In a Life before Harp Guitars

Long before harp guitars (for me)…there were 6-strings (and the occasional 12). I stumbled on this 1975 photo recently, and wanted to document this “transition period.” Fans of my Christmas Collection (CC) project and/or the Miner Museum might get a kick out of this faded “historical image.” My brother Mark and I had apparently decided to pose every instrument we then owned on our parent’s couch in Clarendon Hills. I was still in my childhood bedroom upstairs, soon to leave the nest, while he had just graduated college and was living nearby with his first wife.

Here, we see the typical hilarious mix of old and new, cheapo crap and higher end instruments (the latter paid for by my Jewel Grocery Store earnings during and after High School). How many of us ended up with a similar musical hodgepodge I wonder?!

(Click image to open in a new window)

guitars

At top left, we start with a weird old homemade “folk art” guitar my brother found in an antique store.

Next is the rare and obscure Yamaha FG2000 (a high end “hand made by one guy” model). Having sold my High School graduation present of an old Gibson J45 that I just could not wrap my ears around, I think I found this at our favorite guitar store – the Sound Post, up Route 83 in Mount Prospect. I was told the model # came from the price (then “$2000 firm,” a hefty sum back then). But it was used, so I managed it. LOUD and impressive, though I never liked how it recorded. I strung it with Martin Marquis HEAVY strings to get the maximum tone and volume out of it. (I was stronger then; no manufacturer even offers those gauges anymore…like steel cables.) I used this for my burgeoning style of plectrum-played original instrumental musings (imagine Leslie West’s acoustic guitar solo, Greg Lake, Jimmy Page, Stephen Stills acoustic guitar). I sold it when I was finally able to obtain my first Martin.

Next is Mark’s 1972 D35. I don’t know what the lore says about this period of Martin’s output, but it was (and is – he still has it – a magical sounding guitar). He bought it new at Sid Sherman’s on Wabash Ave. in Chicago.

The cheap Silvertone acoustic neither of us remembers (nor would admit to owning).

A cheap (Japanese?) 12-string rip-off of a Gibson Dove I think? We don’t remember this one either…it was likely just before I managed to buy the Guild F-212 (also on CC) from the Sound Post.

On the couch seat is Mark’s 1964 Gibson long-neck RB-180 banjo. He had to run out and get it (secondhand) when he joined a Kingston Trio copy called “Mixed Bag.” It’s a fine instrument that he still has.

Next to it looks like my c.1974 Jimmy Waller classical guitar, “Custom Made for the Chicago Guitar Gallery” (on CC). My teacher picked it out for me at the boutique gallery in the same Michigan Avenue building as his studio (we took the elevator from the 6th floor to the 3rd floor, and I had my first real, if “student grade,” classical guitar” in 10 minutes). 400 bucks, Brazilian rosewood, and still kicks ass. Sadly, I quit lessons after 6 months when I realized my (fairly well known) teacher was a poser. My new jazz guitar teacher (Jack Cecchini, in the same building) ratted him out. This would have been 1975-6 when I was 20+ years old.

Next is the Harmony nylon string that my brother, then I, first learned guitar on. Mark reminded me that it didn’t come with a pickguard (being a “classical”) so we apparently had our dad make a pickguard that he screwed into the top.

Next – appearing on CC, that’s my 1928 Martin 0-21 (with later pickguard). I remember friends telling me to get a vintage Martin, ANY style, ANY condition. This was through the want ads from a guy in the city. Only $250 (it was extremely thrashed), I had one of the better Chicago repairman restore it. It’s what I learned and played Dave Evans’ entire Sad Pig Dance album on. A proverbial “cannon,” I was offered a LOT of $ for it, which I resisted for quite some time. I finally sold it, due to non-use in my harp guitar days. Still miss those uncomfortable T-frets.

The no-name uke-banjos and “guitar-o-lin” on the floor (a Ukelin cousin) came from one of our Wisconsin great uncles, the violins were those of Mark’s first wife (she was pretty good).

Ah, my Gibson electrics! I didn’t think I had the red vintage 335 back then, and have no recollection of where/how I got it. I brought it out to California and used it for years with The Pretensions. No longer using it, I traded it a few years back to Scott Holloway for (in part) the Charles Akeson harp guitar.

But the Les Paul Black Beauty! I inexplicably left this behind (I think my parents ultimately got 600 bucks for it). I had bought it new (again, at the Sound Post) and played it for about 2 years in my High School era hard rock bands (through a Marshall 50). Felt and played like butter. I kinda miss it.

No, not a Gibson EB-3 bass, but a cheap Japanese copy that had the most marvelous sounding “bad” pickup settings!

That’s a stripped-of-finish Silvertone guitar that I had since playing Monkees songs.

Ah, my wonderful, if total crap Teisco electric 12-string! From a slightly later era, I vividly remember some neighbor guitar-playing kid convincing me I needed a 12-string to “play lead guitar.” (!?!?!…he must’ve been a Byrds fan?). This soon just sort of fell apart, the folks probably garage-saled it for a couple dollars.

That’s the cheap German factory lute I saw hanging in the Sound Post window and bought it on the spot, being the first “exotic” ancient-looking instrument I had seen in the flesh (also motivated by Focus’ Jan Akkerman at the time). It’s on CC and I still have it, loving its odd, dark sound.

The bowlback mando was a cheap new Suzuki I found in a pawn shop.

That’s the National black & white New Yorker lap steel, used on CC, and still in the collection (always loved the tone). Got it for $95 on a lark when visiting an old gentleman somewhere in the bowels of Chicago to buy his cheap (Kay?) mandolin (off-screen at right). My dad drove me, as I had probably just gotten my license.

Mark’s Appalachian dulcimer, Autoharp and antique store finds (unstrung zither, busted accordion) round out the display.

A small part of me (the nostalgic collector, not necessarily the professional musician) still yearns for these sentimental musical stepping stones. I hope that the ones we let go inspired others to create their own unique music.

Mark,Gregg-champaign,1975

The two guitar nerds: Visiting my brother at U of I Champaign-Urbana, c.1974/5.

  1. Thomas Nielsen Says:

    Those early acquisitions are always so much fun to see when dug up from the archives. I still have my grand dad’s classical guitar from the thirties, which was my first real quality instrument. Also, the one that was subjected to all the restoration experiments when I was a kid! Experiments that required more restoration to repair ad infinitum. The point is that when you’re young and don’t have the means, you make do with what you have and looking back, the music was always pretty okay and was never compromised by the obstacles of obtainability.

    What’s the Rolandesque keyboard in front of the 12-string?

  2. Gregg Says:

    Thanks, Thomas. We’ve no idea – some kind of accordion…

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