Guitar Tales, Chapter 1: Gibson SG, 1973

Guitar Tales, Chapter 1: Gibson SG, 1973

Brushing up on "the hits"

This here is the first in a series of posts about my guitars. Warning: this is some nerdy shit but, hell, I’m a guitar player and if you’re here, you probably know that and some percentage of you are gonna be interested.

I’m going to attempt to go through most of my (admittedly modest) collection chronologically over the coming months and make public any of the whimsical stories associated with each guitar. You know, poignant childhood memories, fatal freeways crashes, that sort of thing. I will also make every effort to never refer to my instruments as axes.

The guitar that I’ve had the longest is my beloved 1973 Gibson SG (lately affectionately known as the Facts of Life guitar). Why did I buy an SG so early in my guitarring life, you ask? Simple: Back In Black.

There’s more to the story but suffice it to say AC/DC is responsible for, well, everything. Though I started out with some now long-forgotten cheap guitars, my relationship to the instrument changed the day I walked in to Music Unlimited in Burlington, MA and spied, hanging from the wall, a guitar that looked just like the one Angus Young played. I had recently snagged the AC/DC: Best of their High Voltage Hits songbook at the same shop, so perhaps the stars were aligning.

Always Special

Music Unlimited being one of only a couple music stores within a 15-mile radius of my home, the appearance there of an iconic guitar was special. Important, even. Showing smarts that I didn’t even understand at the time, I decided I had to have it. I’d been mowing the shit out of some lawns in the neighborhood and I was able to scrape together the $400 before some other genius snapped it up. The SG was mine, already having been broken-in with a snapped-then-repaired headstock. I felt like I had acquired some precious artifact. I brought it to school the next day for Jazz Ensemble class, very proud. Today, the body still has teeth-marks in it from a bit of tom-foolery during rehearsals for precocious classmate Sue V.’s rock opera.

Dantes' Grin at The Rat, Boston (ca. 1996)

I took the guitar with me to USC as I toyed with the idea of studying for a music degree. The amount of midnight-4:00am practicing I did on that thing during my time there, as my musical taste simultaneously expanded, helped to define the player that I am today. After that, I let the SG lay low for a few years while I switched over to a pink paisley Stratocaster* during a stint in my first band, playing a bizarre but often effective hybrid of R.E.M.-influenced jangle pop and pre-Deelite disco. But the SG became my main – in fact, only – guitar for most of the life of Dante’s Grin, the band with which I really dove into the Boston club scene. This photo from the Rathskellar (R.I.P.) pretty much says it all.

I have since snapped the headstock at the neck two more times and following a proper re-setting and reinforcing, plus pickup replacements,  by the estimable Gary Brawer in San Francisco, it has again become one of my favorite guitars. You can hear it on “Sky High Honey” from Matt Nathanson’s upcoming record, Jesse Macht’s “Heartache,” and – one of my favorites – providing the wall of guitars in The PKO’s “In Light of Your Less Complicated Life.”

* I sold that Strat after a few years so it will not appear in this revue but check it out in all its majesty!

Banner pic by Jason Tang