Uneasy Rider: Guitars, Motorcycles, & Hillbilly Music

There’s a lot of crossover between motorcyclists and musicians. It makes sense: motorcycling’s cool, music’s cool. 

Except for drummers, of course. There’s a reason those guys are always spontaneously combusting. 

Anyway, along with my recent bikesistential crisis, I had a hankering for a new guitar. As often seems the case with many former-sorta-still musicians, the day-to-day got in the way and my guitars got dusty while my skills got rusty. I convinced myself that a new (to me, at least) guitar hanging on the one conspicuously empty guitar hanger on my home office wall might be just the thing to get me playing more regularly again, and after a month of searching eBay and Reverb.com (and some soul-searching due to the typical American consumer bent to my “problem-solving”) I bought a very clean ’99 Gibson SG Standard, in the only color that’s acceptable: translucent cherry red. 

The Surj Gish model!

So far, it’s worked. I love the feel of this particular SG’s late Sixties neck profile, and every time I look up from my desk, it’s there, enticing me to take a string-bending breather: “Let’s rock.”

Fish is musician too, a bass player, so we started having super-nerdy conversations about bikes and guitars, which could have only been more boring for any unfortunate bystanders at World Headquarters if we’d then pivoted to a chronological analysis of Rush’s complete works before returning—as we always do—to the ever-important topic of “New Softail: hot or not?” 

As I said, motorcyclists share a lot of traits with musicians. With guitar players, there are rough parallels between tube amp traditionalists and anti-ABS purists, for example, and it’s probably pretty accurate to equate a super high-tech KTM adventure bike to a modern ESP pseudo-Strat with a Floyd Rose tremolo. The tube amp guys will drone on about point to point wiring and soulful simplicity, while the ESP player is interested in precision and extreme competence, not undefinable nonsense like “soul.” 

Both Fish and I have a deep appreciation for a variety of country music, old to new to weird, so it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to Telecasters. We’re both semi-purists in that we mostly prefer “correct” old-style guitars, like Fifties and Sixties stuff, but I deviate a bit in preferring G&L ASATs over “real” Fenders. I say “real” because G&L is the guitar company started by George Fullerton and Leo Fender (yes, that Fender) in the late Seventies. The G and L are for George and Leo—these two were basically making modernized, even hopped-up versions of decades-old Fender standards like the Telecaster and Stratocaster. The ASAT, essentially a modernized Tele, has been my guitar of choice since I bought one as my first new-new guitar in the early Nineties. I’ve owned several, and an early Leo Fender signature ASAT hangs on the wall in my office. 

Guitarists are like cruiser fans: fanatically dedicated to tradition and heritage, abhorrent to change. Many Fender players couldn’t jive with the G&L stuff, though it was made by Mr. Fender himself, because it was updated, different, sorta like a Victory cruiser. And we know where that ended up. 

G&L has fortunately outlasted Victory, and is still making kickass guitars to this day, even though Leo died in ’91 and George passed in ’09. 

Anyway, Fish and I were cruising eBay, Craigslist, and Reverb, him for Teles and me for ASATs, sharing our finds, debating butterscotch versus blonde and discussing the virtues of P-90s and humbuckers in the neck position, and began identifying motorcycle analogues for these guitars. Fish got all weak in the knees for a Bigsby-equipped blonde Telecaster built in 2013, which I compared to a new Bonneville adorned with “period correct” accessories. He retaliated by aligning the Les Paul Gold Top I had my eye on with the sea of lookalike GSes, calling both played out. 

Harsh. Hell, the legendary Supersuckers even have a song (check it out below) about the quintessential rock ‘n’ roll-ness of Gibson’s Gold Top: “A tasty lick with a brand new pick, I can take it off and hit you with it if you’re a prick… It makes me want to play it harder and faster, it makes me never want to stop. I’m ten foot tall thanks to Mr. Paul. I ought to give him a call and say, ‘thanks for the Gold Top.’”

How about you—what kind of motorcycle do you play? What kind of guitar do you ride?

This story originally appeared in our May 2018 issue.