Guitars can do amazing things – they can build communities, make people cry, help people fall in love and they can make people think. But they can also bring about a more personal transformation.
Quiet Loner is the stage name of singer and songwriter Matt Hill. He talks us through his guitar history and explains why it’s taken 30 years for him to finally own a ‘vintage’ electric guitar.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 8 years old but until recently I’ve never owned a vintage guitar. I suppose if I still had my first guitar it would, by default, be a vintage. But way back in 1978 it was just a cheap acoustic, it didn’t even have a makers mark on the headstock. The action was awful, it didn’t stay in tune, it hurt my fingers but when I learned how to play a C chord, I thought I was Elvis. I didn’t care if it was in tune.
In 1984 I got an Electric Guitar, a second-hand Hondo H-76 Strat copy found through an advert in the Heanor Trader free newspaper. Of course it was a rubbish guitar but I loved it! The action was so much lower than the acoustic and suddenly I could play an E and a B7 without crippling finger pain. I even learned my first bar chord on that Hondo and together with some mates from school we decided to form a band. We didn’t have any amps or a drum kit but that wasn’t going to stop us. We were in a band.
As we got better I wanted a more serious guitar so I sold the Hondo and got a Hohner HTB-1. This was a very 1980s guitar – all style and very little substance. Buying it was a huge mistake. I was dazzled by the sleek shiny black finish but the truth was it had an awful bridge and these weird locking things on the headstock that meant in never stayed in tune and I was forever snapping strings. I had it less than a year.
At Live Aid in 1985 I watched my guitar hero Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders draw something magic from a shiny Fender Telecaster. So when our band started to get our first proper paying gigs I bought myself a Fender Japan Telecaster in Metallic red with white trim. I think it cost about £200.
Telecaster turning point
That Telecaster was a turning point for me. My confidence grew. Suddenly I came alive as a musician. I improved and our band just got better and better. I started writing songs. In buying a decent instrument I’d invested in myself as a player and it paid off.
Eventually the band split up and I wasn’t using the Tele on stage anymore so in the early 1990s I sold it for £120 and bought an acoustic. I found them easier to write songs on. I got a Takamine which cost about £600 – a huge amount of money at the time (and roughly what it’s still worth 25 years later). Determined to get my money’s worth, I still own it! I’ve written tons of songs on it and it became my main and only guitar for many many years. In 2004 when I finally made my debut album it was the Takamine that I played.
I’ve enjoyed every guitar I’ve owned but I’ve never been a guitar nerd, a tech-head, neither have I ever really connected emotionally with my instruments. They’ve always been a means to an end, allowing me to get on and make the music I wanted to make. That all changed for me in 2009 when I bought an Atkin acoustic.
Made in April 2007 by luthier Alistair Atkin, this tiny guitar changed my life. It changed the way I played, it changed the songs I wrote. Perhaps more importantly it changed how I saw myself as a musician. Through the Atkin I upped my game.
The guitar was small, fragile but made such a resonant and beautiful sound. It deserved a better player than I, so as I approached my 40th birthday I decided it was time I became a better guitarist. I put down my plectrum and I learned to finger pick and the resulting album ‘Spectrology’ (2010 Little Red Rabbit records) was all about stripping my songs down to just me and the Atkin with the barest instrumentation. That worked well for me and I’ve since built on it with my 2012 album ‘Greedy Magicians’ which I recorded in a church in front of an audience, bare and honest. In 2013 I even got to play my Atkin on stage at Glastonbury Festival alongside Billy Bragg, whose songwriting I have always loved.
A new chapter
Guitars can do amazing things – they can kill fascists, build communities, make people cry, make people laugh, help people fall in love and they can make people think. But they can also bring about a more personal transformation. If you find the right instrument for you and you invest time in it, then it will give back to you ten fold. It’s really about investing in yourself, in your own abilities. A great guitar can take you places, bring things out in you, and in my case – make some of your dreams come true. After all I never thought I’d ever make an album or play at Glastonbury.
And now in 2015, thanks to The Music Locker, I am beginning a new chapter as the proud owner of my very own vintage guitar. It’s a 1964 Hofner Verithin. I love it already. I’ve not yet written a song on it but I know it’s not far away. It’s so different to my acoustic – the weight of it, the tension in the strings, the sounds it makes. I’m taking my time, getting to know what sounds it likes and what it will and won’t allow me to play. As I approach this guitar – with awe and respect – I feel this huge sense of history. What songs have been played on it? Who played it? Which venues has it been played at? But I also feel a wonder at what’s to come. What will I write on it? Where will I take it?
The next chapter is waiting to be written.
You can find out more about Matt’s music at quietloner.com