Gee-Tar Six

So I found myself with a nice little collection: a Strat, an acoustic, a Les Paul, something I thought looked pretty cool, and a fake Tele.

There remained one style I needed to satisfy my GAS: a hollow-body electric. And if you know me, there was only one on my list. That, of course, would be an Epiphone Casino.

 

I visited my local Guitar Center and spent some time with a Casino, and fell in lust with the way it felt, and the way it played. I must have this piece! Unfortunately, the retail price of $599 was a little budget unfriendly. 

But I was desperate. I turned to a source I’d never used when guitar shopping before: eBay. Not that there’s anything wrong with eBay; I’ve purchased many items through auctions. The thing about guitars, though, is that I prefer to hold my prospective purchase, play around with it a little to check out the action, the weight, and all those little things that connect a guitar to its player. Having auditioned a Casino at GC, though, I knew I wanted one.

After  a few days, a listing for exactly what I wanted appeared: a nearly new Casino with case for a Buy It Now price of $445, plus shipping. The seller had 99.5% feedback, everything looked good, so I took the plunge. 

A week or so later, my package arrived, and I was ecstatic. The Casino was perfect, and to this day remains my favorite acquisition (don’t tell the others, though). 

2013-01-30 18.51.12

At this point in my life, although there are a couple of guitars I wouldn’t mind having (like a Steinberger, a Hofner bass, and especially a Vox Phantom), I’m out of GAS. And looking at my wallet, it’s going to be a while before I can refuel.

 

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Gee-Tar Two

After settling in with my Strat for a bit, I decided I needed a nice acoustic to keep it company.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Yamaha I owned was hard to play, so I started shopping around. I tested a number of Ovation, Takamine and Ibenez models. Each had their pros, but I had a tough time choosing one with the right combination of playabilty, looks, and price point. I wanted a certain sound; I wasn’t sure what, but I’d know when I heard it.

After several trips to a few local music shops, I had just about decided on an Ovation Celebrity CC44.

But after receiving a Guitar Center mailing, that changed. Gibson was re-issuing John Lennon’s go-to acoustic under the Epiphone brand, the EJ-160E John Lennon Acoustic-Electric.

Of course, being a huge Beatles (particularly Lennon) fan. I had to check this out. I rushed down to GC, but they hadn’t received any yet, and they only had a few ordered. The sales person I spoke to took my number, and promised to call me when they arrived. I went back weekly and checked, in case the guy forgot about me. Surprisingly, I did receive a call when their stock arrived. I went in and spent a half-hour or so playing around with it, and loved it. Felt good, sounded good, looked good, and it was in my budget. I played around with a few other guitars I had looked at to be sure the Epiphone was what I wanted, but there was no question about it. I took it home.

You’d think that, armed with a nice electric and a nice acoustic-electric, I’d be satisfied. Particularly since I’m just a hobbyist, not a working musician.

You’d be wrong.

There is a phenomenon known as GAS that we’ll discuss next time.

In the meantime, Keep On Rockin’!

Random Thoughts (Christmas ’09)

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. I start decorating the weekend before Thanksgiving, because the big dinner and football take up too much time. Once a month, on the 25th when possible, I listen to Christmas music for an hour or two. I stock up on Febreze Fresh Evergreen and Snow candles and air freshener in December so I can enjoy them throughout the year. “Winter Village” is my iGoogle theme year-round.

It’s not the presents and gift-giving; it’s not the nostalgia of the holiday programs (although it has to be close to a national emergency to make me miss “A Charlie Brown Christmas”); it’s not the music; God knows it’s definitely not the snowy weather (which I hate) that keeps me singing “We Need A Little Christmas” in my increasingly raspy voice.

It’s the general atmosphere, what the season does for most people’s attitudes at this time of year that I look forward to most. People who are Scrooges or Grinches the rest of the year find their hearts, if only temporarily. Children are on their best behavior, hoping that being on the straight and narrow for a month or so will make up for eleven months of naughtiness. I don’t know that there’s ever been research done on the subject, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there are more smiles flashed, hands shook, and hugs given in December than any other month.

I love, love, love the season (of course, I do my shopping online; getting anywhere near a mall would dampen my enthusiasm)!

A few random memories and other tidbits:

  • I don’t remember my first Christmas. Give me a break; I’m 58 fer cryin’ out loud.
  • One year we had an aluminum tree, illuminated by a lamp with a rotating wheel that held different colored sections of cellophane.  You don’t see that much any more.  Probably a good thing.
  • I think it was in 1963 that we were living in Walnut Creek, California. For Christmas the family piled in the station wagon and drove to Anaheim and spent Christmas Day at Disneyland.
  • My five favorite Christmas recordings, in no particular order: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono; “The Little Drummer Boy” – The Harry Simeone Chorale; “Christmas Canon” – The Trans-Siberian Orchestra; “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” – The Trans-Siberian Orchestra; “Christmas Time Is Here” – The Vince Guaraldi Trio.
  • We lived with my grandparents for a spell when I was younger. I remember one Christmas season (probably the same one with the aluminum tree mentioned earlier) one of my siblings happened to look out of the window to see a strange man waving his arms around and jumping up and down. We couldn’t quite see him in the dark, but he seemed very frightening. The youngest of us started crying as the strange figure came knocking on the door, although the adults were laughing and telling us everything was OK as they opened the door and let the strange man in. He was, of course, outfitted in the requisite red-and-white and fur-trimmed uniform, and the adults were ho-ho-ho-ing and saying it was only Santa Claus. We were all encouraged to sit on his vast lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas, but none of us kids were excited about it; yes, we were all familiar with Santa and had met him several times at local shopping centers (yes, Virginia, this was long before the concept of “malls”), but this guy…his hair and beard were scraggly, his face was battered, he didn’t speak (not even one “ho”) and his eyes seemed like holes cut into his face. Which, of course, they were; this Santa was, in fact, my grandfather dressed in a rather old and well-used suit and a mask that must have dated to the Civil War.
  • One of my fondest childhood memories is of Mr. Jingeling, the Keeper of the Keys. He started out as a character created at Cleveland’s Halle’s Department Store in the mid-50’s to sell toys during the holiday season. He proved to be so popular that he’s been around ever since. I remember seeing him during his daily spots on Capt. Penney’s show on WEWS.
  • For my son’s second Christmas, we stayed up late, getting everything just right, and set up the video camera so we could catch the look on his face when he came into the room. Getting up early, we double-checked everything, made sure the camera angle was perfect, and as his mom was bringing him, I pushed “Play” and “Random” on the CD player, which had been preloaded with various titles of Christmas music, including Volume 4 of A Very Special Christmas. As Cam came into the room, he eyes widened and his jaw dropped at the sight of the tree and presents. The camera caught it all, including the audio playing in the background: “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC. Not exactly the mood setting music we were hoping for.
  • My five favorite Scrooges:
  • #1 Alastair Sim

    #2 Jim Carrey

    #3 Mr. Magoo

    #4 Michael Caine

    #5 Rowan Atkinson (as Ebenezer Blackadder)

  • (Added Dec.16) Mrs. Claus would visit us on New Year’s Eve (a ruse, I would imagine, to get us off to bed early so the adults could enjoy midnight). Our stockings would be hung somewhere with care (we didn’t have a chimney), and we would awake in the New Year to find she’d loaded them with apples and oranges and other healthy snacks; no doubt to atone for the sweets and so forth that her health-unconscious husband had filled us up with. We weren’t crazy about Mrs. Claus.
  • (Added Dec.22) Somehow, in 5th Grade at Spicer School in Akron, Ohio, I was chosen to participate in the school Christmas play. I probably volunteered, but I don’t remember the details. I do remember that I was supposed to be a shepherd (Shermy!), but I didn’t have any lines to memorize. Probably had to sing a carol with everyone. I was really looking forward to it…until the day of the play. I got stage fright before I even left the house, and had my mom call me in sick. What a wuss. Merry Christmas to all schoolkids who dread the holidays because they’re afraid they’re going to look silly in front of their peers.
    I’m sure as the season goes on I’ll add to this list. I tend to wax nostalgic as I hear certain songs, see certain things, and even smell certain smells. Hope your season brings you special memories, too.

    Merry Christmas!

Random Thoughts #4 (Birthday Edition)

On September 21, 2009, I became a 58-year-old kid. I still think (and usually behave) like a teenager, and I like it that way. Life’s too short to be stuffy and serious all the time.

Related Random Birthday Thoughts:

  • Man, I seem to be seeing a lot more scalp every morning when I comb my hair.
  • I don’t need to feel embarrassed any more if I forget something; it’s pretty much expected of me.
  • I used to be obsessed with dying. Now I’m obsessed with living. Makes for a happier me.
  • The cute girl who rings up my groceries…she’s not smiling at me because she’s flirting; she’s just being friendly to the nice old man.
  • I feel lucky because I saw Elvis and the Beatles live in concert (not at the same time, obviously); got to see Dan Marino and Joe Montana play in their prime; was able to realize my dream of visiting London and Liverpool in June of 2001; and made some wonderful friends throughout the years.
  • I feel sad because I remember where I was and what I was doing when the Kennedy brothers and John Lennon were gunned down; I realize that modern sports heroes are playing less for love of the game then they are for love of enormous paychecks and self-glorification; since 9/11/01, I will never again be comfortable spending more than a few hours at a time on a plane; I’ve lost too many friends to drugs and violence.
  • When I was younger, I felt that the music I listened to was the best ever made, and the stuff my parents listened to was lame. Now I feel that the music I listened to when I was younger was the best ever made, and the stuff my son listens to is just so much indecipherable noise.
  • It’s depressing to know that the various aches and pains I experience are not temporary. Arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and pinched nerves don’t just clear up on their own.
  • I will probably never marry again. I’m old and set in my ways; I like coming and going as I please, and not having to explain myself to anybody.
  • That being said, it’s nice to have somebody around to experience things with, somebody to talk things over with, and somebody to say goodnight to.
  • I hate being serious.
  • I have doubts that I’ll ever earn my Black Belt. My body is just not co-operating. However, I will keep trying. I will not give up.
  • Rock and roll and Disney has kept me young. Thanks to both of you.
  • And thank you for listening to an old man ramble! Doo wah diddy diddy!

The Beatles: Rock Band

When the whole Guitar Hero craze started (God, has it only been 4 years?), my then 11-year-old son didn’t pay much attention. His video game preferences tended to run to the more mundane worlds of the Mario Bros. and their various cousins. In fact, he considered himself Sonic the Hedgehog’s number 1 fan.

But, alas, they grow up so quickly. He discovered Guitar Hero through a friend, and was instantly hooked. I must admit, I got a little bit of a kick out of it, too, but what it mostly did for me was rekindle my interest in playing the real thing. Happy to say, eventually the boy caught the bug and these days plays the real thing constantly. while the game hardly gets touched.

But back when we were both playing a lot, we both often commented that it’d be way cool if there were a Beatles version of Guitar Hero. I’ve been an uberfan of the band since they hit the states, and was lucky enough to catch them in concert at Busch Stadium on their last tour in ’66. Cameron, of course, became a fan by osmosis; I’ve  always got a Beatles tune playing in the car or around the house. The first proper concert we attended together was McCartney in Philly back in 2005 (great show!), during which he made me proud by singing along with most of the songs.

So when it was announced that the Rock Band franchise was planning a Beatles version with the help/blessing of the surviving members of the band and the family members of those who couldn’t be with us, we were both giddy with anticipation as to what was to come.

It was officially announced The Beatles: Rock Band would be released on 09.09.09 (very nice, since 9 was Lennon’s favorite number), and at the recent E3 presentation, Paul and Ringo, along with Olivia and Dhani Harrison and Yoko Ono,  made a presentation revealing some of the details of the new game.

If you haven’t seen the game trailer or “cinematic opening” yet:

Yes, I preordered promptly. And man, oh man, oh man. I hate to see summer fly by, but I can’t wait for September 9!

Meant To Be, Or Meant Not To Be. What Was The Question?

I’ve played guitar for the majority of my years, nothing fancy, just enough to keep me amused.

Christmastime of ‘07, my son, who had become enamored of Guitar Hero, received a Behringer starter guitar and amp set. He loved it and (thankfully) started spending more time with that than the game.

This reinspired me to pick up my own battered Yamaha FG-160 acoustic and begin playing again. Soon I was hankering for an electric, since I hadn’t had one in over 40 years (my first was an old Silvertone).

I made myself a Wish List of several models I wished to have, and armed with a Guitar Center credit card, began collecting.

The first piece I picked up was a Fender Standard HSS Strat, Arctic White with a maple fretboard. I eventually made it my own by replacing several of the white and chrome pieces with black. Looks pretty sharp. I’m sure I’ll post a picture some day.

Soon after I picked up a Yamaha RGX A2. It wasn’t high on my list, but at the time a new one was selling for $499, and Guitar Center had a used one for $199. The volume knob and battery door were missing, but a $37 investment made it as good as new again.

I decided I wanted to replace the FG-160 with an acoustic-electric, and being a lifelong Beatle fan, opted for the Epiphone EJ-160E, the John Lennon signature model (after all, it was the Beatles that got me interested in playing in the first place).

At this point, my GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome; if you play, you understand) was pretty well sated. Although there were still items on my Wish List, I was happy to play around with what I had.

Until February 27.

On that day, at about 5:27 pm Eastern Time, my son Cameron and I arrived at West End Music for his weekly guitar lesson. On the sales floor was a new piece: a 2008 Fender American Standard Telecaster, Natural with a maple fretboard. I’ve coveted this particular configuration since I first saw it. Guitar Center stocks a Mexican made version for $449; the Made-in-America flavor retails for $1275. This one was on consignment sale for…$600. Jim, the Guy Behind the Counter, told me that the owner had only played it for a few hours, and decided he didn’t care for it all that much, and was anxious to be rid of it.

I spent the half-hour during Cam’s lesson playing and examining the Tele closely. Also examining my finances closely. Could I go another $600 in debt? For a $1200 guitar, I could probably find a way.

During the next few days I debated the merits of buying the Tele. I wanted it. Badly. My American Express account was empty…but they don’t take Amex. They also don’t accept Guitar Center credit, dammit! I almost went to the shop a couple of times, but some vague feeling kept me away.  I told Cameron, “If it’s still there Friday, then I’m meant to have it. If it’s gone, then it wasn’t meant to be.”

Friday comes, and I’m sitting at work, doing my job, when a salesman comes in the office. The guy’s name is Frank (he’s been in a few times, and we’ve had conversation. He’s a Giants fan, I favor the Browns), and I’m afraid I don’t recall the company he works for. The person he’s come to see is not in the office at that particular time, but he’ll be back soon, so Frank waits.

We start making small talk, he notices the Beatles calendar hanging on my wall. “You like ‘em, huh?”

“Oh, yeah, been a fan since ‘64.”

“Me, too. That’s what got me starting to play.”

“You play? What do you play?”

“Guitar. Why? You play?”

“Yeah, and same thing. They started it.”

“Yeah, what do you play?”

“A little blues, some 60’s rock.”

“That’s what I play, too. I just picked up a new one a couple of days ago.”

“Did you? I’m hoping to pick one up tonight.”

“Really? I got a Telecaster…”

“Really? That’s what I’m getting. An ash-body. I’ve wanted one since…”

“That’s what I got! And you won’t believe the price!”

A sick realization hit me.

“Oh. Where’d you get it?”

“Up at West End Music. My son takes lessons Tuesday night. I picked it up on Wednesday.”

Of course. Well, like I told my son, I wasn’t meant to have that particular guitar.

So I decided to go out to Guitar Center Saturday morning and plunk down the $449 for the MIM.  I walked in the front door, and what was the very first thing I saw? Something else that was on my Wish List, a beautiful Epiphone Les Paul Custom, Alpine White with gold hardware. Generally retails for $800, but this one was used and marked down to…yes, $600.

I figured I wasn’t meant to get the Tele, because I was meant to get the LP. I can always get a MIM Tele for $449 (and it’ll be decent quality), but who knows when I’ll find another LP Custom in the color scheme I want for 25% off? So I snatched it up.

And as an Epilogue: This past Friday I took Cameron in for his lesson, and fell into conversation, as usual, with Jim (who had been gone the previous week).

“Oh,”, he said, “ I have to tell you a funny story. Remember that Tele you were looking at a couple of weeks ago?”

“Yeah, I really wanted that.”

“Yeah? Well, my brother ended up buying it…”

“Wait…what? Frank is your brother?”

“Yeah. Oh, are you the guy from the construction office?”

“Yeah!”

We didn’t start singing “it’s a small world”, but maybe we should have.