Saturday, August 27, 2005

Boy’s toys 

Picture this. You work in a guitar store – one of the biggest in London, with more guitars and basses hanging on the walls than your average Joe would see in an entire lifetime. Over the years, you’ve had some of the biggest names in popular music drop by; many know you on first name terms. In the niche market of guitar retailing, this is probably about as good as it gets. So naturally, you’re a real cool dude, used to sharing an in-joke with the rich and famous and annoying your mates in the pub with casual name-dropping.

Now it’s a gloomy wet Friday afternoon at the end of summer and there’s not a customer in sight. But then this guy crosses the threshold. How can I put this delicately? Incongruous isn’t the word; if appearance is anything to go by, he fits in here about as well as a bone china tea-set round a campfire. Smart-but-supremely-conventional casual, with just a touch of the rustic – shades of beige and khaki, topped with a lightweight waterproof jacket and with the ubiquitous small rucksack slung over one shoulder; he looks as though he’d be more at home with a fishing rod in his hands than with a bass guitar slung round his neck. Hardly a Sting; he’s probably got a teenage son who can just about manage the opening riff of Smoke on the Water. He looks so ripe for a wind-up, but you’d better be polite. After all, a sale is a sale.

I hadn’t intended to show up looking like a refugee from The Archers. Although I’d been planning to buy a new bass combo for some time, I only realised at the last minute that on that particular day I’d most likely be near the right place - the only shop in London that stocks the model I wanted to look at – and at the right time - when there were as few people as possible around to hear my feeble efforts at playing. So I didn’t have time to prepare.

In my imagination, I would have practised some suitably impressive licks with which to wow them. “I know it’s only basic” I’d say, as my fingers flew over the fretboard, “but I’ve only been playing a couple of years” (displaying casual disregard for the literal meaning of “a couple”) and there’d be eyebrows raised in grudging approval at what this beginner could do.

Yeah, right.

And whilst I might not have gone so far as to don ragged jeans and beer-soaked tee-shirt, I’d have made at least some attempt to look less like the proverbial sore thumb. But instead I wander in looking like an apprentice old fart and fumble quietly away at a few bars of Jesus Christ Superstar (the current show for which I’m practising; not exactly the stuff of rock legends), then sheepishly ask the guy in the shop to demo what the beast is really capable of.

But I don’t care. I bought it, and it’s awesome. Relatively tiny, as bass combos go (although judging by the weight, the insides must be lined with lead) it even has a unique feature to ensure it will serve me well into my old-fart-hood: it’s fitted with wheels and a retractable handle, to save the strain on lower back muscles that are increasingly susceptible to injury. But the real selling point of course is the sound: I never knew my bass could sound so good.

Maybe I’ll even learn to play it properly some day. After all, if you sound like a real musician, what you look like hardly matters.

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