Monday, January 29, 2007

Just Like Every Cowboy Sings A Sad, Sad Song

So look at it. Take it in. Not just the elegance of design, but the deep contrast of the mahogany body and the maple neck. The elegance of the pickguard shape. Bear in mind the way the black-cased pickups blend into the pickguard, just simple sillouhettes.The sleek yet blocky bridge-and-saddle set-up. And that wonderful tapered head, like on the Gibson Flying V, but this one is attached to a body that you can actually hold onto. And believe me, that body will snuggle down in your lap and provide the most perfect platform for play you've ever known, better than a Les Paul, better than a Stratocaster. In fact, very much like a hybrid of the two, with a little less heft than the Les Paul, a little more than the Strat. It's like that line from Zelig: "I love baseball. It doesn't have to mean anything, it's just beautiful."

And hereby hangs the tale.

Back in the 80's, while I was still learing what there was to know about guitars, I found a pawnshop that had a large cache of (what I thought were) cheapo guitar strings. (They weren't cheap, they were just old, and from a company that had been manufacturing the strings in a small factory here in Charlotte, on Freedom Road, and had ceased production some years back.) I went to the owners, who knew me pretty good from my weekend gawking, and offered to re-string all their guitars, using said strings. They figured it couldn't hurt, so I zipped back home, grabbed a string-winder, and set to work.

It took about three days, but I did succeed in stringing all the guitars, some 20-odd of them. The cache turned out to have a pretty good variety of strings: electric and acoustic, light and medium gauge, they even had some LaBella folks strings that passed pretty good for classical strings. In addition to re-stringing the electrics, I tuned up their innards as well, repairing loose wires here, cleaning corroded contacts there, adjusting pickups. And then there was an old Kay arched-top 12-string, for which the cache had no match, so I took that one home, fit it with a set of cheapie GHS strings, and, as long as I happened to have it at home that evening, re-set an interior baffle, adjusted the truss rod, re-set the bridge, adjusted the harmonics, and did what I could to even out the string tensions. The next day I took it in to the pawn shop, gave it one last tuning and hung it back on the wall, saying "Well, that's about as good as that guitar is ever going to sound." The owners heard me say it and laughed out loud. (In retrospect, it wasn't the best thing to say about their shops' wares, but they were far more concerned with their collection of rare coins, which was the real bread-and-butter of the shop, and really was very, very impressive. They had a sign on the door that said I sleep here with a shotgun six nights a week. You pick the night. It wasn't the guitars that were being defended.)

So it became a habit, over the next six or eight months. I would go to various pawn shops, fix their guitars, sometimes for pay, sometimes for free, sometimes even paying for strings myself. (The owners of the first shop gave me 20 bucks for my labors, which wasn't too bad, as I was only out 7 bucks for the GHS strings.) And then one day, there on the wall, was the Gibson Marauder.

I didn't like Gibsons at the time, but this one caught my eye. I thought it was neat. I took it down off the wall, and immediatly knew, from the weight of the instrument alone, that the body was made of mahogany. (I was doing a fair amount of work with hardwoods at that time, since I thought I was going to be a luthier.) The strings were in fair condition; I plugged it up to an amp and fiddled with it. One of the pots seemed wonky, and the machine clearly had some less than solid connections inside. "OK if I work on this one?" I asked the owners. One of them nodded back, yeah, go ahead. I opened up the face-plate (that oversized pickguard is sometimes called a face plate) and went to work.

The first thing I noticed when I got the thing open was the back of the pick-ups: they were set in clear epoxy. Huh. Inneresting. I set to work with my soldering iron (had it with me, natch), and in about ten minutes I was satisfied that I had plugged all the leaks; he was seaworthy again. I put the faceplate back on. And then was the first sign I was falling in love with the thing: I decided that the corroding strings in the cache, which were starting to run out, were both too heavy and not slick enough for this guitar. I told the owners I would be right back, and slid over to Reliable Music (now defunct) to grab a set of D'Addario extra lights. ("I'm re-stringing a Gibson Marauder," I told my pal behind the counter. Handing me my change, he grimmaced "Why?") Back at the pawn shop, I applied the strings, got it in tune, stretched the strings a bit, and plugged it in.

And that guitar had a voice like a horny angel.

I played for maybe a half hour before the owners finally started giving me looks like enough was enough. It was just too cool. It would make a low growly jazzy sound, it would make a heavy metal scrunch, and it would do everything in between. Where other guitars have switches that select between the pickups, the Maurauder has a dial that fades the response between the two pickups. The back (neck) pickup was a fat humbucker; the front (bridge) was a single coil blade that refused to get tinny. It was just beautiful.

I put the thing back and resolved that I would buy it as soon as I could afford it. But I had just bought my Seagull 12-string in the same shop a month or two back, so I knew it would be a while. (And also that my Dad, who had helped me out on the Seagull, would probably not be helping me out with this one.) I came back two or three times and saw the thing before, about a month later, it was gone.

About a year later, I was working part-time in a local music shop, doing minor repair to cheap instruments as needed, when these two kids came in with a Gibson Marauder.

MY Gibson Marauder.

Turned out the one kid had gotten it for his brithday last year, tried to learn to play it, and then had shoved it under the bed for a while. Now he wanted to learn to play heavy metal style, and his friend had convinced him that he would be able to do so if he switched out the original pickups for hotter ones.

I tried to convince him that these pickups were as hot as he'd ever get. Nope; he wanted Seymour Duncans, a blade in the front and a hotrod humbucker in the back. I told him that he could do better cheaper using effects pedals. Nope; he wanted new pickups. I told him that, really, if he wanted that sound, what he wanted was to buy a new guitar. (I was angling towards buying it from him, mentally reckoning that I could scrape together a couple of hundred dollars if I had to.) No, he wanted this guitar with hotter pickups, and if I didn't do it, he'd take it over to this guy the other kid knew who worked on guitars and he'd do it. OK. I agreed. If he bought the new pickups, I'd do the installation. For the price of the old pickups.

So I did it. The pickups he picked didn't even remotely fit the thing, so I ended up rigging new supports out of plexiglass. (Kid wouldn't spring for new pickguard material.) And he wanted a selector swith instead of the knob, which luckily I had one in my salvage bin, so I had to cut a slot where the knob had been. (I got that faceplate off, and yep, sure enough, there was the serial number that I had unwittingly committed to memory.) It wasn't pretty, but it came together. It sounded exactly like the kid wanted it to sound. When I played it for him, he was ecstatic. He took a swipe at himself, and he seemed a little less impressed.

About two years, maybe two and a half years later, I walked into one of the newer pawn shops in the Wilkinson Boulevard area, one of the snobbier places in fact, and there it was: My Gibson Marauder. With it's bastard pickups and plexiglass supports and all. "Holy shit!"

The attendant looked up and said "Ugly, isn't it?"

I said "You don't understand: I did that to it."

The guy looked me in the eye and said "You should be shot!"

"Yes," I said, "yes I should."

I speculated about it for a moment, meandering out loud that they were only asking a hundred eighty bucks for it, and I still had the original pickups at home; maybe I should buy the thing and try to put it back together. The attendant then looked back up at the machine, and, suddenly realizing the full scope of the situation, looked at me with infinite sadness and shook his head. No, doctor, there is nothing more to do. The patient is dead. There was a crack in the headstock, the faceplate was chipped, and the kid had stuck skull-and-crossbones stickers all over the thing. Little bastard.

The example above I found at They want $685 for it. The situation transcends my no-musical-instruments-over-the-internet taboo, but $685 is more disposable than I have available right now. And besides, I'm still doing penance for the one I ruined. I shoulda hit the kid over the head with the thing and run.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Jerk is right. Wikipedia is addictive. It can be dangerous, though. Only mildly, but still. Given that it's an interactive community supported encyclopedia, it's to be expected that some specious information may creep in here and there, although it's said (by Wikipedia) that it's a far more reliable information source now that they are monitoring input before publication. But I have run across some bits and pieces that are definitely wrong. The worst so far claimed that Phil Hartman designed the original album cover for the first Poco album, and the cover for Steely Dan's album Gaucho. I am pretty sure both those claims are false, but I didn't get far investigating after pulling out my copy of Gaucho and reading the credits.

Then there's the propagandists. The first one I ran across was at the head of an article about imperialism. In the middle of a paragraph detailing how the phrase "capitalist imperialism" had been concocted by Lenin, as opposed to Marx, there appeared the text "don't read wikipedia! it's false information!" (That has now been fixed, although KARL MARX now appears as KARL MAHOO, who did a fine caberet act, but not so much with the economic theory.)

The example I ran across today, well, almost serves me right. Twice in a row, last night and the night before, after watching the latest Apple computer, where they claim (rightly) that there are things Macs do that you have to install separately on Windows machines (this is the one where the "Windows PC" guy is having a tech support guy tape a web cam to his head), I said "The people who advertise for Macintosh are every bit as sanctimonious as Mac users themselves." Now, while this is partly true, I say it because it's funny on about seven different levels. Not the least of which is that it's very difficult to imagine that the people who are making the commercials are actual Mac users, but only because it's hard to believe advertisers aren't habitual liars.

Now, understand, I cut my teeth on a Mac. I was a Mac user back when Windows didn't work. And I mean really really didn't work, back before Microsoft out and out stole everything about the Mac that was useful and attractive and then reverse engineered their operating system to support those features (and then claim to have invented the whole lot, a claim that I still find stupidly insulting to the entire computer using community to this day). But it never ceases to amuse me how insulted Mac users get when they are asked to use Windows machines. Windows machines do work. Yes they do. Just don't break them.*

So anyways, today when I clicked into Wikipedia, one of the articles was on the introduction of the Mac back in 1984, with the stupidest commercial anyone has ever seen, and went on to sell a gagillion machines in the space of a nanosecond (presenting one of the most compelling arguments for the fact that commercials do not sell products), and I thought, Hey, why not go see what they have to say about the history of the Mac.

So here's what I found:

"The Macintosh project started in early 1979 with Jef Raskin, (which is a stupid idea, and its still a stupid idea, its worse than linux) an Apple employee, who envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer."

Of course, they cleaned it up between the time I started writing this and the time I went to look up "imperialism." But the the juxtaposition was stunning. It said 2 things to me immediately. 1. There are Windows snobs out there, and 2. They're stupider than Mac snobs. Which I'd guess you ought to expect.

*In my previous career, we had a Mac user in one of the outposts who was fine using the dumb terminal attached to the UNIX box and LAN/WAN server, but once they gave her a PC, she kept disabling the Outlook e-mail and dumping programs until they finally gave her a Mac. And then she quit because the tech guys were ordered to stop supporting her Mac by a Veep who thought it was morally wrong for a single employee to be supported differently than the rest of the company and wanted to convert her to a Windows user.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sick Bastard

So insteand of sitting in a dentist's chair for an hour, enduring the last of three root canal procedures-- and Jerk was right, they really are not that bad-- I elected to be sick. (I did drive in to the endodontist's office to postpone the procedure, since I wasn't entirely sick yet, and they thanked me for giving them notice and volunteering the reschedule.)
So what I am doin today is wearing four layers of clothing and wool socks, and eating what has been generously dubbed, in our family, Crap in a Can.
This is a tradition that dates back to when I was a kid. My Mom discovered, fairly early on, that when we were ill, our little tummies could pretty easily handle this over-processed, vitamin-injected, protein-infused garbage. Also, I think, she didn't like the idea of feeding us nothing but fluids for too long. So this is what I crave when I'm sick.
Also, when I read stuff about modern animal manufacturing, like Michael Polan's Omnivore's Dilemma (which I have yet to read in its entirety), there's a part of me that says "Processed food bad? Noooooooooooo, processed food GOOD! (If the meat really is diseased and full of chemicals and hormones and, as near as we can tell, old Chysler parts, then, by golly yes, PROCESS that food! Process the bejesus out of it! I don't want to have the least hint that what I'm eating came from one of these wilted monsters with balls the size of watermelons.)
So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit and watch North Dallas Forty and listen to myself quietly gurgle.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Not The End Of The World, But You Can See It From Here

So we went and saw this Children of Men movie over the last weekend. It was alot better than I thought it was going to be. In discussing it afterwards I came to the conclusion that the reason it was as good as it was is that they threw everything they had at the wall hard enough that anything that didn't stick would knock the wall down. (This was predicated on an older theory of mine, which is that most really good movies are good because their source material is bullshit. See the Bourne Identity flicks.)

But the other thing is this: the TV spots flogging it are using a quote from (I think) Newsweek, which pegs the flick as "Bladerunner for the 21st Century." And I think there's something to that, and here's what I think it is.

Bladerunner had a very 80's vibe to it. In a way, it was kind of the termiinus of 80's cool: this is how cool things get, and then it's the end of the world.

Children of Men has a kind of half-assed paranoid fatalism to it: everything is wrong and bad and it's going to ruin everything, but no one knows why. Which is why it was such an exciting film. Not only did we have no idea what was going to happen next, no one, not the conspirators, not the government, not the soldiers, and, of course, not the protagonist, knew what was going to happen next. Everyone in the film was just smart enough to set up the next dumbassed disaster. It was very true to life in that way.

In other news, we are contemplating watching the movie Idiocracy. We have been resisting it, singly and as a couple, on the basis that it would prove a liiiiiiiiittle too embarrassingly true to life. Like watching the mockumentary Memron and thinking "Gee, this is just like The Smartassed Guys In The Room." (Sorry. Smartest. That should have been Smartest.) So that would be what you call yer synchronicity.

In other news, I finally decided that the Takamine classical guitar I swapped my cousin Lee for 20 years ago deserves a name. I figured a girl's name, but the Wifey thought a boy's name, so I decided to name it Tracy. (As the Wifey said, a unisex.)

So: bloggers, Tracy. Tracy, the bloggers. (And yes, the red blob behind the guitar is an M&M dispenser.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007


So this is the updated version of Blogger. And it still won't put the picture in my profile up. So even if I had a gag picture, I couldn't use it. Oh, well.

Er, well, urm . . . Hey! Wudja lookit that! I finally got Blogger to show my profile! Turns out it was a ltittle technical oversight on my part. Not Blogger's fault at all! (Ahem.)