While I Gently Weep for My Guitar

photo by Julia Gazdag

There is a photo album on my computer named “guitar porn”. I also have a copy of this album on my phone, because when I’m out and about and doing things with my day, I need to know that should I suddenly feel the need for a Red 12-string Gibson ES, I can pull it up and ogle it at my leisure. A girl can’t always stop by her favorite guitar store and mess around, especially when they’ve all had to move to the Valley or go out of business because Guitar Center ruins everything (namely small, mom and pop guitar stores who were minding their own business while carrying quality vintage products).

Back in the day when times were more simple, children still laughed and high school was a place I was required to visit daily by state law, there was a magical land where faeries sang and unicorns danced. It was the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Gardner St. in Hollywood, where a half dozen little guitar stores challenged the looming Guitar Center with a bevy (bevy, I say!) of beautiful or rare or just downright bizarre instruments.

There was always a Beatles or Tom Petty model Rickenbacker to be found, 12-strings made by ancient, long lost civilizations of artisans and even a Bender, which is basically a Fender Stratocaster that looks like it was molded out of an acid trip. There was a 40-year-old Martin 12-string that sounded like angel babies put it together. Wait, no, that one was in Santa Monica. Whatever. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, google is right there. Keep up.

Then there was the Chet Atkins. If the world were a fair place, we would have a pretty house with a picket fence and 2.5 children with brown hair and 12 strings. At first I picked him up because I’m a brazen woman who can’t keep her hands off anything with a dozen strings. He caught my eye because he had a thin body and a big, round pickup that was fitted to his sound hole. These aren’t euphemisms; they are technical terms so stop snickering. Or don’t. Whatever.

I sat on a nearby stool and thought I’d play a few random chords and see if this guitar’s sound lived up to its aesthetics.

I struck the strings.

The earth shook.

Mountains imploded.

Baby goats pranced.

This guitar was perfectly constructed. Each note rung out individually, yet in flawless harmony with the rest. The strings were perfectly placed so that it felt like I was playing a 6 –string. It was so perfect, in fact, that before I knew what was happening, I had rewritten and finished a tune I had been working on for weeks. I was enamored. I had to know everything about this beautiful invader who had stormed the castle of my heart and pitter-pattered across the drawbridge into the bailey of my love.

He was a Gibson guitar, part of the Chet Atkins family. They made very few 12-string models of his kind, and this store had two (I played the other one, but there were no fireworks – clearly I had stumbled onto a special little guy). Apparently the store had bought him and his brother from Mick Mars (of Motley Crüe fame). He was also $2000, which is pretty standard for a guitar of his caliber, but devastatingly heartbreaking for my college freshman wallet.

A few months later he disappeared from the store’s website listing. It broke my heart. Who had taken him home? Was it a good home? Was he appreciated for the brilliant, ravishing man he was? Guitar. I meant guitar. I said guitar, right? Right. Several years later he showed up on the site again, but when I went to visit the store it had moved to somewhere in the Valley and their website was taken down in a few days. When it went back up Chet was gone.

Sunset and Gardner is a wasteland now. Voltage Guitars has become a furniture store, Future Music is a Thai restaurant or something and Freedom Guitars has brown paper up in the windows and is clearly being converted into some other establishment that I doubt I’ll care about. Guitar Center still stands across the street, looming maliciously with its giant entry-way trying to lure in customers willing to spend their hard-earned guitar money on Japanese Fender Strats fresh from the factory, forced upon them by dudes who probably have Nickelback posters on their walls at home.

The same dudes who consistently ask me, as I look askance at these second rate perfunctory instruments, if I’m waiting for my boyfriend. They aren’t trying to pick me up, they just assume that as a female, I must be in there because a boy dragged me. Sometimes I look up at them and say, “I thought you guys might at least have a Rickenbacker Jazz-Bo downstairs but I guess not,” and walk out the door as they try to figure out if I just burned them or not (I did). Other times I just put on my headphones and ignore them, hoping that maybe someday, when expendable income is more than just a fantasy, I’ll run into Chet again and we can be together at last.

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