Nev Marten rem­i­nisces about his early days of buy­ing gear, join­ing bands and learn­ing the ropes…

Guitarist - - Opinion - neville marten

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

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