Diary - Jan 06
I only have 2 guitars, Fender Jaguar and Stratocaster
and I rarely have them set up (it's like your guitar having a maintenance service). I don't think you need it so often, and don't like the idea of leaving them somewhere else for a certain period. Not that they cost a fortune but they are a little old so it will take a bit of time to find the same model.
But I dropped one of them to the floor while recording and the switch became a bit dodgy, so it was time to take them to a workshop. When I walked downstairs into the workshop I was a little worried as there seemed to be no security - anyone could walk in and out. There the "veteran" appeared - I asked him about how safe this place was, what in case of theft and stuff. He said, "That sort of thing just doesn't happen". Um...sounds assuring. Then he had a look at my guitar, said it's a really good guitar but was in a seriously bad condition and quoted about twice the normal price for the service. He said if I didn't have it done then the guitar would stop making sound within a week. I tried really hard not to burst into laughter - what a shame, it was an established guitar workshop in a well known street full of guitar/instrument shops.
So I told him I would shop around and might come back - he looked upset and said he could just clean the guitar for the half price - but my arm was already reaching out and grabbing the guitar before he finished the sentence.
Then someone told me about Andy Gibson's guitar workshop, just down the road, next to Foyle's bookshop in Tottenham Court Road. He warned me that he was quite popular and I might have to wait for 3 weeks or so. When I went there I didn't have to worry about the security as first you have to notify the staff at the guitar shop upstairs, then only they can unlock the door and let you enter the workshop. There Andy had a look at my guitars, quoted a normal price and they were ready within a few days. He didn't charge for the minor repair and also did a thorough cleaning of the pick ups. But before he handed me the guitars he pointed out at my Jaguar and said that that was the best sounding guitar he ever came across, and that he couldn't stop playing it. I was totally surprised - I knew it sounded good, people would comment on that, but that good? I said to him, "But it's only '67, not pre-CBS!".
Well, as far as I know Fender guitars made until '65 is considered pre-CBS and really valuable, because that's before it was bought by then CBS(Sony) which started mass production and made changes to the mechanics. These models can fetch a serious price at auctions. Then he said he had set up '56 Fender Stratocaster that cost £25,000, but that it didn't sound good. I was utterly astonished, like the world was never the same again! Then he laid down 2 photographs on the desk, both of '56 Fender Telecaster, identical models which he serviced but said while one of them sounded brilliant the other didn't. Well, we are talking about instruments that are made of wood with a certain manual input - no scientific facts would explain that. Honest to god guitarists are expected to try electric guitars acoustically first anyway - if they don't sound good acoustically - good resonance and all that, then no gimmicks will help (here we are talking about "good sound" in an old school kind of way). He said although vintage year was a good starting point, as to the sound it might not be a guarantee. Well, I guess if good sound really matters to you, then you should always trust your ears, not what it says on the price tag?
I remember when we visited a squat in Brixton, ages ago, to buy the guitar. I'd been looking for an old Jaguar for ages then found an ad in Melody Maker at a reduced price. He was a graphic designer or something but seemed to like beautiful looking instruments - there we saw immaculate looking Rickenbucker etc on display. He didn't play them himself so the Jaguar was preserved in good condition. He was glad to sell it because then he could go on a holiday.
Andy still looked he didn't really want to hand me the guitar but told me not to sell it.
Well, this would not mean anything to the insurers, collectors, auctioneers and conceptual artists - but it made me really happy, to be the owner of the "best sounding" guitar, according to someone like him.
He also said that although you could have your guitar set up once a year, as long as you didn't notice a change then your guitar should be all right for years and years.
What an experience - I probably wouldn't see him again for several years, but the knowledge that there is someone who seems to really care about guitars and guitarists, and be happy to give quality service, makes me feel warm. Well Andy, until I see you again, best wishes from me!