How I Didn’t Learn to Play Guitar

In 1989 I got a book that was just strumming easy chords to famous songs. It was frustrating because they weren’t necessarily in the right key and so I couldn’t play along with the records. But I persevered. Went don’t a few dead ends – such as spending months fingering the open E chord the wrong way.

I had an Epiphone superstrat. But no amp for the first couple of years. I plugged the guitar into my boombox and if I wanted distortion just turned it up. I knew nothing and that probably slowed down my learning.

But things got better when I bought a Led Zeppelin tab book. It was mostly inaccurate, but it got me started on lead and riffs. But the big change was when I realised that I could play the notes from Black Dog in any order I wanted and they worked over the same notes. I’d discovered the pentatonic scale. So improv began.

I started buying American guitar mags that had tabs to songs in. And I bought tab books I had no chance of being able to play. But I’d enjoy muddling through playing along to Satriani’s Extremist album despite not being able to play the widdly bits. Though funnily enough it was often the riffs I loved more than the widdling anyway. By the time I started uni in 93 I would spend weeks pouring over tab books and could (back then, no chance now) play most of Maiden’s Fear of the Dark album.

The main thing for me though was right from the start I was more interesting in writing my own songs rather than play someone elses. Even now my repertoire of other artists’ material is very low. I would have been a better guitarist if I’d had lessons, but less fun for me I think. I enjoyed the journey, I wasn’t looking for some destination. I would do stuff like use two boomboxes to record my own songs with sound on sound – dubbing my live playing into it – adding drums from a cheap keyboard. I enjoyed the muddling through, the experimenting.