Guitars – the early years

As The Bassman, one would expect that I have a bass guitar.  And indeed I do.  In fact, I have three of them, none of which are very special.  I also have 26 guitars, some of which are quite special.  This addiction collection started pretty late in life.

Gibson B-25N, c. 1965

In the beginning – that is, when I was 13 and my grandmother bought me a dime-store guitar for $20 – I was about six months later than my friends in learning to play.  This was in the 60s, and the Beatles had revolutionized everything about music.  They wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and had great hair.  Every teenage boy wanted to play guitar, except for the few that decided that banging on drums was more their style. I was no exception.  I thought it would help me make friends, especially friends who happened to be impressionable girls.  I also started wearing my hair a little longer, which created no end of strife between me and my father.

After making bad sounds on guitar for a few months, I realized that there was a surfeit of budding guitarists in the neighborhood, all of whom were more experienced than me, all of whom played better than me, and all of whom were much more likely to get hooked into a band than me.  I also realized that there was a thing called bass guitar which was (1) interesting, (2) what Paul McCartney played, and (3) not nearly as common as guitar. Showing an early eye for underserved markets, I went and got me a bass guitar and a bass guitar amplifier, and was promptly invited to join a band.  This bass guitar was of the same quality as my $20 guitar, although I probably spent $50 or $60 on it.  They were both terrible instruments.  The amplifier, through sheer happenstance, was an Ampeg SB-12 fliptop, which has now turned into a collectable classic.  Who knew?

I made some money one summer and decided to upgrade my kit.  The guitar was replaced by a Gibson B-25N, a student model that I could afford.  Not a great guitar, but a playable guitar.  The strings stayed in tune, they were close enough to the fretboard that one could actually make real chords, and the sound that came out – although thin – was unmistakably that of an acoustic guitar.  I don’t recall what happened to the dime store guitar.  Did I sell it?  Did I give it away?  The answer is lost to time.

For the bass, I really wanted a Fender.  Sadly, my funds didn’t support that, so I got a Vox Cougar bass. Vox was an English company best known for the amplifiers that the Beatles and other British Invasion bands used, and had ventured into guitars and basses by subcontracting the manufacture to a variety of providers.  This resulted in some unusual designs.  In my case, the Cougar bass was a knockoff of the Gibson EB-2 bass with some modifications.  The pickups were underpowered, it had a metal nut, and it really couldn’t be tuned properly.  But it was miles better than the piece of garbage it replaced.

Vox Cougar Bass, c. 1966

Unlike the fate of the first acoustic guitar, I remember clearly what happened to the cheap bass.  I scraped off whatever logo was on the headstock and painted “VOX” on it.  This fooled no one, of course.  I then advertised it for sale and sold it to an eager kid who was a bit younger than me.  This was the last guitar I have ever sold.
These two instruments – the Gibson acoustic guitar, and the Vox bass guitar – went through high school with me, then off to college and graduate school, and have stayed with me for about 50 years.  That may be the cheap way to buy a vintage instrument: buy it new, and then wait.

They were my only instruments for almost 25 years.  Then another gift, and a party, changed the world.