My Guitar Living Will

Yesterday was a surprisingly special day due to the fact that I bought a new guitar. I certainly wasn’t expecting to buy a guitar, but sometimes when you find the right one there is simply no other potential course of action. This morning while driving to work, I started thinking about writing a post describing my new guitar, as well as talk once more about how excited we are for our trip to Las Vegas tomorrow to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. Soon I started expanding on that thought and decided it would be cool to write about all of my guitars; after all, each one has its own unique story that would be fun to share. Then, as the physical wheels kept turning, so did the figurative ones, and my thoughts expanded onto the concept of writing what I’m calling ‘My Guitar Living Will.’

Basically my guitars are my most prized possessions, and should something ever happen to me I wouldn’t want to leave Jessica with the burden of having to decide who should get what. Believe me, there are plenty of other possessions of mine that she would have to make the call on, but considering how special each guitar is to me, I felt like it was my responsibility to determine what should happen to each of them. Before I get into it let me make one thing clear; I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I have a long life still ahead of me, as well as plenty more guitars to purchase during that time, so if your name is on this list and you’re getting excited about one of these guitars, all I can tell you is not to hold your breath. I also reserve the right to modify this will at any time I see fit. Again, I expect to purchase more guitars down the road, but at this point my collection is worthy enough of necessitating delegation.

I’ll warn you ahead of time – this is by far the longest post I have ever written. Each guitar has its own story, as well a bit about the person whom I wish to receive it, and since I am the proud owner of 6 guitars, lets just say that makes for a lot of writing! Good thing I love writing nearly as much as I love playing guitar because this post is going to be over 4,000 words by the time its all said and done. So, you’ve been warned. If you want to hear the story behind each guitar, as well as who I want to someday receive it, then get a cup of coffee and read on, otherwise you’re better off to quit now while you’re still ahead 😉

Here it is in all its glory:

My Guitar Living Will

October 30, 2014

Silvertone Electric

When I was 7 years old, my favorite movie was ‘Back to the Future’. By the time I had seen it approximately 27 times, I wanted nothing more than to be Marty McFly up on stage playing ‘Johnny B. Goode’. What I didn’t realize at that time was that Marty McFly was simply trying to be Chuck Berry, but that’s okay, because it was that movie, and that character specifically, that inspired me to start playing guitar. I expressed this interest to my parents and they decided to go along with it. Before I knew it I was the proud owner of a Sears Silvertone junior electric guitar. I say junior because it’s a smaller guitar that was probably meant for kids. Although inexpensive, those old Silvertones are responsible for a million guitarists first getting started with the instrument, and I was no exception.

Since my parents couldn’t have expected me to teach myself how to play guitar at the tender young age of 7, they decided to enroll me in lessons at a local music store. I vaguely remember attending these lessons, but unfortunately all I really remember about the experience was that playing chords and melodies was really difficult, and that it hurt my fingers badly. I don’t think it was a commitment issue; after all by that time I had already been going to Karate class for two straight years and would continue doing so for another 8 years. I just think that at that young age I needed more physical activity and didn’t have the patience to sit down and learn an instrument. Frankly, I was more interested in hip throws, side kicks, and spinning backfists than I was in strumming chords or learning major scales.

So, after only about a month of playing the guitar, I decided to put it away, and away it stayed for another 7 years. By the time I was 14, I was a freshman at Lindbergh High School in Renton, WA, and the guitar bug came back to bite me in a major way. Suddenly I found myself infatuated with Jimi Hendrix, as well as up and coming bands (at that time) like Weezer, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins. My interest in martial arts was starting to fade and was quickly being replaced by my interest in music. Since I already had a guitar in my closet, I decided to pull it out and give it another go. Although it was badly out of tune and had horrible string action, I didn’t know the difference, and I soon found myself playing with it everyday.

Obviously I didn’t know it at the time, but only a few months later, on March 2, 1995, my Dad would pass away. Although by that time I also had an acoustic guitar (see below), I still very much wanted to play my electric guitar. Not long after Dad passed I realized what poor condition my Silvertone was in, so my Mom and I took it to A# music in Renton to get fixed up. Somehow while talking to the repair guy at the store, the story of the guitar coming from my recently deceased father came out. He agreed to work on it, and a week later we came to pick it up.

Much to our surprise, there was no charge for the repairs, and the guy actually got choked up giving it back to me. My Mom and I never expected this but were so grateful for his generosity. I was thrilled because the guitar was in better shape than I could have imagined and played so well. Although it wouldn’t be too long before my collection began to grow, this guitar will always be my first, and will therefore always hold a special place in my heart. So will A# Music in Renton. I haven’t been there in years but every time I think of that store I smile. It’s technically the least valuable guitar I own, but it spurred my love to play music. I’d like Jessica to hold onto this guitar and someday give it to our first grandchild. Hopefully it will have the same effect on them (or one of their siblings/cousins) that it had on me.

Seagull Acoustic

To this day, this is the one and only acoustic guitar I have ever owned. When I was a 14 year old High School Freshman, I fell in love with everything about the guitar and wanted to spend my time doing nothing other than listening to music and playing guitar. I didn’t care one bit about girls, cars, money, or sports; just music. At that time it was quite common for kids to bring their acoustic guitars to school and play them in common areas during breaks between classes. Although I had my Silvertone electric (which I could barely play), I quickly found myself feeling left out at school because I didn’t have an acoustic to play during break.

After a few months of my parents seeing me play my Silvertone every single day, they decided that I deserved something new. So, in November, 1994, my Mom and I went to a local music store to look at their selection of acoustics, and although I had never heard of the Seagull brand (from Canada) before, I quickly fell in love with it. Unfortunately, at $350 it was well out of my $150 price range, so we left empty handed. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy some super cheap Fender after playing that Seagull. Later that night I was in my room listening to records (yes records) and my Dad came in to ask me about guitar shopping with Mom. I told him I found one that I loved but it was too expensive. He asked me how short I was on cash and I said $200. As if on command, he pulled out $200 from his pocket and set it on my dresser, then told me to go get the one I loved.

This was a perfect example of who my Dad was. He never cared about having anything for himself, he just wanted everyone close to him to be happy. His old saying was that he would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. He hardly ever wore a shirt anyway so it wouldn’t have matter one bit to him. Of course I was extremely appreciative and quickly found myself back at that music store buying the guitar I loved. Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, this would be the last present I ever received from my Dad, and to this day the thought of replacing it with another acoustic guitar has never crossed my mind. Like the Silvertone I received when I was 7, this isn’t my most valuable guitar, but it’s value to me cannot be measured. It only seems fitting that this guitar should go to Ava; my first child. Ava has already shown an affection for singing and entertaining, so who knows, maybe one day she will be my little folk singer? Obviously every folk singer needs an acoustic guitar, but regardless of whether or not she ever picks it up, I still want her to have it.

LTD JH-600 Jeff Hanneman

In 2008, the U.S. economy was in shambles. It didn’t make much difference to me though, because I was working my ass off. I waited tables 5 nights a week at the Waterfront Seafood Grill, which was a very profitable gig, and I worked 5 days a week as an up-and-coming mortgage broker at Washington Financial Group. Although that entire endeavor is worthy of its own story, I’ll keep it short and just say that I attempted to get on the mortgage bandwagon just as the market was crashing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the industry for me, but my hard work paid off and after not making a dime for 3 months, I finally found myself as the top earner in the office in my 4th month. A month later I quit. What’s more important to the story is that the government passed a bill that year called the ‘Economic Stimulus Plan’ which stated that every taxpayer in the country would receive a check from the government. Their hope was that people would receive this money and go out and spend it, which would in turn help revitalize the economy. Although its value to the national economy was questionable, I decided to take it for face value and spend the money, as they had intended. After all, I didn’t need the money to live on, and at that time it had been about 6 years since I had bought a guitar, so it seemed like a great excuse to buy myself a present.

From the ages of about 16 – 30 I was really into heavy metal. To this day I still love listening to Metallica, Lamb of God, and a few others that most normal people would hate. Although I’ve never been much of a metal guitar player, I always wanted a ‘metal guitar’ that I could plug into a high gain amplifier and just shred on. Once I knew I was going to buy a metal guitar with my economic stimulus package I went nuts researching what to buy. I studied every metal guitar on the market and based on all factors, ended up selecting the LTD JH-600 Jeff Hanneman model. For those that don’t know, Jeff Hanneman is the late lead guitarist from Slayer who passed away unexpectedly last year due to a kidney condition. Although I was never a die-hard Slayer fan like some of my friends, I always really liked Hanneman, and I loved his guitar.

LTD is the child company of ESP Guitars. Although they also make an ESP-version of the Hanneman model, it cost several thousand dollars and I couldn’t justify spending that much. The LTD models are made in Korea, and because of this I was a bit skeptical, but I bought it brand new on ebay and just hoped for the best. As it turned out I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. It’s an amazing guitar. I took it into Parson’s Guitar Shop on Westlake (which is where I got all my work done for several years) for a setup, and when I came to pick it up several days later, Randy Parsons himself couldn’t stop talking about how nice it played. If you don’t know, Randy Parsons is huge in the guitar world. He makes custom guitars for tons of famous players, but unfortunately has left Seattle and relocated in Ventura, California where he focuses on his own line of custom instruments.

Since this is my one and only ‘metal guitar’, there is only one person that I can logically leave it for: my nephew Kallan. Like myself many years earlier, Kallan absolutely loves music and spends all of his free time playing music and listening to music. Also like myself, he loves heavy metal. I’ll never forget taking him to see Metallica and Lamb of God on December 1, 2008 at the Key Arena in Seattle. I actually have a confession to make about that night; although Kallan was only 13 at the time, I decided to buy him a mini bottle of Rumple Minze (I’m sorry Dana, please forgive me). He had never drank before but it was a special occasion and I knew he would be with me all night, so I convinced him to drink it by telling him it would taste like a candy cane. He took it down like a champ, then almost threw up all over the person in front of us. Luckily he kept it down and the two of us had a blast all night. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of amazing concert experiences in my life, many of which with my wife Jessica, but this one ranks right up there near the top of the list. I’ve never given Kallan any alcohol since then (I’m much too responsible now to do something like that), and to be honest I’m not proud of what I did, but everything turned out fine. Since I will always think of Kallan as my ‘heavy metal buddy’ it would only make sense that someday he should have my heavy metal guitar.

Gibson Midtown Custom

Last night (October 29, 2014) I purchased this guitar at Tommy’s Guitar Shop in Everett, WA. I certainly wasn’t planning on purchasing a guitar that day, but sometimes that’s just how it happens. Buying a new guitar makes for a special day, kind of like buying a new car. My plan was to drop of my Jeff Hanneman guitar at Tommy’s to get a setup while we’re away in Vegas celebrating my Mom’s birthday. Ironically enough, the last guitar I purchased before this one was the Jeff Hanneman, which was over 6 years ago, and it hasn’t had a setup since taking it to Randy Parsons’ shop that same year. It’s been badly in need of some love, and I generally like to support smaller local shops over the big corporate ones whenever possible.

After dropping the guitar off in their repair shop, I started browsing the store and suddenly my eyes fell upon a gorgeous 2011 Gibson Midtown Custom Black Beauty. My other Gibson guitar, which is a 1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom, is also a Black Beauty, but what makes these two guitars very unique is that they both have chrome hardware. Almost every Gibson Black Beauty guitar you’ll find has gold hardware, and although I like the look of gold hardware on red or white guitars, I’ve never cared for it on Black Beauty’s. Although this guitar was used, I couldn’t believe the condition it was in, or the price. The sales guy started telling me all about it and I soon found myself spending the next half-hour playing it through a nice bluesy tube amp.

By the end of this session I was completely in love with it and quickly found myself conspiring with the sales guy on how to convince my wife to let me buy it. To use an old saying of mine that Jessica loves/hates, “I couldn’t afford not to buy it!” I practiced my sales pitch to her the whole way home in the car, but before I could even get 3 words in she said “You want to buy a guitar, don’t you?” I asked her to just hear me out and she kept saying no. After enough pleading I got her to hear me out and explained all of my reasoning: I haven’t bought a guitar in over 6 years, I’ve been wanting a semi-hollow body guitar for a while, I won’t buy another one for several years, etc. I could tell she loved hearing me beg like this but I didn’t care.

After much persistence she gave in and gave me the okay. All I can say is that I appreciate her understanding so much and look forward to returning the favor in the form of a very special gift in the near future. I’m very lucky to have a wife that doesn’t mind my wacky combination of neurosis, desire, and persistence. I’ve always been this way and will likely never change. Once I set my mind on something it’s nearly impossible to make me change it. More often than not this leads to beneficial things, like career changes, but sometimes you just have to accept that it also leads to impulse purchases of beautiful guitars, and the like.

I have a feeling this is going to become my main guitar for quite a while, starting right now. Chances are it won’t stay in it’s current pristine condition for long, but I’m willing to exchange that for the joy of playing it regularly. I’ve never agreed with the idea of buying an instrument for its value, and then never touching it because you don’t want it to have any wear and tear. In my opinion, instruments are meant to be played, and not doing so is akin to removing their soul. Since we’re so close to the birth of our son Enzo, it only makes sense that this guitar should someday be his. I hope he loves it as much as I do, especially because it came into our lives so close to the time that he did.

Paul Reed Smith McCarty Prototype

This guitar is extremely special to me. I bought it at Guitar Center in Seattle on Westlake in October, 2002. Although I’m no guitar historian, my understanding is that Paul Reed Smith was one of the head luthiers at Gibson for many years. Eventually he moved on and started his own line of guitars. In addition to their signature body style, they were the first brand I ever heard of that featured coil tapping in their pickups.

Basically what this means is that there are two main styles of pickups in guitars: single coils and humbuckers. Single coils were made famous in the Fender Stratocaster, and are known for a quacky treble-dominant sound that was made famous by guys like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and post-Cream Eric Clapton. The biggest disadvantage to using single coil pickups is that if you combine them with a distorted amplifier, they produce a 60-cycle hum that you cannot get rid of. Modern pickup manufacturers have solved this problem, but only very recently. Humbuckers, on the other hand, have two coils in the pickups, which means they have no hum, and they end up giving you a more full-bodied, bass-dominant, sound. They sound especially good when combined with heavy distortion.

Well, with a PRS guitar, you have both styles of pickups. Although they look and sound like normal humbuckers, you can pull the tone knob out and split the coils, which effectively turns them into a single coil pickup, with the added benefit of having no hum! When I discovered this guitar I was absolutely in love. Not only did I love the pickups, I also couldn’t get over how comfortable the neck was on this guitar. To this day it may be the best neck I’ve ever played, plus I loved the way the bridge was setup, as well as how comfortable the guitar was to hold and how easy it was to access the upper frets.

The other cool thing about this guitar is that it’s a McCarty prototype. Ted McCarty was the president of Gibson Guitars for a long time, but I guess he left Gibson to go to PRS. In later years the McCarty became one of their standard models, but this guitar was built as a prototype of that model before the model was ever officially released. It was used, and had a little wear and tear on it, but I didn’t care. To me that just gave it some soul and character. I just couldn’t get over how well it played.

During my mid twenties I spent all my time playing guitar and singing in a band. This has always been my favorite musical experience of my life, and probably will continue to be until the day comes that I find myself in a new band, but that probably won’t be for a long time. During these years, my PRS was my main guitar and it got a TON of playing time. I like to think that I really learned to play on this guitar, and I have so many great memories associated with it. For some reason it just reminds me of my daughter Elise. It’s subtle and sweet, just like she is, and someday I want her to have it. Although it has a few battle scars, its still a very valuable guitar due to the fact that it’s an early PRS prototype. I believe it was made in 1995, but I’m not positive on that. It may not have quite the same sentimental value as some of the others in terms of how I acquired it, but the fact is I couldn’t have loved a guitar more than I love this one, and I continue to play the hell out of it. I hope she loves it and cares for it like I always have.

1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom

I turned 18 on July 30, 1998. I spent that whole summer selling women’s shoes at Nordstroms Store 1 in Seattle. I was part of the big move from the old store to the new one, which was a big deal on the local news, and I was preparing for my freshman year in college at the University of Washington. I worked hard that summer and saved my money with the intent of buying a Gibson Les Paul. I had owned a few Fender Stratocasters before that (which I unfortunately no longer have), but there was something about the Les Paul that I always loved. Clapton played them in his early days, Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Slash from Guns ‘n Roses played nothing else, and plenty other favorites of mine like Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, and Warren Haynes were also big Les Paul players.

At that time there was no such thing as online shopping, so I would constantly go to music stores to look at them and try them out. The brand new ones were out of my price range, so I would look through the classified ads in the newspaper everyday to see if anyone was selling a Les Paul. Right around my 18th birthday, on a Friday night, I went to see the Supersuckers at a 99.9 KISW Pain In The Grass outdoor show at the Seattle Center. The Supersuckers were very successful in Seattle but never quite made it on a national level. It was a fun show, particularly because I was with friends and had never seen the Supersuckers before.

Two days later, on Sunday, I was on my way to look at a Les Paul that was advertised in the classifieds section of the Seattle Times. As it turned out, the guy selling the guitar was named Ron, and he was the lead guitar player of the Supersuckers. Coincidentally, the guitar he was selling was the Black Beauty Les Paul Custom that he played throughout that entire show that I had just seen two days prior! I recognized it immediately because, as previously mentioned, you almost never see a Black Beauty with chrome hardware. They almost always have gold hardware, which I’ve never been a fan of on black guitars. Even more coincidentally, it was a 1980 Les Paul Custom, which is the year I was born.

I ended up spending a couple hours at his house listening to stories about the local rock scene. My favorite story was the one about Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler trying to get Ron to score him an 8-ball of cocaine, even though he had just left rehab. More importantly, I loved the guitar and couldn’t keep my hands off of it. There was no question in my mind that this was meant to be my Les Paul, and I’m so happy I bought it. It’s also my most valuable guitar. I paid $1,800 for it back in 1998, and today I found an identical one selling on for $3,500, so it has basically doubled in value since I purchased it. It’s impossible for me to determine which one of my guitars is most special to me, just as it would be impossible to choose a favorite child. They’re all equal in that department, but due to its age and history, there is no doubt that this is my most significant guitar, and I want my amazing wife Jessica to keep it. After all, like myself she is a child of the year 1980, plus she is the love of my life that I chose to spend my life with, so its only fitting that this guitar should someday be hers. Even if it never gets played, its one sexy piece of wall candy with a good story to boot. I hope she keeps it forever and remembers my love for her every time she sees it.

One Reply to “My Guitar Living Will”

  1. Fantastic post! Really enjoyed it. I was googling the Gibson Midtown Black Beauty en found your post. I’ born in 1980 too btw 🙂 8 dec 1980 too be exact. Love the Les Paul Custom but also makes me sad because i sold my ’81 an couple a years ago. Big mistake! All the best! Vincent

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