End of the week miscellany in my guitar world.
This will probably my last display of my Christmas tunes at my regular gig at the Daily Brew tomorrow. The irony that always strikes me is that long about this point in the Christmas season I’m finally playing my bunch of seasonal tunes fairly well. And after next Thursday, they get tucked back in the recesses of my mind until next year, when again I will begin practicing them too late! Somehow it’s always tough to begin practicing them in September (when I should!). I try to use this fact with my students, i.e., don’t wait too long to prepare for a performance. Oh well, do as I say, not as I do, as some smart person once said. In any case, it will be fun to play them one more time. I have a pretty nice instrumental arrangement of “Oh, Holy Night” that listeners seem to enjoy. The only downside is when some lady from a local church choir decides to sing along, in tune….or not. OK, I should shut up about that. Enough with the humbug, it’s Christmas for goodness sake!
I read an interesting bit of trivia recently. In the movie classic “From Here to Eternity” there is a small scene in which a guitar player sings a little ditty called “Re-enlistment Blues.” Turns out that is guitar great Merle Travis, whose name has become attached to a style of guitar playing we know as Travis-picking. I guess most hardcore (older!) guitarists knew this but it was news to me. Next time that movie is on, check it out. Cool little song!
I did a little experiment recently. One of the necessary accessories we all use is a capo. I’ve been using the Kyser capo for many years and while it works just fine, it is a bit bulky and sometimes gets in the way when I’m playing unless it is angled slightly. This means that a portion of the capo sits a bit far away from the fret and this can allow the strings on that side of the neck to buzz or be muffled. So I thought I’d invest in a few other brands and see if there might be something better on the market. I started with the newer version of the G7 capo, which is a bit narrower than the first generation G7. It seems to work quite well but is a bit more labor intensive to adjust – it must sit evenly across the frets and squeezing the locking mechanism too hard can make string go out of tune. Still, it doesn’t have the bulk of the Kyser so I’ll probably keep that one in the mix. I’ve always liked the look of Shubb capos and I tried one of those but that too required too much adjustment with the thumb screw to make it apply just the right amount of tension. I also tried the Paige, which has very little bulk but I found the arm difficult to clip into the curved section, which must be done before adjusting the tension screw. My conclusion is that I will most likely just stick with my ol’ reliable Kyser. You mileage may very, as they say.
Finally, a short story. I recently spoke with an old friend who I hadn’t heard from in quite a while. He is a good guitar and mandolin player and owned a small shop in Mystic, Connecticut where we both grew up. Back in the 1970s he began seeking out and collecting what we know refer to as vintage instruments. Back then, they were just old guitars! One summer he got a lead on a lady in a small town in upper New York State who had a couple mandolins she wanted to sell. He made an appointment to visit her, and she pulled out two cases from a closet and inside where her late husbands instruments: a matched set of a Gibson F5 mandolin and a mandola (a slightly larger type of mandolin). He knew what they were immediately and upon inspection he found signatures inside of the legendary inventor of the F5 design, Lloyd Loar, each instrument with sequential serial numbers and dated 1909. And both were in remarkable condition. Even then (back in 1979) the Loar Gisbons were known to be something of Holy Grails and my friend immediately offered the lady $5000 for the pair, at which point she just about fainted. Remember – this was well before the current vintage instrument craze and way before the internet. My buddy told the lady that he had to be forthcoming, that they were worth more than that. But she was thrilled to get the $5k and gladly took it.
I asked my friend what happened to those instruments. He told me that he held onto them for a while but a few years later sold the mandolin for $12,000, which is a tiny fraction of what it would be worth today.
“But,” he said, “Last month I sold the mandola to a private collector from Europe. Do you want to guess what I got for it?”
“A LOT!” I relied.
“A cool $150,000!” he said.
Now that’s what I call a Christmas present!
Peace, good music, and wishing you a Merry Christmas too!