Scars On My Guitar

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If there is one thing a punk rock kid knows more about than punk rock and angst it’s how to identify a sell out by smell alone. We were the bloodhounds, sniffing out poseurs from miles away. We would find your collection of Savage Garden albums. We’d find that Backstreet Boys’ MP3 on your flash drive. If we didn’t already know then we would soon.
I didn’t feel like a sell out when I was shopping for my first acoustic guitar, but I did feel like I was teetering on the edge of being a sell out. I knew I’d have to tread careful and set boundaries. The guitar I learned on was a knock off Stratocaster that came with an amp and a gig bag. I played the hell out of that thing.

I’d been playing for two years by the time I wandered into the acoustic section at Guitar Center. There was a homeschool cookout happening that evening – or something like that – and I aspired to show off my abilities a little bit. It was a laughable notion because, at that time, I had too much anxiety to ever play for someone let alone enjoy the experience.

My parents ended up buying me a $350 Takamine Diamond Series dreadnought. I didn’t know it, but it was a popular guitar in my area. I still meet people all the time who tell me they have the same guitar. It’s well priced and delivers in quality. I figured I’d play it at the cookout, if that’s indeed where I was heading, and then maybe play it at subsequent cookouts down the road. My aspirations were quite achievable.

Acoustic guitars seemed like a means to a very permanent end. There were a lot of different sounds that you could get out of electric guitars. I didn’t know how to get those sounds, pedals were only a theoretical concept to me, but I did learn that if you bent the strings hard and fast you could warble your way through a solo with a natural “wah” sound. With an acoustic guitar you could only twang your life away like Johnny Cash or cry your life away like Lifehouse. I was a concrete thinking kind of guy.

I can’t say exactly how it happened so I’ll glance over the next few years with a lone sentence. Picture me playing my electric guitars but stealing romantic glances at the Takamine.

By the third act, the Takamine had become my instrument of choice. I liked the freedom of being able to play it anywhere, though usually I just played in my room. We lived together and it was easy to tell. By the time I was nineteen the guitar had more than its fair share of wear and tear. The Takamine Diamond Series guitars don’t come with pick guards. Match that with my sloppy playing and you find out that a guitar pick can substitute for sandpaper in a pinch. I’ve banged the body on door frames from when I used to pace through my house playing. I’ve always liked to walk while I play and I still do. Makes you feel the rhythm.

I was terrible about locking my guitar case and the Takamine fell face down on our gravel driveway on at least three separate occasions. You can see the gouges from the rocks if you look close enough. There are a few notches on the neck from where I thumped it on my computer desk. The nut, right below the headstock came unglued and floats now. I forget every time I change the strings and it falls between the couch cushions. Then I worry that it won’t stay in position while I put the strings on, or that it won’t maintain it’s position. It always does. In fact, this relatively cheap guitar is as low maintenance as they come. The intonation never goes out. My G’s are always spot on.

I’ve loved that guitar, I’ve hated it. It feels great in my hands, but after extended playing I find the neck to be very uncomfortable and it makes my left hand ache. I hid behind it while I got my feet wet performing. I’ve comfortably stood beside it and wished the audience a goodnight after I’d become less green. I’ve bought other guitars – better guitars – from more favorable brands. They’re a nice diversion. All guitars are conduits to the music that’s up in your head, deep in your heart, and on the tips of your fingers. But I’ve had experiences with the Takamine that the other guitars just can’t match. I’ve had personal experiences with that instrument. My other guitars are great, sure, but they’re really just stand ins. They’re the friends you hangout with when your best friend is out of town. Not because they lack character or camaraderie, just because you click more with some people than others.

I don’t have any guilt for all the times that I’ve dropped it. Each mark on it is a memory. I don’t drop it anymore though. I’m less reckless with myself as well. We are both getting older.

Upcoming Shows

If you want to see me do this thing in technicolor you have a few opportunities:

Monday, May 16 at 7PM at By the Bean in Lincoln, Illinois. In support of touring act Eric Daino with local legends The Unstable Tables, Emily Johnson, and Brother-Sister. We are taking this troupe to Peoria the next day.

Tuesday, May 17 at 7 PM at Broken Tree Coffee in Peoria, Illinois. The gig so nice we are playing it twice. Don’t worry, I’ll change up my setlist.

Friday, June 3 at 6 PM at the Art-Space in Peoria, Illinois. I’ll be playing a few songs before Str8 Sounds. Maybe a few more after his set if the Spirit is ready.

Saturday, June 4 at 12 PM “Heart Beat Fest” in Manito, Illinois. I get an hour block of time that I intend to turn into some type of sculpture. I don’t play tons of festivals so this is a real thrill for me.

When The Spirit Is Ready: The Music of Nick Lee

I started writing songs when I was 15 or so. I’d written musical ideas my entire life, but it was at that time in 2007 when I began adding some semblance of structure to the ideas. I shied away from releasing albums for the most part even though I recorded often. In fact I would say I spent more of my teenage years in front of my computer with a guitar strapped to my chest than I spent doing anything. The makeshift studio setting was a wonderful composition tool and I was able to push those infant ideas to their limits. The end result was always the same. I’d give a disc to some friends once every few years and then I’d go hide for a while.

When I was 19 I broke away from computer based recording. That was the age that I got into Springsteen. I wasn’t sure what his process was like and I didn’t want to know, but I figured he didn’t have a laptop with him when he wrote Darkness on The Edge of Town. Writing without a playback device was a very different beast entirely but it didn’t feel like I was back at square one nearly as much as it felt like a rebirth.

My approach to both writing and recording now is fairly whimsical. I never have to force myself to do it, it’s just what I do. I work on song for multiple hours every day and I record when I feel like it. None of it is a drag.

I’m two albums in this year. Help yourself to free copies from Bandcamp. If you want to pay top dollar for an otherwise free album, get Alcohol Is Gonna Kill Me Now on Itunes.