Plinky-plonk and twang…

But first…
Dulltown, Europe: Today’s existential angst is centred around the sound of the word dandruff.

I just came across a bit of my stuff from the time I was just starting out on this blogging lark on something called Myspace. It’s about my early days when I was listening to various styles of music and also learning to play guitar.

In my teens, noticing how highly regarded classical music was, and thinking that I could be missing out on something, I decided to dip my toe into this deep pond of cleverness. I bought a cheapish vinyl album of Andres Segovia (he was supposed to be very good on the guitar) playing some J.S.Bach. (It’s funny that… Only the classical people seem to play ‘the guitar’, the rest of us play ‘guitar’ or ‘a guitar’. Oh, and another oddity, they really do like to pronounce the ‘U’ in the word, and almost say ‘Gu-tar’. Strange…)
Anyway, when I got the record home and read the sleeve notes more carefully I realised that I had been the victim of a minor rip-off, and that the A-side was good old Andres as advertised, and on the other side there was also some Bach, but played by someone called Edith Weiss-Mann (harpsichord). The album sleeve had a big picture of Andres on it and not even a mention of Edith. Doh!… That was a bit of a disappointment!
I was learning to play guitar at the time – a bit of blues, a few Kinks and Stones songs and the like, and I thought that hearing this world-famous classical guitarist might encourage me and perhaps give me a different perspective on playing guitar. I listened to Andres’ side of the record and, oh dear, found it pretty dull stuff… It was all very clever and pretty, but I realised that the nylon-strung guitar was one of the least expressive of instruments around. No matter how lively the player is, it always sounds, to me, a bit plodding, as if the notes are a bit soft, floppy, and behind the beat a little bit. It must be those thick rubber-band-like nylon strings. Not a patch on Keith Richards and his Telecaster.
At the time I may have been rather unfair on the instrument, but I had recently heard on the radio, that other hero of the classical guitar Julian Bream, describe the electric guitar, which at the time was becoming very popular, as ‘A bastard instrument which gave no opportunity for expression whatsoever…’ or words to that effect. I think Mr Hendrix proved him very wrong a short time later.
On getting around to playing the B-side of the record, (I thought that I might as well, having paid for it) I found everything that was missing from the A-side. Old Edith’s harpsichord was crisp, accurate and sharp, and J S Bach’s amazing inventiveness and his lovely wandering bass lines just knocked me out. I used to listen to Edith’s side of the disc regularly.
I just Googled ‘Edith Weiss-Mann’ and found one of the actual recordings from that very LP on Youtube. Gosh!…

A PS: I was just thinking a bit more about nylon-strung guitars. Flamenco players use them, so why is their playing so much more powerful and emotional than their classical counterparts? The answer is that the guitars are rather different and the strings are thicker and much tighter; and most important of all, the players hit them harder!… That’s how guitars should sound!…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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