Guitars. Guitars. Guitars.

Last night Tom asked me if I’d like to help him figure out the song “I Wonder,” by Robert Cray. Tom has already passed me in ear-skills and can start figuring out a song right from the start, getting the basic structure down on the verses on the first listen. All I have to do is help plug in a few of the non-dominant chords, though once I start making guesses, Tom often finds the right one before I do. I think Tom has a great ear because of the violin training his mom foisted on him throughout his childhood. I’ve got to catch up!

I’ve been looking at free online guitar lessons on guitarnoise.com to pick up a little theory. Last week I learned about pentatonic scales, and how the major and relative minor share the same notes and playing pattern. When we figured out “I Wonder,” and then played it through together along with the CD, I remembered the pentatonic pattern and how to apply it to the key we were using, B flat minor. Just like that, I was able to improvise over the chords and play a simple solo that fit the song. I was giddy! I flung up my fist and yelled, “I AM ROBERT CRAY!” I had never learned anything about what goes into playing lead until last week. I always wonder how they know which notes NOT to use. This lesson narrowed it down just enough to get me started.

Carried away by that little breakthrough, I decided to work on a song I’ve loved since the eighth grade but had never thought I’d be able to figure out—“Better Off Dead,” from the Elton John album Captain Fantastic. My childhood best friend introduced me to Elton John back then—her mom was a cool mom who had rock albums around the apartment (along with “educational” paperback books by the likes of Henry Miller and Erica Jong—you know, those books where you hope the mom doesn’t walk in and ask what you’re reading). I figured out most of “Better Off Dead” last night, though I’m missing parts of one section. Elton John is a little challenging because the songs are more piano based than guitar based, but this one is in C. I like it because of the gorgeous strumming, probably 12-string, that accompanies the rise and fall of the ringing piano. The singing and lyrics add roughness. That whole album is great.

I have the day off today and I took my guitar to Emerald City Guitars to have the technician look at the cracks and see if I should/can have it repaired. He said the guitar is a nice one with a solid top and solid rosewood back and sides—I hadn’t known the back and sides were solid—and agreed with me that it’s a little unusual. It is a grand concert style with a wood pick-guard that is finished into the top instead of a plastic guard glued on top of the finish, and wood inlay fret markers and rosette. The sound is bright and even.

My dad bought this guitar used in 1979 and it had had a crack repaired beforehand. The technician at Emerald City says it’s good to use a guitar humidifier, which I do, but that sometimes wood will crack in spite of your best efforts. I’ll have him fix it in a few weeks when he’s not so busy. It will be a third or less of what I’d spend on another guitar sounding better than mine and with the same level of detail. Used solid-wood guitars are practically as expensive as new ones. It’s fun to go into the shops and play them, but I love the idea of keeping my old guitar and continuing to enjoy it more and more.