I remember watching Andy Divine ask Froggy the Gremlin to “Pluck Your Magic Twanger Froggy.” This certainly dates me, but I ain’t the only one.
Every once in a while during my time playing guitar something remarkable happens to me. At least I think it’s remarkable, it may not be to some folks but it is to me. Something like this happened to me today. It’s just part of the learning curve I think. It’s when a series of things sort of cascade all together at the same time. I believe it comes from setting up these building blocks of learning perhaps. I wish I had a better way of describing it. Anyway somebody in my subconscious ask Froggy to pluck his magic twanger for me today and he did. I had put a brand spanking new Mallory Duracell into the guitar body. This guitar uses what’s called “active pickups”. They’re supposed to have more boost than the standard humbucker ceramics or alnicos. I couldn’t tell you if that’ s true or not however it makes not a tinker’s damn about this story so why am I going on about it? I don’t know. Anyway the guitar was sounding pretty fair. I was experimenting with playing some chord structured arpeggios. For those that have the question “what’s an arpeggio?” well it’s the process of play each note in a chord individually instead of strummed mostly at once. It allows each string to sound and they are almost always in harmony with each other. It sounds very cool if done correctly.
This puts lots and lots of stress on the fretting hand. Instead of just holding down one string your hand is actually fretting three or four strings all at the same time. Somehow I managed to do this for about half an hour or so. My left hand was getting real tired. I was also playing the eight string which has much larger gauge strings on it than your garden variety six string does. This adds to the pressure required to ground the strings against the frets. Well I decided that because I don’t usually practice this technique all that much that I should quit and play something that would loosen me back up. So I got on Pandora Radio and spent about fourty five minutes jumping around from station to station and wound up on Joe Satriani’s station. I like Joe. He’s an excellent guitarist and plays pretty melodic stuff. I am into melodies. Not just flurries of notes just to show folks you can play ‘em. I knew I’d be in for a challenge trying to play along with Joe. Usually I get a bit discouraged and quit after he shows me how much faster he is than I am. I happened to find a nice song of his that wasn’t running at warp six. It was actually about a medium tempo. Still the way the music is structured needs to have the notes spanked off the fret board at a more than rapid clip. This usually pushes me right to the limit of my abilities, but for some reason not today. I had no trouble just ripping up and down the neck like I knew what I was doing? Makes me laugh just thinking about it. Then I started realizing what I was doing and I had to say to myself “damn son!” I even think Joe would have smiled.
I was playing faster than I ever have and I was doing it on my eight string! This was a real shock to me when I started putting together what just happened. It’s a real rewarding feeling when this happens to me, as you might imagine. It doesn’t happen often enough to suit me but I’m sure I’m not the only musician that thinks this way. We put in literally parts of our lifetimes practicing and playing and the times that Froggy plucks his magic twanger for us don’t come around nearly enough. On the other hand that’s what makes learning an instrument, any instrument, so worthwhile. It’s something that not everyone can do. Some folks don’t have the rhythm for it; some folks have no musical ear or are tone deaf. Then there are those that won’t do it because they can’t buy it. I had parents that were kind enough to me to explain that to me, and pound it into my young head every single day. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving a shit about me. I had about the best parents any kid could have. We weren’t rich by a long shot. But My Dad was the craziest man I’ve ever known and he would make the entire family laugh. He was a great musician and so was Mom. So I got a double dose of this. Thanks again Mom and Dad. I feel sorry for the kids nowadays whose parents think they can learn this in school somehow. Personally I don’t think most Moms’ and Dad’s nowadays even know what I’m talking about here. I’m glad playing a guitar is difficult. I didn’t used to like it but in the words of Clint Eastwood, “I ain’t like that anymore.” I like challenges more than anything else in life these days. Lord knows I get ’em too trying to make ends meet on Social Security.
Okay I’m drifting again. Yesterday a friend handed me a Johnson six string acoustic guitar. It was a nice piece for what I assumed was a cheap guitar. It had a nice low string action, the neck was pretty straight and flat, and had decent looking wood. I had another revelation on this guitar. I couldn’t play the damn thing! Because I’ve adapted to playing seven and eight string guitars which have considerably wider necks this guitar’s neck felt like a toothpick. I almost thought I had a banjo in my hands! No fooling! With a little diddling around I would have been able to play it but it would have taken about 30 minutes or less to adjust. Funny how this stuff goes. I was talking with one of my favorite young guitar dudes at the Clackamas Guitar Center last month and we were talking about seven and eight string guitars. He asked me what I played and I told him I played a seven string and an eight string. He said “man I don’t know how you can play one of those things I can barely play a seven string and my six string gives me all the trouble I can handle!” I had to laugh not at him but because he was so honest! I like him because he is that way. I know exactly what he’s talking about. I have pretty big hands so that’s the main reason I can play an eight string. I think there may be some divine intervention going on in my behalf as well with the eight string. You see I made a deal with God (if we ever can do that,) I told Him or ask Him more to the point, if He’d leave me on the planet for a normal life span that I’d be the best guitar player I could be. I guess He believes me. He’s even helping me because I keep picking up that ole eight string the ole “Black Queen.” I think the Lord is saying “nope Dave use this one.” That’s just me. That’s what I think. I’m thankful that the Lord has given me the gift to play it. I also think He drops these little Twanger presents on me and that it’s not really Froggy the Gremlin doing it at all. That’s what I think.
I am thankful for them. I am thankful to be alive in an age when the electric guitar can be such a wondrous instrument. I’m thankful that the Lord lets me see music of all sorts and that I can like all of it. I believe that music really is the rhythm of the soul. I believe that.