These past few years, the music I’ve been making has called for higher gain guitar-work so, naturally, I’ve been playing humbucker-equipped guitars – and, every so often, coil-splitting those humbuckers. As a result, I’ve really not been playing my Strat, or Tele very much; the odd part on a recording but otherwise, they’ve sat on the rack.

The Tele is a fairly recent addition

[2007, I think?]

so there’s not so much history, but let me tell you about my Strat.

I bought it new in Canterbury, UK in the early 90’s

[1994, I think?]

and though it was ‘made in Mexico’ , basically that was when Fender shipped all the US-made parts south of the border for assembly

[I’m not sure whether that’s still the case?]

and it’s a really solid guitar. It’s a 3-color sunburst

[a nod not so much to SRV’s Lenny, but more-so to Mark Knopfler’s Strat on Alchemy, with the brass scratch plate]

It was my main squeeze for the rest of the 90’s into the 00’s. I’ve modified it quite a bit over the years:

  • Texas Special pick-ups (almost immediately)
  • Callaham bridge (with short reach  bar – per Dave Gilmour)
  • Scratchplate/knob upgrade (ooh, sparkly!)
  • Stripped back the neck and gun-oil finish
  • Locking tuners
  • Replaced 5-way with 3 on-off switches

[that last one a recent mod, again based off seeing it on one of Knopfler’s Alchemy Strats]

but essentially, it’s like a pair of comfy old slippers – it fits me, and was there through a big chunk of my formative playing. Actually, to clarify that, it was the guitar of my ‘broken hands’ days. During that period, I played in two bands primarily – Bagpuss, and Grope

[Bagpuss as guitarist and song-writer, though not singing; Grope as guitarist, vocalist and song-writer]

and my Strat was my song-writing and performance guitar.

Fast forward to this morning, I was doing some set-up work on my Strat, and noodling aimlessly and, sure enough, started playing the riff from the Grope song, A Small Release. I tweaked the pick-ups a little and Hollow followed; another Grope song.

I glanced up and, as if for the first time, saw

[rather than just glancing]

the framed Grope set-list I have on the studio wall. It’s been up there for years; for the memories, but also because we never got the chance to record most of those songs

[aside from a day in a studio for a 4-song EP]

and I worry that I’ll forget what we used to play.

All of the Grope songs started tumbling out of my fingers – and I had a very clear sense that 

the guitar has been holding all these songs

It really felt like the guitar was possessing my fingers, like the guitar was haunted.

Of course, it’s not… But these songs were written on this guitar, played 

[a LOT]

on this guitar, and are stored in my head in this guitar’s particular voice, and so it triggered a very specific muscle memory in my fingers

this is what I’m meant to play on this guitar

It was a fascinating sensation, which I can’t say I’ve experienced before when it comes to playing. Maybe the closest I can get to describing it is the comfort of being with old friends after too long apart; a sense of ease and meant-to-be, where old jokes are fresh, long-standing bonds unbroken.

Like putting on a pair of comfy slippers.

And, as I looked at that set-list of 20-some-odd songs, I thought

there’s a record there, just waiting to be made

so, who knows, maybe Monkey68 will be releasing a record called Grope in the not-too-distant future?