BillyRadd Music

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Tone Cloud

Well, I have to admit, in the great scheme of my life, I really don't deserve anything as beautiful as this Gretsch guitar. I mean really! Even in this photo I just took it appears to be magically floating above the guitar case it rests on.

Anyway, here's my story. 

I got back into playing stringed instruments about 5 years ago when it abruptly appeared that my wife, Anita Gayle, and I were actually going to be able to retire and pursue different interests (like music, art, and our Standard American Diets) that we felt were not viable enough to invest much time into during our careers and family life together. Our kids were on their own, we'd had enough of working for other people, and our health was slowly declining, which we figured was a natural process when you live long enough.

We moved to Asheville in 2011, a beautiful eclectic town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina with a thriving art and music community. State politics aside, we have enjoyed our time here very much.

As we had decided, Anita Gayle and I jumped into our retirement with all the vigor we had engaged while performing our job descriptions when employed, but with an emphasis on the idea of starting second careers. To address our health issues, we decided to drastically change our diets and adopted a plant-based way of eating which dramatically reduced our blood pressure and diabetic issues virtually over night (see Anita's Healthy Life and Vegan Minus Oil blogs for details on our healthy transformation).

Anita Gayle at first, because of her former working experience in Family Consumer Science, began creating plant-based recipes and videos through a blog promoting the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. After a few years she has added painting to her interests having painted, so far, over 40 acrylic paintings in various sizes of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and legumes. (see

Meanwhile, I began exploring music where I had left off after college and began collecting, playing, and recording various instruments, AND writing this blog (and a few others). Slowly, I progressed in my knowledge of music (with the help of my bass teacher, Kevin Lampson, and uke friend, busker Neil Laurence, and others), and began to recognize elements in music like the nuances of tone and harmonics that made my appreciation of musical instruments even more intense and varied.

As an effect of my new-found insight into hearing and making music, I began designing and building instruments on my own - simple stringed affairs that I made from old film cans I had collected during my 40+ year career as a film maker. I called them canjos, and I learned a lot about the nature of sound from making them as well, the least of which is that each one possesses individual, distinctive tonal qualities unlike any other.

Armed with this newfound aural sensitivity, I began listening more critically to each of my guitars and bass guitars and began noticing the differences in tonal quality between acoustic and solid-body electric guitars. Thus I noticed, as so many guitarists throughout the history of electric amplified instruments attest to, my Fender Telecaster sounded very different than a semi-hollow body Gibson Les Paul or Gretsch White Falcon. This realization on my part manifested itself as what I might call "need", although I believe that a more precise term for what I was feeling was "want", or maybe "great need", or simply, just greed.

So, my quest to fulfill my need/want/greed began. After a few months of research (and coming to the realization that I could never justify paying $3,000 and up for an exemplary Les Paul or White Falcon (damn you, Neal Young and Steve Stills), I had my greedy eyes on a double cutaway Gretsch Electromatic (one third the price, but possessing much the same tonal quality and cosmetic features of a full-blown Falcon).

What sealed the deal, and actually made it possible for me to buy this particular electric guitar at this time, was that Sweetwater Music Instruments and Pro Audio, an up-and-coming online store, had a limited-time finance deal I could not pass up - 36 equal monthly payments with nothing down and no interest! I have not heard of any such deal for a long time, especially not with online musical instrument merchants.

So, I made a deal with Anita Gayle who, after all, actually owns half interest in anything I buy, to drop an ice tea that I usually order every day at our fav hangout, and go for the free water instead, saving $1.50 per diem (the guitar and case will only cost $1 a day for 36 months). Voila! Me get guitar!

Such a deal! Sometimes modern capitalism does indeed work.