Heady times. I haven’t done much writing over the past few days because it’s all gone so quickly. Or, quickly, at least in pedal steel guitar terms, which is a bit like saying that it’s rush hour in Truro, so hold on to your hats.
Keeping my steely gaze on the British Steelies forum, I resolved not to let the next decent single-necked 10 string guitar I came across escape my clutches. There was always going to be a compromise. I couldn’t imagine that the perfect guitar would drop into my lap. Life couldn’t be that kind. Nevertheless I keep a tab of The For Sale thread open, refresh as often as a relatively sedate work schedule will allow and make preparations financial and familial.
By which I mean: something has to give, something has to go. There is a horrible acronym doing the rounds which has some truth to it. Quasi-musical men of a certain age are prone to GAS, an acronym which represents Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. This horrible term describes the desire, often replacing the desire for sporting achievement or to have actual sex, to fill a space in the house with as many guitars, basses, mandolins and banjoleles as possible. This often inspires confusion from other occupants of the home, resulting in perfectly reasonable questions.
Q: Why do you need so many?
A: Because they’re all different. Like children. Don’t ask me to choose. I’m not Meryl Streep.
Q: Why do they all sound the same to me?
A: Because, as I have always suspected, you’re not really listening to me play. I would love the opportunity to fix that.
Q: How much did they cost?
A: 10-15% more than I told you at the time of purchase.
Q: But can you play more than one at a time?
A: Now you’re just being silly, but honestly, I would if I could. It’s every man’s fantasy.
Q: But WHY do you need so many?
A: May I refer you to the answer I have previously etc repeat til fade.
I understand the reason for these questions, and I know that it may appear in an amateur musician an indulgence and extravagance, to have more than, say, five guitars, but it really isn’t. It’s a necessity. In the same way that life is nothing without art, a wall without guitars is bare, empty and lifeless. They are simultaneously a work of art, a tool, a statement of identity and a reminder of your musical connection to the world. They are trusted friends and valued collaborators, and one of them, at least, has to go.
Because look what has popped up on the forum!
This doesn’t really make sense. It’s a 1981 Sho-Bud LDG SD10. SD denotes a single neck E9 guitar but with a comfy cheese-on-toast-spongy vinyl pad where the C6 neck used to be. But it gets better. The reason the SD, and the Sho-Bud LDG exist at all is because my pedal steel hero Lloyd Green decreed it should be thus. Lloyd is many people’s go-to guy when it comes to sheer technical prowess. If there were a Mount Rushmore of pedal steel players (and such a thing should exist, I suggest, somewhere in the Chilterns) he would be stony cheek-by-jowel with the great Bud Emmons, who, as it happens, is also the Bud in Sho-Bud. It’s all coming together. Legend has it that Lloyd decided, one day, back in 1971 that, his skill being so immense, he only needed one neck – tuned to E9. He asked his guy to dispense with the C6 neck entirely. Instead, he’d like a lighter machine equipped with somewhere to rest his impossible-to-insure wrists while he played, thank you very much. This modified steel, in an instrumental history that is all about modification, became the Sho-Bud LDG model in his honour, and with a few notable exceptions, came in a bright translucent emerald green over birdseye maple. Here is the man himself, in front of the very thing of which I speak, with the expression of a man whose elbow has never been more comfortable.
Now the keen-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the LDG I’m rapidly imagining in my home isn’t as Green as Lloyd Green’s. Good spot. It’s common for a lot of them to have faded considerably, leaving it, for the most part, a grubby blonde. But there’s nothing wrong with it to my eye.
I mean, seriously. What a thing of beauty. The marquetry. The lines.
Right. Now to the challenge of trying to acquire this beautiful object. There are a number of things which need to happen, in the correct order.
- I need to secure it.
- I need to finance it
- I need it to be OK with everyone at home.
- I need to find somewhere to put it.
- I need to go and get it.
Straight away, I make contact with the owner. He’s a guy called Harry who lives in North Wales. I ask him why he’s getting shot of something so gorgeous. He says it’s time for him to go double neck, despite Lloyd going in the diametrically opposite direction back in ’71. Fine. Secondly, I ask about the history of the thing. He says he bought it from an occasional dealer called John about seven years ago, since when it’s sat in his house and had occasional use. Luckily, I know John from correspondence, as he was trying to find me the right guitar as part of my search, in fact, he alerted me to Harry’s sale. He confirms that Harry is a good guy and that I shouldn’t hang about as I won’t find anything as good at the price, which is just inside my bracket, adding that ‘he doesn’t have any dogs in this race’. I take this to mean that he has no conflict of interest in offering this advice. A beautiful phrase, which I will be using myself as if I thought of it.
I then refer to my spirit guide, Gerry Hogan. Gerry has warned me in the past of buying old, sentimentally powerful instruments, on the basis that they tended to be made of matchsticks and tin foil. Modern guitars use modern materials, and won’t let you down as readily. I get the feeling that Gerry feels that he has brought me this far, and he has a responsibility to make sure I carry on my journey. He tells me to ask, at the very least, for pictures of the rolling bridge mechanism:
….and the underside of the guitar, check for any glaring problems. Gerry says that, whatever happens, he won’t be able to say for sure if the LDG is any good without playing the thing. They are clanky, disjointed machines even when they work, he says, there is so much to wrong that the chances are that it has.
I enter into lengthy correspondence with Harry up in North Wales, to try to iron out these concerns. He is lovely about all of it, and patient, probably sensing that I’m desperate for the deal to work, and knowing that there are other potential buyers circling like a family of Red Kites over roadkill. In the end, we negotiate a price, and he assures me that he wants me to be happy with the guitar first and foremost, and that if there are any concerns he will help me and not disappear. So I commit. We shake hands telephonically and I sigh. I’ve disobeyed every piece of consumer advice I’ve ever given anyone, agreeing to buy something without seeing the goods first, buying at distance from someone I’ve never met. It’s all wrong and yet, I don’t worry. John knows Harry. Harry knows Gerry. Gerry knows Harry. EVERYONE knows Uncle Roy, who runs the British Steelies forum, and has helped me on my way with a nudge and a steer. This is a small community of people who love an instrument and want it to survive and flourish. I don’t think I will go too far wrong with them, and a guitar I can’t wait to meet.
With reference to 2. I stick one of my other guitars up for sale. It’s a 1981 (coincidence? Yes.) Gibson Explorer which needs to find someone who has an aching desire for the death tone. It’s a great guitar, but as Jon Graboff, pedal steel guitar player for Ryan Adam’s Cardinals says, ‘If you’re playing pedal steel, don’t bother trying to do anything else.’ This is a guitar made for classic rock, and I simply don’t wear those trousers any more. This helps a bit with 3.which to be honest, is all about a having a partner who understands and respects the importance of doing things while you have the passion and energy, so thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.
A couple of hours’ work with a drill and some filler sorts out 4., as I relegate all CDs to the loft and wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. We have a guitar waiting in North Wales. We have cash. We have a space. We have a green light. WE ARE GO FOR PEDAL STEEL!
Have I made a terrible mistake?