I don’t play the guitar very well at all. I’ll sometimes say that I play it better than average, but that’s a claim that can only be justified by pointing out that the vast majority of people don’t play guitar at all so anyone who knows two or three chords is already well above average.
I have, however, been playing guitar (for some loose definition of the word “playing”) for a rather long time. Just how long was brought home to me this weekend.
We’re having a lot of building work done in our house over the next few months and as a precursor to that we have had to clear pretty much everything out of the first floor. A lot of stuff has gone into storage, but we also took a lot of stuff to our local tip on Saturday. That load included three guitars and one of them was “The Learning Guitar”.
The Learning Guitar was (as its name suggests) the guitar that I first learnt to play on. It was a cheap nylon-stringed Spanish guitar that my parents bought me when I started to take lessons. That was very soon after I started at secondary school in September 1974. There was an after school class which I joined. I think I stopped going after only a couple of months as we were learning boring stuff like “When The Saints Go Marching In” when I wanted to be playing stuff by Slade or David Bowie. At the time I assumed that we weren’t learning that stuff because it was too difficult for beginners. Later I realised that a lot of the music I enjoyed was actually just as simple as the stuff we were taught – it was just that the teachers were a bit old-fashioned.
I carried on teaching myself though. I bought a Mel Bay book and spent hours practicising in my bedroom. Of course I had no real idea what I was doing and I picked up a number of bad habits that hamper my playing even now. But I was enjoying myself.
Soon after moving to London to go to university I got another guitar. It was a Fender F3. A much nicer-sounding guitar. My original guitar was somewhat ignored. For a year I shared a flat with someone who played guitar really well and by watching him my playing improved a lot.
But the Learning Guitar still had some life in it. Over the next fifteen or twenty years I took to lending it to friends who wanted to learn guitar. The story was always the same. Someone borrowed it for a couple of years and when they thought the time was right, they’d buy a better guitar and give the Learning Guitar back to me. It was during this period that the guitar acquired its nickname. The last person to borrow it like this was my step-daughter who took it with her when she went to university. As always, i came back after a couple of years.
Over the last ten years, I’ve played guitar a lot less. I couldn’t really justify storing the four guitars that I had cluttering up my study. So this weekend they all went except the Fender. We loaded up a van and took them to the Wandsworth Council dump. Of all of the things that I threw away on Saturday, the Learning Guitar was the thing that I felt most guilty about. I threw it high up on a mountain of rubbish at the dump. At one point I considered trying to retrieve it, but it was too far away.
It was never a particularly good guitar. But a lot of people have strummed their first tentative chords on that guitar. It’s a shame to see it go.
Later this week, I hope to get rid of my collection of records. That has sat in a cupboard unused for over ten years. There’s really no reason to keep it. But if you think I have got needlessly sentimental about an old guitar, you haven’t seen anything yet. I’ll be getting far more nostalgic about the records.