Pasha Malla

A New Guitar For Shithead

Hey, I just got a new guitar.

I think I was inspired by this guy, who is some sort of music magician. This is a My Bloody Valentine cover! Crazy!

gihm, “When You Sleep” by My Bloody Valentine (2011)

Which is sort of like saying Blake Griffin inspired me to buy a new pair of shorts.

NBA, “Griffin’s INSANE Dunk Of The Year!” (2012)

I’m not a particularly good, or even mildly proficient, guitar player. But mucking around on a guitar is a good thing to do when you’re home and don’t feel like pointing your face at a screen, book, or spouse. Undeterred by a lack of talent, I used to play the guitar often, sometimes with friends and their guitars, which I remember being fun; recently I finished a shit-ton of work on something that was sometimes fun, but most of the time was not very fun at all. So I was looking for some fun.

Except buying a guitar, if you’re not Slash or Marty McFly, is a terrible, humiliating experience. Of course walking out of the store with a new Samick in hand can feel a real triumph, but having to deal with the ass-hats who work in guitar shops, especially if you don’t really know what you’re doing, is one of life’s great “someone drop a dirty bomb, right here, right now” experiences. Who are these people? Miserable failed musicians and petty shitheads, every one.

I know this is unfair. Working in a guitar shop is likely as patience-trying and soul-sucking as any job in customer service. Imagine a Lamborghini dealership where any Mario Andretti-wannabe off the street could come in and give each Countach a spin… around the showroom?

averyellis, “What It’s Like To Work In A Musicstore” (2009)

But let me vent for a second. I’m insecure about this stuff, obviously, and insecurity ignites all my petty shitheadedness, and the Internet is the writer’s guitar shop, kind of… I mean, it’d be one thing if I wanted to buy the “Wayne’s World” guitar and could barely get my fingers down to play a G-chord, or picked up some gold-plated, pearl-inlaid 12-string that Robert Johnson and Johnny Cash built together at Folsom Prison out of wood salvaged from Mozart’s violin, or whatever, and noodled out, again and again, the opening riff to “Today.”

But, man. An Epiphone, the Reebok of guitars — that’s all I wanted. And all I even tried, despite a kind fellow shopper in Zubaz, who actually was playing the guitar from “Wayne’s World,” or something like it, and by all accounts (mine) deserved to be, and who interrupted his Yngwie Malmsteen shredding to encourage me to try the upscale Gibson version of my Dot. (Though he was a little sad, too, the way he hung Excalibur back on the wall, admitted he was poor, and told me, basically, “It will be mine. Oh, yes. It will be mine.”)

Penelope Spheeris, “Wayne’s World” (1992)

My friend Mat is something of a guitar hero — to me, anyway. He’s really good at guitar. He owns a Flying-V! Mat gave me the following advice when guitar shopping, which I am going to reproduce in full, almost, minus some potentially alienating references to our 20-year friendship:

1. Sit down with it, spend time with it. I have a pattern of styles I go through when trying new instruments. A) Clean tone: shift through various pick-ups, volumes and tone settings; I like Tom Petty, soft Beatles, Albert King, with dashes of Kenny Burrell and John Scofield. B) See how the chords feel with low level blues gain; if they feel super muddy, the guitar won’t likely perform in this style of music. C) Rock, same crap. D) Hard Rock, same crap minus the chording, anything beyond fifths will start to sound muddy. E) Furious Metal Mayhem — simply ask: Does this sound like Slayer?

Slayer, “Seasons In The Abyss” from the album, “Seasons In The Abyss” (1990)

2. The fretboard: I cannot stress how important this is. You need to love your fretboard. Tonal quality is important, but if you don’t love your fretboard, you just won’t play as much. Pay very close attention to the action, listen for fret buzz, play all over — I often play scales and arpeggios all the way up and down. While doing this focus on how it feels; unplug it and complete the same exercise. Also, never let the salesman plug the guitar you are trying into a different amp. Every guitar sounds awesome through a Mesa Boogie. Make sure the amp is as similar as possible to what you play at home.

3. Construction: Look for splits, cracks, peeling, bridge-health, tuner-health (do they feel slippery?). Ensure natural harmonics occur where expected and glisten. Also, give it a good aggressive pounding—see it how it holds up, stays in tune, etc.

4. Never pay sticker price for a guitar unless it is already discounted, and then still try to haggle a bit.

Needless to say I failed at most of these things. I don’t have an amp at home, I had to look up Kenny Burrell, I don’t really like Slayer, my arpeggios are the wretched fumblings of a Parkinson’s-ridden alcoholic, no one would ever claim what I do on a guitar “glistens,” and I’m only capable of haggling with one person, the Ismaili guy down the street who tries to rip me off on mangoes.

Despite all this and a gnomish Ray Davies clone trying to up-sell me by strapping some goofy modish thing on himself and, I kid you not, strumming the first few bars of “You Really Got Me,” I stuck with my gut, and went with the Epiphone. It’s black, and big, and I don’t know shit-else about it, but man! Every Pete Townsend windmill feels like I’m punching Darth Vader in the face, and is it ever fun.

So what now? I guess I try to “get better.” Though I’m not really interested in ever being that good. The only guitar solo I’ve ever liked is Prince’s at some Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing — and only then because at the end he throws his guitar in the air and it doesn’t come back down.

Prince Reigns at “Rock n’Roll Hall Of Fame Induction” (2004)

Wait, I kind of like this kid too — does what he gets into at 5:41 classify as “wailing”? I think so, probably. Also he’s about Prince’s size.

Avi Buffalo, “Remember Last Time” (Live on KCRW, 2010)

What I really want is to play guitar like that Japanese YouTube magician who calls himself Gihm and Hennes Katt. He’s no Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kirk Hammett or whoever else ends up on the cover of guitar magazines; there’s nothing particularly virtuosic about what he does — at least not of the soloing-on-your-knees-with-your-earlobe-and-also-the-guitar’s-on-fire variety. But I like that he takes songs he clearly loves and gets at something essential in all of them, yet still makes them his own. Here’s his cover of Godspeed’s “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III.”*

gihm, “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” by Godspeed (2008)

What I’m after, I guess, is fluency. Though first I should probably buy an amp?

– Pasha Malla

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Pasha Malla is the author of "The Withdrawal Method" (stories), "All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts" (poems, sort of), "People Park" (a novel), "Erratic Fire, Erratic Passion: The poetry of sportstalk" (found poems), "Fugue States" (a novel), and "Kill the Mall (a novel)."