May 31, 2010
It was March 1994. It was the weekend right after the final examinations and I was a highschool freshman ready to show-off to my folks some high grades I got, specially the 99% score in Filipino. Before I could drop my bag and commence my brag, I saw an acoustic guitar hanging by the wall. I did not care. I thought it was there left by some neighbor. Not until my mother told me that it was mine, that my lola bought it from a passing Cebuano for P700. I held it for the first time, admiring its curves and the enjoying the narcotic smell of its varnish. It was a Gibson-copy by a Cebuano luthier. It sounded glassy sharp with treble edges. I did not know how to play it.
A guitar player herself, my mother had an instant solution: The minor chords of A, D and E; the formulaic chord progression of most Bikol folk songs. Believe it or not, I was playing “Sarong Banggi” and “Si Nanay si Tatay” before I even bothered to pick up a songbook to learn the rock hits of the 90’s. I later bought music magazines, “song hits” as they were called. I tried to memorize the chord chart. But soon enough, I figured that it was a useless effort. I wanted to learn how to play songs, and not just to play the guitar per se.
I started with simple chord progressions. One day, I was practicing outside our house when a passerby commented how bad my playing was. He even went ahead of himself and suggested that I quit. It really did give me a jolt. I almost succumbed to his discouragement.
But I kept on, one simple chord at a time. I bought more songbooks and tapes. I studied the songs of Eraserheads, Radiohead, Lemonheads etc. I thought all the bands that ended with ‘head’ were good. My music collection grew to almost a hundred. As I listened to more bands, the acoustic guitar was not enough for me anymore, I wanted to go electric.
It was hard to convince my Dad to buy me an electric guitar. Being a businessman, maybe he could not see the point. But eventually, he obliged. So we went to the now defunct Felfran Music Store along Igualdad, Naga City. I was choosing between a Kramer and a Fender Stratocaster. Both were merely copies. The Kramer had a Floyd Rose Bridge while the Fender had a fixed bridge with tremolo. I did not know how those things worked at that time. I picked the Strat because most of the bands that I saw in MTV used it.
I was always excited to have a guitar session because of my Strat. One day, an uncle who played guitar for a show band dropped-by our place. He saw me practicing. He borrowed my axe and showed me some riffs and licks (or solos). He played Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine.” He played more solos. He advised me to learn how to play fast. He said that other guitarists would envy me if I could play fast. I recalled how a passerby tried to demoralize me. I thought if I could chase fast solos, then nobody would push me around anymore.
Chasing fingers. That’s how it started for me. So I chased Kirk Hammet, Manuel Legarda, Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani. Ironic, but it was only later when I learned how to slow down and be a little poetic. I studied, I worked, and I wrote.
I thought that this enterprise of licks and solos would be forgotten. Now it has come back. Lately, when I am not busy doing deskwork I listen to Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci (through Dreamtheater), Syu and some other Japanese shredders.
Now the 30-minute guitar break after lunch is one of the best parts of my day. Tired of playing just for myself, I started recording some of my sessions and upload them on YouTube for my Bikol Gitarista channel. It is funny and at the same time thrilling to see the videos I upload being placed beside the videos of my guitar heroes. Truly, the internet is a great equalizer.
But then I would come across guitar prodigies, most of them from Japan and below ten. And they could play faster and cleaner. Now I have to chase small fingers.