Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, January 12, 2007

An Unexpected Gift

Those of you that have been visiting (or lurking around) this blog for at least the past year may remember this picture I posted back in February of last year showing the "altar" in my bedroom/studio:

I call it my "altar" because, in addition to a large percentage of my musical instrument collection and related maintenance gear, it houses my aromatherapy collection (incense, essential oils, and scented candles), my tarot cards, and the overwhelming majority of my literary and artistic productions. Not only that, but the corner it occupies faces east, just like a Shinto shrine. You might say a lot of my personal energy is focused here.

2006 altar2

This is what it looks like now. Notice anything different? Well, the calendar has changed, and the items on the shelves have been moved around a little bit. The orange bag (containing saxophone reeds and guitar strings) hanging behind the flute case in the first picture is missing in the second. There is also a new, (plastic) Japanese flute in the hanging flute collection, one of my Christmas presents from my wife. I'll give you a hint: the most significant change is in the middle of the photo.

I have always referred to the black Yamaha RTX-102 guitar as my "Yamacaster" because it is (loosely) based on the Fender Telecaster design. It was the first electric guitar I bought after coming to Japan. I got it at the time mainly because I hadn't built up my bank account yet, and it was almost ridiculously cheap (clearance priced at 70% off the list price, which was already relatively low). I also liked the way it felt and played compared with other budget-priced models. For the record, I never intended to stick with it; my plan was to ditch it and buy a better guitar as soon as I was comfortable with my savings. As it turned out, I stuck with it for more than 16 years.

The fact was that the Yamacaster really grew on me. When I bought it it came equipped with 10-guage strings (most electrics use lighter 9-guage types), and the action was set a bit heavy. I actually appreciated that. It gave it a solidity that almost approached that of an acoustic guitar. I could bang on that thing hard, and it would respond sweetly without the detuning and twanging that can tend to happen. Especially considering the price, it also had surprisingly good machine heads that kept the guitar in tune even on the few occasions when I used that (better avoided) tremolo system. Of course, the heavy action and a few other issues meant that it wasn't really suitable for lead, so I soon supplemented it with a Fender Stratocaster (eventually replaced with a Fender Stratocaster HSS w/ locking tremolo and supplemented with an Epiphone SG), but it continued to be my principal rhythm workhorse clear up until the end of 2006.

Nevertheless, I was never entirely satisfied with it. Like most Yamaha guitars, it had a beautiful clean sound, especially on the neck pickup. However, it didn't really have a whole lot of oomph. If I gave it a moderate to fair amount of overdrive, perhaps with a bit of chorus thrown in for effect (hyuk!), it gave me a lively, jangly sound which I used a lot...maybe even too much. (In fact, anyone familiar with my recordings may well call that sound "too recognizable". Come to think of it, some have...) However, if I tried to use it with really hard drive and/or distortion what I got tended to be either really muddy or really thin and tinny, leading me to press one of my "lead" guitars into the "rhythm" role temporarily. I toyed with the idea of replacing one or both of the pickups, and then I began seriously considering getting a new guitar. The only problem was convincing myself to do it, especially since I don't play rock guitar as much as I used to.

I pretty much ruled out getting a new guitar, at least for the time being. However, Shimokura Music opened a branch outlet at a department store in Narita that specializes in used gear. I started browsing around there a lot. There were a lot of axes there that were very tempting, but the one that wound up catching my eye was a very new-looking Fender Telecaster whose price was about two-thirds that of a new one. I was still hard pressed to convince myself to get it, but the coming of my birthday in early January made it a lot easier. I have a habit of buying myself a present, and I figured the used "Telly" would be a lot cheaper than the car navigation system I bought last year! When my wife asked for us to go to that department store in Narita so she could complete her birthday shopping for me, I considered it a done deal. We had to split up anyway, and I figured it was as good a time as any.

Imagine my surprise when my wife came around via a different route and intercepted me at the music shop! I was even more surprised when she named a maximum price and told me to pick the guitar I wanted! I looked around a bit and did some serious drooling (especially at that 5-string bass), but I really did want that Telecaster, so I headed for its aisle to find it gone. I searched around in vain. Someone else had grabbed it first. I started to rethink my strategy, but then I noticed another Telecaster hanging behind the front counter with an even lower price on it. I asked the dealer for the story on it, and he told me that it had only just been brought in. The store people hadn't even had a chance to look at it yet.

So I looked at it for them. Whoever had it before did not take care of it. There was plenty of corrosion on the chrome parts, and it had some serious dust bunnies around the bridge and treble pickup. The bridge was also out of adjustment. However, when I plugged it into a Marshall JCM-800 and played that thing...
ME: "Can you adjust the bridge for me?"
Clerk: "You mean 'harmonic octave tuning'?"
ME: "Yeah, whatever."
CLerk: "Certainly."
ME: "Sold."

So now I have a new guitar, my surprise birthday present from my wife! (She'd once said something akin to hell freezing over before she'd get one of those for me, but anyway...) I have cleaned and polished it, fiddled a bit more with the bridge myself, and am generally enjoying it. I haven't recorded with it yet. (It just missed appearing on my just-finished latest [demo] album.) I will, though. Bet on it. I haven't gotten rid of the Yamacaster, though; I have only mothballed it. It and the Telecaster are surprisingly different animals despite their similar design. The Telecaster is definitely grittier, more bluesy and more rocking. Much more oomph. However, I may still want the Yamacaster's beautiful clean sound or that jangle (even if some people are fed up with it), so it'll stay in its case in the corner for the time being.

The only problem is that now I've lost the color coordination! All my electrics plus the bass used to be black and/or white! Now one of them has a natural wood tone! Oh, well. At least now I have a Fender-Fender-Fender/Epiphone-Epiphone full house! (Hey, patterns are important, don't you know?)
(I know, I know..."Shut up and play your guitar...")


  • Playing guitar is one of those little things you can do to make this a better planet to live on, except it's a hell of a lot more fun than recycling.

    …that’s what I think anyway.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:01 AM  

  • MM, I did notice the difference at first glance. Anyway, I like the colour. It adds a certain brightness to your altar. Btw, are we going to hear your compositions anytime soon? I remember you said you were going to look into it. Am still looking forward to it.

    Belated happy birthday and many, many happy returns, MM.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 1:49 PM  

  • Hell Yah!! I knew you had a stash of instruments laying around somewhere in your house. Love the guitars. I'm really bad in playing guitars, but my friend tells me that I'm a fast learner. Just show me the scales and I'm good to jam :)

    I tried playing on a 12-string Carlos, and I must say, it sounds sweeet! It is, however, a bit harder to play than your usual acoustic.

    What do you think of Washburn guitars?

    By Anonymous hashim, at 1:23 AM  

  • Btw, love the color pattern :) And I WILL bug you until I hear some of your recording.

    By Anonymous hashim, at 1:25 AM  

  • We have a Pacific Tzigani guitar in the house and Peceli plays it occasionally and visitors more often. We had another one, and someone wanted it. We used to have an electric guitar and someone borrowed it for eight years!
    Your shrine - reminds me of a guy in Geelong who has a whole room full of musical instruments though he mainly plays banjo/mandolin. Keyboards, drums, bells and whistles of all kinds, banjos, mandolins, guitars, xylophone, piano. He did get involved in a little band two years ago, but mostly he's a bit of a loner regarding his music.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 10:08 AM  

  • nice set-up you have here. i'd love to learn to play the guitar. i love the sound. one of hashim's friends plays the electric. i love watching and listening to him. hashim started playing the acoustic a while ago but we sold the guitar before coming to bahrain and he hasn't picked it back up. the bad thing about here though, everything, muscially wise, is sooo dang expensive. i think he should get a new guitar though and start teaching himself to play.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:45 PM  

  • Happy Birthday. What a wonderful surprise present!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:22 PM  

  • Swinebread
    Linus once said, "The way I see it, every child born should be issued a banjo." What if they were given a guitar instead?

    Thanks a lot. I'm looking into audio file hosting, so we'll see.

    You have a musician's spirit, so I'm not surprised you're a fast learner.

    Washburn guitars have an excellent reputation. I haven't had much personal contact with them, but one friend of mine in the states had one that was made to look like an acoustic (or even classical!) guitar from the front, but it was actually a solid-body electric with a Piezo bridge pickup. It was a really nice guitar.

    As I told Happy, I'm looking into audio file hosting, so I may post a few tracks in the near future. Don't set your standards too high, though. My work is strictly amatuer so far.

    That's why I never loan out my musical gear...unless I'm present during its use.

    Your friend sounds like my kind of guy! ;-)

    I'm sure Hashim could pick it up immediately if someone put an axe in his hands. I know what you mean about the price of instruments. It definitely helps if they are locally made.

    Thank you, sir! I'm enjoying my present a lot so far!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:55 PM  

  • Will you add a BLUE one to accompany them in next year?

    I am with Happy, still expect to listen your compose songs.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 10:19 PM  

  • I forgot to ask - Is there a conflict in playing guitars and clarinet? I'm thinking in terms of the condition of your fingers, both skin and muscles.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 12:39 PM  

  • gosh you've never blogged about guitars before...can't say more i've been told to stop typing again...

    By Blogger Olivia, at 3:35 PM  

  • nice new axe, MM. I look forward to the new sounds!

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:21 PM  

  • I Jam too, eh Steve? strum strum strum, hammer bang strum!! (twinkle) I find most woodtone good thing. (chuckles) No, don't get up! I get my OWN tea! Care for now, Steve, care for now.

    By Anonymous Bolo, at 8:06 AM  

  • Happy Belated Birthday Moody. Another great one for the shrine. And I really hope to hear your recording soon.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:42 PM  

  • L.C_D.
    I keep asking myself that. Actually, the (cheap) electric guitar that I used in my college days was my favorite shade of blue, but I haven't had a blue (or green) one since. Go figure. Maybe some day I'll go nuts and trade in either the Strat or the SG for a BLUE one!

    The only conflict I can think of is if I play the guitar after a long hiatus and get blisters or bulging callouses on my fingers. That makes it hard to cover the fingerholes on a clarinet.

    There can also be the sore finger muscle thing...especially after playing intense bass after a long break.

    I try to avoid topics I'm not sure others would be interested in. I guess I can't comment beyond that.

    You'll have a new CD arriving soon, but not including the new guitar yet. It wasn't quite in time.

    I know you jam...and I wonder when we can do it again!!! Help yourself to the tea, by all means.
    (Tell me, has Steve filed me under "total asshole"?)

    Thanks, Agus! So far so grand (and I don't mean piano)! Like I said, I'll see about the file hosting and maybe post a few things.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:55 PM  

  • I guess it's just that your life is so linked to orchestras that I had no reason to associate you with electric guitars!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:05 AM  

  • I had to sll my favorite guitar last year, and my marchall amp! ACK!!! It was an Ibanez Studio Series seven string guitar. I still have my Jackson PS1 and my peavey bass, and also my twelve string bass which I modified to a bar guitar by switching the intermediete string down a position. However, I can't play any of them as I no longer have an amp, HOWEVER, I do have my synth module and computer with my MIDI keyboard set up, and I have been playing around with the old Space Patrol theme we put together when we were much younger.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:06 AM  

  • Olivia
    I work with a very broad range of music. My training and most of my experience has been with classical and jazz, but I also work a lot with rock. I've also had experience with a number of other types of music, if only a one-time fling.

    I'd have to be pretty hard pressed to bring myself to sell off my gear, though I did sell my Roland Jazz amp to Jeff (the same person I bought it from) leaving me ampless for several years. That must have been tough.

    What kind of synth module do you use?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:41 PM  

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