Possessions. In music, they own you. But not in the way you might think.
Which is why, this summer, I embraced a faulty instrument and let go of a high-end sound system. It’s all about getting back to my roots as a songwriter.
In college, circa 1979, I ponied up $100 for a Yamaha acoustic guitar with a dynamic range whose voicing carried richly: no electronic boost required.
In 2012, after a layoff, having stowed away the Yamaha in favor of a stunning electric acoustic Ovation, and after a summer spent running an open mic hosted through the generosity of a local business owner, I had visions of more gigs and ponied up a $1,000 for a hand-picked sound system with a Behringer mixer, Alto speakers and Sennheiser and Shure mics.
Life has a way of disrupting the best of plans. That layoff forced me to take a job in Providence, downsize from a house in New London to an apartment in Pawtucket, and stow my sound system in a closet in my partner’s home back in Connecticut.
Meanwhile, I kept the trusty old Yamaha in its case, taking it out rarely and noticing that the action was so high it was nearly impossible to play.
I eased this spring into a new, though short-lived career as a full-time freelance writer, living with my partner near Hartford, the Providence job a distant memory, and no full-time work on the horizon. And I started to think about selling the sound system. Not just for the money, which I sorely needed, but because it deserved to be used, and apart from attending a few open mics here and there as a guest, I didn’t see myself making use of it long-term.
At about the same time, I took the Yamaha to a local repairman, who said the laminate top and high action made the guitar virtually worthless, though I could spend $60 to adjust the nut and saddle. The neck was another matter altogether, and the expense would cost more than the guitar was worth.
After talking to a second craftsman, though, I made an important change: I removed the medium strings that were pressuring the neck and put light gauge strings on it.
That guitar has never sounded fuller! And while the action is imperfect, it is manageable, especially with the help of a capo.
I wasn’t even thinking about the sound system, until one day, on Facebook, I noticed a young, talented fellow songwriter mentioning how she had to borrow a sound system for her last gig. A few instant messages later, she was planning to come check out my sound system and see if she wanted to buy it.
I set it up with care that night, and true to form, it took only a few minutes, it’s that lovely and well put together. “House of the Rising Sun.” My own anthem, “Through It All.” And for my partner, Lee, “Come Back.” I played and played and got that out of my system.
Kala Farnham came to our house, sang and played a song on my guitar, played with the mixer and listened to me play, then hooked her keyboard up to it. That’s all it took and she was ready to buy, discounted, the equipment I had so eagerly bought four years ago. We loaded it carefully into her car.
“I hope you get good use out of it,” I said.
“I’ll run it into the ground,” she said.
I knew my beloved, if underused, sound system was in good hands.
As for me, far from giving up music, I have placed the Yamaha in a guitar stand beside the Ovation in a small study Lee has dubbed the music room. I pick it up often.
A late-comer to songwriting and even later to performing, with a carefully crafted CD now dated circa 2010, I am in transition. I have a great deal of unrecorded material, some of which is worthy of an audience beyond SoundCloud and ReverbNation. I may next, now that I have a full-time job in Hartford, plan to invest again — in ProTools or whatever recording equipment would allow me to share another CD or two with my fans.
But for now, I have a wonderful electronic acoustic guitar for performances out, and my trusty, lilting, sweet Yamaha to write music on. Truth be told, I’ve used the “good” guitar for far too many run-of-the-mill activities and it needs to be babied more. But I’m not parting with either one.
(I did hang onto that Shure mic. You never can tell, once I adjust to my new job, when it might come in handy. I like to, as they say, keep a hand in.)