Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My first guitar

When I was just a small boy, my Dad bought a used Harmony Hollywood archtop guitar and a little tweed Silvertone amp at the barber shop for $50. (In those days, a lot of commerce was conducted in barber shops.) It was gold with a big black wedge down the middle, and just looked cool.

A near mint vintage Harmony H-37 Hollywood archtop electric guitar, c. late 1950's.

He didn't have a case for it, so it hung at the ready by its strap (a piece of braided rope, actually) on a nail behind the kitchen door.

There was always music at our house, and Pop played and sang almost every night after work, mostly country and gospel songs- Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, the Louvin Brothers. Mom would harmonize with him occasionally on an old hymn or When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again. So, playing guitar was a natural thing to do. Didn't everybody?

Pop taught me my first chord, a two finger G like Grandpa Jones played (thumb on 6th string, 3rd fret, and first finger on 1st string, 3rd fret). Once I had that mastered, he showed me C and D7, and I was off.

When I was about nine years old, Pop thought it would be good for me to have guitar lessons. He enrolled me in a twelve week program (not to be confused with a twelve step program) at Mr. Bob Jones' music store- and I got to use the Harmony! Mr. Jones taught me how to read chord diagrams, introduced me to the mysteries of the Em and Am chords, and showed me how to fingerpick with my thumb and first finger. Before long, I had learned easy versions of Freight Train and another tune in Am, although he neglected to tell me the name. (I found out later it was Windy and Warm.)

The Harmony as it is today.

When I was around thirteen, I decided I wanted to refinish the guitar. So, my Mom and I stripped it down and varnished everything, including the fingerboard and frets. I saved my money and bought some replacement tuning machines, because a couple of the buttons had crumbled on the originals, and I had to tune those strings with pliers. I was also tired of the bridge slipping around, with the resultant tuning problems. So, after I installed a new set of Black Diamond strings from the drugstore and got the bridge positioned just right, I permanently marked the spot on the top with my Dad's pocket knife. I had a custom guitar.

The old Harmony was my only guitar for a few years, and I put a lot of miles on it. I even had a custom road case- I carefully wrapped the guitar in an old quilt and then put it in a plastic laundry bag.

Like all of us, it has some battle scars... like the time the strap broke. The Harmony crashed to the floor and hit right on the lower bout. The cord and the jack were pushed up inside the guitar and the side was split. But, nothing that a little Elmer's Wood Glue and Plastic Wood filler wouldn't fix.

It's been through several incarnations, as an acoustic electric (it has one of those great DeArmond gold foil pickups), an acoustic, an acoustic electric again, a "banjotar"(five strings tuned in banjo tuning), and a high string.  Eventually, I gave it back to my Dad when he needed a second guitar. Pop is gone now, so my Mom gave it back to me a few years ago. I've returned it to how it was right after we refinished it. I even found a case for it- a battered old 1960's Gretsch hardshell that the music store was going to toss in the dumpster.

I still have the amp too, a Silvertone Model 1331.

A few years back, I recorded a Lick of the Week video with the old Harmony, and even tried to play a couple of my Dad's licks. I think of him every time I play it.

Those pieces of tape on the side of the neck? Position markers with the name of the chord at that fret, in his handwriting- his idea, of course. 

And just to show that the Harmony isn't a one trick pony, here's a clip from a cover of K.T. Tunstall's Feel It All, with Emily Hunt on vocals.