On Noise & Neighbors

Early in my guitar days I learned an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since. I’ll offer this lesson to my fellow guitarists in an attempt to allow you to learn from someone else’s pain. And here's the point: Don’t antagonize your neighbors with your guitar playing because things can happen.

Looking back, I want to say that it was the summer of 1973. I was sixteen, three years into guitar playing, and up to my ears in music and guitar. Every summer I attended a summer camp and I dragged along my Sears & Roebucks acoustic guitar to help in sing-alongs. The camp property was organized into “pods,” each with several cabins surrounding a common lodge that served them. Each lodge had bathrooms, a kitchen, and an open-air meeting room for all the campers in the pod to get together in.

One of the original lodges (A) at the camp. Note the open-air common room on this end.

That year, unlike me, a group of four guys in my pod had come to camp prepared with their rather expensive electric instruments. They took over our lodge’s common room as a jam space, and let me tell you they were making an impression. The lodge faced towards the girls’ cabins, making it a natural projection system for sound, and, in fact, these musicians seemed to draw the girls like flies as they played that summer's hits. The young ladies came and hung out to listen to the music for hours on end. That made our musicians very popular, entirely unlike me. One night after curfew the guys got really inspired and decided to jam all night - it was their own little Woodstock! Now, I’ll admit that they were pretty good, but they were also EXTREMELY loud. At least one of them had an Ampeg SVT amplifier, and that 300 watt behemoth had reach. I was one of those teens who needed his sleep, so at eleven PM in my cabin on the back side of the lodge, I pulled my pillow and covers over my head and found a way to work myself into a troubled sleep.

The next morning after breakfast the guys started up on the hits again, so I meandered over to the lodge to listen and watch the spectacle. I think they were working on some numbers from the band Bread. After they had been playing for a while, a group of good-looking girls made an entrance, en masse. Now these ladies weren’t your usual fare: they were made up (at summer camp!), well-dressed, their hair was done, and they sauntered into the room like they owned the place. Every pubescent male eye followed them. The ladies undulated over to the musicians with big smiles on their faces and hung off them like groupies. The players were delighted. They shifted into high gear, playing their stuff to this new audience, and really got into it. I could practically see the thought bubbles pop out of their heads: "Say, this stuff is working." Right as my envy, and their music, swelled to their zenith, two girls suddenly stepped up with a couple of cans of shaving cream, fitted them into the input jacks of the guitarist’s expensive amplifiers, and unloaded them. ZOTZ!!! The amps loudly died a horrible death and let out plumes of smoke. The music ground to a halt. $400 worth of repair charges accrued in an instant. The players turned white and gasped. Having gained the troubadours' full attention, the girls smirked and said, “That’ll teach you to keep us up all night with your noise,” and sauntered back out.

Point made. Eloquently.

Think on.