Sunday, 14 February 2010

turned out nice again

Okay, so while the fashion police question my "style", I'll move on.

I bet you wish you had one of these, eh?  Just in case you're not sure what exactly it is, let me explain . . .

Many years ago now - let us assume it was last Century - I was looking for a travel guitar.  Knowing that a) I couldn't afford a Martin Backpacker at some £500 (or, indeed anything like it) and b) Mrs Dave was not going to be impressed with filling the house with more shindogu* no matter what, I "shopped around".  In a guitar magazine a few weeks before we were due to go to Greece for a holiday, I noticed this intriguing advert.  It offered a Yamaha "travel guitar" at much less than 50 beer vouchers!  Bargain.  I had to have one.  It came in a padded gig bag (!) and had a pickup.  This was the aural equivilent of manna.

And then it arrived.

The Cyberman is about one foot tall.  I have included the "guitar's" older sibling, the Fylde, for comparison.  So, as you can tell, it is about two and a half foot long - a normal guitar such as the Fylde, is about 3 and a half foot long.   Obviously I opened the box excitedly.  "Is that it?" asked Mrs D, "it's a bit small, isn't it?  Is it a toy?"

"No, no," I replied.  "It's a travel guitar.  They're supposed to be small.  So you can, well, take them with you."

"Oh.   How much was it?"

As you can guess, it wasn't going to be easy to convince people that it was, indeed, a serious instrument.  Actually, I've stopped trying.  In fact, I stopped trying a long time ago.  It is a gut-strung small (understatement) guitar that is tuned as though you've got a capo on the fifth fret.  If only Yamaha were making them in the 1970s, Ian Anderson would obviously had one and no doubt used it on Aqualung and other major albums**. Having a pickup in it makes it easy to tune with an electronic tuner - I can't really imagine why it would need a pickup in for any other reason.  The instrument has fairly standard machine heads, so does tend to be rather unbalanced towards the neck end.  Made of a sort of balsa wood/lolly pop stick combo the instrument itself is very light.  So, totally unbalanced, then.  Rather like how people seem to view me whenever I take it on board a plane.

A few years ago I took it to France to a friend's house which was fine as it was in the boot of the car and nobody noticed.  However, when trying to walk on to a plane at Gatwick one year I was challenged by Security.  "Er, what's that sticking out of your rucksack?"

"It's a guitar," I said innocently.

Suppressing a snigger, the said Security Guard made me take it out of its padded gig bag to view it.  By his bemused smile I could almost tell what he was thinking.  "You can't take that on board."

"Why not?  It's a guitar."

For a few minutes it seemed that I was going to have to leave my pride and joy at the airport - the rest of the passengers were boarding.  My fellow travellers - kids, friends, wife were all looking a bit fed up by now.  A few choked back tears were the answer.  Did they really belive that in the aftermath of 9/11 I was going to try to attack the pilot?

Eventually, I was able to sit on the veranda of our Greek apartment - Corfu? Crete? - and strum away to my heart's content.  The sound, which I'm sure by now you are desperate to know, would make George Formby swoon.  The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the label inside the soundhole bears the legend "Guitalele".  Yes, it's across between a guitar and George Harrison's second favourite instrument.  It's a six string ukelele!  Lush sounding chords echoed out across the bay on many a sultry Grecian evening.

Who else but the Japanese would come up with such a ridiculous, possibly useless instrument?  And sell it to the British as a "travel guitar"?  Who else would be mug enough to buy it but your's truly?  I must admit that I don't tend to play it very often - I don't even try to take it on foreign holidays and pass it off as a serious instrument anymore.  But.

But recently I went to see Newton Faulkner at the Ipswich Regent along with most of the chaps mentioned in the female singer CD business.  And during his one man band show, what else did he bring out and talk about?  He played a serious song on it and wowed the audience.  "I've got one of those," I mentioned later.

"Yes, you would have, wouldn't you?"

* a Japanese term for all the useless crap we fill our lives with.
** Many Jethro Tull songs were played on small parlour sized guitars usually with a capo on the 5th or 7th fret.


Mike C. said...

"your's truly"? sp.

Mike C. said...

Sorry, meant to ask (before I got sniffy about your spelling): how does a pickup work on a non-metal string instrument? Is it more like a microphone? Can you manipulate the output in an effects amp, like an electric?

If so, this may be exactly what my daughter needs.


Andy Wright said...

Saw Fairport at the Corn Exchange Cambridge, last night. Excellent concert and part of the set included the entire band (except the drummer who played a washboard!)playing ukuleles........superb.

Dave Leeke said...

Yes, it's not good for an English teacher to make silly mistakes like that, is it? I'm in a quandary now - do I change it so Brendan doesn't find out or just leave it to show me up as the true charlatan I am?

In my defence, I was writing late in the evening after several pints of Bombadier and a few glasses of Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2007(a fine Tarragona red wine).

Andy, I seem to remember Fairport doing that at Cropredy this year. However, Eric, the remaining brain cell, isn't quite sure.

As for the guitalele I assume it is some sort of piezo bridge pickup. It sounds quite good through my Digitech RP55 guitar effects pedal on the "sustainium" setting but not very good on acoustic sounds. It also sounded excellent just now when I accidentally coughed into it and heard my cough with heavy metal sustain and digital delay on it. In a roundabout sort of way - and a much simpler answer - yes you can.

Dave Leeke said...

Yes it's me again. Interestingly I've just Googled the thing and it seems that it is becoming a bit of a cult instrument. There seem to be loads of videos on the ubiquitous youtube. Be careful - it looks like some don't have the pickup, though.

I bet Ry Cooder's got one, too.