The next year, 1974, I went to Spain to study and bought my first serious guitar, a Jose Ramirez 1ª Concierto. I don't have a good photo of me with that one, but here is what the shop looks like today:
After a few years I felt that the Ramirez was not entirely suitable for contemporary and early music so I bought a hand-made Japanese guitar by Masaru Kohno, built around '75 or '76:
I think that is what I am holding in this photo:
One day a friend of mine called me up and told me that a builder in Vancouver had just finished a guitar and I could try it out in the couple of days before the buyer picked it up. So I did. After fifteen minutes I said "Bob, I have to have your next guitar!" I actually got a bank loan to buy it. This was in 1983 and I'm still playing that same guitar!
It has a very unusual bridge, made from ebony, but without a loop in the strings:
Instead of the usual bridge of plastic or ivory, each string goes over its own tool steel post. The guitar has an immediacy of response, a clarity, a precision of tuning and a comfortable neck such as I have not encountered in any other guitar. Mind you, if I were still giving concerts, I would be on a plane to Australia right now, looking to buy a guitar by Greg Smallman.
But what I actually want to do in this post is talk about some of the things, large and small, I have learned from playing the guitar:
- Change your strings when they wear out!
- Practice slowly--very slowly
- Practice what you want the result to be and never practice mistakes
- Once you have decided you want to be a guitar player, buy the best guitar you can find
- Everything, the sound, the precision, the expression, everything comes from the mind first of all and the fingers only discover how to do it later on
- It all seems to come down to passion and discipline. These two things seem to be opposed, but really they are not. You only have the will and the patience to do the disciplined practice if you have the passion. And you can only express the passion if you have the will and patience to do the disciplined practice. I suspect this is true of every path in life.
- First you get the chops, then you get the money, then you get the chicks? Wasn't that the line in Scarface?
- Playing music is probably an end in itself: in other words it is not about the sales, the concert fees, the adulation or even the many wonderful friends you make. It is about playing well, the creation of beauty, even if ephemeral. The Good, the True, the Beautiful, these are the transcendentals. Everything else is, or should be, instrumental to these ends.
So let me end with a tiny fragment of beauty that I caused to happen. This is a little piece by Isaias Savio called Serões that I recorded quite a few years ago: