In his new monthly column, Guitar Techniques editor Nev asks what guitars we’d want on that desert island?
Welcome to my new column, which exists primarily because I’ve always wanted to use that play on words, but also because Jamie challenged me to come up with a few ideas based on way too many years of doing this stuff. This first piece was actually inspired by Nick Guppy’s Facebook page, where he asked friends which guitar – either Les Paul or Strat – they’d take to a desert island, given that electricity and a suitable amp were already in place.
Of those particular two instruments I said it would have to be the Strat, due to the range of tones it offered and the added expression from the whammy bar; you could therefore find more to do with it during those years in the doldrums drinking coconut water and munching on the occasional washed-up squid.
Then I got to extrapolating.Are these really the best choices? They’re the obvious ones, but wouldn’t the Tele, the basic but quintessential solidbody electric, be the more perfect partner? You could learn every inch of its neck, discover the microscopic differences in every millimetre’s turn of the volume and tone controls on every pickup and combination thereof. Plus it would gracefully age and craze in the sun – just like you!
Or how about the ES-335? It’s more versatile than a Les Paul with a bit more of the old school about it – more like a‘proper’guitar. And if you wanted to get away from Man Friday (or Amanda Donohoe!) you could always sneak down to the water’s edge for a bit of semi-acoustic noodling.
But hang on a mo. Often times I’ve stated that I’d never choose my favourite music to accompany me to such a wilderness paradise. Much as I love The Beatles,The Beach Boys, Cream, Hendrix,Albert, BB, Freddie, Sinatra, Ella and all the usual suspects, I already know those songs inside out and I know I’d grow to loathe them. So no, I’d go for classical, jazz, folk, prog and world music – genres with which I’m far less familiar.Just as my initially least liked song on a new Beatles album always ended up as my favourite, and I’d inevitably become jaded with the instant ear-worm number, I would grow to know and love these unfamiliar sounds and provide myself with years of enjoyment, culture, education and discovery. I’d ask knowledgeable friends who are more into these genres for their advice, and sail away with music that would be fresh to these tired ears.
If that’s true of music itself, might it not work too for the tool of its trade; that six-string you salvaged from your sinking schooner? With that in mind two distinctly unfamiliar (to me) options occur. First, the beautiful Gibson L-5.To make full use of that Deluxe Reverb (remember the island’s previous occupants kindly left an amp and a solar-powered generator?) I’d opt for a modified acoustic one with a single Charlie Christian pickup at the neck. On this stunning creation, using the ‘jazz’section of my eight chosen discs I could learn new licks, chords and arrangements so my days would be productively filled with amassing a new repertoire.
But then – and maybe this is the perfect solution – the ultimate back-to-basics six-string: a delicious, hand-crafted, nylonstring, Ramirez classical. Surely this is it. No amp needed and totally portable, so forays to the other side of your golden-beached haven will be filled with your Jobim, Gilberto, Bream and Williams musings; and what you already know as a guitarist would provide a great foundation for exploring new styles and techniques.You could also work out those old favourites you left behind, giving them fresh life and reminding you why they were once so important in your life.
Come to think of it, sod the posh guitar.This is a desert island: it’s steaming hot, lashing down with rain or blowing a 100mph storm.An acoustic made from solid tonewoods is going to crack, warp and be unplayable in no time. Best stick with something cheap and cheerful – maybe not quite as basic as John Lennon’s £10“guaranteed not to split”Gallotone, but a good old laminated Spanish box that would become your true best friend.
Actually I’m liking this whole vibe. I don’t even own a nylon-string so, desert island or no desert island, perhaps I’ll get myself a cheapish classical, a book of Jobim bossa nova classics and while away the coming winter nights learning How Insensitive, Quiet Nights and Desafinado. See you next time.