Really really happy

Should have got even closer!
When I learned that the Muffs were touring in support of Whoop Dee Doo, their first album since Really Really Happy was released in 2004, I got very excited. During those years, the band would play occasional shows in California (where they are based) and at Maxwells in Hoboken, NJ, but never close enough for me to get to. With the new tour, of course I hoped they would make it to Vancouver. 'Twas not to be. But they were doing a show in Seattle. There are some bands for which I will take a day off, drive to Seattle, and stay overnight. The Muffs are one of those bands. I was not going to miss this chance.

Sweetie and I took off around 3. By the time we hit Seattle the evening rush hour(s) traffic had eased up a bit. We arrived at our hotel with just a little time to rest, get ready, and then head to dinner. The show was at the Crocodile in Belltown, so I had Google Mapped it and looked for little knife-and-fork symbols nearby. And it was thus that I found La Fontana Siciliana. What a find! A Sicilian restaurant with a beautiful courtyard (for summer dining) only half a block from the club. Our server Fabio took excellent care of us. The food and wine were superb. In fact, we demolished an entire bottle of wine with dinner, something we don't often do. But there would be no driving required.

We walked over to the club shortly after 9. The Suicide Notes from Portland had just started their set. The band consists of three female singers backed up by drums, bass, and guitar. Their Bandcamp site provides a pretty accurate description: like the Shangri-Las doing it with the Ramones in the back of a hearse. The singers sang together and sometimes traded lead vocals. The music was fun and energetic. We enjoyed their set very much.

No flash, moving band
The second band was the Tripwires from Ballard, a neighbourhood in the northwest of Seattle. Four not-so-young guys playing straight up rock with a flare of Americana. The set was quite listenable, but it didn't get us off like the Suicide Notes. Still, two decent opening bands is almost unheard of.

It didn't take long before the Muffs hit the stage. I have to admit that I didn't realize they would set up their own equipment, and that was pretty cool. After the setup, guitarist and singer Kim Shattuck came out in a black Wednesday Addams dress with over-the-knee stockings, while tall, thin bassist Ronnie wore a white pullover sweater with a bow tie, evoking local science guy Bill Nye. (Roy, being the drummer, gets to dress however he wants to.) The band ripped into their set of material from the new album and quite a lot of older material--older, I think, than the two albums and one compilation that I have. It didn't matter whether I was familiar with a song or not. I loved every minute of it!

Ronnie and a borrowed bass
This is what I call a rock and roll band. When they were playing, they were tight while looking like they were having fun. These are musicians who have been playing together for a long time--Kim and Ronnie since the beginning in 1991 and Roy since 1994. And between songs, there was often some fun chatter. Ronnie told how he was almost eaten by an escalator at SeaTac Airport when his shoelace got caught. Kim gave him no end of shit about this, but Ronnie came back with the best line: "At least I didn't get booted out of the Pixies." Zing! It was all in good fun.

This set was nothing if not fun. Toward the end, the bass amp—apparently belonging to the Tripwires bass player--cut out. In trying to get it repaired, Ronnie dropped his bass and broke one of the tuning pegs, which he promptly handed to an audience member. Then, while a tech and the Tripwires bass player were working on the amp, Kim played a song by herself, with a bit of help from Roy, while Ronnie went crowd surfing! After a few minutes, the amp was working again. Ronnie borrowed a bass from the Tripwires, with which he finished the set. They played for more than an hour, and then came back for a three-song encore! Really, it could not have been more satisfying. The sound at the Crocodile was very good. The crowd was enthusiastic.

I was tearing up even before we caught a cab back to our hotel, and I really was crying during the ride. I wasn't sad. I was emotionally overcome. Sure, there was some alcohol involved, but by that time I was mostly sober. It was mostly that I had finally seen one of my idols play. Kim Shattuck is a 51-year-old woman who has earned her slot of indie stardom by doing it her way. She did what I wish I had done and still, even at 10 years older than Kim, still dream of doing.


Quirky white girl music faves in 2014

I can't make a complete top-whatever list. I don't listen to enough music or a wide enough variety of music. And since I mostly buy music from emusic.com, I'm missing some things like St. Vincent and Mary Timony's new band Ex Hex. But I think that what I did listen to is good stuff, and since many of these won't be on anyone's best-of-2014 list, this is my public service.

The order of this list is somewhat fluid. It's a general picture of how I feel right now, and that might change a bit over time. But I bet that's the same for the people who create numbered lists. For me, what pushes an album toward the top is the impact it has on me, musical and emotional, both on first listening and over time. I can get intellectual and technical about music, but mostly I'm interested in how it makes me feel.

I saw some great live shows this year as well, including several of the bands below as well as La Luz, Louise Burns, and the Pack a.d. For me, it was a good year for music listening, although a bit skimpy on music playing (hoping for better in 2015).

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers came back after several years away with an album of driving, shiny, gorgeous songs. This is Carl Newman and Dan Bejar at their songwriting best. The title song kickoff explodes the way "Mass Romantic" did 14 years ago. Neko Case soars on "Champions of Red Wine." Just try to get "Dancehall Domine" out of your brain, even if you have no idea what it means. Really the only song that I'm not crazy about is "Spyder." I liked the album right off the bat, and I still love it. We saw the first night of the tour, no Neko, band playing some of these songs in public for the first time, and it was absolutely brilliant.

PINS - Girls Like Us

I heard about Manchester band PINS from John Freeman, who writes for British online music publication The Quietus. Their debut album was worth waiting for. This is one of those rare albums that feels like a whole. It's also remarkably assured for a debut album by a fairly new band. I find that they don't always develop melody as much as they might, and that vocalist Faith goes for her yelp a bit too often. Still, those are pretty minor complaints. And when I saw PINS live, before all of two dozen people (you're going to regret that, Vancouver), they blew me away with their combination of self-assurance and playfulness. Despite the lack of audience, they seemed to be having a great deal of fun being on stage, which was infectious. I want to hear and see more of this band. Now.

White Lung - Deep Fantasy

Deep Fantasy is a breakthrough album for White Lung. They have lost none of the ferocity while adding melody and subtlety. Mish finds new range in her voice. There is wonderful interplay between her singing and Kenny Williams's guitar playing, while Anne-Marie Vassiliou's powerful drumming propels everything relentlessly forward. "Face Down" is a killer song. As I listened to "Just For You" I realized how well recorded this album is (by Jesse Gander, with whom I have worked as well, so I know he's a genius at the console), something you don't often find in albums as loud and noisy as this one. When I saw them play a few weeks ago, with Hether Fortune from Wax Idols on bass (be still, my heart!), they put on a powerful, fiery show while clearly having a great time.

Dum Dum Girls - Too True

This is the album I've been waiting for since the He Gets Me High EP. After releases that sounded pretty but generic, Dee Dee Penny is letting her sound be distinctive once again and singing better than ever. "Cult of Love" is one of my favourite Dum Dum Girls songs ever with its contrast between minor key verse and explosive major key chorus. I only wish the song weren't so short! The single "Rimbaud Eyes" is very simple emo pop, and it's gorgeous. Dee Dee still writes too many one-line refrains that feel very repetitive, but overall I love this record.

The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi

I have loved the Raveonettes for years, and I always anticipate new releases from them. The last couple were fine but didn't bore into my brain the way Lust Lust Lust and In and Out of Control had. But Pe'ahi feels more like the Raveonettes I know and love while also surprising and delighting me. From the moody "Endless Sleeper" to the closing "Summer Ends," with its chorus of "Go fuck yourself, I don't believe you," this album feels new to me while still sounding like the Raveonettes.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn

I discovered the Vivian Girls only toward the end of their time as a band. They were totally my kind of thing. So naturally I wanted to know what each of the members was up to. Bassist Katy Goodman has done quite well, issuing three albums of post-punk girl group music as La Sera. I saw them do a short opening set (opening for King Tuff) at Fortune Sound club, and they were brilliant. And I love this album most of the three for it's excellent songwriting, singing, and playing. The only thing I could do with less of is the J. Macis guitar sound, but that's a minor quibble.

The Muffs - Whoop Dee Doo

You have to love that Muffs leader Kim Shattuck named this album, the band's first in over 10 years, after Charles (Black Francis) Thompson's comment when asked why the Pixies fired her as bassist. And I am so glad to have new, strong Muffs material! Shattuck has lost none of her ability to write great noisy pop songs. She can also still scream, but I wish she had dialled that back just a bit. Not only have I (and everyone) been waiting for this album; I have also wanted to see the Muffs perform, something that for many years they have mostly been doing only in California and occasionally on the East Coast. Heading to Seattle!

Alvvays - Alvvays

I'm glad I'm so late in writing this piece, because that allowed me to find Alvvays. More of the stuff I can't get enough of! Female vocal over off-centre reverb-soaked pop music.

Cold Beat - Over Me

Cold Beat is led by Hannah Lew, the bass player for Grass Widow. THey did a very good show at the Fox Cabaret opening for Frankie Rose, and I bought the CD there. I hear 1980s minimalism, dreamy vocals over driving beats, and maybe even a little of the Athens sound in the interplay between bass and guitar.

Ume - Monuments

I discovered Ume via She Shreds magazine, which is dedicated to female guitarists. The band hails from Austin, Texas, and is still regional as far as I know, but definitely should be more widely known. Lauren Lawson is the guitarist, vocalist, and leader. Lots of 1990s here, some shoegaze, and even acoustic. Sometimes it feels like Metric with more guitar and no synthesizer.

The Pixies - Indie Cindy

The Pixies are back? Much as I love them, I'm tempted to throw Charles's words back at him: "Whoop-Dee-Doo." OK, it's not that bad, but I like this mostly because it's new Pixies material, not because it's great Pixies material. Songs like "Blue Eyed Hexe" grab me, but much of the rest of the material sounds, well, uninspired? Or maybe just not inspired enough.

Mirah - Changing Light

This album makes me think of Feist's Metals for some reason. It's not as slick as that, but there's something about Mirah's voice and the tone of these songs that reminded me. I think this is indie pop that is enough off centre to be more indie than pop. Very good songs. Some spots are too quiet and mellow for me, but pretty.

Azar Swan - And Blow Us a Kiss

This is not really at the bottom of my list. I put it here only because it's so untypical for me—this year's Austra. Mish Way of White Lung gets the credit (again) for bringing an artist to my attention. And even though this is nothing like what I usually listen to, I find myself completely drawn in by this record and its sound. Imaginative, usually spare electronics with cool beats. Zohra Atash's voice haunts me! It actually took quite a bit of listening before I thought of Kate Bush, a comparison Atash is often stuck with. She is from Afghanistan, and I love hearing beat and sounds from her native land at various places in the songs.


Return to sender

White nativism is incredibly ironic. Imagine being nativist in a country where your ancestors squatted on someone else's land, often slaughtering those someone elses in the process because they were in the way. It takes a special kind of ignorance, stupidity, or maybe sociopathology to come up with shit like that. Nativists think they're more native than actual native people!

And then those ancestors went and (a) bought human beings from sub-Saharan West Africa, (b) brought them here against their will, and (c) built an economy on their backs. And now you're pissed off because the descendents of slaves have the gall to want a normal life?

So yeah, right, back to Africa. Ha ha, good one. Back to Africa because African people who were brought here against their will have now overstayed their "welcome"? Back to Africa because if they're not slaves they're of no use to you? Back to Africa even though it's likely their ancestors have been in the country longer than your ancestors?

Seriously, morons. Back to Europe. Back to fucking Europe.


Vinyl: the Before Time

A plain, sturdy, oblong, wooden box, lying on its side. Stored within are vinyl records or, as we used to call them, records. Sweetie and I bought hundreds of records over the years when the only other choices were cassette tapes and eight-track cartridges. Vinyl records, none of which can be played on the only stereo system left in the house, a CD boom box that sits on the wooden box. The Sony turntable with USB interface has never been unpacked.

'Tis a sad state of affairs! It's made even sadder by the fact that the box contains all the vinyl Sweetie and I have left. We sold so many records before we moved across a continent and an international boundary 20 years ago. It was 1994. Records were done. Much of what we sold as vinyl we had replaced with CDs. Compact, right? And lighter. Much less to lug from domicile to domicile.

And now, vinyl is back. That we have no turntable set up now is simply shameful, I know. But our records are all old. We're not collectors. Are we?

I have clusters of genres in what remains of my collection. These represent different periods of my life.

The punk years are lean but high quality. I have Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites, the first two Buzzcocks albums. UK imports. I have A Different Kind of Tension as well. I have the first Clash album--import version--and London Calling, which for me would be a desert island album. I have enough Ramones albums for the collection to include some of their not-so-good work. But the great stuff is there too. And to cap it off with a sneer, there's Generation X.

The post-punk years are just plain meagre. But Public Image, the first album from Public Image Ltd., is an import. It's also great! I have the original Mission of Burma Signals Calls and Marches. And just to lighten things up a bit, I have the first Romantics album. "What I Like About You" is one of the great songs of all time.

I have some juicy classic bits. A very special Abbey Road by the Beatles that was given to me for my 17th birthday. Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds, Greatest Hits (early material) and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Paul Revere and the Raiders (a later pickup). The Who: Tommy, Live at Leeds, and Who's Next. Most of my Neil Young catalogue (some is on cassette): Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (very well worn), After the Gold Rush, Tonight's the Night, Rust Never Sleeps, and Live Rust. And finally, the Flying Burrito Bros. albums one through five.

Got some roots I picked up well after the fact: Eddie Cochran, the Bobby Fuller Four, and an amazing album called Beatle Originals which contains original versions of about a dozen songs the Beatles covered. The Larry Williams versions of "Bad Boy" and "Slow Down" are killa!

I had a folk/country/roots/acoustic/purist phase in the 1970s before punk (some of which came from liking the Burritos). I have Mississippi John Hurt, the Weavers, Will the Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and many special guests. I have a Dave Van Ronk album called Sunday Street, no doubt out of print. It comes from when I interviewed him for my campus radio station. And I have a more than extensive collection of Steeleye Span, again enough to have some of the lesser works, but much great stuff, including import copies of the first three albums. I also have a couple of albums that band members Tim Hart and Maddy Prior made before they formed Steeleye.

Then there are the outliers: the King Kong Compilation, which is ska, rock steady, and reggae from the 1960s; several Firesign Theatre albums (at least some of which I borrowed from and forgot to give back to a now-deceased coworker); and Boston stuff including compilations on which my band appeared. They can go in the punk/post-punk section. There's also a compilation called the Rock and Roll Show that I have no memory of and I'm not sure is actually mine.

I have a weird 10-inch record called Tennessee Stomp. I know it's mine, but I have no idea where or when I bought it (used). Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and several others are on the record.

And then there is a smattering of seven-inch vinyl, including a treasured copy of Spiral Scratch, the first Buzzcocks record, and later material by Buzzocks and Steve Diggle (their guitarist). There are some old Kinks singles in there, which might belong to Sweetie. And there is "The Metro" by Berlin.

Speaking of Sweetie, she has at least as many albums on her side of the box. Completely different than mine.

I have some of the records on my list on CD and just kept the vinyl for one reason or another. But many probably never made it to CD. We need to fix the turntable situation!


Rock is dead, they say

"Long live rock!" is an appropriate response (and the next line in the song). But "rock and roll will never die"? Perhaps not. Nothing lasts forever. Still, certain musical forms persist. People have been writing symphonic and chamber music for hundreds of years. Jazz ensembles have been around for many decades. People play folk music, either modern versions or the actual songs passed down from centuries ago. And if we (some of us anyway) are still listening to ancient Indian classical music, why should rock and roll not still be a viable music form?

Rock was certainly on display at the Middle East Downstairs last Sunday night. The backline consisted of a drum kit, a bass amp, a Marshall half stack on one side, and an Orange half stack on the other. The fanciest piece of equipment that night was a looping pedal that Carrie Bradley used to play solo guitar and violin (I really enjoyed her opening set). There was nothing resembling a synthesizer, and I didn't see any laptops. This was guitar night.

Not that I have anything against keyboards or even computers. I played piano and Vox Continental organ on old recordings, and although I haven't used keys recently, I might. I also know and like bands that are basically made up of synthesizers, computers, and vocals. And with a creative DJ telling a story with ebb and flow, I can dance to EDM all night.

I also love all kinds of music, including reggae, folk, old school country, and some hip-hop, especially the hard-edged political kind. My musical taste is quite eclectic. But anyone who loves music probably has one kind that they really connect with on a visceral level, something that thrills their bodies and sets them on fire, and for me that's the various incarnations of rock and R&B. Garage, surf, punk, post-punk, maybe metal--as long as it's fairly stripped down and not too fancy (no, I am not a prog rock fan).

It's getting a bit tougher for rockers these days. I read that the big draws at the Pemberton and Squamish festivals this year were EDM acts. I know a small club in Vancouver that at this point books only electronic combos. The place fills up. And on the other side, "rockist" has become kind of an insult in music criticism, denoting a dinosaur (like me) who doesn't automatically take pop stars such as Lana Del Ray and Katy Perry as seriously as we do artists such as the New Pornographers or Sonic Youth. I confess to a weakness for Taylor Swift, and I do think that artists like Beyoncé create excellent music. I just can't live on a steady diet of EDM or pop. I need the rock. I can admire clever computer programming, but I would rather see and hear people playing actual musical instruments made of wood and steel.

Even though younger people flock to pop and hip-hop and EDM, there are always those who, like me, get off on playing guitar, or bass, or drums. They dig out their parents' old records. They delve into the past. They follow a form that at its core hasn't changed since the 1950s, and yet they reinvent it. Within the last year or so, I've seen young bands doing their own reinventions: Savages, Silvergun and Spleen, La Luz, PINS. Coming up, I'll see the Pack a.d. and punk band White Lung. I've bought great music recently by Ume, Screaming Females, La Sera, and TacocaT. Kids are still picking up guitars and whacking on actual drums. Someone in every generation seems to do that, whether rock is popular or not.

Frankly, even though it's harder to get bookings or listeners, I think it's probably better for rock to be a somewhat underground phenomenon. Rock gets bloated in the limelight. It thrives in the demi-monde.

So long live rock, in Boston and Vancouver and everywhere in between, in Manchester and Rio de Janeiro and Melbourne and even Angola (where there is a thriving death metal scene). For me, there's no feeling quite like holding an electric guitar against my body, putting my fingers on the strings, and making sweet and nasty and outrageous sounds come out of an amplifier. And some people continue to feel the same way. Maybe not forever, but I don't see an end yet.


You can go home again

Photo by Paula Worsley
This past weekend, my most successful band from when Sweetie and I lived in Boston had its first ever reunion almost 30 years after we last played together. We were on the bill of the final night of 13 shows spread over several weeks celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pipeline, a popular program on the MIT campus radio station. Bob Dubrow, the show's host, organized an incredible array of reunions of Boston bands from several eras, starting in the 1960s.

I've been in a few bands in my time, but none that ever reached the point where, years later, someone asks the band to get back together for a reunion show. Since we had done OK but weren't hugely popular, I really never expected to be asked. But then we were asked. And once we were, there was no way I was going to say no, even though it involved two return flights from Vancouver to Boston. I wasn't sure what to expect from a band reunion, especially after so many years. What I got was a beautiful, wonderful swirl of music and memory and emotions.

Sweetie and I had never lost touch with our former band mates. We lived in Boston for several years after the band broke up. After we swapped coasts, first there was email, then later Facebook. But people's lives change. Kids, new jobs, sometimes new bands, sometimes no bands. But there was never animosity as with some breakups. The band just came to an end for various reasons after about a three-year run.

When I heard we were invited to play a reunion show, I did hesitate a bit. As you know if you are a regular reader, I love playing music more than anything else in the world. And I had loved that band. But as the main songwriter, producer, and principal instigator, sometimes I felt as though I was carrying most of the weight. Everyone was committed, but I felt (rightly or wrongly) as though it wouldn't run unless I did most of the running. And that can wear you down.

But with the reunion, right away it became apparent that this was a team project, and my hesitation evaporated. Our singer, the first to be contacted about the invitation, was all in, and really putting in most of the effort—an amazing effort. And our drummer and a guitarist who had played with us during our final year were enthusiastic. Much as I am used to running things, I was happy to let our singer keep this moving along with her still considerable energy. In fact, I started to feel guilty that I wasn't doing enough! But Sweetie and I were 3,000 miles way from where things were happening, and there wasn't much we could do.

Photo by Scott Ferguson
The anticipation was intense. Walking into the practice space and seeing our singer was a wow moment. So good! And then our guitarist. And then our drummer. Like it was the most natural thing in the world, just showing up for a regular practice. We had three hours booked, and we used the time well. Better than ever really. We ran through the songs we were planning to do, and if one wasn't quite working, we figured out what needed to change, played the song again, and nailed it. This kept happening. Our singer and drummer's son, also a drummer, came by, since he was going to sit in with us. He ripped through two of our fastest songs with us as if he'd been playing them all his life. It was such a joy! I don't think I've ever practised as hard in my life, but it was the absolute best. When we were done, I knew I needed to go over some things myself, but I felt really good about where the band was.

It took us a while to say goodbye. It was just too good hanging out together again!

The next afternoon, we gathered at the club. Six acts were scheduled, so we were fortunate to be allowed an actual sound check. That let us get a feel for the stage and the rented equipment. We had never played that room, and I had never been there, so I was surprised to see how big it was. A capacity of 575 people! It reminded me of the Biltmore in Vancouver in a lot of ways. After the sound check, we went to the restaurant upstairs and shared a bunch of Lebanese food at a booth that was too small for five of us (minus guitarist, plus a very instrumental fiancé). Coziness, good food, a friendly and cute server, and we had ourselves a pre-show party.

Photo by Scott Ferguson
Our guitarist and special guest drummer arrived. We hit the stage early in the evening, but there was still a good crowd. Although I know I flubbed some of the solos, overall I think this was possibly our best show. The energy was fantastic, especially from our singer. And there is nothing better than seeing someone in the audience singing along to a song you wrote. In a way, it was good to play early, because then we could relax and enjoy the other bands. It was a great night!

And it was hard to leave at the end of it. To say goodbye again to people I love not only as musicians but as people. I still feel the buzz from the weekend. I have also cried a few times. Reunions are powerful things! I hadn't known that until I finally got the chance to experience one. We said this was our first and only time. It's difficult and expensive to get us all together. And this was certainly a singular experience. But with all of us feeling so good about it, I have to wonder if there might be more.


Adventures in guitar repair

Not as bright red as the flash makes it look
Guitar geek alert. Be warned.

I spent a pleasant afternoon in a small music shop in South Surrey called Surfside Music & Vintage Guitars. For me, musical instrument shops are right up there as great places to hang out with book stores, garden stores, and stationery stores.

My friend E told me about Surfside when I said that I wanted to restore my vintage Fender Mustang to as close to its original condition (plus wear and tear) as possible. Mostly what I wanted to do was to restore the stock bridge that had been modified (badly) before I bought the guitar, used, sometime in the late 1980s. The original bridge had a tremolo bar, a.k.a. whammy bar, which allows you to bend notes (more than you can with your fingers on the strings and more than one string at a time). You can't play surf guitar without one, and it's a good sound for other things. I can already get that sound out of my Stratocaster, but I figured if I could improve the Mustang, why not.

The man who runs Surfside Music is Robbie Keene, an affable man with no mean guitar playing skills himself. I handed him my red Mustang with the yellow racing stripe and let him take it apart.

I had thought the Mustang was a 1969. Close. It was made in 1970, which makes it the oldest guitar I own (my Telecaster Thinline was made in 1972). It still has almost all its original parts, including the nut, which showed evidence of a crack repaired with glue. The pickups, switches, pots, knobs, tuning pegs, and pick-guard are all original. The finish is original. Robbie said that the painted headstock is rare among Fender guitars, which usually have a natural-finish headstock. There is no date stamp on the neck, but that headstock, the same colour and fade pattern as the body, indicates that the neck is original as well. The guitar itself is in the kind of shape that I like—basically good with a few nicks that show that it was played (as I play it now) and not just collected.

The only things missing were the original round bar through which the strings are threaded, the springs it was mounted on, and the tremolo bar.

Robbie and I discussed the restoration of the tremolo bridge. He would have had to send away for the springs and the tremolo bar itself. That was no big deal (assuming Fender still had the parts), since I wasn't in a hurry. But he showed me why the tremolo bridge might not be the best idea. It has to do with the angle of the strings at the bottom of the guitar as they go up and over the bridge. With the modified bridge, which pinned the ends of the strings flat against the bridge plate, the angle was fairly steep, which meant the strings were stable on the bridge and are unlikely to slide (which they don't). With the original setup, the strings come through holes in a round bar at the bottom of the guitar. It's maybe a couple of millimetres height difference at most, but it makes a big difference to the stability of the strings on the bridge. Apparently, this is how Fender designed these guitars. You have to play a bit differently to compensate for the reduced string tension.

I decided to go with Robbie's recommendation and not do the whole tremolo setup. He showed me on a 1965 Mustang (first year for that model, which was named after the car) how he could flip the round bar over so that the strings would go backward through the holes, around and under the bar, and then over the bridge. That would give it about the same angle and string tension as it had before but without the ugly bar that was difficult to get strings under. It's not the original setup, but it's probably more playable. And since, as I said, I have a whammy bar on my Strat, I decided to go for more playable, especially since I would probably not want to change my playing style to prevent the strings from slipping off the bridge.

So I didn't have to leave the guitar. I just waited for about an hour, amusing myself by playing a 1981 black three-quarter-length Rickenbacker 320, a descendent of the three-pickup model 325 that you see in old photos of John Lennon. It was sweet. I also played a Telecaster Standard that was very nice. It felt like my Tele, but the sound is completely different. And I walked around the crowded shop checking out all the cool vintage guitars, basses, and other gear.

The bill was amazingly reasonable. I left with a guitar that plays pretty much the same, looks better, and has clean switches that work better. I also left with more knowledge. And if I ever want to order the hardware and go with the tremolo setup, I can do so. The shop is not around the corner, but it's not very far away, and it's the kind of place where you can get more personal service than at Tom Lee or Long & McQuaid, both of which are excellent music stores but much larger. I know I'll be back for one reason or another. That Rickenbacker is not cheap, but it might have my name on it.