So, I got some extra money for my birthday, and, combined with another little bit of extra money, decided I’d get a reasonably-priced nylon-string acoustic guitar. I did research on a few different models, and decided on a model called the “Etude” by La Patrie, whose parent company is Godin, a Canadian music company. I tried one out in a local music shop that I’ve done business with for years, and really liked it-full and rich, with a deep low end.
So, last Thursday, I decided I had enough money and called the store for a final quote. My guy there (whom again, I’ve done business with for years), tells me a price that’s well within my budget (this is a far cry from the days when I used to just simply whip out the plastic for instruments that cost several times as much-days that I’m still paying for). I go down to the store, try the guitar, and it feels like I was born holding it. I come home, come back and longingly fetishize it several times during the course of the evening, play it in our room before I go to bed and then look at it first thing in the morning when I wake up. The sun is coming through our study at a lateral angle that lets me see things I couldn’t see in the showroom the day before. The finish looks a little funny around the treble side of the bridge, and on further inspection I see that it’s a small depression created by a scratch-a scratch I hadn’t seen in the music store when I was buying the guitar.
And, I completely fall apart.
Every time everyone buys a big-ticket item-a car, music instrument, whatever-there’s always the gasp-inducing moment of The First Scratch. Most people are able to just be bummed out for a moment and then continue on their way, but I can’t: I obsess about scratches and wear and tear on my instruments to the point where I’m afraid to take them out in public. It’s something I can honestly say I hate about myself and the first thing I would change about myself if I could (having a good head of hair would be nice, too, but the totally-bald look seems to work for me). When I was playing in bars, if somebody bumped into me (a common occurrence) I’d anxiously check my bass up and down for tell-tale scars and scratches, and, usually when I FOUND one, it was 1) most likely not even caused by the collision in question, and 2) would send me into a tailspin not unlike the one I had yesterday.
I had a beautiful handcrafted 6-string bass made by a Canadian (again with the Canadians) luthier named George Furlanetto. It was like a Stradivarius and cost about ten times (I’m not exaggerating) what my new nylon-string cost. I used it faithfully at my church gig for ten years and used it for nightclub gigs until I finally broke down and sold it. The main reason was that I do a lot of Rocco Prestia-style muting with my left hand and the almost comically-wide neck of the instrument was giving me pain in my left hand…but the truth on the bottom side of this was that the bass was so nice that I was afraid to use it.
I’m not necessarily alone in this: I opened up for classic-rocker Les Dudek at the Little Fox in Redwood City a couple of years ago and had a discussion with “Max,” his bassist about wear-and-tear angst. Max (one of the proprietors of San Dimas Music, and yes, San Dimas is a real town) told me that, any time he procures a new piece of gear, he’ll take a key and put a scratch down the middle of it…something that, honestly, I’ve considered myself from time to time. Maybe God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
I just finished reading Naoki Higashida’s autism memoir The Reason I Jump and one particular part of the book that rang true to me was where he discusses why he doesn’t want a picture schedule of his day is that, because if the picture ends up not bearing a resemblance to the activity it represents, it’s tremendously upsetting to him. I understand how he feels; in fact, by now you’ve figured out that I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies and an autistic son. There’s no doubt in my mind that autism is genetic (sorry, Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy-you dicks) and sometimes at home we joke about ‘my autism’…and this is a primo example of it. I think I had a ‘vision’ of what a new guitar is (or should be) and got terribly upset when my ‘vision’ didn’t match ‘the reality’.
I feel like a jackass for even feeling this way: the guitar sounds amazing, smells nice, plays like butter and fits in my lap like a greedy stripper. The little imperfection in the wood is all but invisible: you have to know precisely where it is and look precisely at it in order to see where it is. The guitar is in brand-new condition (if I bought a brand-new car, piano, or some other big-ticket item chances are that the surface wouldn’t be perfect on THAT either…at many times the price). If you close your eyes, you can’t even FEEL it…what probably happened was that someone accidentally put a tiny gouge in the top while they were putting the bridge in, and decided that once the surface was finished (and I’m sure they’re under intense pressure to turn out as many instruments in as short a time as possible) it was small enough that whoever bought it either wouldn’t notice it, or would accept it for what it was and move on.
I’ve decided that the next year of my life is going to be for the overcoming of personal demons that are holding me back, and I need to find a way to make this obsessive-compulsiveness go away somehow.
Maybe talking about Steve Erquiaga will help put things in perspective…