Baby Blue

Late summer 1964, Köln, West Germany.

I was taking a Friday evening stroll through the city streets when I saw it: a blue sparkle electric guitar calling my name from behind a music store window. As a 13-year-old boy, I’d seen electric guitars played onstage and been thrilled by their reverb-drenched twang, but this was the first time I’d come face to face with one. It was the most beautiful instrument I’d ever seen. A blue guitar that sparkled. Mouth slack, I stared until my parents dragged me away.

That weekend I walked around in a trance. I already owned a nylon-string acoustic and was making headway with my chords and fingerpicking—this was the folk era, so I was listening to Pete Seeger, the Weavers, and Lead Belly, and learning songs like “In The Pines” and “Nine Pound Hammer”—but until encountering that blue guitar glinting in the window, it never occurred to me that I could actually go electric.

After brooding for two days, I finally came clean to my folks: I wanted an electric guitar. I couldn’t think of anything else.

Okay, we have to put this in the context of the times. No one in my school had an electric guitar. I’d briefly met a guy in his early 20s who purportedly had one, but that was it. Electric guitars were rare in the early ’60s. And adults suspected—rightly so, it turned out—that the electric guitar was about to transform society in ways they didn’t want to contemplate. Electric guitars spelled trouble. I might as well have announced a desire to join the circus or sweep floors in a brothel. (Learning to play “The House Of The Rising Sun” had already given me that idea.)

After a long discussion that involved me making elaborate promises about my grades and attitude, we agreed that Andy could get an electric guitar. When we returned to the music store, the blue sparkle beauty was gone. (At that time, I had no knowledge of makes and models, so the only way I could identify the instrument was by its color.)

I was crushed.

No worry—we’d find another blue guitar, my parents assured me. And we soon did, a baby blue Kent. True, the color didn’t have the wicked allure of blue sparkle, but I saw the opportunity to get an electric guitar, so I ran with it. That turned out to be a wise decision because I didn’t see another blue sparkle guitar for many, many years.

Here’s a picture of a Kent just like mine, which I now know was a PB-24-G model made by Hagström, a Swedish company.

blue Kent PB-24-G
Photo credit: Haskin’s Hagstroms.

Mine was identical to the guitar on the left. Covered with blue vinyl and topped with a molded lucite pickguard, my Kent sported a cheese-grater “soundhole” grille, two pickups, four switches, a volume knob, and a vibrato bar.

Here’s a crisp photo of a red 1963 PB-24-G:

red Kent PB-24-G
Photo credit:  Vintage Guitars of Stockholm, Sweden.

I didn’t know electric guitars required an amp. When I got home gripping the new baby blue 6-string, I managed to figure out how to plug it into my old Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder—which had a tiny built-in speaker—and start making noise. It was glorious. Flatwound strings and glowing tubes … my fate was sealed.

Grundig reel-to-reel

Photo credit: Bassboy.com.

I used that Kent/Grundig rig when I demonstrated electric guitar to my seventh-grade classmates in a show-and-tell. Luckily for me, the Kinks had just made distortion cool with “You Really Got Me.” (In Germany, circa 1964, we got a weekly dose of English music via the BBC Top 20 and heard cutting-edge invasion music before it was released in the US.)

Eventually, I joined a band and got a real guitar amp, a Dynacord Jazz 2×10 combo. So cool—20 watts of tube power! Wish I still had it.

Dynacord Jazz

Photo credit:  Orchester Electronic.

As I trawl the data stream, fishing for images from these early days of my musical odyssey, I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who still has fond memories of discovering guitar. Many others remain inspired by the sounds and sights of their first encounters. Motivated by a passion for the instrument, rather than financial reward, they build elaborate temples to the goddess of twang.

For example, here’s a wonderful site devoted to guitar tunings—dozens and dozens of ’em, including tunings used by Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Sonic Youth. The site is created and maintained by Warren Allen, a guitarist whose passion for tunings is so great, he needs to share it with the world. Cool!

Warren Allen’s Encyclopedia of Alternate Guitar Tunings

Another amazing find is the Atlas of Plucked Instruments. The level of historical detail about plucked instruments from around the world, ancient and modern, is truly mindblowing. This too is a labor of love from another guitarist, Henny de Bruin.

Atlas of Plucked Instruments

The other day, I heard Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and thought about my old Kent, and how completely and irrevocably it changed my life.  Still making music, Baby Blue? ♦

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2 thoughts on “Baby Blue

  1. I was just remembering the first time I ever touched an electric guitar (1965?). It was a Hagstrom, just like the blue on on the top right. I caught the fever and I’m still obsessed with the electric guitar today.

  2. Just dug an old electric guitar out of my closet and decided to do some research on it. I didn’t know much about it except that it has a Hagstom sticker on the back of the head, no model name on it.
    The guy who gave it to me called it the “cheese-grater”
    It was given to me in the early eighties, I was 24 or so.
    My search brought me to your blog, and there it was.
    The photo of the red PB-24-G is my guitar exactly, with your reference to it as the cheese-grater. It confirmed for me the model and age of my guitar.
    This guitar still plays great.
    Thanks for your story.

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