I recently saw the new George Clooney movie, “The Descendents” and the music is wonderful. It takes place in Hawaii and the entire soundtrack features various examples of slack key guitar playing, something that I confess to knowing little about. In most cases it sounds like the guitars are tuned down quite a bit to various open tunings. I had a student a while back who was in the military and had been stationed in Hawaii for a while. He really got into slack key and told me that in some cases “secret” tunings are handed down from generation to generation, which result in some beautiful music. If you’re of the opinion (as I was, I guess) that most of Hawaiian guitar music involves weepy sounding slide guitar and ukuleles, you’re in for a very nice surprise if you see that movie (which was excellent, by the way).
The mom of one of my younger students called me just before Christmas, all excited because she had ordered one of the Esteban guitars for her son. I bit my tongue as hard as I could stand and said, oh, that’s great! I’m sure he’ll enjoy it! Not wanting to rain on her parade I couldn’t bring myself to tell her those alleged instruments from that character’s company are the worst examples of shoddy guitar making I’ve ever seen. Almost impossible to tune, with fret edges that are sure to slice up fingers and a sound that is little better than a cigar box with strings, I’m amazed that he’s still in business. But hey, maybe I’m just jealous. To the innocent first-time guitar buyer, his “shtick” is pretty convincing. Maybe if I’d had the foresight to buy a black shirt, sunglasses and a black hat and learned to play “Malageuna” nice and fast, and booked some time late at night on cable TV, I would be rich and well known too! Esteban is nothing more than a bad joke among real guitarists but I think we all wish we’d known what he obviously knew: that inside many people lurks a secret guitar player!
But on a brighter note (pun intended!).....
Just purchased a 1960 Gretsch Double Anniversary hollow body electric guitar. It is in amazing condition for its age except for one small piece of binding that will need to be replaced. I’m a sucker for this particular model. A good friend of mine back in high school had one and it was the first good electric guitar I ever played. He ran it through a Guild Thunderbird amp (all tube, of course). Wow, what a great sound from those vintage HiLoTron pick-ups. As best as I can tell the entire guitar has original parts although one Gretsch web site says the HiLoTron was not introduced until the mid 60s. I’ll have to do more research on that. In any case, the sound is pure George Harrison and hitting that wonderful first chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” is pure ecstasy! I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’ll list it for sale – my rule for all guitars I acquire, no matter how much I like them. I don’t play a lot of electric these days but I’m thinking about trying to get something of a Americana/roots kind of band together in the next few months so that guitar might hang around for a while. We’ll see.
I hope everyone has a happy, peaceful, healthy and prosperous New Year, filled with new musical adventures!
Peace & good music,