In late 1982 as was my wont, I was browsing the music section of a local bookshop and stumbled across a delightful tome entitled The Guitar Handbook written by a Mr. Ralph Denyer. In a moment of depraved spontaneity I purchased the publication and spent ensuing weeks studying scales, modes and tonic triads as they pertained to guitar. For those unfamiliar with these terms they form the rudiments of musical theory which at first glance serve the primary purpose of removing any semblance of joy from the act of learning an instrument.
Apart from the detailed musical theory a large section of the book was given over to the development of the modern guitar, from early acoustics through to modern electrics. There were diagrams of guitar anatomy and a plethora of interesting photographs along the way but my eye was particularly drawn to that of a black Gibson ES-335 leaning defiantly against a Mesa Boogie amplifier. Here were two legends of the guitar scene, unequivocally man-made inanimate objects yet each bestowed with such outlandish and stunning beauty. I wanted them both to be my friend!
The Gibson ES-335 quickly became an object of desire for me and I read as much as I could about the instrument. In those pre-internet days this was perhaps not as easy as it now sounds. One of the more intriguing discoveries was that these instruments were known as semi-hollow guitars meaning that a huge chunk of wood, usually maple, ran through the centre of the body which remained hollow on either side. This seemingly insignificant scrap of information was about to unleash dire consequences for my fully hollow Shaftesbury Model 3264.
By now I was working as a young electrician on the refurbishment of Belfast Castle and on one occasion whilst not fully engaged in the joys of electrical installation I found myself giving involuntary attention to the pontifications of a particularly vocal carpenter. It seemed that he had reached the conclusion that his employer would be content with him spending some time lamenting the removal and disposal of Oregon pine beams which had evidently been there since the castle was constructed more than 100 years before, and that it was the civic duty of all within earshot to be affronted by this act of vandalism. I decided to help ease his conscience by putting a piece of his 100 year old pine to good use by utilising it to convert my old hollow body guitar to semi-hollow.
Not as poignant as any of the points raised in Barry McGuire’s excellent protest song from 1965 but for my old Shaftesbury this was definitely the eve of destruction.