Like most teenagers learning to play guitar and forming a band, I couldn’t afford a really good guitar. So I made my first electric guitar out of plywood, cheap hardware, and parts from a scrapped guitar.
I was about 16 when I’d saved up for a second hand Kasuga Deluxe, from Reidy’s in Blackburn. The Kasuga was my main guitar for the next 10 years. But, since the eighties, it’s either hung on a wall hook or sat on a stand in my house.
At the end of my computer musician phase, I decided that I missed the instant feedback of playing an instrument. After a brief stab at learning piano, I decided to have another go at guitar. But, as I was now a ‘grown-up’, perhaps I could make up for the budget limitations of the past?
On a whim, in 2012, I stopped at Louandy’s in Colne, which I’d been passing for months, and I walked out 30 minutes later with a used Richwood TL Thinline. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it eventually started to gather dust, just like the Kasuga.
The following year, I replaced my Boss BE-5 multi-effects box with an ME-70 from Banks in York — a digital processor with a dizzying array of functions, which made my home-made Noisewarp look like a child’s toy.
The Quest to Find the Dream Guitar
But, where to start? I was seriously out of practice, and I’d forgotten most of my repertoire. I was worried that I wouldn’t know a good guitar if it fell on my head. The last time I’d visited a guitar shop, I was overwhelmed and ran away in embarrassment. But, now I was older and less easily shamed, I decided I’d visit all the guitar shops Manchester had to offer, and spend as much or as little as necessary to get a good guitar.
I guessed that I should have a vague idea of what I wanted — although I would be seeking as much advice and information as possible. I envisaged possibly replacing my Les Paul copy with a real one. Maybe an SG would be a reasonable alternative? A Telecaster or Jazzmaster might be the way forward in the Fender world (anything but a Strat, which is only played by guitar heroes). Do I need to be careful about where they are made? Are the Epiphone/Squier versions just as good? What about the new kids on the block? How much do good guitars even cost these days?
Being my local guitar shop, I visited Fab Music in Stockport first. The shop guy was very helpful, but the stock was mostly budget odds and sods, with only a few interesting items. I tried out a quirky Gibson SGM with a missing tuner button, which I liked, and a bastardised Fender Telecaster, which was a good price but slightly disappointing.
Sounds Great Music near Cheadle was next. This shop reminded me of Reidy’s, back in the day — walls of lovely shiny guitars, some cheap and some eye-wateringly expensive. I was chaperoned by Danny senior, who couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. I tried out 8 guitars, including ones I’d never heard of. Surprisingly, I didn’t really like any of the guitars as much as my Kasuga — even the expensive Les Pauls. I was starting to lose faith in my quest.
As I was preparing to leave, we got chatting about the second hand pink Fender Stratocaster in front of me. Danny said that it had created quite a stir in the shop, and lots of people had gushed over it. I joked about my lack of interest in the guitar hero’s axe of choice, but asked for a quick play anyway, just so I knew what I was missing. I wasn’t prepared — it was like the guitar had been made for me.
Encouraged by this revelation, I now knew that my dream guitar was possible, I had more of an idea what I wanted, and I started a tour of guitar shops (including Marvel Guitars, Live Louder, Dawson’s and PMT) to find it. But, the longer I spent trying out different guitars, the more I realised that the Pink Strat was top of the heap, by a wide margin. So, I headed back to Sounds Great for another go.
This time, I had a proper try-out, plugged into an amp. As I was noodling around the 15th fret, playing with the pickup switch, I heard the guitar from the start of Shine On You Crazy Diamond come from the amp. Suddenly, I was David Gilmour, and the guitar was Pink, this was just spooky. I bought the guitar. The credit card shrieked.
Over the following weeks, I couldn’t walk past the Pink Strat without stopping for a play. Within three months, I was back to the level I was at when I stopped playing, 30 years earlier. Some of the guys at Music in Sheds were into 60s British Blues, so I was regularly playing Clapton songs and improvising pentatonic solos. I had revisited all my old Pink Floyd records and learned some of Gilmour’s solos. I even learned how to play Smoke on the Water correctly, from a YouTube video.
It was then that I realised: I had become one of those sad old guitar heroes. Damn the Pink Strat!