The Stranglers' Hugh Cornwell on his first guitar, hating rehearsals and his favourite Tele

Discussing the big questions

Hugh Cornwell on his first guitar hating rehearsals and his favourite Tele

He's the guitarist from The Stranglers and a successful solo performer, but how will he deal with the 10 nice 'n' sleazy questions we ask everyone?

What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

"It was a homemade bass I bought for £5 from a school friend. The neck was a piece of wood three inches wide and two inches deep, so was very difficult to play at first. Once I'd played that for a while, I bought a Hofner violin bass, with a beautiful thin neck, so it was a doddle to play."

If the building was burning down, what one guitar from your collection would you save?

"Obviously, my Fender Tele. It's the guitar I've had the longest, and is my go-to instrument. It's been all over the world with me and got me through some hard times. It's a '74, and stays in tune whatever the weather conditions, which is an important thing to bear in mind when you play festivals in the UK.

I always like to change my strings myself, then if one breaks, the buck stops here

"Or my black Fender Tele. It's been modified from the standard issue. It has Grover tuning pegs, a brass end plate and a brass nut. This was done for me many years ago, and gives the sound a deeper resonance and sustain. Good when there's only one guitar in the line-up."

What plectrums do you use?

"Grey Dunlop 73s. The 88s are too thick, and I couldn't feel the strings when I tried them. Plectrums do have a habit of going AWOL, though."

If you could change one thing about a recording you've been on, what would it be and why?

"There's no point even going there. A recording is about where and what you were at a particular moment, and should reflect that. Once you depart from that and try to deny it, you'll never stop fiddling."

What's the worst thing that has happened to you on stage?

"Breaking a string. It happened during the first song of an acoustic set in Phoenix once, and with no spare guitar at the time, I had to restring on stage. It makes you feel incredibly vulnerable, especially when you've only just begun your set.

"In general, I always like to change my strings myself, then if one breaks, the buck stops here. I have developed a process of string stretching over the years that will more or less fully stretch a set before going on stage. Rotosound rule."

What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes after?

"Probably a last minute leak, as it's irritating and distracting to have a full bladder on stage. Afterwards, it's probably a drink and a cigarette, although I know I shouldn't be smoking as a singer."

What song would you play on acoustic around a campfire?

"I wouldn't, because I would probably be tipsy at the time and I don't like to play in that state. I can never remember the words or the chords, and I end up looking a complete idiot."

What's the closest you've come to quitting music?

"This morning, when I couldn't find a guitar strap. They're one of the things you overlook when you travel a lot. I ended up using some string and cushioning it with a folded-up towel. That and guitar stands. I haven't ever really considered myself as a serious guitar player. It was all the rehearsing that got me down. Now I'm more into it, probably because I don't carry a keyboard player when I tour, so I have to cover more territory."

What aspect of playing guitar would you like to be better at?

I was terribly abusive of my guitars and didn't respect them at all. Perhaps it was a sign of too many roadies pampering me

"All of it. I really only began playing guitar in order to accompany myself while I sang. That's the thing I began with in music, my voice. I have never had great technical ability and can't really play twiddly bits.

"Almost all of my solos are written pieces that don't vary from show to show, and sometimes, I can't even play those correctly. This morning, I played through our current set in preparation for a festival this weekend. The current set has been a mix of old Stranglers songs and most of Totem & Taboo, but that's about to change to a Fall And Rise… set for a German tour."

What advice would you give your younger self about the guitar if you had the chance?

"Look after them and they'll look after you. I was terribly abusive of my guitars and didn't respect them at all. Perhaps it was a sign of too many roadies pampering me. I almost ruined the neck of an earlier Tele I had by sawing through the strings with a hacksaw on stage at the Roundhouse during a number."

The Rise And Fall Of Hugh Cornwell is available now on the Invisible Hands label.

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