16 Sep 2020

The Gibson

In the middle of this crazy year that is 2020, here’s a funny tale to put a smile on your dial. Its subject matter might be a bit left-of-field for CX, but it’s still relevant because the tale is living proof that the music industry remains a place where awesome things come to those with a generous musical spirit.

As I dive headlong into writing this article, I am still in the dark about half the facts of this story. I feel like a Four Corners investigative journalist on the hunt for a cache of stolen vintage guitars.

Although there are no tin-pot dictators involved in this particular tale, nor any corruption or murders (that I know of), what I have gleaned thus far seems worthy of a Netflix doco. I must give them a call…


Model No. WTF
Earlier today I didn’t even know for sure whether this story was about a guitar, a second-hand trailer, or hand-me-down kid’s clothes. But after a tip-off from a source early this morning, one piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.

What I’ve learned is that a mate of mine – let’s call him ‘Individual X’ here to preserve his identity (his real name is Colin Matthews) – unexpectedly got a knock on his front door the other day, which isn’t something that happens all too often during lockdown.

When he opened it, there stood ‘Individual Y’, whose true identity I am still yet to determine, because Individual X won’t say who it was (and Individual Y was also masked, so it may have been Batman, for all I know).

Individual Y was there to hand Individual X a multi-tool for a guitar he did not own – a Gibson SG. Being a Fender guy, Individual X accepted the wrench-set graciously, whilst politely attempting to hide his confusion surrounding the unexpected visit and somewhat eccentric gift.

But then the real reason for the visit became clear…

But first, let me offer some back-story to this tale of intrigue.

Colin Matthews was playing his Fender Strat USA model through his Fender Deluxe Reverb amp here at The Mill the other night, as he has done many times before. But on this particular occasion, with just the two of us working on a lead break for Kutcha Edwards’s new song ‘We Sing’ (that I talked about last issue), I wasn’t digging Col’s sound at all.

His rig’s overall tone was far too glossy, clean and single-coiled for my liking, and besides, another one of Col’s guitar parts in the track already featured this exact setup.

Doubling up on a guitar tone is never a good idea for a production, I find, particularly if you want them to stand apart. It can subconsciously confuse the ear when two musically disparate parts appear to sound the same.

Moreover, it’s much easier to mix when the second part is played on a different setup – preferably a different guitar and amp. But we didn’t have that luxury. Even though I had quite a few alternative guitar options in the studio that night, including a bunch of Gibson Les Pauls and SGs that had been generously loaned to me by a mate, Shane Simpson, Col couldn’t use them any of them. Why? Because he is left-handed, and all the options were righties!

Actually, Col’s amazing on lead guitar even when he plays a right-handed instrument upside down, but on this occasion he didn’t seem keen on that option for some reason. So we decided to change the one thing that wasn’t left-handed – the amp.

We tried a few options, eventually narrowing our choice down to my diminutive, old Goldentone.

This 60s valve amp must be only a handful of watts at best, I’d say. It’s not a suitcase amp (as they’re collectively known), but about the same size. It has only one tone and volume knob, and when it’s ‘cranked’ you can still talk over it comfortably.

The thing has no fidelity whatsoever: it’s distorted, honky as hell and the definition of a one-trick pony. But it worked. Take 1 of Col’s lead guitar performance was gold, and although we did a few more to see what else he could muster, we eventually went with the first take.

Back To The Doorstep
But getting back to the scene at Col’s front door… Somehow, as a result of that lead guitar session, Individual Y has turned up on Col’s front doorstep with a multi-tool for a Gibson SG that Col does not own.

“It was very odd to say the least,” Col mused over the phone earlier today, “Until the reason was finally revealed!”

In the boot of Individual Y’s car was a guitar case. “Check this out,” Individual Y said (presumably with a smirk under his mask). Col opened the case, describing the event like the famous briefcase scene from Pulp Fiction.

He was confused, amazed and flawed in that order.

“A left-handed SG! Cool! Who’s is it?”

“It’s yours if you want it…”

Needless to say, Col was speechless.

The Lifetime Achievement Award
Whoever Individual Y is, they’re now the stuff of legend. As someone else remarked today, it’s like the story of Jimmy Page being gifted his Les Paul or Nathan Cavaleri his Strat.

This mysterious individual has recognised Colin’s talent, and in an extraordinary act of generosity, provided Col with another musical instrument through which he can demonstrate his refined touch.

I know he deserves it, I’m sure he’ll cherish it forever, but more importantly, he will never forget this day for what it actually represents (though he would never admit it): recognition of his great skill, musical generosity and humility.

I’m ecstatic for him. Col is one of those guys with a rare talent who can come up with stuff every time he plays a take, either live or in the studio. He is not famous, nor has he the slightest inclination to be so, and yet when anyone hears something featuring Col’s guitar playing, they invariably say: “Who is that on guitar?”

Col has the ability to make you think: “Wow, that just sounds like a record! Gotta use that!” He’s not alone here, of course; lots of musicians can pull that stunt. But the difference with Col is that he does it repeatedly with a deft touch, and yet differently every time, to the point where choosing takes becomes the main problem. But when Col performs, as a producer, I know that one way or another, I’ll be spoilt for choice.

Only a tiny group of guitarists have an affinity with guitar quite like Col, and none that I’ve met combine his level of skill with a generous serving of humility and modesty.

The main problem Col has always faced hasn’t been his skill level, but rather his ability to finance owning a guitar collection, which he – more than many others who house such collections – deserves. This is frustrating for me as well because I can’t loan him any of mine!

Giving Back
The best part of this amazing story is that Col insists that he doesn’t deserve it, even though in all my years in the studio, he has never once asked for a dime, said anything but positive things about the projects I’ve been working on, or done anything but improve the sound of the songs he’s played on.

And when he plays that SG, it’s sure to be incredible. Of that there is no doubt.

Col remains astonished that someone could think so highly of him and his playing that they would, with no strings attached (actually, I think there are six), give him something so awesome as this.

He remarked on the phone earlier that it’s “The greatest gift anyone has ever given me! I just can’t believe it!” That is precisely why he deserves it.

One of the most crucial aspects of any good music production, whether you’re involved as the producer, an engineer or a musician, is bringing a generosity of spirit to the table. I have seen it over and over already during this production, and by a long margin, it has made the greatest contribution.

This particular moment has also made it the most memorable.
For my part in all of this, I’m just glad that I was honest about my preference for humbuckers over single-coil pickups.

Word got out!

Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill in the hills of Bass Coast Shire in Victoria. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for recording, mixing or mastering help… contact him at:

CX Magazine – September 2020   

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