Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Guitar Zero

I have a Squier now, a shitty sunburst Strat knock-off with crackling and mostly-fucked electronics. No matter, I don’t plug it in mostly: it’s just us and some chord charts from the internet. When I do rock the fuck out, though. it’s with a very cool and smart amp with all the sexy.

Remember those candy-colored pedals, so wondrously named: BIG MUFF, WAH-FUZZ, SLAP-BACK, all that back page of Guitar Player magazine bullshit? A real professional would have, like, 15 of them hot-glued to a big wooden board. (Alex Lifeson might have had three or four separate boards. That giuy single-handedly kept the Toronto Sam Ash in business.)

These new amps do all of that by themselves. The reverb and delay and aggressive squealy metal and rumbly surf rock: just everything you can thing of, and for one single hundred-dollar bill. Not a bad country. Fender Mustang, baby.

Which is odd, because I’ve already owned a Fender Mustang. It was my other electric guitar: my father came home from work one day with it. Some guy at the office, he said, had sold it to him. The Mustang was a mess from its conception: small-scale neck, weird-o switches for the pickups and the worst tremolo system known to man that made it physically impossible to keep in tune. My friend Jay and I had to open it up and slather the springs and doo-hickeys in Krazy Glue (you should be aware that we did not consult a luthier before beginning this project) to keep the thing solid.

Worked, though. Damned fine guitar after that, were it not for the sound.

Our earlier project did improve the sound of a shitty guitar. (Some people’s lives can be measured in dogs; mine by which shitty guitar did I not practice.) We took a $40 guitar from Sears–no, not Sears. My mother got it for me with Green Stamps–and sanded the lacquer off. We spray-painted it white Then, using electrical tape, we laid in long, straight, black stripes. Another layer of red paint, pull some of the tape off and I had myself the only Eddie Van Halen acoustic guitar on the planet.

I neer really learned to play the damn thing. But, you know: I can play. I shall use Dead songs to illustrate, from “I could jam that shit right now, bro,” to “I would have a better chance of flying than of playing this song if I practiced nothing but it for the remainder of my life.”

  • Fire on the Mountain is just two chords.
  • Franklin’s is three chords, but only two of them are important.
  • Bertha’s pretty simple.
  • St. Stephen is (mostly) just I-IV-V, too.

Now it’s getting out of my comfort zone.

  • You know that chord in Ship of Fools that sounds really tricky? It is.
  • Same thing with China Doll.
  • Brown-Eyed Women is far tougher than it sounds.

We now come to things that I might take a run at, only to fail miserably and not touch the guitar for a week.

  • Deal is the devil. Seriously: go try to play it on guitar.
  • Slipknot! is way tougher than it sounds, and it already sounds like La Villa Strangiata.
  • Bobby’s parts on China Cat.


  1. Funny – that all sounds more or less familiar. My first guitar did come from a four-story Sears in a narrow old downtown storefront. Most things that weren’t Pirates t-shirts or Levis had to be ordered from the catalog at a counter in the basement behind stacks of Hush Puppies. That Sears is a tattoo parlor or a payday loan place or some bullshit now; poverty and a Walmart just outside town sucked the spirit out of everything.

    I’m 33 now – probably never had it truly bad – and am amazed how good cheap gear is now versus the stuff available when I was in High School. Nothing at all wrong with a good Squier.

    I’ve got the cheapest possible all-tube amp but would’ve been just as happy with a Mustang. The neighbord upstairs might’ve appreciated that choice, too.

    Don’t want to turn your blog into Harmony Central, but if you’ve got a soldering iron you can replace everything electrical or scratchy in your Squier for $35 or so:

    • A soldering iron? Have you been reading this? You know I have no techical skills: I will be useless come the Robolution.

      • Fair enough.

        I find Bobby’s parts on most songs almost impossible. Aside from being awesome, I assume he’s got giant monkey fingers. I cannot reach the things that Bobby reaches, and in frustration go back to noodling along the pentatonic like a retarded Garcia.

        I do a great ’95 Jerry, but that’s my absolute best stone sober.

        • I think it was Mr. Completely who told me that a guitar-playing friend of his had tried to figure some of Bobby’s parts out only to report back, “Those chords don’t exist.”

  2. bingosbrother

    June 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Tried to fix my Kindle with a soldering iron last week. My fingers are burned and the Kindle is kindle.

  3. Crazy Fingers, if you are trying to sing along with it. You can probably make all the chords in time since the tempo is slow, but trying to hit the vocals at the same time requires more concentration than I have. And when Jerry misses a little on that one, I understand. As for Bob, yeah, what makes a shitty Dead cover band is not that they aren’t Leshy or Garciaesque enough, but that the rhythm player is generally strumming some simple bullshit, when it’s the rhythm part that really makes it THE DEAD.

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