When I was a very little boy my sister started playing the saxophone and I was very jealous of all the attention she was getting from this. For some odd reason, the word “clarinet” came into my head, and from a moment of pure jealously a musician was born. I can pack all of my belongings into one bag and strip myself of all luxury, but I will never be able to shed my guitar. It has become an extension of my personality, and to be without it would be to be incomplete.
That said, it is a massive fucking burden.
This blog is about what it’s like to be backpacking as a guitarist; the trials, the tribulations and the stories that have come as a result of having some wood.
So let’s start with the physical object. In it’s bag it weighs about 1.5kg. It’s a 3/4 size guitar so it’s very portable. I kind of went and wrecked that one day when I needed new strings and, in the process of waiting for the man at the music shop, fell in love with a ukulele, which now sits in the front pocket, and forgot to buy strings. I will forever hate myself for that moment.
Because it’s so small, most airlines don’t have a problem with me taking it as hand luggage (although this is always fun to try and explain in any language but English at the check in desk (tomorrow I attempt this in Spanish (necesito ayuda))), but occasionally I’ll be the guy waiting around in the oversized and fragile baggage section long after everybody else has left the airport, pining for a sandwich. Once it even got lost between Auckland and Hong Kong in Brisbane because my first plane was delayed and in the diminished changeover they just didn’t have time to pack my Schneider. It turned up a couple of days later, much to my relief. Actually, when I returned to the airport in Hong Kong to fly out they remembered me and escorted me through security right up to the gate to explain to the captain that I had to take it on board and even gave me a note to pass on to the captain of my connecting flight to explain the situation. I was most impressed. Five points for service there.
Then, of course, there’s those moments when you’re running late for a train and you’re trying to run with a guitar in your hand and a backpack on your back, doing your best not to knock out small children as you swing around every corner and when you finally get on board you end up straddling a backpack and a guitar (and a ukulele) as the train rocks and rolls and throws you into the nearest German. That’s if you don’t get it stuck in the train door…
When I go on multi-day hikes I have to find a place to leave it. When I’m camping, I have to keep it dry with absolute priority. When a string breaks and I have to replace them all, often I won’t be able to feed myself for a couple of days. It just means that much.
Fucking needy piece of wood.
More so than the physical impracticalities are the social implications of being a guitarist. You’re immediately pigeon holed as “that douchebag with a guitar” in every hostel before you’re bombarded with multiple requests for songs you haven’t even heard of which apparently every guitarist MUST know. If I hear somebody play “Riptide”, “Wonderwall” or “Wish You Were Here” in a hostel one more time, I will use the sharp ends of the strings to pierce my eardrums and then attempt to slit my wrists, as much as I do love Pink Floyd.
Here’s the thing. I grew tired of learning chords when I was sixteen (I’ll be twenty five this year), I have developed my playing a long way since then, and as an acoustic guitarist it’s just not practical to learn “Through The Fire And Flames” as without a backing, it’s just empty (plus it’s a shit song anyway). If I learn a piece of music it’s to challenge my playing and if I cover a simple song I will usually try to play the melody, the bass and the percussion all at the same time while singing. The music I learn is more in the style of Andy Mckee, John Butler and Tommy Emmanuel instead of Green Day, Jason Mraz or Ed fucking Sheeran. I’m very shy about my voice as well and these days I mostly write instrumentals. I AM NOT THE GUY WHO SITS IN THE CORNER AND PLAYS OASIS COVERS and I never will be. I despise everybody who is that guy or girl. I will not be the person to sit around a campfire for a singalong, but I will sit there and play what I want quite happily.
People immediately think you’re a sleazy dick who is trying to sleep with everybody because “all musicians are drug abusing, alcoholic, promiscuous cunts” but let me tell you this; “musicians always getting the ladies” is an absolute myth. I’m not upset about this, I have a very docile romantic life (I have written only three love songs, one legit, one about a mountain, and one including the line “fuck you, leave me alone”), but I certainly don’t like being pegged as a latin lover just because of the wood I have in my hands (pun intended). My fingering technique does not replicate how I strum the lady harp. I have never had a romantic moment as a result of my musical abilities, and I don’t take drugs and I don’t abuse alcohol and I don’t like to party until 4.00 am all the time, just when a Venezuelan turns up in my life. It’s not as bad as thinking Aussies and Kiwis are the same, but it’s on the same scale nonetheless.
It’s the equivalent of seeing you holding a camera and immediately thinking you like to drag random women back to your studio to force them to take off their clothes, initially to take a photo but really to seduce them and sleep with them before you throw them back out onto the street and use the photographs as blackmail material. I mean it’s probably happened before and it will probably happen again, but the minuscule minority does not define everybody else.
Difficulties aside, as I said earlier, you will never see me travelling without it, although it is currently in storage at Bogotá airport until tomorrow. It’s one of my most defining features and a Tom without a guitar is just not a Tom. If you’re actually interested in my music, check out Projekt;(13) on Facebook.
– Tom @ indieroad