Years ago, there were two boys. They went together to the same school. Let’s call them Boy1 and Boy2. Boy2 was a couple of years older, but he knew so much about guitars and Boy1 wanted to learn. Boy1 used to play the piano, but only because he had to. He wasn’t much into Mozart at that time. He was rebellious, like most teens, and all that screamed inside at that age came out through the strings of a guitar he got for his birthday from his father. He learned alone, he felt the notes alone, no teacher, no guidance, pure instinct, and love, compared to nothing. Boy 2 played very well. He loved blues and country and he always said Martin was the best guitar for blues, he had one. Then, after high school, they parted ways. Boy 1 went to university, became a lawyer, but his love for music and guitars grew stronger, the pull – irresistible. He not only collected them, he fell in love with them and their voice and mood. Three years ago he decided to go to a music shop in Vienna and try a Martin guitar, suddenly remembering his old friend. There was a new one, 8000 euros, and he tried it – didn’t sound that great. However, there was another one, an old one. He played it for a bit – it was four times better and 4 times cheaper and he bought it. He was so happy to have it. Three years passed and in the spring of 2020, Boy1, who is already Man1, decided to look up his old friend. He googled him and, what do you know! His friend had died a little bit earlier that the time he bought the guitar from that music shop. He’s sure now that his old friend’s spirit is in the guitar he has at home. “There’s nothing surer, that is his guitar!” he says.
While I was listening to this story, I felt like in a movie. Remember “The Red Violin”? Well, something like that. My interview with this successful and very open man was one of the perks of my job.
Q: What was the first song you remember which made you fall in love with music and guitars?
A: It began when I was a boy, as a rebellion against my parents, and it came with the first rock music I heard on the radio. They played bullshit all the time, but then there was Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple, “Highway Star”. This song summed up all that power I felt inside me. And then “Child in Time”… these first songs were my protest, my act of disobedience. But then the music changed. When I was 18, I had a pretty rough time in hospitals, it all turned out for the best and I discovered Eric Clapton. “You look wonderful tonight” got me through some rather dark times, gave me power and belief in the future. And you know, people never believe me, but I learned the guitar by myself, I played so much, I experimented with notes and chords with no one to show me. The guitar became like my third arm. I can play blindfolded, I can improvise anytime I want, I play in a band, and all that is wonderful. Now, after a good day, or a bad day, I get home, pick one of my guitars and I know I will have a new tune.
Q: What is the sensation when you play? Is it possible to describe it?
A: You see, with the classical guitar, you learn things at school or at University. It’s a matter of study and discipline. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bach. He is my inspiration for many tunes and I try to include something of him. Every guitarist finds his style, but we all learn from the best, from those before us. For me, playing is the inspiration and the feeling. I cannot possibly set the guitar from the feeling. When I was at university and started falling in love, the guitar was an expression of the hidden side of me, of my feelings. The sound of the guitar… it’s so hard to explain… With the electric guitar, not so much with the acoustic, it’s like showering water hitting your back, it’s the trembling… People don’t see it. They would shake their heads and would think “It’s just a guitar.” But the tones, especially with the blues guitar, they are linked straight to your soul. Emotions, bad times, unrequited love – it all has got to do with the desire. When the soul desires, I think the very desire is more important than the fulfillment of the desire. Guitars are the voice of desire coming from your soul.
Q: I watched a music teacher, who was telling his students (they were only boys) “Chase guitars, don’t chase girls. Girls will come and go, the guitar is always with you.” Do you agree with that statement?
A: I think you are mostly right here. The guitar is the base. I can’t live without them. Sometimes, I think I’d get ill without them. I have so much stress in my life, I think we all do and I believe they keep me healthy. At my place, there are always 6-7 guitars in each room. Thankfully, the Internet provides for a background band, you know… the bass, the drums, the piano… and you can relieve the stress, or only play the acoustic guitar. I know they are not human, they are no pets, but they have a life of their own.
Q: Let’s think for a moment about the statement: “Play the guitar like you play a woman.”
A: To me, the strongest relation between a guitar and a woman is through blues. The bending of the strings of the electric guitar it’s all different. The blues guitars are not like the others, and I’m talking about the solo paying, the techniques introduced by great guitarists like Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Gary Moore, and many others. The blues guitar represents in the best possible way the love between a man and a woman. Also, blues is erotic. Imagine a woman stripping her clothes. You won’t play Bach, will you? You’ll play blues. Blues is the perfect sound to relate to love and sex.
Q: According to some musicians, a guitar is like a woman – the more you learn, the more you need to learn. What is your view on that?
A: Yes, and the more you want, too. With guitars, you have growth, development. With women… well, you can talk about them forever, write books, poems… the context is so complicated. With the guitars, it is much simpler. When a man is in love, his feelings are so strong and here a blues guitar helps a lot. For example, take “Have you ever loved a woman” by Eric Clapton. The guitar is screaming with passion. This is a passionate guitar. “Have you ever loved a woman so much that you tremble in pain?” Or Layla, but the original, not the unplugged. So much power in the words and the screaming guitar, of course.
Q: Do you have a favorite among your guitars?
A: I love them all, but a have a few favorites. The Fender Stratocaster. The original first make is vintage, very expensive, about 50 thousand dollars is the minimum. Mine is a remake with the same wood and it’s my first love. Then I have the two Gibson guitars, both made in 1959. They are not original Gibson. The original would cost about 3 million dollars, but now they are making them exactly the same. I even watched a documentary, where music professionals played both makes blindfolded and said the new, not original one sounded even better. Yes, there are two or three guitars I cannot live without.
Q: Some guitarists name their guitars. Have you given a name to any of yours?
A: No, I haven’t. Guitars are much more than names. Well, you know the story about my old friend’s guitar and then there came one with a name. I wanted to buy a jazz guitar, a Gibson and I found one for 2 500 euros and I went home to think about it. It would have been there the next day. I phoned a nice guy in Germany, a professional, who told me that the perfect guitar for me was an Artur Lang. He was German and used to make the best guitars here. He would choose the wood so carefully and his work was extraordinary. The guitar I had seen in the shop was an Artur Lang and I was so happy to have it. Then I found out that the price of these guitars was about 10 000 and they wouldn’t sell them. It was perfect, it is amazing, has amazing sound and it’s 60-years old! It was second-hand, and it came with a name on the gigbag – “Walter”, but I removed it because I am not Walter.
Q: There aren’t many famous women guitarists. The proportion is 5:1. How would you explain that?
A: I think it’s not an instrument for a woman. Probably Freud or some of his followers will explain it from a phycological point of view, like when holding the neck, you’re holding a penis. There are certainly good women guitarists, but they are not so many.
Q: Many years ago Jimmy Hendrix said that if anything can change the world that will be music. What is your opinion on the role of music?
A: Music can change individuals, it can’t change the world. Not many musicians are politically engaged, in fact, those are very few. But the truth is that the turning point for the world was the year 2000. From then on, everything went downhill. People are increasingly unhappy. I’ve heard people say that if you are a good guitar player if you make music, you can’t be an evil person. To me, music helps the soul. The soul is what nourishes love and sex, too. You cannot make love if it doesn’t come from the soul. That’s not possible.
Q: What would you say to people who live without music?
A: We are all different. I have great friends with great personalities and they are not into music, but that is just human nature – we are different and there’s nothing wrong with that.
A guitar may be just an instrument to some, but in actuality, it has a life of its own and it takes the most extraordinary twists and turns. The last thing we discussed was the most sought electric guitar in the world of music with three legendary owners. Peter Green, one of the founders of Fleetwood Mac, bought a Fender Les Paul in 1959. It was second-hand and it cost him 300 dollars. Then, down to a production error, one of the pick-ups was fitted the other way round and it gave Fleetwood Mac the sound they became famous for. It sounded more like a Fender than a Gibson. Later, Peter Green suffered from severe mental health issues and wanted to leave it in good hands, so he sold it to Gary Moore for the same amount he bought it for. It became Moore’s signature instrument, as it had been for Green and it seemed to have hound its permanent home. However, in 2006, problems forced Moore to sell it for between $750,000 and $1.2 million dollars.
From then on, it changed owners, increasing its value to 2 million in 2014, when it was bought by Kirk Hammett of Metallica. It’s an impressive amount for a second-hand guitar bought so long ago but think of all the stories, all the emotions behind it. His comment on this story is the only possible way I can end this article:
“I have a guitar that sounds similar to Green’s and when you bend the strings like blues, this is the absolute equivalent of desire, an acoustic desire, and it’s got all to do with love.”