Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Birth of an Icon

Day 8: Memphis

I have two apologies to make. The first is this: I should be making a longer post, because I have a lot of developing thoughts about Memphis that I need to relate. However, I've decided to wait until tomorrow evening to post these thoughts. The more I see about this city, the more I understand the important role music has played in the development of Memphis and, from there, the country. However, I haven't seen Stax Records or Sun Records yet, so, for lack of a better term, I need to do more 'research' before making anymore commentary on the local music scene.

The second apology I have to make is for the simple reason that this entire entry is going to be completely and utterly self-indulgent. This is because I am a musician who, today, got to tour the Gibson guitar factory in Memphis.

To put this in proper perspective, understand that Gibson is to guitars what Mercedes-Benz is to automobiles. Famous, incredibly high-quality, and, most importantly, iconic. If you named your top 5 musical idols, I would be willing to bet at least one of them is a loyal Gibson player. B. B. King, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Tony Iommi...the list goes on and on. Paramount players in every genre and style have excelled at their craft while playing a Gibson. To actually see how these instruments are assembled is an incredible experience. This is basically the equivalent of touring the cacao fields where Willy Wonka harvests his chocolate. It is the opportunity to witness firsthand the still-binding DNA of an icon.

Speaking of Wonka, I was like Augustus Gloop touring this factory. Surrounded by casual tourists, I wandered bug-eyed through the factory, asking irritating super-fan questions that clearly irritated the snarky, hungover tour guide. "How many double-neck guitars do you do? Is the date on the wood the date of harvest, or the date of curing? Is the rosewood affected by changes in atmosphere during transport from India?". Our poor tour guide was getting irritated. Suffice it to say, I eventually stopped asking questions. Point is, I was excited.

Even the smell of the factory is gorgeous. It smells like freshly cut timber, wood oils, and lacquer. It smells as it should: like a craftsman's workshop.

I'll spare everyone the details of what goes into the manufacturing process. I will say, however, that these instruments are a masterpiece: a perfect combination of artistry, craftsmanship, beauty, and industry (as perfect as these instruments are, they are still able to crank out 35-60 per day). And, when finished, they absolutely sing. Playing a Gibson Les Paul for the first time today, I felt like a caveman who had previously cooked food with twigs and flint stones, only to accidentally stumble upon a professional-grade kitchen with an endless array of spices and ingredients. It was a completely new sound in an arena that I thought I knew well enough already.

I have fallen in love with Gibson guitars. One day, I will own a blue Gibson Les Paul (which may or may not exist- the picture below is under the 'Epiphone' brand). Still, I'm glad that these instruments are so affordable, retailing at a very reasonable $5,000


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