During the early 90s I worked in a posh music shop called Chappell of Bond Street, which as the name suggests was situated in that exclusive area of London. It thought of itself as being upmarket, (maybe it still does) and was frequented by wealthy sheiks and Queens of African states. I was in charge of the Guitar department  but my accessory counter, (strings, picks etc.) was shared with the Brass & Woodwind dept. so I had to know about any products relating to that department too.  I answered the phone one morning to an enquiry about metronomes; the clock-like device that musicians use to keep time. The basic electronic models began at about £20 I informed the caller, to which I was told that this item was to be a gift, so I countered that we had a very nice wooden clock-work, pendulum type in stock that would make a perfect present for £80. That would be great, could I put it aside for a Mr. Gilmour for collection later that day? Of course sir. I hung up the phone, immediately thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it turned out to be Dave Gilmour?’ You have to remember  that as a young 20year old guitarist and fan of Pink Floyd this was a natural train of thought. I dismissed the idea thinking that  this was London after all and how many Mr. Gilmours could there be in that metropolis? So when later that afternoon a certain guitar player from Pink Floyd stood before me requesting to see the metronome he’d reserved earlier I was star-struck. I tried to remain calm, I did try, but here 2 foot away from me was one of Rocks great guitar legends. My initial professional reaction was to feign indifference but eventually my excitement couldn’t be contained and I asked him was he doing any recording at the moment. It broke the spell a little bit. He  seemed like an affable man but I could see he was uncomfortable as soon as he realised he’d been recognised. He answered politely but without much enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s said that it’s not a good idea to meet your heroes, but to me he came across as an ordinary bloke just wishing to go about his business without being hassled which is fair enough and probably much harder to do nowadays.  I wish I’d kept a copy of his signature though.

What Guitar should I buy?

This is a difficult question as the instrument you buy can either encourage you to play or put you off learning. Probably the first thing to decide is your budget. Generally more expensive guitars are better quality, sound nicer and are easier to play but for a first guitar they are more than likely going to be too expensive. Set your budget and try to get the best guitar you can within that price range.

Secondly if you don’t have much experience with guitars I would suggest buying a well-known brand such as Yamaha, Fender, Epiphone and there are plenty more. It doesn’t guarantee anything but there is a better chance that a guitar from a well-known brand will be of a certain quality.

Thirdly, for acoustic/classical guitars, if your budget will stretch to it, a guitar with a ‘solid top’ will sound nicer, these are usually more expensive than the very first entry level models.  A ‘solid top’ just means that the top of the guitar (the front bit with the hole in it!) is made from one piece of solid wood and not from several layers of laminate. Sometimes it’s good to try expensive guitars because then you know what you should be looking for in terms of sound and playability.

Finally do some research, ask friends what brand of guitar they have and obviously what they think of it. If you’re not confident in your playing ability maybe try to bring a friend who can play to the store to help – they can play the guitars and you can listen, maybe you’ll like the sound of one guitar more. Ask for advice in the music store, but obviously use your own judgement.

Avoid buying really cheap guitars from supermarkets, not mentioning any names but any of these that I’ve seen have been atrocious and unplayable and would definitely put you off playing the guitar. Support your local music shop instead, they specialise in selling instruments not bananas

Best of luck choosing a guitar and let me know what you buy.

There are different types of guitar which one should I start with? 

Well a good place to start is to figure out what genre of music you want to play. If you want to play folk, pop, rock or acoustic blues then a steel-string acoustic would be the preference. If you plan on learning classical music then you will need a nylon string classical guitar. Or maybe you want to play lead guitar and then you could look at electric guitars.

Regardless of genre classical guitars can be a good starting place for budding guitarists, they have several advantages – they tend to be cheaper, they are softer on your fingers, the body is a bit smaller (handy for petite people) and the neck is a bit wider (useful for people with larger hands/fingers).

But can I play folk/pop/blues music on a classical guitar? Well yes, but it won’t have the same tone – they have a softer sound – so if the sound is the most important thing for you then to get the ‘folk’ sound you would need a steel string acoustic. This pretty much applies equally to blues, pop or rock. So steel strings might give you the sound you’re looking for but be prepared for sore fingers at the start (especially so if you buy a budget model).

And is it ok to start learning on an electric guitar? Yes, although years ago the attitude was that you should start on an acoustic and then progress onto an electric but if the music you’re interested in playing is mostly played on electric guitars then there’s no harm in starting with an electric instrument. Remember though that you will need to budget for an amplifier and possibly a pair of headphones if you want to be able to practice without disturbing anyone else.



Crossroads Blues

A shimmering sun beats down mercilessly on Robert’s head. The wooden signpost offers his back some solid support as he sits, his legs stretching out in front of him. His battered brown guitar case, also availing of the signpost’s services is visible from the corner of his right eye. The piece of twine he’d taken from the post office is wrapped around it, tied with a basic knot. It keeps the lid closed and prevents his pride and joy from tumbling out, face first onto the dried yellow grass. The air is stifling, oven hot, the heat haze sets the horizon hovering in the distance. Continue reading “Crossroads Blues”