A Musical Instrument is for Life. Artley flute, Taurus guitar.

If Music be the Food of Love, play on...

my alto saxophone, detail
my alto saxophone, detail

Musical Instruments - my personal collection

There was always music in our family house. My mum played the piano, accompanied by the clicking of her long red nails on the keys. My older brothers also took piano lessons. I had a blue plastic ukelele which I liked to scrape with a cane, having enjoyed hearing violins in a local variety orchetra. And there was the gramophone and a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan, Will Fyfe and Harry Lauder. To this day, I don't think it matters too much what music a youngster is exposed to, as long as there is music and people appreciating it.

When my turn came, I was sent to piano lessons, probably a year too soon, and didn't make a lot of progress, especially in the summers when the daylight hours were for cricket, and cricket alone. The piano taught me sightreading and basic keyboard harmony, so it wasn't a wasted experience, but I still don't get along with keyboards.

Then one day the school music teacher announced that some orchestral instruments were available if anyone was interested. It turned out she had a cello, a bassoon and a flute, returned by recent school leavers. I asked for the cello but she said it needed repair. So I asked for the bassoon but she said my hands were too small (not true - I was always spider-fingered). So, mildly disappointed, I settled for the flute.

I took to the flute pretty well. I had a great teacher, Adam Bennet, who concentrated on tone production above all else. No gas pipes effects allowed! But he also told me after a year or so that the school instrument I'd been given was really holding me back, as it was of poor quality and in need of a major overhaul or better still, recycling as a fire poker. What I didn't know was that he'd had the same conversation with my father who, on an impulse, went to Biggars Music Shop in Glasgow and came home to surprise me with an Artley Concert Flute, second hand, but in perfect order.

The Flute

my artley concert flute. the first instrument I owned
my artley concert flute. the first instrument I owned
detail - maker's name, artley
detail - maker's name, artley
jerry has been 'on the case' for 40 years
jerry has been 'on the case' for 40 years

Going to Biggars was a good move. For a non-player to buy a musical instrument for a musician is a very high risk and not to be recommended. But the staff in Biggars were/are knowledgeable and experienced and sold him a good quality instrument at a fair price. The Artley is not a sterling silver instrument. It is electroplated nickel silver, and over the 43 years I've owned and played it, my finger acids have taken their toll on the key plating (see picture above). But the tone and intonation over the full range are as good as ever (when I'm in practice!) and the playability is far better than many more expensive instruments I've tried. It has been re-padded once only, and three or four times I've stripped down the entire mechanism for cleaning and lubrication. I was so nervous the first time I did that, in case I couldn't put it back together again, that I forgot all about the lubrication and had to repeat the entire process.

I must have been 14 when I stuck Jerry onto the case. It seemed a good idea at the time, as did the dymo-tape label saying 'MORE POWER TO YOUR THUMBS'...

my taurus classic guitar, built 1970
my taurus classic guitar, built 1970
detail - body, heel & neck
detail - body, heel & neck

Guitars, guitars, guitars

The Beatles have a lot to answer for. How could you be a teenage musician in those years and not want to play guitar? But the school didn't entertain guitars and having recently been given a flute, I wasn't going to ask for a guitar too. The only option, then, was to start saving. I was 15 or 16 when I lashed out £9 while on holiday in Spain for a very basic classic guitar. When I got it home, I set about learning from a TV series, Hold Down a Chord with John Pearse. I also bought a book of flamenco guitar and started learning some of the forms, aided by records (also brought back from Spain). And of course I learned that my guitar was a heap of junk!

But it was still better than what you could get for the same money in Britain, so I sold it for £10, put another £5 to it and, on holiday again, bought a much nicer Spanish classic guitar which has been my constant travelling companion for 40 years, wherever I've lived and worked. It's not my best instrument, but it will always be my favourite. We've been in more bars and bedrooms together than I care to remember.

The guitar on the right is neither of the above. By 1970, I was playing classic guitar seriously and wanted a quality instrument. This one is made by Taurus (which people often mishear as Torres - no such luck!) and is as good a classic as I will ever need. It is beautifully constructed, with a rosewood fingerboard, and an unusual jet black finish to the sides and back.

It has no strings in the picture because it was while changing the strings I had the sudden notion to photograph and write about my best instruments. Normally, I fit it with Augustine Blue strings or sometimes Aranjuez Gold.

my 'entry level' alto saxophone
my 'entry level' alto saxophone

Honky Tonk Blues

I was playing flute in a folk-rock band for a while. But the band gradually morphed into something louder and heavier where the flute wasn't really needed. The choices were, leave the band or make more noise. I also had an electric guitar (a bright red Hagstrom) by this time, but we had enough guitarists. So, as I was now working for a living and had bit more spare cash, I decided to take up the sax, and bought the one on the right, a pretty basic alto. I don't consider myself a saxophonist. I can bash out riffs in a rock band, but my attempts to sit in with the sax section in a Glenn Miller style big band were fun but a failure. These guys were all in their fifties and sixties and had been doing it all their lives. I'm glad to have tried it nonetheless. It's a great sound to be in the midst of. But String of Pearls was my downfall. The solo goes to second alto because the first is on clarinet. And I couldn't hack it!

my cayuela flamenco guitar
my cayuela flamenco guitar
detail - the label, cayuela, 1997
detail - the label, cayuela, 1997

Asi se Toca!

Flamenco - I love it. In Britain and even more in America, people often think of Flamenco as a guitar based music. But it's not. The Flamencos sing and dance. And if there are no guitars, there are feet to stamp, hands to clap, fingers to snap, tabletops to beat. Flamenco is the compas, the structure and rhythm. Cante Jondo (deep song). Cante Chico (light song).

Possibly the best living Flamenco guitarist, Juan Martin, travels with his troupe of singers dancers and guitarists and is content to spend most of a recital in the role of accompanist to the song and dance. His occasional guitar solos are just to please his fans, not himself.

I have spent many nights playing Flamenco into the darkness (it's an improvised music; unlike classical guitar, you don't read it. You play by ear). And for years, I played it on my aging 'travelling' classic guitar. But there are two reasons why you shouldn't really play Flamenco on a classic. One, the tone quality is never right, and two, Flamenco rhythm techniques can do physical damage to the soundboard of a classic.

So, one day in London, walking by the Ivor Mairantz Music Centre, on a whim I went inside and asked to try some Flamenco Guitars. I tried three, dragged myself out of the shop empty handed and returned the next day to buy no.2 (pictured right), a Spanish built Cayuela Flamenco instrument. Flamenco guitars have thin scratch plates to protect the soundboard and are shallower bodied than classics. They are also of lighter construction throughout. All of which combines to give a distinctive bright, sharp tone and crisp articulation. Very traditional instruments still have wooden tuning pegs instead of machine heads, but as this doesn't alter the tone and merely makes tuning difficult, it is beginning to die out.

my renaissance lute
my renaissance lute
detail - the vaulted back
detail - the vaulted back
detail - the hand-cut rose
detail - the hand-cut rose

Semper Dowland semper dolens

A love of classic guitar inevitably introduced me to early music from the lutenists and vihuelists of France, England and Spain. And there is no doubt that this music (like most music) sounds best on authentic instruments. Perhaps the high point musically from the Renaissance was the lute of John Dowland, court musician to Queen Elizabeth. My lute is a modern reproduction of Dowland's style of instrument. It has 13 strings in seven 'courses' or pairs, with the top string only being single. It is tuned a minor third above the classic guitar (though this doesn't take account of the changes in pitch down the centuries).

The lute is quite tricky to play. Because the string tension is much lower and the construction much lighter, I've had to learn to use a far less 'muscular' technique than suits the guitar. Then there is the difficulty of keeping the instrument on my lap when playing. The rounded back is naturally unstable and it has a tendency to slip forwards at the worst possible moment. I haven't dropped it yet, but it's been close.

A few more technical details about the lute, mostly for guitarists: the strings are tied directly to the bridge but do not pass over any 'bone'. The frets are not metal but are actually of gut (or nylon) tied around the neck. Renaissance lutenists used to fine tune their instruments by sliding the frets up or down to suit different keys.

My lute is strung with nylon, not the traditional gut which offers no advantages beyond the feeling of authenticity. In the old days, quality gut strings were so rare that people used to joke that lutenists spend half their lives tuning their lute and the other half playing out of tune. That's why I stick with nylon.

My lute was a 25th anniversary present from my wife. It is far too precious and fragile to carry around the Middle East, so it only gets played on my visits home. But becoming an accomplished or at least a halfway competent renaissance lutenist is my number one retirement project (and maybe not so far away).

Like many musicians, I have accumulated instruments over the years. The ones I've featured here are all special to me in one way or another. But the full list would also include: a new Yamaha electro-acoustic, a djemby, bongoes, harmonicas, a piano, a piccolo, a jaw-harp, a ukelele-banjo and a motley collection of whistles, fifes, schaums, etc.

Thank you for reading!

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Comments 31 comments

Jen's Solitude profile image

Jen's Solitude 7 years ago from Delaware

Hi, You sure do have quite a collection of instruments and the skill to go with such an impressive collection. I too think it is good for kids to be exposed to music. It is so sad that so many schools drop their music classes. We didn't have much money but my parents made sure we all played an instrument. My sister ended up playing the flute and basson. I played the violin and then taught myself the guitar. My youngest sister learned how to play the clarinet. As a result we can all read music and although I'm the only one who continues with it. We can all pick it up and apply what we learned as children at any time. A true gift from our parents.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jen - maybe the most important gift a parent can give is a practical love of music or any of the arts. Thanks for commenting, and keep on playing!


Steve Rensch profile image

Steve Rensch 7 years ago

My initial foray into music was the clarinet. It lasted six weeks. The squeaking was nearly unbearable to me, so I couldn't argue with my parents' decision to cut it off. The piano was different. My father was a professional musician, so I carried just enough of his blood to become tolerably good. Unfortunately, when my piano teacher finally put it to me to choose between piano and sports, I made the decision which almost every teenage boy would make . . . I let go of the piano. One of the deeper regrets of my life.


MM Del Rosario profile image

MM Del Rosario 7 years ago from NSW, Australia

I don't play any musical instrument, but I encourage my daughter to play musical instrument, she now plays the flute and the guitar, i agree it is one of the most important gift you can give to your child, the love of music......


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Steve - the clarinet is none too easy as a first instrument. But you could easily get back into piano or electronic keyboard even now (because I guess you've given up rugby?) It's never too late.

MM - flute & guitar is a great combination, because it can also lead you into composition. My dad wasn't musical but he bought me the flute that got me started. You keep encouraging the lass, ok?


dineane profile image

dineane 7 years ago from North Carolina

I'm so envious of the musically talented! My sister and father are pretty good on multiple instruments. I didn't stick with anything long enough to be very good. My daughter played violin from 2nd to 8th grade, and piano for a couple of years. I hate she gave it up in high school, but I can't seem to convinve her that she'll regret it some day.

Enjoyed reading about your collection!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Dineane - there are so many other things competing for children's time, but if she's done the groundwork, there's no reason why she shouldn't take it up again in good time. Thanks for the read :)


C.Ferreira profile image

C.Ferreira 7 years ago from Rutland, VT

I loved this Hub. I am obsessed with musical instruments. I can't really play any other than some African percussion instruments that I have seemed to collect over the past few years, but when I see an interesting instrument, I gotta know about it!

This was great. Thank you!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

C.Ferreira - thank you :) I play guitar every day. Usually the 'travelling guitar' that I mentioned but didn't photograph. But when I finally hang up my shoes, I'm going to have a ball. Especially with that lute...


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

It is sad to see some of the music programs disappear in some schools around here. I love to see children learn new worlds with all the different instruments and be able to express themselves in new ways.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

RGraf - I agree. School orchestras and bands coupled with instrument lending programmes can give youngsters a completely new direction and an interest for life.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Music is a great part of life - I would be devastated if I could not hear music daily.

I wish though that I could like you say that I play my guitar every day! I don't - it sits in its case just the other side of the desk at which I'm writing right now, but seldom gets taken out!

I guss I just have to do something about that,hey?

Thanks for sharing some of your collection of instruments.

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Tony - quite right too. Blow the dust off that old axe ;)

Thanks for touring my music hubs this morning!


awsydney profile image

awsydney 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Hi Paraglider, I like the look of the beautiful lute. That's the instrument in one of Sting's albums. You're definitely correct in saying a music instrument is for life, to be passed down from one generation to another. Well done! I hope to write a few more hubs about music.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

awsydney - thanks for visiting. I'll be reunited with the lute in a couple of weeks on my next trip home. One of the many things I'm looking forward to.


Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 7 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

I love my guitars, banjos, mandolin, piano and various other instruments of mass musciality. Great hub - great photos!

Cheers!

Chef Jeff


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jeff - musical instruments are more than mere possessions. They become part of you after a while. Thanks for commenting!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

wow Dave, great collections, I want to hear you on the flute, I like the guitar though, and because we are poor when I was small, we cant have piano, but my sister plays it nicely, she goes to the church to play it and the priest allows her to do that,my only brother played the guitar (he died last year), am a novice in guitar,

nice hub, Maita


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Maita - keep playing. even 5 minutes a day will get you there!


skywalker2001 6 years ago

Extremely well kept collection of musical instruments. After the guitar I love sax but even though I had a go at the flute I was never able to get past the first octave... Too many things on my plate I suppose. There is not an instrument in the world I do not like...percussion is great too, the good thing about it is that you can just clap or stamp your feet :)

Music is the essence of life. I love that Abba song that says: So I say...

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing

Thanks for all the joy they're bringing

Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty

What would life be?

Without a song or a dance what are we?

So I say thank you for the music

For giving it to me.

Thanks for a wonderful blog.

Cheers!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Nick - thanks for visiting here too. I've never regretted stretching the purse strings for a better instrument. With care, all acoustic or natural instruments can give a lifetime's pleasure. Not bad for a few hundred pounds.


pablo 6 years ago

hi , do you know anything about the Cayuela Frontera 01 model , is it a flamenco or classical anything would be great. thank you.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Pablo - I don't know that model, but I've just seen one on sale here http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/msg/1829508370.htm...

From the picture, it looks like a classic (I can't see any scratch plates, but Cayuela uses transparent ones so they might be there). None of the pics show the depth of the body, so again it's hard to be sure. At $350, in good order, I'd say it's probably a good deal.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 5 years ago from I'm outta here

Oh I agree, I feel every family should introduce musical instruments and the ability to make music with virtually anything, from the heart as it is a rich and joyous part of the human experience. I love your musical instrument is for life, well done and much enjoyed. :) Katie


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Katie - last visit home I also brought the flute out to the Middle East, so I now have more options here.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 4 years ago from UK

Oh I'm glad I found this one! I'm sure your love of music will have passed down the generations ;-)

I am particularly fond of the piano!

I agree that homes should be full of instruments. (Even if they only have a singular string to pluck!!)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes, it's important to show children that music is for playing, not just for listening to.. Our piano was a Broadwood upright, quite old (it even had candlesticks fitted) but nicely preserved. My daughter played it very well :)


and 4 years ago

I have the same classic guitar made in spain. My father was spanish and bought this guitar call exactly Taurus, year 70, model 54, made by "musical amporium, llobet and cia, Barcelona. " Is it the same ?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

It sounds exactly the same, year, make and model. Mine has matured into a very playable, fine toned instrument. How about yours?


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 9 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi Paraglider, We have a lot in common. I started out on a cornet and played it along with teaching myself the guitar. I have never played a taurus guitar. I have a Hofner HF 15, and a Sanchez from 1970. Martins are my best steel string guitars. Loved reading this article. Stella


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 months ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Stella - sorry for late response. Almost impossible to part with musical instruments, isn't it!

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