Friday, October 31, 2008

Paint it black (and orange)

What do you think of Halloween? A good laugh? A waste of time and money? A bit of both, and a reminder that there's a dark side to both human nature and this funny little life of ours? Or was it just all invented by a mad American pumpkin salesman who had to get rid of the stock cluttering up his back room?

Myself and East were discussing this and other such peculiarities in The Three Tuns in Uxbridge on Tuesday evening. East, a renowned Christmas hater, observed the skulls amongst the black and orange decorations and said something along the lines of 'I might get some of this stuff for Christmas'; he then went on to speak of the legend of the Black Morris Men who dance silently to welcome in the winter, a portent of all that is bad for country folk who rely on good weather for their crops to flourish. It sounded like something Terry Pratchett would come up with (it turns out that he did!- ) 'though East and myself chose to find it rather more believable and not a little amusing, especially after a few beers.

But it wasn't quite so amusing yesterday...

If it's Thursday it must be 'We Will Rock You' guitar maintenance day. After a reasonably painless time at the theatre Stuart the guitar repairman and myself met up with his mate Miles and walked across to Angel Music in Denmark Street where Miles has got his eye on a guitar and has asked Stu to offer his professional opinion as to it's merits. The instrument in question is a 1962 Fender Stratocaster- 3-colour sunburst finish, rosewood neck as opposed to maple, superficially at least a highly desirable guitar. But, as so often happens in life, it's not as simple as that- the vintage guitar market is a highly complex minefield waiting to inflict pain and injury upon the unaware who stumble across it with little or no knowledge of the danger lurking just below the surface. (If you don't know much about this, as Sherlock Holmes would say, singular subject have a look at which should give you some idea of the parameters involved; you might also like to try to get a handle on the sort of prices that can sometimes be bandied about.) A crucial factor in all of this is originality i.e. has the instrument been changed in any way from it's original form? Particularly important here are the pick-ups (many '50's and '60's instruments have had their pick-ups changed, often in an attempt to keep up with musical trends) and the finish (again often changed as a fashion consideration- no one wanted pink guitars in the heavy rockin' '70's!- or when the original finish became worn and/or damaged.) Stu's seen and worked on hundreds, maybe even thousands, of old and highly collectable instruments in his career and so is an ideal person to take along with you if you're interested in purchasing such a guitar, and the one Miles is interested in certainly counts as both old and highly collectable- except that it's certainly not in an all-original state. The neck pick-up's been changed, and it some point in it's history it had, for now unspecified reasons, had some micro switches fitted which had meant part of the body underneath the scratchplate had been routed out. The wood removed has since been replaced (very professionally in Stu's opinion) and the original scratchplate returned to it's rightful place on the guitar (fortunately a different one was used to mount the switches on, although the cynical among us may find that hard to believe- see what I mean about a minefield?) Andy the shop owner demonstrated that no more work had been done with the aid of a blacklight (back to Wikipedia for this one- ) which would show any other changes to the wood and/or finish of the guitar- I was learning as I was going along but all agreed that it all looked original. All very interesting stuff for a guitar bore such as myself, and Stu and myself discussed this for much of our tube journey home, 'though talk of the blacklight prompted me to recount East and myself's conversations a couple of night's earlier, much to Stu's amusement. It was just as we pulled into Rayners Lane station that our mirth reached it's height- so much so that we all but failed to hear the station announcement telling us that the train wasn't going any further and there would be no trains going to Uxbridge for the foreseeable future due to signal failure in the Ruislip area.


As we joined 50 or so disgruntled former-tube-train-passengers in looking for the right bus stop it started raining. The bus arrived and a near riot ensued with few people ever looking as though they'd get near it, let alone on it. With the next one due in 30 minutes and more and more people arriving from the station Stu opted for a bus towards Harrow in the hope that he could get home from there and I had no choice but to start walking. As we parted company we both agreed that laughing about the legend of the Black Morris Men had not been a good idea...
I called the long-suffering Shirley as I walked. As I told her my sorry story a bus passed me, and I looked through a gap in the houses to see a tube train running down the track. So- they were working again then, and I'm still about 10 minutes walk from the next station. It started raining harder. Not good, frankly.

Last night I had a rehearsal with Andy, Mike and Dave. When I got there Dave and Mike were more or less set up; I recounted my tale of woe to their general amusement- then Dave told me his dog had died, and Mike told me that the end of his contract at work had been bought forward to next week, after which he would be unemployed. They jammed a bit of 'Black Night' as I got my guitar out of it's gig bag. Happy Halloween y'all...

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