The Riot Act's Christian Clarke: Guitar Heroes of South Florida
Clarke in action with his Gretsch Double Anniversary Model
For most musicians, an instrument is very simply a tool. A necessary vehicle of expression that is often romanticized, but a tool none-the-less. Then, there are people like the Riot Act's Christian Clarke, a man whose relationship with the electric guitar stems into a mythical respect for it and its history, and a relationship which has spiraled over the years from childhood fascination into an all-consuming obsession.
Clarke has spent the better part of his adult years hoarding and caring for an astounding collection of rare, unique, and, above all, inspiring, vintage guitars and amplifiers -- each with its own tale and curiosities, each containing its own voice, and each as compelling as the next. We met with Clarke to take a closer look at his collection and to speak at length about his passion for the instrument, what makes vintage guitars such special beasts, and the influences that put him on a path to six-stringed nirvana.
Clark's beloved 1960 Gibson Les Paul Jr., 1959 Les Paul Jr. TV model, and 1962 Gibson Melody Maker (Retrofitted with a Lollar P-90)
How did you get into playing guitar?
I always wanted to play the guitar, and when I was about 14, I started hounding my mom to let my buy a guitar with my own money, and she thought it was going to be a gateway to drug use and devil worship because I was listening to Metallica and Metal Church and Guns 'N Roses at the time, and finally, she made a deal with me that I could buy a guitar with my own money if I promised to go to church group on Wednesdays after school.
So, I said. "Yes, yes! I'll do it!" and of course I never went. But I bought a shitty, sky blue Strat copy, some Japanese Strat copy from a pawn shop. I didn't have an amp for the longest time, so most of my teenage years I spent in my bedroom playing unplugged with the shitty Strat. So, basically, why I got into guitar was Kirk Hammett and Slash.
How does one graduate from a "shitty" pawn shop Strat copy to such a wild collection of vintage guitars?
My second guitar was a 1973 Les Paul Deluxe. It should have had those shitty mini humbuckers, but some guy had routed it out and put Dimarzio humbuckers in. It was a wine stain guitar -- fucking gorgeous, man! Just, checking in the finish and stuff. Somebody put a brass nut on it and it just would not stay in tune. I eventually traded it in as I was getting other gear. And after that, I bought a hot pink Kramer guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo. My Dad helped me buy that one. It had a single humbucker at the bridge, and I traded that in when I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan and bought that white Strat.
Clarke's 1989 Fender '60s Stratocaster Reissue
How old were you?
I was 16. I had the Strat and the Les Paul, and I was like "That's perfect. That's all I'll need for the rest of my life." I traded in the Les Paul later when I was in college to help my brother get started, to help him buy an acoustic -- a really beautiful Alverez Yiari. I just had that Strat for years and stopped playing for years and years and years. And then, I picked it up again when I moved to Florida, and my eye was drawn to vintage gear, and I bought a Melody Maker, that '62 Gibson Melody Maker double-cut. I was just in love with that guitar. Then, I bought a reissue of the Johnny Thunders TV yellow Les Paul Jr., and then shortly after that, I thought, "for almost the same amount of money, I could buy a real Les Paul Jr." and then I started looking into those and front there it just snowballed!
I got into those old P-90s and just couldn't let go. When I first got that big green Gretsch, it was more because of Poison Ivy and the Cramps, not so much Brian Setzer. I just thought she looked so hot with that big assed Gretsch guitar, and I found a really good deal on that Gretsch -- it's a '64. And later in life, my brother bought me my Bassman amp. It wasn't like "I gotta have all this shit right now!" It was just a slow process and all of a sudden, I have all of these guitars I never thought I would have! I really should cull down the herd a little bit.