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slide guitar

April 2, 2010

I picked up a guitar late this afternoon, early evening. I am borrowing both my aunt’s guitars. One is a battered but playable 1969 Gibson classical guitar, which my aunt unwisely let me borrow when I was ten years old or so, and I fell off the top bunk of my bed, and came down on the guitar with my elbow, and put a small but deep gash in the side. I think that’s how I put the gash there. The important thing is, the gash was not on the bottom or top (front or back) of the guitar – the sound comes from within the hollow body of the acoustic guitar, and those surfaces and not the more narrow sides. The guitar has nice tone, and is quite easy on the fingers compared to a steel string guitar.

The other is a steel string acoustic, made by the Ibanez company, which has a Spanish name, but is actually based in Japan, with most of its instruments having been made in the largest guitar factories in the world, in South Korea. Ibanez, like just about all the other main brands, has moved their factory operations to China, which I find nauseating. Guitars should NOT be made in Communist countries!! Cheap shit at the same price as when made in Korea. Hurray for Fender! As far as I know, Fender still has huge plants in Mexico, and some in Indonesia, which make their cheap and mid-range guitars, most of the best Fenders being made in USA in Japan.

This Ibanez acoustic is from the Art Woods series that came out in the 1990’s. Even though the South Koreans generally have done good work (and I practically weep for them – thousands of usually reliable guitar builders unemployed!), this particular Korean-made Ibanez – not so good. The action is too high, even for a mass-produced guitar. What I mean is, the string height is too high to play the guitar very well. The string height also makes the fingers hurt more and have to work harder.

So I decided to re-tune the guitar and try to learn how to play slide. Having higher string height than average is good if one wants to play slide guitar. If you find a guitar at a garage sale, and the only thing wrong with it is the action, and you are interested in playing slide, buy the guitar. If the neck is warped, or the bridge is popping off or something like that, then leave it be.

I have the guitar tuned to open D, which means when I strum the guitar without fretting it at all, I hear a D chord. Strumming the guitar with no fingers on the fretboard, if the guitar is in standard tuning, does not produce a nice major chord. The advantage to oped D (or open G, etc.) tuning is that I can down the neck and keep getting chords.

The kind of slide I use is a clear, no frills, plexi-glass tube which I put over either my ring finger or pinkie of my left hand. I press it (hard to find just the right amount of pressure for best tone) to the strings, covering the width of the neck, placing it or sliding up to just over the frets. It has a really cool bluesy sound.. rough or smooth.. mostly rough for me since I don’t know how to do it right yet.

But I tried today alright! I jammed for at least 2o minutes. I hadn’t even planned to play it today. I’d just finished playing the tinwhistles, and was killing time waiting for my food to digest so I could go to the gym.  I made a bunch of messy noises, but it was fun!

The most remarkable thing was how I felt doing it. I almost never feel really masculine, confident, sure of myself. But, I was wearing a comfortable pair of faded jeans, plaid earth-tones shirt, blue jacket similar to what mechanics sometimes wear, dark blue rare Converse all-stars – Navy blue and olive drab trim, and a ball cap over my bald head. I almost never wear a ball cap. This one has our local minor-league baseball team logo on it. One word across the hat : NUTS.

It’s a very masculine outfit, and that’s partially why I felt the way I did.

The other reasons were my playing this very male-sounding raw music, and my thoughts as I was playing.

I imagined myself playing a little gig at a woman’s house. I don’t know her well, just been there twice so far – once for a craft faire, and once for a party. She’s a friend of a friend, and asked me to play my Irish whistles at the next craft faire, which is later this month. I don’t nearly have the skill on guitar to play in public as yet.

But, I imagined myself and this guitar, somehow wired up so that it is an acoustic electric – a skilled tech could do this within a half hour – standing at a mic, plugged in to a Bose P.A, system. These are awesome! One very narrow Bose speaker tower – lighter than most P.A. speakers and so much better! I played through one at guitar center for almost an hour – it was guitar ecstacy.. way beyond my price range, at this point.. but anyway..

Imagined myself there in the living room with wood floors, with some people around, including some hot women, but, instead of being focused on them, focused on the music. It was such a good feeling! I imagined myself having this attitude, realizing they thought I was sexy, and the music sexy, but that was not specifically what I was about..and I felt kind of.. hard to explain… a slight grin on my face with the feeling like.. yeah I know you find me desirable but you ain’t gettin’ to me, the music is gettin’ to you and I’m going to burn you down with this music. This heavy hot smoky raw aggressive slow tempo blues, and my occasional semi-raspy vocals.

In other words, I’m the man, and y’all know it.

Even in my imagination, as I was playing in my room, it felt .. important.. important enough to write a blog about, even though it is close to 4 am and I should be sleeping soon.

It’s that feeling, that utter confidence and enjoyment of the music, being the musician, not just the passive listener, with the slight feeling of disdain for some of the audience, and just diggin in and doin’ it.

Words just don’t express sometimes. That’s the best I could do.

The insecurity and all that passed for a little while, and I felt truly like a man, like a healthy potent man should. A man bringing raw music, bringin’ the blues, and not at all troubled by temptation and subservient feelings of desire, but making the music!

Well, I can’t write it up any better than that at this point. Let’s just say it was SIGNIFICANT. I’m gonna work on this slide guitar thing some more, and maybe, just maybe, find myself in the situation and mental state and musical state I imagined for myself.

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