I had my first cherry red Gibson 335 in 1963. It was the standard model with a stop tailpiece.
I came up to London to buy it, on the train as I remember, on a day out with my best pals, the other guys in The Whispers (or were we called All Things Bright then?).
I had never seen one in either of the two music shops, Kempsters or Duck Son and Pinkers, in my hometown of Swindon. The only one I had seen ‘in the flesh’ was Joe Brown’s sunburst dot 335 (made in1959?). What a great sound he got from it.
However, I was entirely familiar with the 335 from the time it was introduced by Gibson in 1958. I had poured over the catalogues (still do), knew all the wiring diagrams, the exact woods used, the different model number variations (330, 335, 345, 355), their colours and characters and all the inlays and purfling.
Chuck Berry was sometimes, but rarely, seen on TV or in photo’s playing a 345, which of course sounded great, and a few of the Northern bands were playing 335’s in 1963, most notably the fabulous Merseybeats.
For me it’s a work of art, a sonic masterpiece, perfection. No one has ever been able to improve on it. I met the guys who actually made my present 335 at the old Gibson plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan where they had just started up as Heritage Guitars with the original Gibson machines and tools that they had acquired from Gibson after the move to Nashville. They knew mine by the serial number and explained how the top was finished in the factory exactly as it can be seen now.
I occasionally used my first one during the time I was with Marty Wilde, but most often than not I was to be seen playing a Vox or a Fender. My 335 was just too precious to me to risk it on the gruelling ‘Marty schedule’, as sometimes, when we were doing two and three gigs a night, we would leave different sets of equipment in each place to save setting up and breaking it all down again.
Only a few days before Mike Pinder called me, in August 1966, about coming up to London and meeting him, and later the other two ‘then’ Moodies, Graeme and Ray, I had reached the worrying state of being completely and utterly skint (look it up), and I had accepted a price to sell my 335. They were in real demand in 1966. To say I needed the money was an understatement, -- and it was gone.
I still had my big 12 string at that time, (later to be taken from me), on which I was writing songs and playing folk club gigs.
Then, suddenly—the gig with the Moodies. What to do? I went down to Kempsters in Commercial Road and bought a new Telecaster, a guitar that I thought, correctly for once, would suit the jangely piano sound that Mike had at the time, and anyway I couldn’t afford another Gibson.
I still have my Tele. It’s a truly great one, it was on the first two Moodies LP’s and it played Question on stage for many years, (before acoustic guitars got it together with pick ups), and recently I have been playing it on See Saw, just as I did on the original recording (recorded through a Vox AC30 amp into the Normal channel).
In 1967 and early ’68, as Mike developed his Melltron style and the songs came along with our vocal identity all I wanted was my 335 back. In 1968 I hired one from Selmers in Charing Cross Road. It was well used, though less than five years old, with a Bigsby that was fitted at the Kalamazoo factory, and with two great humbucking pick-ups. I fell completely in love from the moment I touched it and I had to have it. Selmers didn’t want to sell it saying it was their ‘most popular hire guitar’, and things like ‘but everyone loves it’.
Duh! Didn’t matter, I still had to have it, and give it a home, -- the right home.
I couldn’t bear the thought of it being thrown around town (it had a ridiculously inadequate case when I first found it). Selmers, to their credit, eventually agreed to sell it to me for the new guitar price of 168 pounds, exactly what I paid for my first one in 1963. I paid in instalments, we called it ‘ paying on the never - never’, and this 1963 Cherry Red 335 has been my constant companion ever since.
It’s had many different amp partners. A Vox AC 30 ‘top boost’ in the studio for several years, again through the Normal channel, a Marshall 100 watt and 50-watt, two High Watt stacks (see the 1970 Isle of White DVD when it eventually comes out). The DVD sounds great by the way. A Marshall fuzz unit that I used on recordings through the 70’s and 80’s, and at other times with just a small standard compressor (that’s all there is on my 335 for the Blue Guitar solo sound at the start of the record, that’s how good an recording engineer Eric Stewart was), an Eventide Harmoniser, and lately a Mesa Boogie, a Matchless 30 and a Fender Custom 30 watt, as well as my old Marshall 50.
So there you have it.
Why am I going on about it?
Because, I have always been a guitar player --- who sings and writes songs. And it’s been kind of new to me doing Jeff’s War if the Worlds every night without my guitar. I suspect some people think when I come on stage, “Oh here’s that singer—what’s his name? - Coming on to do that Autumn thingy”.
I suppose I would feel more comfortable if my guitars were even just there, on the side of the stage, so if it all that huge production went wrong I could do a tune and get by. And I kind of envy the three guitar players on the show. But then if you asked me to change places I wouldn’t, cos ‘Autumn thingy’ is so lovely. Anyone who has followed my recent wanderings across continents will know that this has been a whirlwind year. Zipping from tour to tour, while in between trying to keep day-to-day affairs on the rails. I realise of course that no-one reading this would be so naive as to think that a musician’s life just consists of deciding to tour or record and then just going and doing it, and with all the gaps in between being holidays, or as someone said to me in the street when I was home for a couple of days recently, “having a break are you, putting your feet up?”
Going on tour, and recording for that matter, means that your business and your ‘housekeeping’ (as I think of all the rest of it), goes on the slide.
I now have empathy with artists who live on the road. Real life never quite catches up with them! Excellent.
So, am I complaining again? Not really. I like touring, with the Moodies and with Jeff’s War of the Worlds. Putting my ‘feet up’ is not for me at the moment.
Moody-wise, I already know next year is going to be another full one for us, and with my constant companion waiting in the wings every night, tuned up and ready to go.
I’m off to Moscow next week, to maybe pave the way for the band, and to do some bits for the Myrtle Beach Hard Rock Park project. Then straight back and whoosh! Off on the road again for that ‘Autumn’ thingy’.
I can feel the housekeeping sliding already!