My Life Story In Guitars

This is a comprehensive list of all the guitars I have ever owned and the stories behind them. Thanks for reading…

  • Kay Steel String Acoustic: My first guitar bought, in 1978, from my mother’s Great Universal catalogue. It came with an instruction leaflet & one of those “flexi-disc” records. An action like an egg-slicer and the tonal qualities of a plastic ukulele. But it was mine & I loved it.
  • Woolworth’s Top Twenty: Bought from the classifieds in the local press. Vaguely strat shaped with a tremolo arm & not one, but TWO hi-tech electronic pickups. Shame I didn’t have an amp. Still, I managed… just plug it into the mic socket on the radiogram.
  • Satellite Les Paul Copy: Eighty quids worth of the finest plywood money could buy. These were also sold under the Columbus & Antoria brands. A bolt on neck & those cheap single coil pickups inside humbucker covers. It later got some DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups and it got me into my first band.
  • Gibson Les Paul Deluxe: This was the ’80s, the age of the “superstrat” – all pointy headstocks and locking tremolos. Guns n Roses were a few years away yet & the Gibson Les Paul was a bit passé. Also, “relicing” wasn’t yet cool, hence I could afford this beaten up clunker. This guitar was bought off one of my college pals, and it was knackered. One pickup (those “controversial” mini-humbuckers fitted to the LP Deluxe) was dead and the sunburst finish was covered in that paint found in Airfix spitfire model kits. Still it was a REAL Gibson & it was mine!
  • Ibanez Iceman (Paul Stanley Model): I traded the Les Paul for this in a music shop in Kendal. I loved the wacky shape… for a while.
  • CSL Strat copy: Seeing Eric Clapton on that Carl Perkins TV special in the mid-80s, I was blown away by his sound & decided I needed something strat-y. The Iceman went back to the same shop I’d got it from, a little money changed hands & I came out with this. Not a bad little guitar for it’s time & most importantly it had that out-of-phase “quack” to it’s sound which (I thought) made me sound just like Eric.
  • Aria Pro II Urchin Deluxe: Another detour off into the land of “wackiness”. Two humbuckers, a green sunburst finish, and a body shape like a cross between an Explorer and a paint spill. Not a bad sound, but not really “me”… had to get back in the strat saddle again.
  • Washburn Strat Copy: Nothing remarkable, really – black with all the usual bits in all the usual places. It played OK, but was never really anything to write home about. Did a few gigs with it and got bored.
  • Hohner Strat Copy: Much the same as the Washburn, but with a faux-snakeskin paint job. Still, that was the ’80s for you.
  • Fender Heavy Metal Strat: In an era when everyone was butchering a Floyd Rose trem & a humbucker into their strat, Fender began offering these as stock options. I now owned my first REAL Fender. But I just couldn’t get on with that locking trem – need to change a string? Get the spanners out and check your diary for a free afternoon. This was not to be my last bad experience with tremolo tech.
  • Squier Strat: Once again, my EC fixation coming to the fore. A black strat with a maple neck, just like Eric’s famous “Blackie” strat you see on the the covers of the “Just One Night” and “Slowhand” albums. I ended up putting EMG pickups in this one & it was a great little guitar.
  • Fender Strat (Japanese): Decided to upgrade to a Fender (as opposed to a Squier). Took the EMGs out of the Squier & sold it on with it’s stock pickups back in place. The EMGs went into this Sonic Blue 60s reissue strat & it was my partner in crime for over a decade of work on the pub & club circuit.
  • Gibson Les Paul Standard: When the first wave of Epiphone Les Pauls hit the shops in the late ’80s/early ’90s I went into my local emporium to try one out. For an extra £50 there was a 2nd hand Gibson Les Paul in the window. I paid the extra and came out with a peach of a guitar – look at some pics of Mark Knopfler playing his Les Paul at Live Aid – mine was a dead ringer for that guitar.
  • Fenix Tele copy: These guitars were big news in the early ’90s – made in the Young Chang factory in Korea, they were a foretaste of the plethora of pro-quality, affordable, far-eastern guitars we take for granted nowadays. Back then, “Made In Korea” & a sub-£200 price probably meant a horrid playing experience – anyone else remember the Marlin Sidewinder? These Fenix guitars were among the first to change that perception. They were made from solid timber, not plywood, and sounded like the real deal. They played great, too. Shame you can’t get them any more. Shame I got rid of mine.
  • Yamaha Pacifica 512: Another guitar to change the expectations of anyone buying a sub-£200 guitar made in the orient was the Pacifica 112. This was it’s big brother with better pickups & hardware. A great little guitar, but not as good at being a strat as my strat was so it didn’t get played much. I needed something different as an alternative to my trusty Fender…
  • Ibanez RG 500: My second attempt to get to grips with a guitar sporting a locking trem. I was listening to a lot of Joe Satriani at the time and therefore got myself an Ibanez. It was finished in black and looked more menacing than a scrapyard dog. Great sound & playing experience too but, oh dear… that Floyd Rose was a nightmare: Tuning it was like painting the Forth bridge: by the time you’d got the 6th string in tune, it was time to start again on the 1st string. Still, not ALL guitars fitted with Floyds can be that unstable can they?
  • Jackson Soloist: Actually, it seems like they are. I had this one for 3 days before I took it back to the shop for a refund. I challenged the guy in the shop to tune it. He couldn’t. I got my money back. No more locking trems for me, I’m afraid.
  • Gordon-Smith GS2: Something much more “me”. A cherry red variant on the Les Paul Junior, but with a pair of pickups. A really versatile little guitar. Full-on humbucker mode made it a blues-rock monster & the coil taps took it into telecaster country-twang territory. I really regret getting rid of this one, but I was seduced into buying a guitar I’d hankered after for years…
  • PRS Santana SE: PRS guitars were the instrument of choice for lottery winners – no mere mortal could afford one until they brought out a budget range. Just to have an instrument with the PRS marque on it was a dream come true. However, once the novelty wore off, I realised it was just an OK, perfectly adequate mass-produced, rather bland guitar. Still, it was a contrast from my strat & it served me well for a few years. Still wish I’d kept my Gordon-Smith, though.
  • Stagg electro-acoustic: I bought this one out of a sense of duty more than anything else. I hadn’t owned an acoustic guitar since my old Kay back in the ’70s. I thought I really should have a flat-top box of some description. It looked really good hanging on the wall. Which is where it stayed most of the time. One of my students offered me £10 more for it than I’d paid so we parted company.
  • Fender Custom Shop Strat: I didn’t really “own” this guitar. A friend of mine, who was a long distance lorry driver at the time, had split up with his wife. He asked me to look after this guitar as he had a nightmare vision of his missus sneaking back into the house, while he was on the road, and making off with his pride & joy. I ended up being the custodian of this instrument for over a year & used it on various gigs & sessions. Nice guitar, but worth the £2000+ price tag? It felt & sounded like a perfectly OK strat, but nothing earth-shattering, so, ultimately no… not something I’d have spent my own money on.
  • Self Built Strat: My old blue Japanese strat with the EMGs had had a hard life by now. It needed some serious money spending on it to get it back to top form – a refret was in order & there was an alarming rattle coming from deep inside the neck, like there was something seriously amiss with the truss rod. So up on eBay it went. To replace it I bought a Mexican strat, then changed the pickups for some Wilkinson replacements & upgraded the volume & tone pots at the same time. Then I changed the neck, then the tuners, then the bridge, then the scratchplate. All that was left of the original guitar was was the body. By the time I’d finished with it, it looked & played like a million dollars. I got offered a serious amount of money for it & we parted company.
  • Vintage V6 Strat copy: Some of the cash I raised selling the self-build went into this guitar, which is now my main instrument. I retro-fitted a new tortoise shell scratchplate and a mini-humbucker in the bridge position. This Vintage guitar is easily as good (if not better) than the Custom Shop Fender I had for a while and, all in with the new parts I fitted, it cost me a shade over £200. A great, versatile guitar capable of handling everything from out & out ballsy rock & metal through to country, blues and… well everything you can do on a really good strat.
  • Vintage VS6 SG copy: By now the PRS was spending most of it’s time hanging on the wall, so I decided to get something new for the “mahogany + humbucker” vibe. Being so impressed with the Vintage strat copy, I went for this guitar. A cherry red SG-alike with gold hardware. A really good example of the SG style of guitar, and I really, really wanted to love it. But something about the way the neck was pushed out to the left by the neck/body join happening right at the 22nd fret meant it always felt a little odd. I guess this is just something inherent about SG style guitars. Compared to the strats I’d grown up playing, everything just felt like it was in the wrong place, so we parted amicably.
  • Vintage V100 Les Paul copy: Now this was a seriously good guitar. A beautiful iced tea sunburst finish & gold hardware meant it looked the part. And boy! Did it ever sound good too! Bought for £110 on eBay as a “slight second” due to a lacquer blemish on the back of the headstock. This was easily a match for my old Les Paul Standard. A really, really, good example of a classic “single-cut” guitar. It does beg the question though… If Vintage can make a good Les Paul out of mahogany, maple & rosewood with a fit & finish as good as these guitars, and sell them at an RRP of £300 – £400, where do Gibson get their prices from? I mean… £2000 or thereabouts for a guitar that another company can make & sell at a profit for 80% less? Is the “G-word” badge on the headstock REALLY worth THAT much?
  • Fender Lite Ash Telecaster: I was hankering for a tele once again & saw the spec of this guitar… ash body; birdseye maple neck; genuine Seymour Duncan pickups (not those “Duncan Designed” licensed copies); a proper “ashtray” bridge with the correct brass saddles & through-body stringing. All this for £300!!! Strangely it was a higher spec guitar than some of the USA built models for about a third of the price (maybe that’s why Fender pulled it from their catalogue). Out with the credit card, then… What a guitar! Definitely a contender for the title of “Best Guitar I’ve Ever Owned”. Sadly, Gordon Brown forced me sell it when his government ruined the UK’s economy and my business hit hard times. Politicians, eh?
  • Vintage AV3H semi-acoustic: Another Vintage… I love these guitars! They were a bit of a joke a few years ago – cheap, nasty copies amid a sea of other cheap, nasty copies. Then they got Trev Wilkinson on board to re-vamp their range. This chap had an established reputation as a supplier of pickups, trems & hardware for some seriously top end, luxury guitar makers including Patrick Eggle. So to find him working for a company making budget instruments could be likened to jumping into a taxi to find you’re being driven by Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumaker – it was that big a deal. This guitar was part of the (sadly now defunct) “Advance” range of products sold under the Vintage brand. Basically they took classic designs, in this case a Gibson ES335, and made sensible upgrades like coil taps, locking tuners and better top fret access. Again, like the V100 Les Paul-alike, this instrument is made from all the same tonewoods & materials as the more expensive USA guitar it is based on… plus it is easier to live with due to the slight design tweaks… plus it cost less than a quarter of the price! What’s that bulge in my pocket? Oh… it’s the seventeen hundred quid I saved by not buying a Gibson. Result 🙂

So there you have it, my life story in guitars. What’s next? Well when the finances allow it, I have a hankering to do another “project” guitar – probably a telecaster, as I still miss my old Fender. The plan is to get a Squier Affinity tele, and convert it to through-body stringing, change the pickups (I’m thinking a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder in the bridge & a big, fat P90 at the neck), maybe add an active mid-range boost (like on the Clapton strat) to get me into humbucker sonic territory, strip all the varnish off & go for an oiled, natural finish and hopefully have a guitar for all seasons. Or I may go down the “off the peg” route: I’m quite taken with another Yamaha Pacifica, the 311H in natural yellow satin finish – the familiar Pacifica body shape with an alnico humbucker at the bridge and a P90 single coil neck unit, a good solid hardtail bridge and Yamaha’s customary reputation for rock-solid build quality & reliability. A lot of guitar for the sub-£250 price tag. Whatever I go for, rest assured it will not have a Floyd Rose tremolo. Life’s just too short.

Until next time… Have Fun!

John

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UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE…

Since I wrote this post about a year ago, things have moved on a bit. My longing for another telecaster resulted in the Charity Shop Tele, which you can read all about HERE. Other guitars which have come & gone are…

  • Harley Benton SC450 Plus: I thought the Vintage V100 was a seriously good Les Paul type guitar for an insanely low price, but this is ridiculous! £120 from Thomann buys you a guitar that is the equal of any Gibson… it really IS that good! I’ve used it now in countless lessons & recordings and it always gives me that warm feeling inside as it barks out those classic Les Paul tones. A beautiful, beautiful guitar!
  • Harley Benton DC-120CE NT: The Vintage V6 strat-a-like was being neglected. Since I got my hands on another tele, I’d sort of abandoned playing the strat. It was just hanging on the wall, not getting used. If you’d have told me as recently as a year ago, that I could live without a strat, I would have laughed! But there I was… not wanting to take it off the hanger and use it for anything. In a moment of clarity, I decided that if it wasn’t earning it’s keep, it had to go. I sold it yesterday & ordered another Harley Benton from Thomann – an acoustic, this time. Nice looking spec… Dreadnought body shape with a cutaway; Mahogany back & sides with a spruce top. It gets fantastic reviews, and cost a mere £75 delivered. It hasn’t turned up yet (I only ordered it yesterday), but when it does, I’ll be sure to let you know what it’s like!

Once again… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson Music

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