Choosing the right instrument for the right job can be a tricky business. Award winning band Rock My Reception say simplicity is the keyword when picking their tools of the trade.
‘I won’t play anything but a Martin’, ‘Strats all the way for me’, ‘ I love my Gibson SG-take it to bed with me at night’. Boys (and girls) and their toys. Whether you covet a Cort or worship your Washburn, to a musician, guitars and other assorted instruments are more than just the objects enabling them to carry out their job, hobby or pastime-they are their pride and joy. So much is bandied about with regards to what is the best make and model of an instrument and, more vociferously, what is a pile of crap, that for any novice starting out it’s a complete minefield of information to take in. ‘Should I buy an Ibanez?-my mate says they’re great’ or ‘meh-Squiers are just cheap Strat copies, they’re rubbish’. Ultimately, the truth is it’s horses for courses and what instrument suits one may not suit another.
Kieran Stokes and Dom Beresford of Award Winning Wedding Band Rock My Reception have always had two main criteria for buying their instruments which harps back to their days as school kids: does it feel right and can I afford it and although their budget has slightly increased as the years have gone by, this philosophy is still one they employ to this day.
Kieran describes how he obtained his first electric guitar.
‘When we were about 15 we had a party at my mum and dad’s house. Dom decided he had a bit of a thirst on and necked three bottles of red wine…in the space of about half an hour. Soon after, he then decided he wasn’t that thirsty after all so threw it all back up onto my bedroom carpet (which I had to clean) then passed out. He must have felt a bit guilty as the next day he gave me his Squier Bullet as a peace offering! It was a great guitar and I’ve still got it to this day.
Dom bought his first guitar with savings from his nationwide account when he was 9 years old.
‘We had a new music teacher at primary school and she asked if anyone would be interested in learning the guitar. I’d never really shown any interest in music till that point, then suddenly I had this epiphanic moment where I thought ‘I reckon I could do that’. The next weekend I went with my mum to Woods music and picked a classical Spanish guitar which was priced at £60. Luckily my mum had been putting money into my savings account from when I was born and just had enough to buy it. It turned out to be the soundest investment I’ve ever made”!
In their teenage years they began to expand on their collection of instruments and progressed to buying bass guitars. Infact, Kieran’s philosophy of making a positive from a negative came into play in a big way;
‘It was GCSE results day and things hadn’t turned out the way I expected. Feeling a bit gutted, I thought ‘sod it’ and caught the bus with a friend of mine into Huddersfield. There was a second hand shop called Beckton’s and in the window hung this battered old brown bass with no make or model visible and a £40 price tag. I’d saved up a bit of money from my summer job so i bought it to cheer myself up. I quickly taught myself to play bass and years later, used it for recording and performing with my band.
So, fast forward nearly 20 years and Kieran and Dom were by now full time musicians performing in pubs, clubs, parties: infact anywhere they could get a gig, often playing 3 hour sets five times a week. By now they were an acoustic duo taking requests off the audience.
Dom explains the transition from being in a 4-piece rock band to sizing to to an acoustic duo.
‘When we got to our late 30’s it became obvious that the wheels had fallen off the cart as far as the band was concerned. I still wanted to carry on playing and was into doing solo gigs with a guitar my dad, who had recently passed away, left me. It was a Fender Balboa electro-acoustic with a classic Stratocaster neck, florentine cutaway, mahogany back and sides. Built in around 1982, it was part of the ‘California Series’ made in Japan and had a great rich sound. The only alteration I needed to make was because the electrics no longer worked so I got a pick up with volume control and equaliser added. It also had a beautiful thin neck, great action and was perfect for playing solo acoustic gigs. So, thanks to my dad that got me into playing acoustic gigs and actually making good money in doing so’
Soon after, Kieran joined Dom and the two of them hit the bars and clubs of West Yorkshire with full force calling themselves ‘You Say…We Play’ because of the staggering number of requests they could play from memory. Many people described them as being the human jukebox!
By now Kieran and Dom were full time musicians and were playing for 3 hours solid, sometimes up to 7 gigs a week. Because of this, Kieran now decided to invest in a guitar he was more comfortable in playing.
‘I did a bit of research on line and I knew I wanted something specific. I wanted a guitar with a wide neck and that was nylon stringed. Because we were playing for 3 hours, it became obvious that two steel stringed acoustics jangling away would becoming jarring on the ear. So, eventually I found what I was looking for: a Yamaha ncx900r for £600. It was an electro acoustic, which was difficult to come buy for a Spanish guitar, Its cutaway body and lower string height also offered more flexible playability. It was ideal for me to provide a different sound to the strident chords Dom was strumming on his steel strung acoustic; I would add fills and even pluck out bass notes. Because of the Yamaha’s tone and warmth it provided and great contrast to what Dom was playing and complimented it well’
As well as using his dad’s old Fender, Dom then decided to experiment with another brand he’d often heard about: An Ovation. This was to prove to be more tricky to play!
I’d often read about guitarists like David Gilmore using Ovations for their live gigs so had a look around the music shops until I found what I was looking for. I settled on an Ovation Celebrity with an OP 30 pick up. It had an effortlessly playable neck and even a built in tuner which illiminated the necessity of bringing a tuner to every gig. Sadly, there were two drawbacks with this guitar. First of all, we’d often be sat down playing and the roundback fiberglass body was hard to balance when playing. The other problem was that when trying to change a snapped string the stopper would embed itself into the bridge therefore making it impossible to retrieve without the use of pliers and some other sharp implement: not ideal when in the middle of a gig! It got to the point where the bridge developed a crack across the string holes, had to be glued back together and eventually a guitar repairer recommended converting the bridge into a top loading bridge whereby the strings would be pegged in like a traditional acoustic guitar.’
It was when Dom was recording a promotional clip for Rock My Reception in a studio that he came across his favourite guitar and the one he uses to this day. The Takamine EGS 330S.
“I’d been using the Ovation in the studio when the producer suggested I used The Takamine as it had a richer tone and would be easier to mic up than the Ovation. He wasn’t wrong! Not only did the Takamine have a deep resonant tone, bit it was a joy to play-the fret action was superb and the recording sounded all the better for using it. I really loved playing this guitar and as luck would have it the owner was happy to sell it for £250-including the case! Naturally I went in with the money the next day and haven’t looked back since!”
So, as an award winning wedding band, playing regularly not only in Great Britain but all across the world what advice would Rock My Reception give to the budding musician about to hit the road on a lengthy tour, with regards to the perfect instrument?
Kieran gives his own pointers when choosing his instrument:
“Forget about big names. Go into the shop and have a budget in mind. It doesn’t matter if the guitar is £200 or £2000. It’s you that will be playing that instrument so trust your own instincts. Shop around. Ask the shopkeeper to plug the guitar in and if need be, bring along your own amp to check out the sound and get a feel for the instrument”
Dom concurs with this;
“If it’s comfortable to play, is well built and sounds great it doesn’t matter what name is on the headstock-that’s the right instrument for you”
And after over 20 years of touring experience no one can argue with that!