Home » Backpacking in Thailand » I may be in the gutter, but I’m looking at guitars

I may be in the gutter, but I’m looking at guitars

(Guitar bore alert)

Thursday, 27th November: Libra

“You will have to buy some equipment. The financial outlay will be considerable, so do plenty of research before making your purchases. When in doubt, choose quality products that are known to stand the test of time. These items will be decidedly less flashy than some other brands, but don’t get distracted. In a few years, you will be very glad you chose function over fashion. You work hard for your money and should get good value for it.”

Well, Russell, I don’t really work at all for my money, but I do worry a lot about it, if that counts.

The astonishing this about this prognostication, that I have filched from the home page of Yahoo!, is that it exactly matches what was happening to all we Librans on that fateful day.

And not for the first time – see Posts passim.

I have in fact spent the past few weeks, if not months, staring with glazed eyes and gelatinised brain for several hours a day at online guitar catalogues, researching plentifully (but apparently in vain) for the Perfect One, that I can take with me into exiled retirement.

There were several false starts, escape from which involved cumbersome and sometimes vituperative negotiations. ‘I just want my money back’ became one of my Top 10 Most Repeated Phrases of All Time. I was even killed by email: one dealer announcing murderously that he had ‘deleted all mention of me’ from his ‘system’, so that I ‘no longer exist’ to him. But eventually, by last Thursday, a sort of equilibrium was restored.

So I was prepared for a considerable financial outlay. For the past two years I have been selling off stuff I bought during a crazed, three-year attempt to turn myself into a professional musician, a jazz singer. I lost a fortune buying retail and selling wholesale: a piano I don’t play, a drum kit, seven guitars, four amplifiers, two microphones and a partridge in a pear tree. As I have Posted many times piteously, no-one at all seemed to be buying. The only people I ever heard from turned out to be bored teenagers emailing vicariously from messy bedrooms in Kyrzgystan.

And then suddenly last month the dam broke. In the space of three weeks I sold three archtop guitars, my lovely bass, that I hadn’t played for three months, and a small bass amplifier. This, together with a bit of stretch on the elastic of my overdraft, has proved just enough to buy a quality product known to stand the test of time, but not from a flashy manufacturer; and to obtain what should certainly be value for money.

I definitely needed to buy some equipment, I’d been without a string to pluck for more than a week. And that’s the unusually amazing part of the prediction. It’s not like: ‘You are going to buy yourself an expensive present, wooooahooah!’ (Sure, it’s coming on Christmas, why not? No-one else is going to buy me one). It’s the extraordinary insight into the long and complex mental process that has gone into my decision-making that really impressed me.

Okay, I have been known to poke a bit of fun at the astrologer Russell Grant when things turn out more or less as predicted in his syndicated columns, one of which I used to subedit on the local paper, but in this instance I’m feeling uncomfortable. What off-Earth have a dozen slowly wheeling ‘constellations’ of what we now know to be entirely unrelated stars and even distant galaxies that look like single points of light got to do with what goes on in the tousled or depilated, half-empty heads of bewildered and struggling humanity?

At the risk of boring you, there are indeed ‘flashy’ brands of guitar, and populist designs – some of them ludicrously overpriced – see again Posts passim. And there are brands that manage to be both flashy and populist but also quite cool and ‘niche’. There is a vast quantity on sale of a small number of familiar designs that all come out of the same pattern box, pretty much, distinguishable only by their cosmetic touches.

And then there are the known brands most players go for, that may have budget models for starters but which move on up to pretty classy models, even though you can’t sell them again without the name Gibson on the head. There are your collectors of rare and vintage guitars, that can cost up to £100 thousand or more. And finally, for the genuine virtuoso, there are unique and personalised designs from a small number of hand-builders, known as ‘luthiers’, that can cost a lot of money, but stand the test of time.

The guitars I had dismissed, or ordered and then returned or cancelled, were mostly budget-priced and ultimately disappointing versions of overhyped, ludicrously expensive and ‘flashy’ numbers. By last week, I was abandoning a lot of what I thought were my carefully thought-out criteria – size, shape, colour, types of ‘tonewoods’, electrical systems, suitability to playing particular styles of music, price, availability and so on.

I had set out looking for a one-stop solution, that would be future-proof in terms of the technology. But nothing fitted the bill. I had begun to despair of finding exactly what I wanted. Instead of looking for something that would talk to my fridge, as it were, I started thinking in terms of reverting to just a classic, simple style, that would never date. Of, as they say, ‘sticking to the knitting’.

So, on Thursday afternoon, I was prospecting yet again on the websites when, after about 1001 more scrolling images had been subjected disdainfully to my overcomplicated set of criteria, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by a kind of ‘little black dress’ of a guitar – a double-cutaway, slimline design known as a ‘335’: elegant, simple, classic – a triumph of function over fashion, from a known but not overhyped, quality Japanese maker – expensive for me, perhaps, a ‘top-end’ instrument (I’m not the greatest of players, me), but affordable at a small stretch, and definitely one that would stand the test of time.

It took another hour or so scribbling numbers on the backs of envelopes, unopened bills, weighing-up the benefits of paying cash over credit, worrying lest my small posse of existing creditors should ask awkward questions about my irresponsible sense of priorities. Then I thought, to Hell with it: this is my one chance! With Russell Grant’s sage words of advice from the morning churning through my veins, I leapt into the car, rushed round to the bank, disabled-parked and, at five minutes to closing time, dumped every penny I’d accrued from my gratifying run of sales into my groaning current account. I was broke again, and happy. I was buying a guitar!

Conversation with the stockist on whose website I had found the answer, however, produced the disappointing news that the guitar was not a stock item: it was generally available only in Japan, with just a handful exported to the USA and Europe. To order one could take three or four months, and I would have to pay in advance. It would mean tying-up £2,000 well into the New Year, with nothing to show for it.

It struck me then, how lucky I had been to have found the guitar at all, and at the precise moment when I could just about afford it! Here probably was yet another example of the serendipity with which my life has been blighted, given the frequency with which I make the most selfish and appalling, spur-of-the-moment decisions on irresistible purchases I always seem to have to go back on five minutes later. Either because I do not really have enough money to keep them, or because they are made out of rust. But never mind! I was buying a guitar!

To avoid getting distracted, I went back on Google, increasing my quotient of research considerably; and at last, on about the fifth page, found an identical one on sale in a scarily efficient-looking shop (where are the workers?) in faraway Köln, Germany, happily at the same price. It was the last one in Europe! Late on Thursday evening I took a deep breath and hit the Submit button, ordering it from their English-language website (Do British or American guitar stores have parallel German-, French- and Italian-language websites? I seriously doubt it.)

Hurrah for the Common Market! My Ibanez EKM-100 in Wine Red (the EK stands for Erik Krasno. You’ve surely heard of him?) should be arriving next week.

Cheers, Russell! Here’s looking at the stars.


Hold the Entertainments page! It turned out to be Not The One after all. What am I like? It’s up for sale again, to try to mitigate the awful cost of the next one I acquired (at the knockdown bargain price of only £3,000!) This one, I feel sure, is it.

Better be, it’s a Gibson.

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