first good guitar

Before I ever actually played guitar, I wanted a Kramer. This was back in the eighties, the time of NWOBHM; a time where Ozzy, Dio, and Black Sabbath became three different things and hair metal bands shared video play time with synth pop collectives. Pointy guitars were definitely a metal thing, but that was never my scene. The entire B.C. Rich line still seems as super ugly to me now as they did then. The “Superstrat” took the arguably boring and ubiquitous Fender guitar and made it modern. Well, eighties modern. You know; pastel colors and blocky vector graphics and The Last Starfighter. Modern.



While Kramer did not invent the Superstrat, they were the guitar company associated with Eddie Van Halen’s famous “Frankenstrat” and played a large part in bringing this new airbrushed, humbucking, Floyd Rosed style to the young, sweaty, male masses. Eddie supposedly never actually played a Kramer, but that detail mattered very little.

My very first guitar was in fact a Kramer Striker. It was blue and had a non-locking trem which means that it was blue and would not stay in tune if you moved that bar even slightly. The G string was not intonated properly which means that even if I did not touch the bar, the guitar was never really in tune. Of course, I had no idea what intonation was. Tuning was relatively optional and sometimes I did not bother to tune for weeks because I would rather just get to the rocking.

What I remember most was that this Kramer guitar sounded undeniably awesome. This Kramer guitar sounded the way that George Lynch looked while squatting on a flatbed truck pretending to play a guitar made of skulls for the denizens of Hollywood; supremely badass. And in the same way that I eventually realized that George actually looked a little bit silly, I realized that this Kramer guitar sounded not awesome. Even if you replaced my clumsy playing and lackadaisical tuning methodology, this was not an instrument that made pleasing tones.


I do not recall when this epiphany hit; I simply remember thinking, “well this sounds like bad playing and I am not sure why. I probably need a new guitar.” I never seriously thought that perhaps if I tuned more regularly and practiced more thoughtfully while rocking less fiercely, that I might enjoy this guitar and the thin, shrill sounds that it made more thoroughly. This particular Kramer guitar made the journey from sublime to mostly terrible with no stops in between.

My first actual guitar rarely pops into my head when I think of my “first” guitar. I generally now change the rules of recollection by referring to my first “good” guitar; a blueish/black Ibanez RG540R with a rosewood fingerboard and a locking trem that I purchased used from a store in Albany, NY in the summer of 1989. I still have this Ibanez, and I still play it. With the exception of a DiMarzio Fred bridge pick-up, it is all original; proudly bearing the dings and scars and buckle rash and corrosion that come with 25 plus years of playing. My first good guitar continues to sound genuinely good to me.


I have bought and sold many guitars over the years, but I will never sell my first good guitar. This Ibanez guitar informs many of the preferences that continue to define what I consider to be a pleasing and cool looking guitar today. I prefer a generally “Strat” shape over a generally “Les Paul” shape. I prefer a thin neck and a flat, rosewood fretboard. Regular dot inlays seem somehow classy; no shark fins or diamonds for me. Nothing pointy.

What if I started on a Les Paul? Would I now prefer a super heavy guitar with a giant, round log of a neck? I certainly cannot imagine such nonsense. I think I will just head over to the Kiesel Guitars page and virtually build yet another version of my first good guitar.