Never forget your first guitar

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past. Not actually in a nostalgic way, but as something to be given more value, the correct value. Guitar playing has always been my trademark. The guitar has been central to my youth. I started playing at 11 with clumsy attempts that my 9 year old sister had started. It was an old acoustic guitar, so cheap it hurt your fingertips very quickly. It was at our grandparents house, being played by my father’s younger brother. My father had bought it used in the 50s. Soon a new acoustic followed but, again, cheap. It was new at least. We must have destroyed it by playing it in any circumstances. My parents bought me my first electric guitar just before I turned 16. And they made me the happiest teenager on Earth!

I will never forget that Summer of 1980. We were about to leave for a week at the shore, almost a 1 hour drive from home, like we have been doing each summer in the latest years. It was maybe June or July. We went to a musical instrument shop I new very well because I stopped by whenever I happened to be around to simply watch, or I should say admire, a Fender Stratocaster being shown in the shop’s window. It was metallic grey with a black scratch plate and a rosewood fretboard. Its price was utterly unaffordable. It had to remain a dream, my dream of playing a Stratocaster one day. I fell in love with the Fender Stratocaster when I learned that my favorite Italian guitar player used one. Some friends also talked to me about it in a mythical way.

Unfortunately I was not exposed to British and US rock and blues music as a teenager. Simply, I didn’t know any friends that could introduce me to it and what I heard from my parents radio was melodic Italian music, which I am not certainly re-evaluating today. Sure I heard about the Beatles and the Stones, the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but I can’t say I knew their music. Only much later I discovered that rock and blues was my way. But that journey was about to begin that very Summer day. I threw a rapid glance at the Fender Stratocaster exposed at the entrance of the shop. My family and I were there to buy my first electric guitar and a bass guitar for my sister. For some reasons I was expecting the electric guitar to be some hollow body. Probably I formed that idea because some older guys I knew had one. That was “the electric guitar” picture I had in my mind; the Fender Stratocaster was on another planet.

tumblr_oav00tykwc1vpv2xso1_400The shop owner picked up an electric guitar from I don’t remember where and he suggested it to us – my heart missed a beat: it was exactly the same looks of a Stratocaster but by an unknown producer. The price was still too much for our pockets, so my father told me to just have a look at it, since we couldn’t certainly bring it home. Then, he, my mother and a friend closed themselves inside the owner’s office and started bargaining. Some minutes later, while I had not been able to touch the Stratocaster replica since I knew I wouldn’t have ever owned her, they emerged from the office, the owner’s assistant appearing rather shaken. My mother smiled at me as she said: “It’s yours…” Nodding towards the beautiful Strat replica. I will never forget that moment. I just could not believe it! That guitar, closely resembling a real Stratocaster, was to be mine! She looked gorgeous: her body was of natural wood, maybe ash, very heavy (who cared!), and her neck was maple, like the fretboard. A sticker on the white scratch plate read “Di Marzio Powered” and for a long time I believed it was the guitar’s brand. Actually, it was the pickups brand, 3 good cream colored Di Marzio Super Distortion (DSD), as I have inferred later from the pictures I have and just memory. The headstock was large, plain 70s style; no decals.

Fender produced a Stratocaster like that, heavy ash and maple neck, in 1972-74, and later in 79 with black bobbins pickups by Di Marzio. I had the replica of those models in my hands and I couldn’t wait to play her. But we had to leave for the seaside and we couldn’t certainly bring the guitar with us. Therefore we drove back home to leave it there, then away one week at the sea. My longest week ever…

dimarzio_powered_b&wFor the entire week I kept dreaming of my new love left home and about going out with the first girl who ever caught my real attention. It was certainly a key moment of my youth. When we were back home, the irony was that it was too late to play, so I just took the guitar out of the box to play without amplifier for a while, then we had to go to bed. From the next day on, I would have lived with my guitar attached. No day would pass without me playing my electric guitar. I tried to imitate my idols but it wasn’t easy. There was no Internet then, no Youtube videos to teach you every possible lick. Rarely some guitarist appeared on TV and you had to be quick in order to steal some trick from the video.

PRS_EG4Today I have fond memories of those times. I think about it trying to give value to my own past. It is a process I started in order to rediscover my kid inside. Many forget about it and it is not vey healthy. I think we should keep in touch with it. It helped me a lot in the relationship with my own child. I was 45 when he was born. When I started to think about becoming a father I also thought I should rediscover how it felt to be a kid. I started reading some comic books I read then, and even listening to some music a used to like. I’m not talking about being an immature adult. Just a more aware one. Many think that some behaviors are to be considered not good for adults and playing guitar is certainly among them – you know, that teenage thing…

I disagree. A dad who plays guitar is just like other dads, only cooler…

As of early 2016, the incredible took place: I began to play in a band again! My axe is now a very good Paul Reed Smith “fat strat”, an EG4 from 1990, hand made in USA, with 2 slanted single coils by Seymour Duncan and a bridge humbacker by PRS. When I grew up and could afford a real Stratocaster I was very disappointed at how it felt in my hands compared to the PRS. It was a red one with Lace Sensors pick ups and Floyd Rose bridge. Maybe it was that model. Stupidly I did not try others. So I abandoned my childhood dream and since 1994 I’ve been playing happily a PRS EG4. My old ash Strat was battered, she took too many falls, being kept just leaning on the wall: a fractured neck (a joint ran all along its back) and a consumed fretboard would not allow correct setup. The luthier believed it was not a good idea to spend money on that guitar, so I gave it away.

ash_stratIn the summer of 2016, active guitar player again, I found myself – a proud guitarist dad – on a beach with my own family and some friends. My parents incredibly accepted to pay a visit and my sister drove them to the coast. It all came back to me, faded memories becoming clearer and clearer as I fondly thought about that summer of 1980. Again we were all together at the sea, now with my wife and son. Certainly a happy family. And the idea struck me: I started thinking about how I used to long for a Fender Stratocaster. What if I had one now? First I thought about assembling one with ash body and Di Marzio pickups. Soon I understood it would have cost me as a brand new Stratocaster. If I had to buy a Stratocaster today I would not know what model. Maybe the sunburst with maple neck, just because it reminds of the first Stratocaster ever. Then I found out that Fender had included an ash bodied Stratocaster in the early 2000s in their American Standard series. There are also the American Vintage models, but the natural ash bodies replicate exactly the past ones: my old guitar imitated the 70s strats, the period when Fender experienced a fall in production quality. So a 70s America Vintage is out of question (though I could consider an affordable and quite good Mexican one). But I’m not talking about reason. I’m talking about feelings, about something that would remember the biggest gift ever my parents have done to me. I’m not looking for the best Strat I can have. It must resemble my old one, but it must be American made and a real Fender. The De Luxe series is too expensive, the Highway 1 series is too cheap (though it included a natural ash body model). AS is the way to go. I’ve played an American Standard, which I borrowed from a bandmate while my PRS was being set up, and found it had no problems whatsoever. Maybe today at Fender they’re doing a better job: the AS series has all the niceties of the early days but also the modern upgrades according to today’s technology. The price is good too, especially if used.

I have to find one! I must do it! Because you can never forget your first guitar…