Ask Charlie...

Playing Well with Others II

Hello Troubadourians! I know we’re all missing live music, for both playing and listening. There have been some scattered performances—most of which felt a bit clandestine in nature—but nothing like what we’ve been used to seemingly forever. So many of our normal behaviors and choices have been severely curtailed or eliminated completely. The places where we normally play or go to hear live music are primarily concerned with survival and are concentrating on their core business such as food and beverage service within the limited time and space they can operate, and entertainment is an extra expense they can’t afford (or can’t allow). I have a friend who plays in the OC; he has had no gigs since March. It has only been in the last two weeks that he’s received any calls to play and primarily for private duo gigs backing a singer. He’s had only one band gig and that was for one hour at a wealthy person’s estate in Palm Desert. (Talk about clandestine…) I know that some of us are playing similar gigs or are staging socially distanced concerts from our front porches, but it’s obviously nothing like our pre-COVID days. I’ve seen many posts on social media from friends wondering if they’ll ever be able to gig again. I’d like to think so but when that will be and what will it look like are far beyond my clairvoyant abilities.

That the population is aging is no secret and that fact alone contributes to the general malaise I feel from many of my musician friends. Some of you have toyed with the idea of “retiring” from playing live music and others have been slowly selling off gear that they feel they may never use again. I don’t know what to say about that. I’ve felt that way myself at times so I can’t criticize anyone if they have those feelings. During difficult times it is human nature to feel hopeless, and seeing our instruments sitting unused and gathering dust is disheartening. My amplifiers have been in the closet since February, but I have made an effort to play every one of my guitars as often as I can. Some get more attention than others, of course, but playing them reminds me why I have each and every one of them in my possession, and I look forward to using them “for real” sometime soon.

The elephant in the room is that all this has become politicized and doesn’t help the situation in the least. I have seen several exchanges become heated over things that would have never even been spoken of before, which is a direct result of our frustration with not being able to play and perform. I’m not qualified—or inclined—to use this forum for deeper discussion of this but it is obvious that there are some relationships that have been irreparably damaged that likely wouldn’t be so if none of this had happened. That makes me sad. Music heals many wounds and broken hearts, so maybe music can guide us out of this, too.

But enough of that… I want a Stratocaster. I’ve always been a Les Paul-type of player even though I’ve been known to sling a Telecaster as well. My Collings CLs are essentially Les Pauls and they are my go-to guitars. I did have a hardtail Strat many years ago but that ran its course and I’ve gravitated back to the Gibson-type guitars since my first PRS in ’89. Yeah, it had a vibrato tailpiece like a Strat and a Strat-like shape, but it was firmly in the Gibson camp with two humbuckers as was my other PRS, which had a wrap tail and two humbuckers, too. Through the magic of coil tapping and switching, both guitars could make Strat-like sounds, but the meat of the guitars lies in the fat humbucker tones that each one had. An evolution in my playing led me to the desire for a wider neck, and the willingness of my friends at Collings Guitars to make me a guitar with a wide neck at a price I could afford changed my life forever. For a long time, my original City Limits was my only electric guitar and the only one I wanted. But situations and finances change, and I now have more Collings guitars as well as some modified Fenders. The Mexican-made Fenders are every bit as good as the American versions from a utilitarian perspective, and certainly are an excellent—and inexpensive—platform if one is inclined to customize a guitar for very specific tastes. As I mentioned, I prefer a wider neck, 1.75″ at the nut, to be specific, and a flatter fretboard at a 12″ radius as well as a more V-shaped neck carve. For the price of a neck with the above traits from Warmoth, and the investment of the original Mexican Fender on the used market, I can have what I like for a lot less money. No, they don’t replace my Collings but that’s not the point. They’re supposed to be Fenders, not replacements or competitors. While it was highly convenient for my PRSs to have both Humbucker and single-coil tones available at the rotation of a switch, there is no real substitute for an actual Telecaster. Nor is there a substitute for a real Stratocaster. I’ve had the Tele covered for a while now but no Strat. That will change. I know exactly what I want: a two-tone sunburst Strat with a custom Warmoth maple neck with the classic ’50s look and tones but suited to my specific preferences. What’s holding me back? Well, I’m not playing out—like most of us—and this would definitely be a utility guitar, one that I’d mostly use to play live or in the studio for the particular tones it is capable of producing. I have plenty of really excellent guitars to play for now, but when we’re back to normal, whatever that normal turns out to be, don’t be surprised to see me slinging a Stratocaster at a gig along with my Telecasters and City Limits. Until then, it’s just a plan… Drop me an email and let me know what you are planning to do when we return to normal. I’d really like to know. If you have something really cool in mind, I’d like to include it in my column—with your permission of, course. Until then, please keep the faith, keep practicing, and keep reading the Troubadour. And support your local musicians.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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