I previously mentioned that at the height of punk I went to my first major gig, a concert at Earls Court by rock
dinosaurs giants Queen. Recently I took a trip down memory lane by watching a video of that very event on YouTube.
The gig contained a defining moment in my life. After Brian May had completed a particularly impressive run during Brighton Rock, an impressionable 15 year old boy sitting in the front row who’d just been given a cheap acoustic guitar by a neighbour mouthed the word “WOW!!”. Bri spotted it and nodded at him. I went home determined to learn to play guitar like Brian1.
My first step was to replace the gut strings on my guitar with steel ones. I think you can see where this is going, but it took a few weeks till it folded in half under the strain, before which I managed to place magnets under each string, attach a wire to each end and plug the whole thing into my dad’s old reel-to-reel tape deck, where by recording on one head and playing back from another I could approximate the delay effect that Brian used on his solos.
An additional, though unintentional, effect was that the guitar now acted as a radio receiver, each fumbled riff being accompanied by (and I kid you not) the monotonous lectures that comprised the output of Radio Moscow in the 70s.
Just days before it finally collapsed I’d added a sort of psychaledic multi coloured finish in the medium of felt tipped pen. The effect was hideous.
A couple of years later, still in awe of the fact that Mr May had made his own guitar2 and lucky enough to have gone to a school that encouraged that sort of thing, I constructed my own from a design published in Practical Electronics3. With a body made from chipboard and three of the cheapest pickups available, the guitar boasted the sustain of a toy banjo.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why I’m so happy I married someone who’s good with her hands. Wifey is a complete perfectionist and in addition to having added a harlequin design to the new floor, she’s recently given an old Ikea shelving unit a wonderful shabby chic makeover.
I’ll upload an image as soon as my bloody Windows powered phone deigns to talk to my PC.
1On reflection I actually wish I’d chosen Nile Rodgers as my guitar hero of the time, but it was a moot point because soon after that I switched to bass, which was better suited to my stubby fingers.
2Brian’s guitar was a work of genius, fashioned from the seasoned wood of an old fireplace and, if the PR at the time was to be believed, hand wound pickups. Mine was made from a brand new piece of chipboard, veneered to resembled an item of cheap 70s hi-fi. It sported a nut hewn from a piece of smelly cow horn that I’d found somewhere, and an array of switches so bewildering that I had to mount them in a 10″x10″ red, wooden box, that I wore on my hip. Every setting sounded the same and it rarely worked for an entire gig. Which was probably for the best.
3Practical Electronics was the leading magazine for amateur enthusiasts of individual transistors and smelly solder in the 70s. Its high points, as far as I was concerned, was when it published designs for an electric guitar and a synthesiser. Most of its output, however, comprised things like rain detectors. This always seemed to me to be superfluous, since simply looking out of the window could achieve the same result.