do guitars have personalities? on naming a guitar.

A while back, MV commented on a photo and attributed a gender to one of my guitars, probably following my comment that it made me want to play Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” due to its shape…

She postulated that the guitar was female. Perhaps due to the song I named.

Interesting, I’m not usually one to attribute inanimate objects with animate qualities, but it led me to question if I should, particularly with objects that I am very close to. I’ve always viewed my guitars as tools with which to express myself through, very much like a photographer does with their camera or painter through canvass, paints and brushes. I’ve never thought of them as distinct “personalities”, although they do have qualities distinct to them.

I know of a number of guitarists who have given particular guitars they are close to names. Steve Vai has “Evo” and “Flo”, both are obviously female and he does make love to them every night he plays them. BB King has his various versions of “Lucille” named after a woman who two men fought over in a juke joint, which led to fire which destroyed the bar and almost the guitar King was playing that night. Eric Clapton had “Blackie” and “Brownie”, both built from the best parts of various guitars and named due to the most obvious of attributes. Neil Young has “Old Black”, again named to the most obvious attributes and “Hank” named after its former owner – Hank Williams. Eddie Van Halen has “Frankenstein” (rather obviously named due to its construction), Stevie Ray Vaughan had “Number One” (obvious reason), “Charlie” (the man who built it) and “Lennie” (his ex-wife who gave it to him).

Heck – a friend of mine has named his iPhone, whose camera and photographic apps enable him to do remarkable things using both the power and limitations of his weapon of choice. The name he has given his iPhone is one of power, magic and mystery and sums up a lot of what he does with the camera phone.

Giving an inanimate object a name seems to grant it certain characteristics – Frankenstein did indeed sound monsterous and destroyed all within its path, Lennie was a seemingly delicate guitar that could scream. Brian May’s “Red Special” is the guitar he built with his father as a child and is indeed red and has a unique tone that has never been duplicated.

In his book “Skinny Legs and All”, author Tom Robbins has given inanimate objects names and in doing so imbued them with characteristics and personalities. The characters “Painted Stick”, “Conch Shell”, “Spoon”, “Dirty Sock” and “Can o’ Beans” act as a Greek chorus of sorts reflecting on the events of the story and in essence reflect man’s search to understand the soul and achieve oneness with the divine. Giving these inanimate objects names granted them with souls.

When it comes to naming their guitars, their owners all had close relationships with their instruments and used them to define their sound for an era. Each of these guitars became part of the image for the musicians, so much that in some cases, they have trademarked the shape and image. Brian May with his Red Special and especially Eddie Van Halen with his red, white and black stripes…

Stevie Ray Vaughan was interesting in that he attributed gender to many of his guitars, Charlie was always referred to as a male and Lennie, was always female. Most other guitarists seem to refer to their instruments in an off the cuff way as female.

The opposite is true of Pete Townsend who never seemed to idealize his guitars and at one point had a flock of Gibson Les Pauls so large that he used large numbers on the face of each of them in order to differentiate him. They, of course, got smashed if they served their purpose or he was pissed off.

To me, until recently, a guitar had always been an “it” as I view them as tools with which to do a particular job. Some have warranted titles to describe them – “Old Blue” (my first good guitar and yes, it’s blue), “Longhorn” (looks like an old Lyre with long horns anyone who has seen Balderdash and Humbug or Tabasco play live has seen it), “The Paddle” (Steinberger Bass – look it up folks) and I have always had a “Number One” around, which represents the main instrument I’m using at the moment. Until recently “Number One” hasn’t stuck to a specific instrument as it represents a set of requirements that suit what I need at the time.

This all changed when I met Ken Liscombe and commissioned the KL15, currently titled “Fifteen” (yeah I know, not very original) and current holder of the appelation “Number One”. This guitar represents everything I have wanted in an instrument and more and speaks with the voice that I knew I could. Now I have Fifteen’s sibling, the KL10, who has not been around long enough to earn a title, however is a strong contender for “Number One” based on initial trials, we’ll see how it rises to the occasion when I use it live.

As for personalities, Old Blue has been around the longest, is ornery, noisy and finicky, but can sound refined if you take care of it, Longhorn has a rough and wild sound that needs to be tamed. This begs the question if the names occur due to the nature of the guitars or do the guitars take on the qualities the names attribute. I won’t get into this chicken or egg discussion at this point.

As to gender, I’m still not there just quite yet. Don’t know if I’ll ever be, although I guess you can say the cord does get stuck into the jack socket…


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