Monday, April 24, 2006

Help Someone Whenever You Can

Or, My S & H Green Stamps Guitar
I believe that most anyone, barring a handicap, can learn to play a musical instrument. Sure they may not ever have that spark that makes a Jimi Hendrix or Mozart, but they can nonetheless learn the mechanics and enjoy making music.

I fall into the latter category. No innate genius with regards to music, but I have learned to play the guitar. I'm a pretty decent strummer and can noodle around some fill notes and such but I have no illusions that I could ever be one of the greats.

I started playing guitar in my mid-thirties and am self taught, so there are huge gaps in my knowledge of guitar playing and music theory. I don't aspire to making a living playing guitar, so I probably don't have enough get-up-and-go to push myself to the absolute best I can play.

Enough background. What I would really like to talk about today is trying to help people when you see that they need help and you are in a position to help.

What the heck does this have to do with playing guitar, you ask?

This. From the time I was a small child, I was drawn to stringed instuments like the proverbial moth to a flame. My mother loved lullabys and had an LP of Brahms. One of my earliest memories was of her playing this record and it making me cry. I would have been about four years old then. I used to sit in the hallway of our home in Vidalia, Louisiana when I was a bit older, and hope that my older sister would play 'Paperback Writer' by The Beatles so I could hear George Harrison's opening guitar riff to that song.

And when I was about ten, I talked my parents into getting a guitar for me.

My mother was a collector of S&H Green Stamps. The grocery store would give them out with every purchase, and over time we filled up books of the green stamps and she would trade them in on lamps and stuff like that. Heck, our house was probably half furnished with S&H Green Stamps items. Bless her heart, she got me a guitar with those things.

It was an acoustic guitar and I plunked around with it and tried, but with no lessons, well you can guess that I didn't learn squat. But when we moved to Monroe, Louisiana a couple of years later, my parents let me start taking lessons at Zeagler's Music. That only lasted about three months, I just couldn't get the hang of learning to read music. I just wanted to play, but the reading music thing was just boring to me.

But what really stopped me more than anything was the Mount Everest action on my guitar. Man, it was murder pushing the strings down enough to fret a note. Even after building up calluses, this guitar proved too difficult to play for long enough to really learn anything anyway. So, in my thirteen year old impatience, I quit taking lessons. I had other things to think about anyway, what with having hit puberty and all, so...

Regardless, I still craved guitar. Most of my favorite music, even 'til today, is guitar heavy. Regardless of what genre, I love the particular groups that are guitar heavy. I would see someone play guitar and I would stand in rapt attention. I'm not a jealous person, but I would come closest to being so when someone was wailing on a guitar.

Now that I'm grown and can play guitar, and also adjust the various features of a guitar, neck, intonation, etc., myself, I just have one question:

Why didn't my childhood guitar instructor, or the people at the music shop, at least recommend that my guitar be adjusted for easier play? If I still had that old guitar, it would take me about twenty minutes to file the nut slots at the head of the guitar to make it play easily. The main reason I quit as a kid was that the guitar was so stinkin' hard to play. BUT ANY PLAYER WITH HALF A BRAIN COULD HAVE SEEN IN THREE SECONDS WHAT NEEDED TO BE DONE TO MAKE THE GUITAR PLAYABLE, AND MY TEACHER AND THE MUSIC STORE PEOPLE WHO HAD THEIR HANDS ON MY GUITAR AT TIMES, NEVER ONCE SUGGESTED THAT THE GUITAR COULD BE ADJUSTED.

It took me until I had almost finished my engineering degree, over twenty years later, to get the courage to try again to play. And the first guitar I bought was a pleasure to play and easy to learn on. A total revelation.

Now, in any aspect of life, when I can help someone, I do. Whether it be adjusting a guitar for a friend's kid or whatever, I do it. I lost over twenty years wherein I could have been playing guitar and getting better, simply because I was too young and ignorant of the possibility of tweaking my S&H Green Stamps guitar, and because the knowledgeable ones who could have helped make the guitar better, didn't bother.

I'm not blaming them, and I have absolutely no animosity to anyone about this. I'm still ten years old when it comes to guitar and love to play what I can and to hear others who can REALLY play.

I just wish someone would have helped me out. Because even as limited as my playing is now, if I saw someone with a guitar like my childhood one, I would immediately tell them to take it to a pro for $30 or so and they could have a much better instrument. Hey, I would do it myself for free if they trusted me enough to do it.

But I have learned to help people with even the little things wherever I can. That small help could pay HUGE dividends over the years.

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