In a new interview with Guitar World, the guitarist looked back at his formative years, noting that his first instrument was an extremely low-quality item.
“I was about 13 or 14 when I got it,” Buck said of the red $17 guitar. “My first real guitar was a late-’60s Epiphone, which I got a year later. The neck was straight, the sound was decent and it was the first time when I played guitar and I could tell what it sounded like – as in, I’d play chords and it sounded like the chords I heard on a record!”
Asked about his debut performance, he explained “it was horrible. The only thing I can remember about it is playing the Batman theme, and I’m not even sure we played the third chord. I think we just played the A and the D.”
He went on to say that in R.E.M.’s early days, the shows were “all embarrassing.” “You have to work so hard to get up there, and you really have to gear yourself up. Then, if something takes you out of it, it’s usually equipment failures,” he said. “We toured for four years without a guitar tech; I didn’t even have extra guitars, so if I broke a string, I had to sit there and change it in front of however many people were there. We didn’t have tuners either, so you’re humming away to try and figure out what the note is. … My amps were breaking up all the time, and I couldn’t fix an amp to save my life.”
Buck agreed his approach as a musician was to “play for the song,” rather than focus on opportunities to develop personal forms of expression while using music as a vehicle. “My job is to lay out the chord changes,” he said. “I want to come up with a great riff and tie it in with the song. I usually write bridges, as I’m not much of a soloist. I’d rather write a bridge or a piece that is a guitar line.”
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