Every piece of equipment in a musicians life has meaning. That guitar you never play but can’t get rid of, the cable you’ve had for a decade even though it cost £1, a terrible strap that was a gift from a mate – all of these things take on an almost supernatural importance. In this new series, I’m going to tell you stories about picks that have given me cause to reflect, starting with the most important one of all.
For four and a half years, I worked at Wunjo Guitars on Denmark Street. I’m lucky that I got to work there when I did – the 12 Bar was still there, so was the rotting hulk of Enterprise Studios, and the Alley, where I had many, many laughs and even got my leg tattooed. I played hundreds of guitars, met some famous musicians and actors, and played the best guitar of my life so far (a ’58 330), but two events rise head and shoulders above all of these.
The first was being asked by a very young, wide-eyed young man if he could play a Flying V, and watching with no small amount of emotion and pride as he started busting out Dio riffs in front of his impossibly proud dad. As I watched him play a guitar so big for him it was literally touching the floor, I looked up to see that the shop had ground to a standstill, with musical and non-musical customers alike being moved by this moment of purity.
The second, and the true subject of our article, was when I spoke to another young man around the age of 9, who had made the mistake of being left-handed. This is a terrible idea if you want to play anything with strings, and while I was talking to him (and his mum) he talked feverishly about how excited he got when he got to be around guitars, whether he could play them or not. I had only just got into boutique picks, and was carrying a few Gravity Waves with me, so I gave him one on the condition that he was going to practice.
A week or so later, a letter arrived at the shop addressed to me. It contained a hand-written note from the young gentleman telling me that he loved the pick, that I was very kind, and that he was practicing every day. “I have included my lucky pick”, he said, “I hope you like it”. It was a browny celluloid, very thin, and with a little tarnishing on the tip. I was having a pretty bad time in life at that point, and this made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile.
I keep that plectrum in a pouch on my keys, and I’ve kept the letter too. If ever confirmation were needed that small things make the biggest difference, this was that.