dressing and some shaving of the nut and the guitar is 95%. I have to be careful with the electric tuners. I tune the g string slightly differently for certain keys. It is infuriating to have an open string that is perfectly in tune and when fretted it goes sharp. The thin neck of the guitar means you can pull it out of tune easily.

The Road Worn Tele is based on a ‘50s model. The fingerboard is maple, instead of rosewood, and the body sports a sunburst finish—both of those traits really set off the worn treatment. The body exhibits a great attention to detail, such as small dents on the rear edge of the guitar and an area worn down to the white primer on the back, where belt buckles would normally rest against it.

“Once in a while, you come across a particular guitar that exemplifies a model you’ve played what seems like a few million times—one that rises above the others of its kind and truly enchants you. This Telecaster was one of those instruments. The tone was true to the Tele twang and honk, but had an impressive sting to it that was very easy on the ears. The low end was quick and tight, and the midrange was surprisingly smooth for a stock bridge pickup. The fat neck combined with the well-worn areas made it a dream to play. Even the large 6105 jumbo frets weren’t a bother, although the guitar could perhaps have been improved by sporting a smaller set that really belongs on a Telecaster. This Tele just had it all, hands down. The thing simply rocked.” (a review)

“Pre-worn guitars are highly controversial among musicians. Some love the idea of an affordable, worn replica that’s great feeling great sounding right out of the box—and one that won’t take years getting it to feel the way they want it to. Others think the whole thing is as pointless as buying a pair of distressed jeans, and are offended that anybody would think that those battle scars didn’t have to be earned. After all, that’s one of the reasons why guitarists love worn guitars in the first place. They speak to the history between instrument and player. In the end, each player has to be the one to judge, but you ought to at least play one first before deciding.

Some aspects of a well-made, worn vintage replica can be a blessing in disguise: aged pickup magnets, thin nitro finishes and extremely comfortable necks. If the look turns players away, hopefully the allure of a great sounding and feeling instrument can bring them back. In the end, that’s all that should matter anyway, whether or not it’s achieved by a player over time or by a craftsman in another part of the world.”

My Tele is one of the first guitars I think of grabbing on any given day. One reason may be that I leave it out of it’s case, lying around the house, but truly when it is in tune and co-operating she is lovely. When untunable, she is a drag, but who isn’t.

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for sensitive singer/songwriter/jazz. Photo credit Sharon Cheema
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and rocking! Photo credit Sharon Cheema

Guitars That Have Flown

My Raven Telecaster was shaped like a Tele, but was hollow. A very shitty guitar, but it was Electric and looked like Robbie Robertson’s guitar and Roy Buchanan’s guitar. I was young. 19 or 20 and I played it via patch cords through a stereo system….bad idea…..Blew up my dad’s Radio Shack (Realistic) speakers which are not built for spikes in the signal…who knew?…. I eventually did get a proper (if underpowered) amp and it all sounded like shit. This was before I figured out the important things about an electric guitar are: feel, noise of pickups, tone, tunability. More so than “cool factor”. A Telecaster is cool. A shitty knock-off is not. Also amplifiers are as important as your electric guitar.

I bought it at a flea market, and I don’t remember what I did with it. I have a vague recollection of putting it on consignment somewhere. If someone bought it, I am truly sorry. I may have had $20 taken off of some other musical equipment.

Another 2 guitars I used to own in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that kinda sucked were; a Gretsch Tennessean and a Fender Jaguar. I put them together because I bought them both around the same time and traded them both in at exactly the same time.

Gretsch used to make fine guitars and this one may have been one at one time, but I could never coax the one I owned to behave. It had a warp and a twist to it’s neck and the pickups were excessively noisy. She never tuned up right even with a stroboscope. I liked the shape and feel of the guitar, and the f-hole decals were kind of cool, rather than actual f-holes.  I have since played the exact same model and it was dreamy. I traded my Gretsch and another guitar (the Jaguar) eventually for a guitar that I still own.

looked like this….

The Jaguar had had the finish stripped off. I liked the look, but it meant that it was of less value than other stock Jaguars. I liked that it was shaped like a Strat and that it had the name “Fender” on it. Trouble with that guitar was in the setup. Back in my early twenties I didn’t know you could get your guitar’s intonation and neck adjusted for maximum playability. With Fender guitars in our climate, it need s to be adjusted seasonally.  I now do it twice a year with the two Fenders I still own.

The Jaguar never behaved or sounded the way a Strat or a Tele did. The pickups were thin and dry and unforgiving. Everything about these two guitars depressed and frustrated me. I had two “name” guitars that were actually “lame” guitars. I still had other guitars, but I wanted something to Rock out on.

looked like this one

Other ones that passed through….

In retrospect, I could have and maybe should have had a luthier look at these guitars and if I had invested a bit, they might have become cherished. A set-up can do wonders.

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I bought a white Stratocaster in 1986. It was more cream or pearl coloured. I have almost no recollection of this guitar except that it weighed a lot and that I sold it in Winnipeg.

Over the years I have had many crappy student’s guitars cross my desk, given to me. I would fix em up and give em away or lend them out to students who can’t afford one. Almost all of these ones have been nylon string classical guitars. Steel string guitars under a certain quality are like cheese cutters. I still own six or seven nylon string guitars, but I imagine I will give them away when I stop teaching. More than once I have found guitars by the curb missing a string or two, but entirely salvageable. Many people give up too easily.

Harmony Monterey

1592H1213

HARMONY ARCHED GUITARS- AUDITORIUM MODEL Arched top and back, birch, with F-holes, in a pleasing brown mahogany shaded and highlighted finish. White striped edges. Ovaled hard maple fingerboard, grained to resemble rosewood. Celluloid guardplate, on bracket: adjustable bridge.

No. 1213 – $34.50!!!!

One of the tunes on my Dylan tribute album (Dealin’ From The Bottom) that I thought was completed was missing something……If Not For You is perhaps better known from George Harrison’s versions with the iconic slide guitar riff. I learned the “George” part and  laid it down at George Doxas’ studio.

This Harmony guitar was retrieved from my late friend Danny Lewis’ neighbour’s trash. He called me and asked if I wanted it. Of course I did! It was a mess. It is virtually unplayable except as a slide guitar. It is a Harmony Monterey (probably late 50’s) and was filled with dust bunnies Mouse turds and shredded newspaper inside it. It’s neck is very bowed

 

and it came with three rusted strings and the body had several fissures and some struts inside were loose, She was dried out and neglected like a spinster aunt in a basement for years. Soap, oil and glue and strings and some moisture and she is playable as a slide guitar. She is much more presentable now. There is a certain cachet to even the shittiest guitars from this period. She looks better than she plays….I named her after Danny….