Back in the eighties I had a friend who worked at Vintage & Rare, the classic guitar shop, at their Earls Court branch and every now and then on a Saturday afternoon I’d hop on the tube from Ravenscourt Park and pay him a visit. My motive, of course, was the opportunity to try out a few ace guitars in the soundproofed room, and of all the many guitars I tried the one that I remember best of all was an early fifties Fender Telecaster which, played through the top boost channel on a sixties Vox AC30, sounded too cool to be true. It was easy to play, too, and the twang from the bridge pick up was as good a tone from any guitar I’ve ever played, and that includes Strats and Les Pauls.     
         But somehow I never got around to owning a Tele – I think the one at V&R cost £4,000 back in the eighties – until last Saturday when I decided to go for a cheaper option, a Squier Tele, Japanese but made under licence from Fender whose logo is on the headstock. I tried three in the shop, two cheaper Tele-style models but they were rubbish, with thick fretboards and protruding frets, compared to the one I bought which is smooth, and the colour of butterscotch, like a Tele should be. I’ve spent five days with it now and don’t regret the investment one bit. The action is terrific, and played through my gratuitously powerful Fender 100 watt Roc-Pro amp, sounds to my ears not that much different from the one at V&R all those years ago. Although this was about 20 times cheaper, the real thing wasn’t 20 times better.
This guitar – pictured above – is actually the twelfth guitar I’ve owned, and being as how it’s the first one I’ve acquired since starting this blog, here’s my guitar history in all its unshapely glory.
         My first guitar, bought for me as a Christmas present in 1962 when I was 15, was a steel stringed acoustic shaped like a Spanish guitar with a round hole that probably cost less than £10. It was awful, of course – at the twelfth fret the strings must have been a centimetre high – though I didn’t know any better and neither did my dad who bought it for me. I persevered with it though, splitting my finger ends as I mastered E, A and B7, rock’s basic chords, and C, Am, F & G, the foundations of the Brill Building. We owned a grey Philips reel-to-reel tape recorder with a microphone attachment to tape your voice and also amplify it through the tiny speaker, so I figured that if you put the small plastic mike inside the guitar’s body you could electrify it; well, sort off as it fed back and sounded horrible but, as I say, I didn’t know any better but when I heard ‘Please Please Me’ in early 1963, and then ‘She Loves You’, I realised my timing as a guitar apprentice was spot on.
The next guitar I owned was a Futurama III, solid body, bright red with three pick-ups and designed to look a bit like a Strat, bought for £28 at a junk shop in York. A massive step up from the acoustic, I actually loved this guitar, polished it, changed the strings regularly and even bought a hard case for it. I also bought a Futurama 15 watt amp, not much poke really but good enough for what I needed, and a Watkins Copicat echo unit which, like some others bits of early gear I had, I now regret selling.
Then one night at Gargrave Village Hall when my group The Pandas were supporting a vastly superior group from Barrow-in-Furness their guitarist let me have a go on his Gibson ES-335, sunburst with dots on the neck, and for the first time in my life I realised what it was like to play a really good American-made guitar. My ambitions rose but I’d have to wait.
         The Pandas split up and I joined another group called Sandra & The Montanas, sticking with my trusty Futurama III on a combination of rhythm and lead but when I left them I had no further use for it and sold it for £20 to put towards an anonymous £40 acoustic 12-string, just because I wanted to see what they were like to play. It lasted until an offer came up to play bass in another group, so I swopped that (and the Copicat) for a used Hofner Violin bass, like Paul plays, which cost £35, and somehow converted the Futurama amp into a bass amp by getting a bass speaker, putting it into a new, home-made and very sturdy cabinet, and sticking the amp innards into a new box screwed on top. Well, it worked for a while. Then I realised I missed having a 6-string guitar around and bought an acoustic for about £40, make forgotten now, that looked a bit like a Gibson J45 and was a vast improvement on that first guitar I owned.
I left Yorkshire in 1969, just after I sold the Violin bass (another bad decision) and settled into a flat in Slough where I decided the time was right for me to get a decent guitar at last, so one day I took more money out of the bank than I should have and drove up to the West End to where the guitar shops were. I tried a few in shops in and around Charing Cross road and ended up, for reasons of cost (Fenders and Gibsons were beyond my pocket), with a used Gretsch Country Gentleman which set me back about £120, together with a fawn Vox AC30, six years old and a bit scuffed but going for a song at £60. Thus armed, I regularly pissed off the manager of the ladies hairdressers underneath the flat but thoroughly enjoyed myself with this combination for two or three years, including my early years on Melody Maker, just playing for my own amusement and hanging on to them both until MM sent me to America in 1973. I don’t regret selling the Country Gent but I do regret letting go of the AC30, especially as I’ve heard that the fawn ones are quite rare these days and actually worth more than the black and gold ones from that era. How was I to know that about 25 years down the line I'd need a decent amp again?
I didn’t take a guitar with me when I went to America. The only one I had at the time was the acoustic that looked like a J45 which I’d left at my dad’s house in Yorkshire and ended up giving to a friend. I figured I’d buy another one in America sooner or later but, in fact, it wasn’t until Christmas 1975 that I got around to it. As I recount in another post here, on Boxing Day in New York that year I found what I was looking for on West 48th Street in a shop called We Buy Guitars, a used small-scale Gibson LG2 acoustic, circa 1958, so I paid the asking price of $165 + tax and slipped the receipt into the accessory compartment in its case where it has stayed ever since. 
In NY I enrolled in the Guitar Studies Centre, a music school run by Eddie Simon, Paul’s brother, to learn how to finger pick which I managed to do, after a fashion anyway, and because it was easier to learn this technique on a Spanish guitar I bought an Ovation with a wide fretboard and nylon strings for, I think, around $120. When I left NY I left the Ovation with a friend there and never saw it again but I made sure the LG2 came back to the UK with me. It is the guitar I’ve played more than any other, and on Boxing Day this year I’ll have owned it for 40 years.

Again as recounted elsewhere, around 1985, having settled in Hammersmith, I passed a newly opened guitar & amp shop in Chiswick called Gigstop and in its window was a Gibson Dove priced at £200. Knowing this was a bargain I went in and tried it out; nothing wrong with it, so I put down £20 deposit which was all I had on me and went back the next day with the remaining £180. I kept it for a year or two and eventually decided I didn’t need two Gibson acoustics and preferred the old one, so I advertised it in the back pages of Melody Maker for £500 ono, and got £450.

It’s probably worth £3K now, maybe more, another one I should have hung on to really. But the LG was all I needed and by now I had a sentimental attachment to it as well. Among those who’ve played (and coveted) it are Elvis Costello and Allan Hull.
         I was 50 in 1997, married with two young children, still hankering after an electric guitar but resigned to family responsibilities. So it was a complete surprise when I was presented with a beautiful American Strat, sunburst with a rosewood neck, at the party to celebrate.
Lisa, bless her, had asked friends to give her cash instead of buying me anything, so it could all be put into a kitty for one big present. New in 1997, I still have this great guitar. I bought a small practice amp but felt the need for something better, hence the big Fender amp in the photo behind the Squier Tele up above. Along the way I’ve bought a bunch of effects pedals too, the best a Line 6 kidney-shaped Pod that combines loads of FX.
         Which brings me more or less up to date. I bought a blue Fender electro-acoustic for (my son) Sam to take back to Uni with him when he started getting good, but he didn’t much like it and snatched the Strat instead.
I can’t say I blame him and, anyway, he’s better than me by a country mile now and deserves to have it. But I still hankered after an electric at home so bought the Squier Telecaster last weekend, throwing in the electro-acoustic as part exchange.
         I’ve never been much good as a guitarist, a happy amateur really, but along the way I’ve come to realise that good guitars are simply lovely things to own, objects of desire if you like. And since the age of 15 I’ve never been able to pass a guitar shop without going in to browse.

(The guitars and amps pictured are not necessarily mine, just pix I found on the internet that correspond with the models I am writing about.)


monsterpop said...

Excellent:-) gotta love a tele! Glad you finally got one

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mike said...

How about that! We Buy Guitars was where I got my '77 Strat in August of 1980. Pretty cool to read a reference to it 42 years later! It's still my prize possession.