It was my first electric guitar. A second-hand 1961 Hofner V3, solid with a sunburst finish. Bought in autumn 1970 in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, it cost me £19. Cheap, even for that time, it wouldn't have been of much interest to a would-be Hendrix or Clapton. German-made, it was the type of guitar once popular with instrumental bands like The Shadows or The Ventures. In other words, it was good for twangy-jangly stuff rather than for heroic guitar solos.
But I still have it. Because it has its own distinctive sound, more like that of early Beatles, than of 70s rock heroes. It's very much a working guitar which I've used on many records, preferring it to rather posher Gibsons and Fenders. My Hofner has possibly survived all this time (well, with only one serious re-build) because I've rarely used it for live shows. The only other person I know of who also owns one is Chris Rea. A Hofner V3 was his first guitar too and, like me, he's hung onto his. In a spooky coincidence, I discovered that Chris also has the same birthday as me, although he's two years older.
Men can become very strange and somewhat precious about their guitars. They like to hold detailed conversations about them in pubs, sometimes, trying to out-do each other with their technical knowledge. Some men like to hang their guitars up round the walls or stand them upright in racks, so that the living room begins to resemble a guitar shop. Women aren't always keen on this. You tend, therefore, to find the trait more common in men who now live by themselves.
They will talk authoritatively about this or that instrument, sometimes referring to a particularly treasured model as “this bad boy”. I must know something of the subject, but I do try to avoid getting bogged down in such exchanges.
The Hofner V3 is my most-used electric guitar. It doesn't have a name -- unlike my Rickenbacker, 'Red Betsy'. It’s 12-string 330 model which I acquired some years ago. Rickenbacker 12-strings were favoured by The Beatles, The Byrds and The Smiths. Johnny Marr of the Smiths bought his Rickenbacker 330 from Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, who, in turn, claimed that he acquired it from Roger McGuinn of legendary US folk-rockers, the Byrds. The guitar must now have become a sort of musical Excalibur.
The highly distinctive chime of a Ricky 12 string makes it a bit of a boy's toy. It's not a very versatile guitar, however. Like a beautiful vintage car which languishes undriven in the garage for 362 days of the year, it's hugely admired but not very practical for general purposes. Shoulder-wrenchingly heavy, it needs careful tuning and is an absolute b****r to re-string. I usually set aside at least a long morning for the task. Shown off in the right place, however, it won't merely turn heads but at the sound of it, the very creatures of the forest will run around mad with joy, while all of the town's children follow its player out through the gates and over the hills, never to return.
Now look again at the picture. Sitting demurely behind the Hofner V3 and the Rickenbacker 330 is a slim, rather elegant-looking violin bass. It looks much like the Hofner Violin bass made famous by Paul McCartney during Beatlemania's peak. It's actually a Westfield copy. It's almost as good as an original but possibly has more reliable electrics than some of the older Hofners. Because I was in a hurry and needed to buy a cheap bass for live work. I initially thought that for the price, it must have been Chinese. To my surprise I discovered that Westfield was actually a Scottish firm. A blooming good one too, till they went out of business in 2013. Much to the disgust of manlier fellows, I bought the bass not just because it was cheap but because I thought it looked pretty. I can get a nice 60s sound out of it when I'm recording. I've always hated that frankly,silly slap-bass sound favoured by many show-pony 1980s bassists. The Westfield bass has a pleasing boxiness – something of the scout-hut about it -- which is perfect for a Lo-fi guy like me.
The antique-looking trio pictured, are my only electric guitars. I use them on all my records, which still sell tolerably well. I don’t possess a tool kit or any specially-formulated guitar polish. I mostly don’t change their strings from one year to the next. And if they ever need fixing I take them to a techie who knows about that sort of stuff. Before I descend the steps to the Devil's basement for the final session, there's one last guitar on my list – a Hofner Verithin. But I'd like a newish cherry red model, with a feedback-reducing centre-block and modern electrics. A vintage Gretsch Country Gentleman would be wasted on me. And I'm not a trainspotter, okay?