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Richard Zowie, guitarist?!

One of my secret ambitions in life is to someday play the guitar. I’ve always struggled with this since I’m left-handed and since chord books are difficult for me to read. One thing that has motivated me in recent years was learning my paternal grandmother and my maternal great-grandfather both played guitars or similar instruments.

So, we recently visited Bauman’s Music in Clio, Michigan and looked around. Acoustics and electric guitars. Both four and five-string basses. I saw Fenders and even a Gretsch. Some had whammy bars on them (it’s probably my OCD proclivities, but I’ve always been fascinated by whammies). I spoke with the owner and had a great chat. Among his tidbits of advice:

1) Having small hands (which I do) does not mean you can’t play guitar.

2) Even if you’re left-handed, don’t be afraid to try a right-handed guitar. Try playing both ways and see which works best for you. Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Michael Anthony (formerly of Van Halen) of Chickenfoot are two examples of natural left-handers who play right-handed. There are also natural righties who play left-handed simply because they like having their dominant hand holding the chords.

Also, since lefty guitars are hard to find (especially if you play the bass), they tend to be more expensive. The lefty Fender they had at the shop was on consignment and was on sale for about $800.

3) What kind of guitar? Gretsch (the late Beatle, George Harrison, used them)? Fender (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens)? Gibson (Slash, Marlon Young of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band and Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day)? Try out the different kinds and find one you feel the most comfortable with.

4) Whammy or not? It can be fun to “bend” the sound with vibratto, but I’ve also heard they can be a pain to keep tuned. I read once that the Les Paul Gibson-playing Ace Frehley, the longtime lead guitarist of KISS, experimented with a whammy but then discarded it because it wasn’t his style.

4) While some I’ve spoken to advise learning on an acoustic, this gent told me that if a person wants to learn the electric guitar, it doesn’t hurt to learn on electric. Besides, the electric guitar strings tend to be thinner than an acoustic, making the chords easier to hold.

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