The US election is on and dominating the news despite all those forgotten troubles in the world, but what happens in this election may have a bearing on how the world moves forward. I’m trying to stay away from the polarising political climate and trying to concentrate on those things that bring people together, like guitars!
So let’s talk about guitars. Some people want to know why my Takamine 12 string acoustic is covered in tape and why my red Rick 6/340 is taped. To check what these guitars look like and check out the rest of my guitars and amps and musical equipment you can go to the Gear page on my website here:
We were playing at the famous First Avenue venue in Minneapolis and as we reached the end of the night and the crescendo was reaching its peak I rested my guitar on the drum kit and walked off stage. Our drummer Tim continued fizzing the cymbals, banging the bass drum pedal against the skin, sliding the sticks across the drums, keeping the madness going until suddenly he kicks his drum kit off the drum riser with my guitar still sitting on top of the kit. Our tour manager Ward came into the dressing room and threw my guitar onto the couch, it was broken in half. The tour continued with the heavily wounded guitar in its case. Over the following weeks, you could see blood dripping out of the case, there was a large stain on the floor of the truck and one night when everyone was asleep a crew member with insomnia walking past the truck in the early hours thought he heard a soft whimpering from behind the locked truck doors.
After the tour, I took the guitar to the Rickenbacker factory in Santa Ana, California and asked for their help. The people at Rickenbacker have always been most helpful to me and this was no exception although they thought it was likely impossible to fix. The problem was that it was broken across the bottom of the guitar in the direction of the wood grain on both sides. This meant that the amount of surface area that was available to be glued was minimal. Somehow they managed to do it and it came back to me in one piece with a warning that it was precarious and couldn’t take another hit.
Fast forward to touring with The Saints in Freiburg in Southern Germany and after the show, the soundman picked up my guitar case that wasn’t closed properly, and as he picked it up the guitar fell out onto the concrete floor and the guitar broke again. I don’t know if Rickenbacker could fix it again but getting it to them is an issue as the guitar now lives here in England and although that guitar will likely be used if I ever do any gigs with The Wild Swans, these days that guitar is mainly used here in the studio in Penzance. The break in the body isn’t the only issue on this guitar, someone butchered it years ago, took off the original bridge assembly and welded a different bridge onto the body, the machine heads have also been replaced by something inappropriate for the cosmetics of the guitar. So what value does this guitar have cosmetically? You wouldn’t buy a guitar in this condition. But don’t let appearances fool you, this is a fantastic guitar. It has a unique sound, a special growl and when I discussed it with John Hall, the Rickenbacker owner, he told me that the guitar’s sound was probably quite changed due to the removal of the original bridge and the addition of a bridge that is closer to the nut. This is the Reptile guitar and it featured quite heavily on the Starfish album, I also used it on the Sing Songs EP and probably somewhere in between but it was a long long time ago.
So the Takamine 12 string acoustic looks like it was found in a hedge. I can tell you that I bought that guitar brand new. It’s what I call my R’n’R 12 string acoustic, not how a 12 string acoustic is usually categorized. This is why one needs many guitars, because they all perform differently and I’ve never found an acoustic 12 string that performs like this one, and I’ve tried a few.
The tape was originally put on because it looked like the bridge was rising from the body and this was a temporary measure. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have done much good because if it was really breaking, the bridge would have flown off with the tension from the 12 strings. Then one gig, the pickup failed and I had a spare movable pickup in my case but the wire from the pickup to the DI (direct input) box was hanging loosely from the guitar body so I taped it to the guitar. Then people were asking me what kind of guitar it was and as there is a lot of snobbery in guitars, I put tape over the name so they wouldn’t think less of it for being a Japanese guitar rather than an American one, I then wrote an expletive on it for a laugh. Again, this is a great guitar whose sounds might not want to be judged by its appearance. The machine heads have been replaced, the input socket has been moved and the wood is also wearing out where I have been furiously strumming it for years. I suppose one might say why would you want to have a guitar that looks like that – it’s just the truth.
Music today has been a CD that came through the post this merry morn. It was the first release on Simon Raymonde’s newly formed Bella Union. Could he have imagined how the label would grow to have a stable of such cool music? This album was a Raymonde solo CD with the intriguing title Blame Someone Else (1997) – Cocteau Twins Guthrie and Fraser appeared. Bella Union was originally run by Robin Guthrie and Raymonde (and their manager) as an outlet for the band and collaborations but Raymonde took over when Guthrie moved to France. The label became a great success when Fleet Foxes’ first album sold over a million copies in England. Bella Union continued to sign great acts and you can rely on the label to release something you’re going to like in the same way that 4AD did in the eighties – here’s a small example of their acts: Father John Misty, Beach House, Explosions in the Sky, Mercury Rev, Peter Broderick, M. Ward, Philip Selway, John Grant, The Low Anthem, Laura Veirs, The Flaming Lips, Lanterns on the Lake, John Tavener, Marissa Nadler, and Arc Iris.