20 Years of Playing (my one) Electric Guitar

Atul you’ve got a big box in the post today, it is by the phone waiting for you.

My flatmate of 1997 informed me on a cold November evening somewhere in Hammersmith, London. I had spent £340 on this big box, which in those days for a 3rd year undergraduate was a lot of money. The delivery was for my first ever, and the only electric guitar I have owned, an Epiphone Les Paul (licence by Gibson, yeah that Gibson reference is important!).

Atul Rana Les Paul Guitar

Cleaning up my guitar headstock. Sometime in 1999 before a party.

1990s Indie rock ‘n roll kid..sort of

Ah 1997, the height of Indie rock music in the UK; The Verve, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Kula Shaker et all were where rock music was at. Yeah sure Barbie Girl by Aqua and Britney Spears were the new sensation but I was all about geeeeetaaaar and rock! But Indie rock is not what inspired me to buy my electric guitar. I was more wowed by the guitar sounds of Aerosmith, Guns ‘N Roses, Def Leppard, U2 etc.

It took me a very long time to decide on what guitar I was going to buy and consulted quite a few friends at the time who also played electric guitar. I had already been playing acoustic guitar for a year and I managed to fight with it enough to play a few riffs. When I say fight it, that’s because acoustic guitars are hard to play for a beginner and I had overcome a big hurdle by playing a bunch of chords and riffs on it. I had also just spent the Summer of 1997 in Newcastle where I met my long term friend Zaff. Zaff was an incredible guitarist and musician and in him I met a true friend and musical mentor. He taught me quite a few things about music in those early days. And I had got to play his electric guitars a lot during the summer of 1997 in Newcastle.

Dilemma : U2 sound or GnR?

My big dilemma for a guitar look and sound boiled down to basically two opposing soundscapes.


Gold top

The Edge sound (U2) vs Slash (Guns ‘N Roses). Those bands are well and truly epic and the guitar sounds could not be more different. Edge with a rythmic, delay soaked chime and Slash with his blazing thick riffs and long melodic solos. I wanted both but alas could only buy one guitar. I went for the Slash option in the end, and quite literally bought the Gold top colour guitar that is part of his signature look. I figured that The Edge did ocassionally use Les Pauls and you could get a good enough U2 sound from a Les Paul. But you can’t get a Stratocaster to sound like Slash. So that was it, I ordered my first electric guitar on the internet by a phone call made on a landline. And as for that guitar not sounding like an Edge type, well I got pretty close to it in this cover I did, shown in this glorious video recording.

At the time I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a guitarist or a singer and being in a band was still very much a dream. My guitar playing progressed very slowly from 1997 to 1999. Between 1999 and 2000 I lived in Aldershot with some art students. Somehow they really appreciated my guitar playing and I first started performing in public then at campfires then later at house parties and jam sessions. In early 2000 my friend Zaff was in a band in Newcastle, I went to see him perform and for the first time ever I got to learn how things work in a band from him first hand. I was impressed and decided I wanted to be in a band too!

2000 : I join my first band

As soon as I started my PhD at Imperial College I auditioned to join a band, and I had decided it was going to be as a singer who played guitar rather than the other way round.


The Guns t-shirt and guitar 🙂

I joined my first band Melodion and my guitar playing progressed fast, my singing progressed even faster. The discipline of band practice, being forced to learn entire songs from start to finish, keep in time with the drummer and band *and* to deliver great vocals and a performance was frankly a lot to take on. I rose to the challenge and thankfully Frank the lead guitarist of Melodion (my first band) really encouraged me. My identity of a singer who also played guitar was being reconsidered as I was far better at singing at that point than guitar. In fact with covers like Creeping Death by Metallica I couldn’t play and sing at the same time, and with Under the Bridge by Chili Peppers only one guitar was needed. However other covers like Cats in the Cradle and Britney Spears’s Hit Me were truly enhanced by two guitar parts. I refused to let go of my guitar and continued to play and sing.


DonkeyBox featuring me and lead guitarist Matt Jones in 2002, both with Les Paul guitars at the time, rock!

It took a good 6 months before I hit the stage with a full blown gig with Melodion. We had started going on stage as a band for jam nights. When I wore my electric guitar on stage live I became larger than life, I became an extension of who I am and I could break out of the shackles of the shy and quiet guy. Sometimes I felt out of place playing guitar and singing live, yet I also felt like it helped me release an inner intensity and energy in a way I never was able to before. With the years I got more used to being on stage and my identity as a live rock and punk guy.

2002 onwards – DonkeyBox days

The most I have used my electric guitar is with my band DonkeyBox. From 2002 to now in 2018 it is the only electric guitar I have used. In 2000 the lead guitarist of Melodion Frank realised that both our guitars were sounding ‘bad’ at higher volumes. We didn’t know much about tone but we did know to get the same quality at higher volumes we needed new guitar pickups. Frank was doing a PhD in Electrical Engineering so I trusted him on this. He went to New York on holiday and got me some brand new guitar pickups. Two DiMarzio’s – Super Distortion for the bridge pickup and Norton Air for the neck pick-up. Apparently the guitar dude in the shop recommended these in the NY shop for a heavy rock sound.


Wearing that guitar on stage makes me come alive as the gods of rock power me up.

And boy were these pickups spot on. They utterly transformed the sound of my guitar. The guitar sounded fresh, large, lively and clear both in clean and distored settings. Over the years I have got my distortion out of the Metal Zone MT 2 pedal. My tone tends to be a little more abrasive with a AC DC feel to it. The lead guitar tone in the band is a bit softer as that tone can cut through guitar solos. We found the perfect tones between the two guitars in DonkeyBox.

Open Mic Nights : The Rise and Fall of Les Paul

Can there be too much of a good thing? I started playing open mic nights and started performing solo in 2010. It was terrifying at first, even more terrifying going on stage with a band for the first time. I had nothing to back me up and my voice and guitar tone would be standing out completely on their own. I performed open mic night after night, more on stage in them than with my band in total.


I loved playing open mic nights.

In 2014 I had to retire my Les Paul from open mic nights and got a brand new electro acoustic. The electric guitar wasn’t great for solo accompaniment for the type of songs I was playing. The guitar was mostly plugged through venue PA systems and sounded horrific through them. I got a joyo pedal to simulate the sound of an amp but still it never really cut through. The set up with an electric guitar and solo vocals was simply out of place. So as much as I had to detach from my identity and look with my trusty gold top Les Paul, I did so in 2014. The Les Paul is saved for what it does best…rock ‘n roll in a band or studio setting.

Should I get more guitars?

I’ve had a remarkably monogamous relationship with my electric guitar. Once I had my guitar and had the new pickups installed, it really worked like a dream for me. I had developed my own tone and playing style on it. Both the clean and dirty sounds work brilliantly for me and I have never felt the need to buy another electric guitar.


At open mic nights, giving it all even with very few people in the audience.

However as I get older and listen to more subtle tones in guitar I am tempted to finally get ‘The Edge’ guitar aka a Stratocaster too. But then there is also the Telecaster option, and a PRS and why not Ibanez (by my fav guitarist Joe Satriani). I can see why many of my lead guitarist friends now have more than 5 guitars! The electric guitar is a beautiful and iconic instrument, the wood ages and the tones improves. So I look forward to the next 20 years of service from my trusty old Les Paul.


1 Response to “20 Years of Playing (my one) Electric Guitar”

  1. 1 2017 – Making Many New Connections | Atul Rana Trackback on December 31, 2017 at 8:12 pm

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