Gnasher is a 1963 Gibson SG Standard, serial number 147515.
In 1969 Killing Floor were fortunate enough to do two UK tours backing the great Freddie King. Freddie played with two metal finger picks which had the unfortunate affect of wearing a hole in the guitar underneath the strings, and consequently he was in the habit of regularly trading in his guitar for a new one. At the end of our first tour together he had planned to sell the guitar he was using when he got back to New York, on his way home. Because of the exchange rate at the time I was able to offer him a price for the guitar which was good in Dollars but still cheap for me in UK Pounds. I bought Freddie's guitar from him for 250 US Dollars in 1969.
So I became the proud possessor of Freddie King's beautiful cherry red Gibson.. the same one that he had used on the album "Bluesmaster". Unfortunately I found after a week or two that I couldn't play it. I could do a nice version of "Hideaway" on it.. that seemed to come naturally, but when I tried to play my own style on it it just didn't sound right. It was a big old Gibson 345 (355?) stereo, with micro frets which my fingers slipped off of. When I got the right tone for the top notes to sing the bottom ones fed back with a horrible groaning. And although it had eighteen basic tone settings, it didn't have the one I wanted.
I probably could have fixed all the problems..new frets, some acoustic padding.. but why spoil a beautiful guitar? Somebody else would enjoy those features..so I decided to trade it. Looking back I sometimes wish I had kept it and fixed the problems, but then I would have always been known as "the guy who plays Freddie King's guitar" and I don't think that's healthy. As it was, I found Gnasher.
Gnasher was second hand but in immaculate condition. Cherry red, sparkling chrome pickup covers and a fully functioning vibrola tremelo unit. So that came off first.. well it kept making the thing go out of tune. Then the machine heads got changed for Schallers..a bit better I think. And the pickup covers came off.. hey, must look cool at all times..
It took a while though, to get the sound right. Initially it didn't sound as raunchy as the SG Junior which I had played previously, and I remember the first gig with it, Royston Youth Club, and it sounded a bit thin. However, listening to some of the few live tapes from the time recorded a few months later, I think it found its tone after a while.
Then in 197..5? Gnasher disappeared from a dressing room at the Forde Green Hotel in Leeds, while the band, (SALT) was celebrating a successful gig at the bar, just a few feet away. Oh dear. Well, I was philosophical..it happens. Anyway, I always wanted a Les Paul..time for a change. So while I was saving up my cash for my own Les Paul I borrowed a couple of them for gigs. A sunburst model from a friend of our roadie Chris Ranson and a fine "Black Beauty" from my friend Roy. One of these, I think the sunburst, was featured on the SALT E.P. "All Wired Up". And I enjoyed playing the Les Pauls, but strangely I found that I missed the SG.. the way it cut through for rhythm playing, and the freedom to get up to the top frets..
And eventually Gnasher returned. On a return gig at Forde Green, somebody tipped us off as to its whereabouts. Me and Mac went to the address after the gig..knock knock.."We've come for the guitar". A pasty faced youth handed it over and we left. And in order to disguise the instrument ..(I suppose).. he'd removed all the cherry red colour down to the wood and applied black lacquer over all the black plastic parts..
I had the guitar refinished but left it plain wood finish. I like it like that. And then I played it until it got all scratched up, had it refinished and played it until it was all scratched up again. I won't bother with the refinishing again. In the 80s it got broken in half when a band member decided to have a dance around after a gig and fell on it. An excellent repair job by Dave Edwards sorted it out, and it's been fine ever since. Dave refers it to as the "Mary Rose" whenever I take it to him.. something about digging through all the ancient rotting wood and rust. But as he says, it's a working guitar.
Other changes.. well the pickups have been replaced many times because the sweat from my hands tends to rust them away. One night in Belgium I stepped up on stage at a festival and the guitar just didn't work at all. I had to borrow Ray Minhinnet's Les Paul.. it was very kind of him to help me out but it was not my finest hour. Gnasher's had a variety of strange pickups over the year.. sometimes a combination of American and Japanese which gave me a nice out of phase effect with both on at once..("Mother Earth" on the "Roll Again" CD). It has now had a Seymour Duncan "Pearly Gates" fitted in the bridge position and the pickups are wired once again out of phase, which gives a subtle but pleasing effect on certain settings.
I've put Graph Tech string saddles on.. they're also fitted to my slide guitar and have helped reduce the number of strings I break. They're made of a graphite based compound and help the strings sound good as well as reducing wear. Thanks to Gwyn Ashton for the tip. For a while the top string was held up by a matchstick, after an original Gibson string saddle finally fell to bits..(actually thrashed to bits by Stan Webb at the 100 Club). Thanks to Freddie King for the tip. Freddie also taught me the importance of winding your strings on properly, and Dave Edwards (from the band Remus Down Boulevard) later showed me how to knot the string around the machine head capstan. Well you don't know these things until someone shows you.
Finally, the guitar is missing the neck pickup tone control knob. That's deliberate.. the knob is safe in a box somewhere at home. But with the knob removed I can slide my hand more easily down to the bridge pickup tone control which I like to play around with a lot...probably obsessively. Thanks to the guy who kindly gave me a replacement knob at a gig one night.. I still have it somewhere!
And why Gnasher? Well, BB's got Lucille, Albert had Lucy. I don't have this woman / guitar confusion thing.. it's a piece of wood. But it's a piece of wood that bites..so there was only one name for it. After Dennis the Menace's dog, Gnasher. Still Rockin' for as long as I do.
Photo (above) and recent guitar maintenance by Drakeford Guitars, Goldalming, Surrey.