It was the summer of 2009. I had just decided what I would be taking as my GCSEs, and I had decided to drop Music. This was the summer I told my parents I rather liked the idea of learning how to play the guitar. Great timing, I know. But Mum and Dad were very accomodating and, having sat me down and explained that this was going to cost a lot of money so I needed to be sure that this was something where I would put the proper effort in and not drop it after five minutes. Having assured them I would put my best effort into it, they started looking around for a local guitar teacher. And they found one. What was known as The Guitar School and then became the Contemporary Music School in Hastings. I don’t know if they are still going, but if they are, a huge shout out to Dave Price and all the guys at C.M.S. They are quality people who love what they do, and they are brilliant at it.
Now it is very true that if you’re not a working or gigging guitarist, playing guitar can be a very expensive hobby. Just buying a guitar, if you want it to be in any way decent to play and not destroy your fingers, is a couple of hundred pounds. Everything adds up pretty quickly, from lessons to amps, effects pedals, tuners, capos, leads if you’re playing electric, strings. The cost can go up and up and up. But it has been so worth it for me. I have loved music for as long as I have known what it is. My tastes have been shaped by what my parents listen to, particularly my dad, so a lot of what I listen to is guitar orientated. But it was really going to see Mark Knopfler live that made my mind up. Until that point, my favourite band had been Queen, and I still love them, but Knopfler blew me away.
Playing guitar is like any other artistic hobby, it is a form of self expression. And there is no wrong way to do it. Some of the greatest, most influential players in the world have never had a formal lesson in their lifes. David Gilmour learnt the building blocks of guitar off a tutorial record made by Pete Seeger. He can’t read sheet music, he’s not in any way trained for what he has managed to make living out of. And that is true for so many guitar players. When they’re asked how they learnt to play, so many of them say they learnt by listening and playing along to their favourite records, going over solos and rhythm parts over and over again until they worked out a way to play it that worked for them. That is the brilliant thing about a stringed instrument. No one sounds exactly like anyone else. If you got 30 different guitarists, gave them the same guitar into the same amp with the same settings and they will all sound different. No matter how much time and effort you may spend on learning someone’s specific techniques and their specific solos note for note, you will not sound exactly like them. The biggest factor in your tone and your sound is your hand and fingers. It’s how you fret a note, how you bend strings, what your vibrato is, how you wear the guitar, how you hold the neck even. All of that contributes to make your guitar playing unique.
You don’t have to be the fastest, though if that’s what you want to do, go for it. You don’t need to be the most technically proficient. If you want sit on the groove and bash out the riff, you do that. Keith Richards does that, and he’s one of the coolest men on the planet. What I love about playing the guitar the most is that feeling of sitting down and deciding to learn a new song or guitar part, working on it and nailing it. That is a huge rush for me learning the songs I have loved and listened to for most of my life. Playing guitar has enriched my life beyond anything else so far. It’s a great way for to relax and unwind, particularly if I’ve had a really shit day. I know I’m not the best, I don’t actually think I can play that well at all. I don’t play in a band and my live performances playing guitar equal a whopping three. I am the quintessential bedroom guitarist. When I string that phrase together that makes me say to myself ‘that was good’, there’s no better feeling in the world.
So thank you Mum and Dad for agreeing to that first lesson, that first guitar, that first amp. You set me on a journey that has brought me huge joy and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I just hope I haven’t offended your ears too much over the last 11 years. I guess it could be worse. I could have asked for a drum kit.