Some years ago (almost a decade, possibly) I was in the market for a new electric guitar. What I was interested in was something middle-of-the-road, an affordable, all-purpose axe to render some decent sounds. It was in a since-defunct shop on Whyte Ave that I chanced upon a thematic double score.
I’m no guitar expert or gear head, but I know/knew a Fender Stratocaster-based model when I see/saw one. This one was a Samick Malibu, a Greg Bennett signature model (to this day I’m still not sure who that is or why he warrants his own line of guitars). I won’t pretend that the make or model was what interested me – I was trying out guitars pretty randomly that day, going by look, instinct and price. In this case the random selection happened to work out rather well.
Some dyed-in-the-wool guitarists can explain in great detail just why a given axe appeals to them, and on many levels. Action, wood type(s), string balance, hardware, year and country of production, these things matter to those who get it. In my simplified case it almost always comes down to feel and sound. It’s a very physical thing, a tactile experience that I can’t always put a proverbial finger on. So it’s easy to say that the Malibu “just felt right” in my hands, even after just 10-15 minutes of play. Some guitars by contrast don’t feel right. The neck in particular for me needs to feel comfortable in my left hand as I form and grip chords, clinching my thumb around the back and top and reaching the other digits around the bottom.
Everything else is a matter of sound, of appealing to the ear once the instrument is plugged into an amplifier. The Malibu is a pretty straightforward model, with a five-step tone switcher, two tone dials and a volume knob. With this kind of range in tonal possibilities I need to feel happy with most of them. And the Malibu satisfied me here for the most part.
I was also looking for a fuzz pedal. I’d been fairly enamored with the fuzz-rich, textured washes of shoegazer music. And to be honest it’s an easier style of music to create than the technical-based frenzies of metal or jazz. And shoegazer is open to a fair amount of noise and imperfection. It’s hard to get “wrong” as long you have the right gear (obviously there’s a degree of songwriting, but regardless). In this case I chanced upon a UFO fuzz-octave pedal that not only matched the sonic grit I desired, but also the body color of the Malibu: a kind of mustard-y gold with a subtle sparkle finish. And this was not simply a cute matching of colors. It was a direct, coincidental reference to the album “Gold” by the (previously) shoegazing rockers Starflyer 59, the album cover a simple color swatch of essentially the same mustard-gold (minus the sparkle). Seeing the (roughly) same color on the guitar and pedal, it felt like an aesthetic sign – and I walked out of the store with the Malibu, the UFO and a gig bag for a very affordable price.
The Malibu ever since has been my go-to axe for most any style of guitar-based music. Hard rock, shoegazer, surf rock, super-detuned heavy stuff, pure noise… I’ve learned a lot and I’ve created a lot with this instrument. And its tactile and sonic appeal has never wavered for me. It has always felt right.
© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes