Nev Marten reminisces about his early days of buying gear, joining bands and learning the ropes…
People of my vintage grew up at a time when there were essentially two types of guitar – objects that were guitar-shaped with strings and real, grown-up, professional instruments that were completely out of our league.
My first guitar was a Rosetti Lucky 7 with painted-on binding and flat fretboard. It definitely sat in the former category but served my fumblings until I got my first guitar of the ‘other’ type, later on.
Also neither I, nor anyone I knew, had any knowledge about gear, so I made some terrible mistakes as well as some lucky purchases. Here’s my early story of guitars and amps won and lost, of errors in judgement and some lucky encounters.
When I was 19 I got a job at a corrugated cardboard factory in Chelmsford, where I rose to the dizzy heights of machine setter-operator. By 21 was earning £40 a week. I didn’t drink, smoke or have any interest in other substances. So I saved. And I bought guitars. Within weeks I had enough for a West End trip to buy my first ‘real’ electric. It was a stripped body, 1967 Telecaster and cost £105. I proudly took the guitar to work but they just laughed. I’d clearly been conned out of nearly three weeks’ wages for an obviously home-made piece of junk. I assured them it was a “very prestigious instrument, played by the likes of Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck”.
It’s Only Rock ‘N’Roll
I had nothing to play the Tele through so that was my next goal. An ad in the paper said, “amplifier and speaker for sale, £50”. It was an RSC Bass Regent, a 40-watt valve head with a cab containing one 15-inch and one 12-inch speaker. Cranked to the max it sang with delightful distortion. I was in heaven!
One day the doorbell rang and it was a local Hell’s Angel. He’d seen me and my brother jamming, through the window.
“You play guitar and bass, right? Well, I sing rock ‘n’ roll and you’ll be my backing group,” said the biker. “Erm... okay.”
So I was in a band, which gave my playing a real boost. We’d practise in the church hall and local musos would hear us, come in and introduce themselves. Some would become lifelong friends.
My next purchase was the white, ‘possibly ex-Hendrix’ Strat that I’ve spoken of before. I sold the Telecaster to buy it, but it wasn’t a patch on my sonorous plank of alder.
My next mistake cost months of savings. I wanted a ‘proper’ amp so sold the Bass Regent and invested in a Fender Dual Showman rig with 15-inch JBL speakers. It was so loud, with so much clean headroom that my weedy Strat just couldn’t make it work. It was hopeless but I was too dumb to think of buying a fuzz pedal. My mate’s 1963 AC30 saved the day and the Dual Showman became our (new) band’s bass amp/PA.
My First Gibson Arrives
I’d had the two Fenders but now wanted something humbucking. I heard about a Cherry Red ES-335 for sale, so the Strat was relegated to spare. I soon ditched it though – got the same £115 that I’d paid. I could never have verified its provenance and this was years before ‘artist’ guitar sales anyway.
The 335 was a keeper but the idea of a Les Paul just wouldn’t go away. Another friend knew Alf Fidler, then head of guitar repairs at Selmer’s in Braintree. Alf had got him a black Custom on the ‘staff purchase scheme’ and kindly did the same for me.
Unfortunately the ‘fretless wonder’ wire was so low it was impossible to bend strings, so I traded the Custom and bought a new amp. It was a tweed-covered 4x10 combo from a new American company called Peavey. It had master volume, reverb and was brilliant. That, my 335 and a new black Strat powered my gigs for years.
Dozens of guitars and amps would come and go, but those first mistakes and lucky happenstances set the scene on a life that would forever revolve around guitars; playing, repairing and writing about them. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world!
Nev with his ‘possibly ex-Hendrix’ Strat and Fender Dual Showman