“Planks,” Revisited

Ideas tend to run in circles around my brain. Now, an older idea has made its way back to the front of my mind. Temporarily.

A couple of years ago, I had a thought. My beloved guitar and recording gear collection was gone, sold off a piece at a time over the years. I wanted to get some of that gear back.

Trouble is, music gear (guitars, amplifiers, effects, and all those accessories) can be incredibly expensive. I would have to undertake this reclamation project on a budget, if at all.

Nearly every major guitar manufacturer (Fender, Gibson, Paul Reed Smith, etc.) has a bargain line of somewhat less expensive gear. It’s built overseas (usually China or Mexico), and cost a fraction of what guitars made in the USA do. And here’s the real secret: players at my level (let’s call ourselves dedicated amateurs) can barely tell the difference.

I decided to collect a few of these instruments. I took to calling them “planks.” It’s not the most flattering name to call a guitar, but it seemed fitting.

When I say most amateurs can’t tell the difference, I should’ve added one condition: assuming said amateurs had never played the “top of the line” guitars beforehand. That was my problem. I went through more than a little “trial and error” with my planks. Sometimes, the drop in quality was too obvious to ignore.

I’ve bought and sold back more than a couple of instruments. What I wanted were guitars that would primarily cover my tendencies toward progressive rock, blues, metal, and jazz. It was a bit of a struggle at first. But now, I believe I have what I’ve been looking for.

Cbabi Blue is my artistic and proggy Stratocaster, but it’s not purely a Squire-line Fender model, as the headstock says. This guitar has a rather interesting history, culminating in him being “Frankenstein-ed” from at least four different guitars. The goal is to write a couple of King Crimson-like pieces with him.

I’ve never deluded myself into believing I could afford a Gibson guitar while raising a child. They are wonderful instruments, but even the cheapest Gibson can cost $2,000 or more. Not on my salary, I’m afraid. I went into a guitar shop to buy some tone knobs for my Strat. While the employee went on a search, I saw this beauty hanging on a rack. It’s an Epiphone ES-339, and the store wanted $400 for him. Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to pick him up. We bonded almost instantly. The feel of his neck sent a devilish grin across my face. “Oh, you’re a little troublemaker, aren’t you?” I said to myself. And that was that. Little Troublemaker came home a couple of weeks later.

I love the idea of playing the occasional progressive metal tune, a la TOOL, or perhaps some Return to Forever or Mahavishnu Orchestra-like fusion. Incredibly lofty goals, I admit. But it’s nice to have something to shoot for. Trouble was, I didn’t feel like I had the right guitar for the job. The instrument that made the most sense for these tasks was the Gibson Les Paul. Like the ES-349, these guitars could be incredibly expensive. Even the LP Studio model, considered entry level, could run close to $1,700. Not happening while I have a teenager to provide for. I also knew the color scheme I wanted. While I certainly admire the “cherry burst” Pauls, I thought something in black and white suited my mindset best. And then one day while hanging around at Killer Vintage, there it was! And it was in Epiphone form! Much like discovering a USA Fender Stratocaster hanging on the store’s racks, this was a rare find indeed. I looked at the price, and knew I had found what I was looking for. It cost me just a bit more than the ES-349, but that was because the Les Paul had a decent case to go with it. I call him The Menace, because sinister things will happen with him in my hands.

What to do with these beasts? My original thought was to write a song or two on each one, compiling them for a CD (or downloadable project on Bandcamp) I could record and then give away for fun. And that still might happen.  But for now, the answer seems pretty simple: just play them. Learn new scales and chord shapes, learn other people’s songs so I can play along with records and videos … just enjoy them. Maybe one day my chops will be up to sitting in with some other cats in a jazz or blues setting. Who knows? And to be frank, who cares? The key is to simply have fun.

It might be cool to give a slightly customized treatment to a Squire Telecaster one day, but there’s no rush for that. Finding a special plank is usually reliant on some kind of happy accident. There are a lot of guitar shops out there. Who knows? Maybe that special instrument and I will meet up somewhere down the road.


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My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.

Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com

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