My First Guitars
In 1964, when I was 15, my friend and neighbor, Jerry Chambers, had a guitar his brother, Jay, had given him to use. Jerry knew the first 2 bars of “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and taught it to me. I would hang out at Jerry’s almost every day after school, and was always practicing on that guitar. It was a Harmony f-hole, painted gold and black. Jerry let me borrow it, and after a while, told me that I could have it. It had 4 strings on it when he gave it to me, and I broke one, so had a 3 string guitar. I played it and played it, making up surf instrumental songs. I would be in a trance. During one such trance, my mother ripped the guitar from my hands, swung it, and broke it over my back. It seems she was yelling at me to take out the garbage (she was always yelling so I would tune her out), and I, in my trance, didn’t respond, so whamm-o!
A couple of weeks later, at Christmas, she gave me a Silvertone f-hole, which was pretty much the same guitar with a cheaper finish. It was black, with painted white edging.
A friend of mine had given me a cheap microphone that was a crystal mic inside of a plastic enclosure in the shape of a ball-end mic, except one side of the “ball” was flat. I taped the mic with black electrician’s tape to my guitar, and bought my first amp, a Silvertone from Sears & Roebuck, with one 12” speaker and tremelo.
I started playing with my friend Gary Schneider, whose parents had bought him a set of drums. I saved my money for an electric guitar. When I had saved $100, I went downtown (L.A.) to look at guitars in the pawn shops. They had these shiny new Japanese guitars, and I wanted one with a “Twanger”, which is what we called a tremelo bar in those days. I found a St. George 2 pickup sunburst guitar for $100, but went to Wallach’s Music City to continue looking. The salesman there tried to sell me a 1954 Fender Musicmaster (10 years old at the time), and it didn’t have a twanger, so I bought the St. George. What a mistake! The guy tried to steer me right, and stupidly, I picked the cheap-ass guitar instead of a real instrument. The St. George had a neck like a baseball bat, and the wood was so soft that my belt buckle gouged a big dent in it the first time I played it. It also sounded dull,
and didn’t stay in tune. But it was a while before I figured all of that out.
I had buyer’s remorse about two weeks after buying the St. George. Nearly every day, I would walk with one of my friends down to Burlingame's Music Store, and play the Fenders Stratocasters and
Jaquars, but they were way out of my economical range.
Around that time, I befriended an older guy who moved into the house across the street from us in the house we had just moved from. He was an alcoholic that drank beer all day long. He had been in a band in Nashville called the Rhythm-aires, and he had a Goya electric guitar with four pickups (no twanger). It was made of plastic, had a blue sparkle top, and the back and sides were white pearl. It had a number of buttons, switches and knobs. He had a small Gibson amp
that I borrowed with the guitar. I used that guitar at a Battle-of-the-Bands instead of my St. George because it was so much easier to play and it looked cool, but the plastic got soft under the lights and I couldn’t keep it in tune. It also didn't have a "twanger"
Then, Fender introduced the Mustang, which was basically a
Musicmaster (like the one the Wallachs Music City guy has tried to steer me to, but it also had a twanger! With money I made from working at the May Company downtown, selling my St. George and Silvertone amp and gigs with the Argons, I eventually bought the Mustang (light blue with pearl white pickguard), and within a few months, I also bought a blonde Fender Bandmaster amp and reverb unit.
I traded that gear after the ARGONS for 2 acoustic guitars; a 50's Gibson f-hole 12 fret with a pickup but no cutaway, and a new custom Gibson B25. I also bought a Hoyer electric/acoustic 12 string. I traded the 12 string months later for a 1965 Gibson LGO. On the back of the LGO, I painted "Love" in day-glo paint. I had the f-hole in pawn out in Sacramento, and I was in New York in 1968, playing with The Owsley Blues Band. I had been borrowing a Telecaster from a friend of a friend and he understandably wanted it back as I had never even met him. The band had practices and gigs coming up, so we got the money together, sent it to the pawn shop in Sacramento, and had the Gibson f-hole guitar mailed to New York. It had been a while since I had seen the guitar, and when it arrived, I realized that with its 12 fret neck, I couldn't play hardly any of our songs on that guitar.
The next day, Susie and my bass player, Chris Scott-Duns traded in the Gibson f-hole to a pawn shop downstairs from our rehearsal space towards a 1958 Guild Starfire VI in flame maple. The B25 and Guild would be my only guitars for the next 10 years.