Eventually, I got an electric guitar. I feel like I should be able to remember who I got it from, but I can’t. I think maybe I got it from my cousin, Jesse. Or maybe I eventually sold it to him. I can’t remember. I can’t believe that I can’t remember. Here’s what I do remember: I didn’t get it from a music store. I got it from someone who was letting it rot. Like many instruments I’ve gotten over the years, this one was sitting, moldering in someone’s basement.
It was a Silvertone 1448. It was a guitar that Sears had mass produced during the early 60’s I think. It’s famous because it came in a case that had a small tube amplifier built into it. I still see them all the time. Sears must have mass produced the shit out of these things, because they are still readily available. I’ve seen them at DiPinto’s and I even think I’ve seen one in the used gear section of a Sam Ash (or was it a Guitar Center I really can’t tell them apart). The problem with this one was that it had gotten wet or damp over the years that it sat neglected so the case/amp was falling apart and the guitar stunk and was sticky and kind of gross to handle. No matter how much lemon pledge I sprayed it with, It still just seemed to be disintegrating and expelling a gummy tar-like substance onto my hands. Not very rock and roll.
Still, It was a fun process, bringing this beat ass instrument back to life. I had hoped it would be like the movie Christine, and the guitar would have a haunted, yearning, demonic female spirit. The more I polished and caressed her body, the more she’d come to life to meet me, unnaturally rejuvenated in hellfire, our souls joining in a twisted passion of hot blues licks and attitude filled solos. Her bond to me would lay waste to anyone who didn’t serve our joint purpose of playing the devil’s music. Tragedy befalling anybody foolish enough to try to keep she and I apart. My riffs would flow up from the darkest depths of the underworld pumping liquidly through my black heart into my fingertips burning now electrified into the longest and darkest of nights.
But none of that happened. Instead, I got it cleaned up as good as I could, put fresh strings on, plugged it in, and proceeded to suck just as much as I did on the acoustic. In fact, it sounded exactly the same, clean and corny. I couldn’t figure it out. Where was the heaviness? I mean, despite my satanic fantasies, I didn’t actually expect to be great overnight. I knew I’d have to put some time in. I joke about my crappy playing, both on the sax and on the guitar, but the truth is, I was starting to hear some progress. There was beginning to be some improvement on both instruments. Practice wasn’t making perfect, but it was making things better-very slowly. What i did expect from this new addition was a cooler tone. I had been listening to guitar music my whole life. I had an expectation about how this guitar would sound. I went electric. Where was that cool growl, that searing wail?
Of course now, years later I know what was missing. I know that if maybe I had let the tubes in the amp warm up and cranked it all the way to the max, I’d have probably gotten some of the drive that I expected. What can I say? I was a timid kid. I didn’t want my parents to hear me plodding along, dorking my way through whatever I was working on at the time. I certainly didn’t want any neighbors hearing me sucking out loud. Also, I had NO IDEA that there was any correlation between volume and drive. It seems so intuitive now, but not a fucking clue did I have.
Eventually Pat Rock, my best friend’s dad, came over to the house again and I was like, “check it out! I got an electric guitar!” He took it and started to play his signature licks. Quickly, he stopped. He said, “Man, the action on this is pretty bad, huh?” I was like, “action? what do you mean?” He held it sideways and showed me how far the strings were away from the fretboard. At the nut, down by the end of the neck, it wasn’t so bad, but above the 3rd or 4th fret it was almost unplayable. Near the 10th fret, no lie, the strings were almost an inch off the frets. “is that bad?” I asked. “It’s not good! You can’t really get ahold of anything. You might be able to play some open chords, (what the fuck is a chord?!?!?) but it’s almost impossible to play. You’re better off with that acoustic. Where’s that at?”
Man! what a let down. Here I thought I was moving into the big leagues, makin’ strides in the rock world when all I was doing was wasting my time with a broke ass piece of trash that wasn’t gonna get me anywhere. On top of smelling musty and emitting black goop, it just wasn’t ever gonna rock. Damn it.
Around this same time, My mother got a new stereo. The odd thing is, it was not as good as the stereo she had. It was smaller, though. I think that was the reason for the “upgrade”. It’s weird sometimes the things people think are an improvement. This new stereo had “Dual Cassette w/ High Speed Dubbing”. That meant that you could put a cassette with something already recorded on it into the left deck and a blank cassette into the right deck, then hit play and record on the right deck and you could make a copy of the tape at 2 times the normal playback speed. I don’t know that anyone in our family was that into copying tapes, but it was the hottest feature of the moment. This new stereo was all one piece. It had a turntable with a lid on top, an AM/FM tuner in the middle, and the aforementioned dual cassette jammy down the bottom. But it was plastic!! The whole fuckin thing! Just a rickety plastic box. Even the 2 dumb little speakers were made out of plastic. Super crappy! The good (GREAT) part was: I inherited the old stereo! I got to bring the beautiful, Pioneer component stereo system up into my bedroom. It was a lovely set up in a gleaming, modern cabinet. The parts were made of metal and lived in a glass front case with a magnetic spring latch door. The sides of the cabinet were wood tone. there was room under the cassette player to store my whole record collection! Big ass speakers and pristine sound emanated from this beautiful unit. The new one downstairs SOUNDED like it was made of plastic, all hollow and thin. I wasn’t gonna say anything though, they might change their minds.
After having the new stereo in my room for a few weeks, I noticed that the cassette deck had a hole in the front next to the headphone jack, marked “input”. The hole looked exactly the same size as the hole in my amp that my guitar cord plugged into, that is, the same size as a headphone jack. I turned the stereo on and plugged the guitar into it. Nothing. I turned up the volume. Still nothing. Then I had a thought. I put in a cassette and pressed record. There it was. My guitar was now coming out of the stereo speakers, and as I played, the LED display lights were reacting to my playing as well. The best part? If I turned up the recording level, the guitar tone started to distort and sound like a real fuckin electric guitar AND I could play quietly by turning down the master volume AND I was recording everything I was playing without any background noise! I thought to myself, “this can’t be right, I’m probably not supposed to be doing this.”
What a glorious day.