Technically my first guitar was a 1936 KG-14 Kalamazoo. My second first guitar was a Vantage acoustic. Both of these guitars travel with me between my Home Studio and Sonic Rehearsal Studios. Here’s how it all went down for me. My grandmother had a guitar and it ended up being stored in my closet as a kid. I discovered it about the age of 8. The case was old and dusty and inside was an old acoustic Kalamazoo guitar. The action was so high it wasn’t playable. I talked to some guitar dudes and they thought that maybe it was a lap steel. I didn’t have a strap at first so I used a baseball belt. I took the thick part of the strap and wedged it in-between the strings (pic here). I placed the strap peg in the buckle and it hung perfectly. I had lots of fantasies as a kid. I would stand in front of the mirror in my room and play in front of thousands of screaming fans. That was the very beginning.
When I was a little bit older I asked for a new guitar. My parents bought me a keyboard. I didn’t want a keyboard, I wanted a guitar. For my birthday my mom took me down to the music shop. I don’t remember the name of the music shop but I remember the guitar. It was a Vantage acoustic guitar and I still have it to this day. My mom signed me up for lessons at the music shop near my house. On Lesson 1 my teacher gave me a Mel Bays book and started teaching me chords. I started learning songs like “The green grass of home” and “Jimmy crack corn”. This teacher was intense and he could tell when I hadn’t practiced.
The truth is…
I don’t have the kind of brain that can stay focused especially when it comes to methodical instruction. I’m extremely impatient when it comes to learning and there’s always a reason for the information I’m after. In this case it wasn’t to enrich myself with the knowledge of scales etc., I wanted to know the basics. As I said, this teacher was intense and could tell when I hadn’t practiced. I blamed playing sports as the reason why I hadn’t practiced my scales. I took 4 lessons and I’ll never forget on the 4th lesson he came out of the room and told my mom, “he has to make a decision to either play football or play guitar”. I chose football as by that time I was starting to get the hang of the guitar. I just wanted someone to take my guitar, play it in front of me, prove to me that it would work, show me some chords and set me free.
I started with E major then E minor then A minor and then began working on A major. I got D, C and G and finally had the F to deal with. I got the F and then it was off to bar chords. I remember playing F in the correct finger position with my index covering both the B and the E strings. There was another thing, an acronym for the notes of the open strings. He taught me, Every Able Dude Gets By Eventually.
Lesson #2. When you start to learn a song, never stop your strumming hand. No matter what is happening with your chord hand, don’t stop strumming! There is a connection between your fingers forming the shapes of the chords and the strumming pattern. The mind, with help from the strumming hand, will push the fingers into position faster. For instance, I see most new players play a C chord, then stop the strumming hand and line up D or whatever chord is next. When starting out, keep your strumming hand going and force the chord hand to form the next chord position… no matter how clunky it sounds. I found bar chords hard to play so I start making up my own chords, experimenting with made up finger positions.
Making up Songs
The songs I made up at first were jam songs and that’s where I strengthened my rhythm. My rhythm wasn’t strengthened by practicing “the green grass of home”, it was strengthened by making up songs and playing them over and over again.
I remember having some crazy back problems. My parents took me to a chiropractor and he had me walk thru my day. He pointed out that sitting on the edge of the bed hunched over practicing could be the source of my back problems. After a while I started to learn the piano. My teacher was from Russia and she was hard core. The cycle started again. I had to do things a very specific way or it was wrong. That didn’t last long but it was the kind of training that I needed to help read music.
Learning Stairway gave me the confidence to finger pick and popular country songs from the 80’s and early 90’s strengthened my rhythm. Within a couple of years the fret wires wore down on the Vantage and there was fret buzzing up and down the neck. I still like to look at the worn wires on the Vantage as it reminds of those early days. When I was 15 I walked into Brunos BBQ and asked the owner if I could play live music on Friday and Saturday nights. This is where I leave the story for today as what happened next is a tale for another time. – Fuzzy