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Last Call

Seven meditations to help with any kind of gig, musical and beyond.

I got hooked on music as a kid. It was like I was driven by genetic predisposition—I fell hard and have been chasing the dragon ever since. Although we’ve had our ups and downs over the years, playing music means more to me now than ever, but the reasons evolve. At first, I played for the endorphin rush. Then it was part endorphins and part seeking approval or employment. Today, it’s still all that stuff, but music also keeps re-teaching me life lessons. As in music, so in life: The same rules apply.

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Fender Custom Shop Factory Tour with Master Builders Andy Hicks & Austin MacNutt

There's more in Corona than a slice of lime. The California city is also the home of Fender’s Custom Shop, and PG’s John Bohlinger, with our crack video team of Chris Kies and Perry Bean, descended on the shop recently for a different kind of rundown.

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John Bohlinger plays “Grandpa,” Kurt Cobain’s 1953 D-18 that resides in the Martin Guitar 1833 Shop and Museum.

Energy is in everything. Something came over me while playing historical instruments in the Martin Guitar Museum.

When I’m filming gear demo videos, I rarely know what I’m going to play. I just pick up whatever instrument I’m handed and try to feel where it wants to go. Sometimes I get no direction, but sometimes, gear is truly inspiring—like music or emotion falls right out. I find this true particularly with old guitars. You might feel some vibe attached to the instrument that affects what and how you play. I realize this sounds like a hippie/pseudo-spiritual platitude, but we’re living in amazing times. The Nobel Prize was just awarded to a trio of quantum physicists for their experiments with quantum entanglement, what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Mainstream science now sounds like magic, so let’s suspend our disbelief for a minute and consider that there’s more to our world than what’s on the surface.

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John Bohlinger’s Franklin 12-string pedal steel was built by Paul Franklin’s father 30 years ago.

When it comes to forming patterns, no computer algorithm can outperform the human mind. Sometimes we must change directions to have a breakthrough.

Every now and then, a misguided guitar player asks me something like: “What should I do to become a better guitar player?” For the record, I’m probably not the one to ask. I suspect I don’t really know what I’m doing in guitar or life, but I love to play music, and I’ve noticed some improvement in my playing over the years, so here goes. A surefire way to get past a plateau and become a better player is to stop playing guitar … then dive deep into a different instrument.

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Due to some recent health problems, I’m doing everything I can to push back my expiration date. I think it’s helping me become a better guitar player, too.

A friend of mine owned an NBA team and an NFL team. Once, I overheard him talking on the phone about trading a player. When asked what goes into that, he told me that although actuaries cannot accurately predict your life span, there are hard numbers that show a highly accurate decline of muscle with age. This inevitable muscle loss leads to injuries and a general decline in performance. The numbers make it clear that there’s an expiration date on every professional athlete, even factoring in the outliers. Every time I groan as I load my amp into my car, I think about that conversation to fuel my anxiety and fatalism on the weary drive to and from the gig. If professional athletes in their late 20s are physically past their prime, how long can the average musician keep going, factoring in our proclivity toward late nights and the adjacent vices?

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