Friday, May 25, 2018

Story of My Life: Cheap Guitars

I am not a talented guitarist. Enthusiastic (when I have time to play), but not good.

I'm also a cheapskate, which means that with the single exception of the Joe Pass Emperor II I inherited from my dad (which I only take out rarely and reverently), I play cheap guitars. An old Epiphone dreadnought ($150 close to 20 years ago, and it came with gig bag, etc.), three Rogues (an acoustic dreadnought, an acoustic/electric dreadnought, and a lap steel) that came to less than $200 combined brand new, an Epiphone Les Paul ($95 on sale), a Walmart "First Act" strat clone ($10 with amp at a yard sale) ...

... and my current favorite, a student-sized First Act acoustic that I picked up for $2 at another yard sale. One of the tuning keys was completely shot, but that doesn't matter because I'm running it with only three strings (tuned to G-D-G) and using an old 3/4" socket as a slide while I run through some video lessons from online and await the arrival of my newest acquisition, a $35 mass-production take on a cigar box guitar (not an affiliate link):

I'm don't recall when I first noticed cigar box guitars, but they've appealed to me ever since for two initial reasons:

  1. They're cheap and you can build them yourself (I will likely build one at some point, but not from scratch -- CB Gitty offers parts and kits).
  2. Three strings in an open tuning is a LOT easier to make noise that's identifiable as music with than six strings in standard tuning.

Then there's my life-long blues conundrum. Since I was a teenager, I've listened to e.g. Robert Johnson and wondered how the hell those old blues guys managed to sound like they were playing two guitars with about five hands. I just assumed they were virtuosi. And they were.

But they were also playing open tunings, keeping the rhythm on all the strings except one and playing lead on that remaining string. In fact, many of them had started out as children on single-string "diddley bows" (Ellas McDaniel renamed himself after that instrument) and then just transposed what they did with those onto single strings of multi-string instruments in open tunings.

Cool: I'm certainly no Blind Willie Johnson and never will be, but I'm starting to be able to play something that's identifiably slide blues guitar instead of just sour mush by cutting the number of strings I have to keep track of in half and using a stubby slide to noodle with the blues scale on the high string while keeping rhythm on the other two.

Cooler: An acoustic/electric guitar, with a slide and play-along CD, for $35 new.

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