Starting Out in the Late Sixties
I started my musical career playing classical violin before migrating to guitar in the late sixties. We were skint, so my equipment and instruments were begged, borrowed and self-built. I learned from electronics magazines, school physics, library patent applications and then built or adapted hardware around me to make noises. I became an electronics and materials scavenger and have never really stopped since.
My first guitar was an horrendous Spanish-style acoustic with Red Dragon strings and a warped neck. The action was 1 cm at the octave and it was unplayable beyond the seventh fret. I bought it for ‘30 bob’ and I was robbed. Still, I learned all of my original riffs and chords on it and developed an impressive set of calluses. Later I got hold of a mate’s Hofner semi-acoustic for a couple of days. It was so easy to play even though it had flat-wound strings. So, I built an electric with hand wound pickups (many thanks to Practical Electronics). It had a nice neck but no truss rod so it wasn’t particularly stable, but it made a good noise through a swiftly adapted valve radio used as an amplifier. (That was good enough for Billy Gibbons on ‘Whistle Test’ a few years later).
Next I got hold of a cheap pre-built guitar body and adapted it by fitting Humbuckers, Grovers, and a minuscule action. It had coil taps, phase switches, multi-select EQ’s and ‘violin-able’ master volume control. That instrument became my prime guitar for a number of years and I learned an enormous amount about solid guitar luthiery on the way. I built my first valve amplifier with mainly reclaimed components. I used ECC83’s and KT88’s (very basic circuitry) and it was just enough to give me 100W at a push. I stuck that through home-made 1x15 and 2x12 cabs. It made a heart-warming noise until it ultimately self-destructed from road (ab)use.
My long-term friend Steve Atkinson, with whom I developed my interest in harmony guitar work, had the first piece of kit I used to record my material. It was an Akia 4000DS with Sound-on-Sound recording so we could build full orchestrations of numbers. Now there was no looking back. I got together with a number of local musos during this period but never managed to get a complete band out gigging for most of the obvious reasons; lack of cash for gear and transport, lack of musos to play the various instruments, lack of commonality in capability and the general diversity of musical direction at the time. I formed Pig’n’aif at this time as an ongoing project/band.
At the time I started out learning to play I was listening to people like Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Peter Green, John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull and Wishbone Ash. When I heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra my blues-based world fell apart and my view of guitar music required reappraising. In a perverse way, I was inspired to greater efforts to match the increased expectations laid down by John McLaughlin and his colleagues and I think I have produced a remarkable number of excellent products and collaborations on the way as a result, (although I will never reach the dizzy heights of John McL’s technique).
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