If music is your calling, have faith and pursue your passion - guitar technician

2018-01-04 08:44
Gary Gibb painstakingly working on repairing a guitar. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

Gary Gibb painstakingly working on repairing a guitar. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

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Durban – Sitting in a quaint Glenwood apartment, Gary Gibb appears calm and peaceful.

It's hard to imagine that he once interacted with the likes of legendary music icon Jim Marshall.

"I called him up when I was living in the United Kingdom," Gibb calmly says.

He isn't easily star struck and is a man who treats everyone equally. 

"I was looking for work, but he (Marshall) told me to 'stick around, I'll phone you'."

Gibb is a household name in KwaZulu-Natal and many parts of South Africa, as the go-to guitar technician (or guitar tech as those in the music industry called it) who can fix up and strip apart the instrument with ease.

"This is not something that is easy to teach. You have to have common sense to do this job. You'd be surprised at how hard that is to find."

He was born to travelling jazz musician parents, but lived most of his life with his grandparents in Durban. 

"My mother had a beautiful voice. Music was always around me."

It is evident that he holds a special place in his heart for his parents and family, with old and new pictures strewn across his lounge.

His grandfather wanted him to become a policeman, but his grandmother sent him to art school instead.

(Kaveel Singh, News24)

"She went to a psychic, who told her I am good with my hands."

And surprisingly enough, the psychic was right.

During his formative years, Gibb tussled between being an artist and musician, playing guitar at local pubs and restaurants and working as a logo designer at a neon sign company in the late 60s.

His early influences are unsurprising.

"For me it was the Shadows, Beatles and the [Rolling] Stones."

The tinkerer

Getting down to brass tax, Gibb says he had considered himself a guitar tech all his life.

When he worked at the legendary Musicland, an instrument store in Durban in the 90s, he started under-the-counter repairs.

"I didn't initially do it for money at all. People would come in and have issues and I would do it under the counter as a service to people."

But, when his boss had found out, Gibb had to stop.

Scale model guitars that Gary Gibb makes in his spare time. (Kaveel Singh, News24) 

Then, in 2001, after 28 years of service, his boss told him the store had been sold and he would be out of a job.

"I was offered a job in Johannesburg but I did not want to go. My ex-wife was a British subject and we went there.

I had a couple of job interviews in the UK but I was too quiet for them. They are very rowdy people, who go drinking every night in that country."

It was there that he encountered Jim Marshall. Unfortunately, he did not stay in the country long enough to foster a long-term relationship.

"I had also called him up around a time when 9/11 (the September 11 attacks) had gripped the world. It was chaotic."

But a few months later, he packed up and headed back to South Africa.

Despondent and down, Gibb lived in a cottage with his family. But the tinkerer could not be stopped.

"We were renting and I was pretty down at this point. But people started hearing that I was back in the country and things started taking off."

Gibb said he started working on guitars almost immediately.

"I would do it on the kitchen, the bathroom floor, anywhere really. I didn't want my landlord to see, in the event that he would kick us out for running a business from home."

But his landlord noticed.

"One day he told me I have a lot of musician friends and asked why they came home. I underplayed it and told him I was just tuning up stuff. To my surprise, he offered his garage as a workshop for me. There I was, sneaking around, and this happens. Life hey?"

Three months later, Gibb was living in his own apartment in Davenport working full-time on guitars.

Gary Gibb listening to a musician explain how he hopes to customise his guitar. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

The dark days

But like most artists, Gibb also harboured a darkness that he had to emerge from. For Gibb, it was his relationship with his ex-wife.

"I had become a zombie who just said yes to everything. It got a point where I would not argue just so we had peace at home."

Music was also taboo in their home.

"At one point, rock 'n' roll music was not allowed in our home. There was a lot of discontent with that side of things."

But, after his daughter convinced him to get a divorce, he came through the hardship, stronger than ever.

The future

Gibb says that, after his divorce, he found a new freedom in friends and fellow musicians.

"I cannot tell you how those early years of fixing guitars and just helping people are getting me through life now. I am surrounded with an abundance of love and happiness."

He says the guitar is an instrument that brings something special to people.

"Guitar is not like any other instrument. There is a freedom and expressiveness to it that is unparalleled. In many ways it saved me."

He said the happiest moments he has is seeing the face of a musician who has their instrument handed back to them.

"It is not about the money. I am happiest in seeing people's faces when you give it to them. People bring family heirlooms and generations of music lives on. I have also made so many wonderful friends doing what I do."

He went on to explain the value of music and its energy.

"Once, I had sold my bass guitar to a gentleman..It was during the dark days. I remember going past the guitar shop and seeing the bass. I went in and asked if the man had sold it.

"They told me he told them to keep it there for me – as a gift. That moved me. But that is what musicians and people who truly love music and guitar are all about."

(Kaveel Singh, News24)

Gibb encouraged restaurants to create more spaces for musos.

"It takes a lot to become a proper working musician. There's years of experience you need to actually become proficient at it. We should appreciate that more."

He called on young people to continue to play live music.

"If music is inside you, it is not going to be easy to let it fester. It will need to come out and you must let it. Break free and express yourself. Go out and play. Jam with friends. It is more spiritual and therapeutic than you will ever realise."

Read more on:    durban  |  good news

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