This is the story of a guitar.
It is a very unremarkable guitar, except to me and to its current owner.
It was my first guitar, bought for me by my parents some time around 1969. I had pestered them for it, and Dad was not too convinced.
“It’ll be a five minute wonder like everything else,” he predicted.
‘Everything else’ being, I suppose, the piano and the trombone. Mum, a very capable pianist, had taught me the rudiments and got me going on the piano, but I didn’t get far. I found it difficult to think about both hands and to read two different clefs simultaneously. I much preferred tinkling around, finding nice tunes and chords, and playing things by ear.
As for the trombone, well, I had expressed an interest in playing the oboe, an instrument whose haunting, plaintive tone had grabbed me. We couldn’t afford an oboe- but we could have the loan of a trombone courtesy of my Uncle Jack, who played cornet in a silver band. I hid my disappointment and fartled around on the thing in my bedroom for some months, working my way through A Tune a Day – but you have to admit that the trombone sounds very little like the plaintive, haunting oboe. What’s more, my arms were not long enough to reach the 7th position on the slide, so approximately 14% of the notes were unavailable to me . I gave up. Call me a quitter, but I just gave up. It had indeed been a five minute wonder (without the ‘wonder’ bit of course).
So anyway, this guitar. A classical guitar, nylon strung, laminate wood, huge wide fingerboard, made in Japan, very cheap – and an immediate source of delight and discovery. I loved it. I flew. Two years later it went away to university with me, and the journey continued. Ah, but now I had a hankering for a good steel string guitar, like all my West Coast American heroes played.
I had by now acquired a 12- string guitar and a Japanese Telecaster copy, both second hand. (I used to play the Tele through my hi-fi, until I spanked it too hard and blew one channel of the amp). I decided to sell all three of my guitars to fund the purchase of a decent steel string. True, this photo of me with my lovely new (Japanese) Fender and the 12-string and the Tele copy suggests I handled the financing of the project in a back to front kind of way.
Where was my other guitar? The Five Minute Wonder was gone, sold for £5 to a fellow student, a good friend of mine. She hoped to learn to play, and indeed was soon giving us renditions of “On top of Old Smo… [pause to adjust fingers to new chord].. .. ky, all covered with…….. snow, I lost my true….. lover, through courting too…….. sl….ll…ow…”
Forty years later, wonder of Five Minute Wonders, I can look back on years of enjoyment and some financial gain that resulted from learning to play that guitar. Even more wonderful is the fact that it is hanging on the wall downstairs, and no, I didn’t buy it back. I entered into a share agreement with the lady to whom I sold it. In fact we both promised to share all our worldly goods with one another. Yes, reader, I married her.
I have to admit that for several of the four decades we have spent together, Ruth’s guitar has lived in the loft, unplayed. Other guitars have come and gone. Now they are all disappearing as I sell them off; they are no practical use to me since I can no longer play them, and they should be played. But the Five Minute Wonder stays here, of course, as a symbol of all those happy years of playing and more importantly, of forty years of life shared together.
Happily, a few years back I got it down from the loft and fettled it into good playing order, with a new bridge saddle, nut and machine heads. I used it too, on several of the songs on the Living Archive Band’s Calverton CDs, pretty well the last playing I did before my hands became unable to hold down chords anymore. A fitting closure, bookending my playing days.