When I was 16 years old, I bought a guitar.
It was a bit of an impulse. I’d been working all summer as an inventory clerk for the county Board of Education, and having very little to spend my first real wages on, I’d just been putting the money in my savings account. I was visiting a friend in Greenville, and we stopped by a music store because he wanted to look for something. And there was this guitar. It was a black Rickenbacker solid-body six-string,1 and the guy who was selling it needed exactly $250 to buy a keyboard for a gig, so that’s what he was selling for. I didn’t know a lot about guitars, but it seemed like a pretty good deal, so I decided on the spot to buy it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to play it, and I turned out to not be very good at figuring it out for myself. A few years later, needing money to move, I reluctantly sold it to a friend. But I always regretted it, 2 and told myself that one day, I was going to buy another guitar and learn to play it.
Ten years later…
A near-death experience has a remarkable ability to bring your future plans into sharp focus. I decided that I should consider doing those things I’d always meant to get around to sooner rather than later, and so I began looking for an instrument to suit me. I finally purchased a Fender 12-string acoustic3 from a shop in Alpharetta, and signed myself up for a 12 week group class at Mars Music. Once I’d completed that, I borrowed song books from anyone I could, and leafed through them looking for songs I knew the chords to. These I copied into a binder, which I then played through as much as I could, trying to develop at least enough technique to accompany myself. I’ve kept at that over the years, adding new songs as often as I can and trying to improve my playing.
I haven’t done too badly at that, I suppose. I’ve played on stages in front of tens of people from time to time. But a long time ago I found the plateau of where I could push myself, and I’ve been stalled there ever since. Good enough to do what I’ve been doing, but not where I wanted to be. I’ve known for quite some time that to get to the next level, I need an instructor. For one reason or another, I’ve not actually taken the step of finding one. There was always a good reason. I didn’t have the money, or I didn’t have the time, or we were going to be moving soon4
But there was also fear. For all that I seem gregarious and outgoing, I hide a lot of shyness and social anxiety, and the truth is that part of what I had to overcome was my own mental blocks. I knew going in that I was going to have to say to a potential teacher: “This is what I have. 15 years of bad habits, cheats and short-cuts that have kept me from stepping up to the next level. I will have to unlearn those before I can move forward”, and that was a harder thing to do that I realised.
But after searching around, I finally decided to take that step. I reached out to an instructor I found on the web who isn’t far from where I’m now living and inquired about availability, and have since exchanged some emails5 and set up a time to go in and meet with him. I’m hoping that we click and that I’ll be able to expand my horizons and start doing some of the things that have felt out of my reach.
And despite all my trepidation, I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m pretty sure it was a Rickenbacker 230, but since I don’t have it any more, I can’t really be certain. ↩
I’ve happily in recent years, thanks to Facebook, reconnected with the friend, but sadly she sold it to someone else some years ago, so there’s no chance of getting it back. Alas. ↩
I liked the wider fretboard on the 12 string. I have large hands. ↩
which has been the excuse for pretty much the last two years, honestly. ↩
I told him a version of this story you’re reading, with a lot more focus on the specific skills that I’m lacking and wanting to pick up. So at least he knows what he’s in for when I show up the first time. ↩