I had some piano lessons about 11 years old which I found very boring, and played cornet (badly) in the school band. Both of these gave me a decent basic understanding of music ie. chords, melody time signatures etc.

I played the drums in a few local bands in the 80s the first of which was "A prowl of sixes" which later became "The dangerous sports club".

My first gig with A prowl of sixes early 80s.

I've played the acoustic guitar as a hobby since the early 80s, but around the end of 2002 I set myself the target of playing and singing in front of people I don't know.

Before then I had only sung in front of a couple of friends or girlfriends. I set myself this target on the week I came up to Dunkeld for a holiday.

The Taybank pub in Dunkeld had an acoustic music club every Friday, where anyone can play/sing.

Everybody has a shot each and the first time it came to my turn I just couldn't do it, I was a nervous wreck.

Anyway with a bit of encouragement I managed to play very badly next time round.

After about three months I could play as good in front of people as I do on my own.

In June 2003 I played my first solo gig as a singer/guitarist.

In July 2003 I played and sang solo at the Rosyth festival in front of about 500 people(although only about 4 people were paying any attention).

Still an achievement so soon after being nervous in front of a handful of people. I was totally relaxed throughout this gig.

Here's me casually fingerpicking on my 12 string simon and patrick at the Rosyth festival.

In September 2004, after a few weeks traveling to the south of France then down the Spanish coast, I ended up staying in the Algarve Portugal looking for work playing guitar and singing in hotels and restaurants.

I played around 10/15 gigs from September to June, and on 21st of June I was offered my first weekly spot on Tuesdays at the Plough and Harrow bar/restaurant in Luz.

I then had two more regular spots, Thursdays at the Boa vista golf restaurant near Lagos and Fridays in the Pestana Alvor Praia 5 star hotel in Alvor.

Here's a poster I made for the Alvor spot :

This is my pa system set up on the Alvor stage 17th November 2004.

And this is the view I had from the stage while playing. That's a small indoor river with large fish (maybe Koi carp) in it.

And this is the same view zoomed to see outside where I was looking out across the Atlantic ocean to Lagos.

I would play for 30 minutes then have a 15 minute break where I regularly went outside and lay in a hammock hung from the trees.

I'm proud of the fact that I was playing professionally in a 5 star hotel just over 2 years after my first performance in front of strangers.

I'm also one of a minority of people who can say that they have achieved their dream, but I suddenly realised when I was on stage one night that it's a shit dream.

My own opinion of performing in a 5 star hotel is that you are just background music and another servant to all the pretend snobs who stay in the hotel.

Most of the time people payed no attention to me and it was almost unusual for anyone to applaude. I saw some excellent musicians in hotels playing away un-noticed.

I was originally excited when I was told I can have a free shower and meal before every performance. I thought "wow, free meal in a 5 star hotel".

I was stunned to find out pretty much a completely separate building inside the hotel which is hidden from the paying guests.

There are doors, corridors and lifts that are marked no entry. Those are for the workers, my meal was in a basement canteen similar to a prison canteen.

The food looked like left-overs and was between warm and hot. The shower room was very bad with dead cockroaches in the showers, broken tiles, and exposed pipework everywhere.

My own opinion again, but it made me realise how false the whole facade is with people getting paid minimum wages, working long hours, smiling in the faces of the guests.

I also found out that the holiday season in the Algarve only lasts a few months, then a lot of holiday related businesses are pretty much dead for the rest of the year.

I had four spots a week at one point but ended up with just the Alvor praia weekly gig. So I gave it up in November 2005 and headed back to Scotland.

I now only play music in venues where people actually listen to you and appreciate music, like folk clubs and music sessions.


The end of 1999 I finished my NOTHING MUSIC CD which was all very original instrumental stuff using synths, a drum module, electric guitar etc.

In May 2005 I finished the 11 track SAUGHNGZ CD. This was really just a demo Cd of cover versions for trying to get gigs in restaurants/hotels.

In Feb 2007 I finished the 9 track FOREST LIGHT CD. There are five self penned songs, two original instrumentals and two cover versions that are given my original touch.

In 2012 I was working on my next album which was sort of a mix between Nothing Music and Forest light being a combination of acoustic guitar/voice with added synths, drums, electric guitar and effects.

But, in 2013 I started a collaboration with Jill Bryson from Strawberry Switchblade so I started concentrating fully on that.


Some musical equipment I've owned over the years includes :

For the Nothing music album : Atari STE upgraded to 4mb total memory ( WOW! 4mb! ) using Breakthru by Gajit sequencing software and a replay 16 sampler, Tascam porta 05 4 track, Yamaha MT120 4 track, Echo Darla sound card, Kawai K1 synth, Kawai K4R synth module, Alesis D4 drum module, Korg N5 synth.

Alesis Quadraverb GT, Alesis Midiverb 4, and Yamaha FX770 effects units, Spirit folio Rac Pac rackmount mixing desk, a unique rackmount unit that I designed myself and got made for free at a factory I worked in (see below).

It has my PC in the bottom and used to have a PC monitor in the space at the top. I played a few gigs around 1999 where I took all this equipment with me on stage just to prove to people that I made up all the music myself.

In my pc I would mute the electric guitar track on each song and play it live on my Yamaha RGX312 electric guitar, so the synth, drum machine and effect units were being midi controlled in realtime by the PC.

With extra audio tracks, guitar/voice etc. also being played by the PC which was all very CPU and ram intense on my at that time Pentium 4 1.3ghz.

This all took lots of planning and setting up and had a high risk of things going wrong, but I reckon not one single person who saw me perform knew the first thing about midi/wave software, and some people thought I was just a DJ.

I had one very angry person come up to me after a gig who asked if I use samples. Because I used talking samples that I recorded myself from TV and (you could say) my drum machine has individual sampled drum hits, I said to him "It depends what you mean by samples".

He then shouted angrily "DO YOU USE SAMPLES!". I said yes, then I was going to explain how I don't use samples with any musical or rhythmic content, but he quickly said "I THOUGHT SO!" then he stormed away back to his table. I imagine he told all of his mates that I only used samples, but he couldn't have been more wrong.

He obviously thought I had no musical ability and just used samples of other musicians, but he musn't have noticed that I was playing my electric guitar live. And he couldn't have known enough about music technology to see that I was using midi software with recorded audio tracks that could all be seen on my monitor while I was performing.

I could have explained all of this and proved to him that I made up everything myself. All of the drums and synth parts were unique to me and made up note by note. And there was a few audio tracks of recorded guitars and bass on each song all played by myself. But this guy must have had a problem with me being on stage.

When he spoke to me I was standing next to all of my equipment (synth, guitars and my rackmount unit in the image above) which I had to move out of the way into a corner of the pub after playing. I went back later and noticed someone had placed my 12 string guitar face down on the beer stained floor and put my guitar case and other things on top of it.

I couldn't get any gigs locally ( Dunfermline, Edinburgh ) around that time becuase nobody else was performing in that way. Venues would tell me they only put bands on.

Around 2006 I saw a guy doing a similar thing where he just sat on stage with an electric guitar and played along to a backing track that he had made up himself.

For the Forest light album : Recording onto a P4 3ghz, 1 gig ram laptop using a Motu Traveler firewire audio interface, two AKG C1000S mikes externally on the Taylor and my voice, audio technica ATM 73a headmike and the direct balanced output from the Taylor 614CE.

I chose the Traveler as it could record all these inputs simultaneously onto 4 seperate tracks using XLR connectors at 24bit. So I could record myself playing and singing at the same time.

At the time of buying the Traveler, hardly any interfaces could record more than 2 tracks simultaneously onto seperate tracks at 24bit, but they are much more common now.

I'm currently (2018) still playing the Taylor 614CE guitar ( bought Dec 2005 ) which I still absolutely love, and a DPA 4088 head mike ( bought May 2010 ) which is pretty much the rolls royce of head mikes.

I use a headmike because I'm always looking up and down the fretboard when I play. I had bad feedback problems with my first headmike (Audio technica ATM 73a).

I played a few gigs where the resident sound mixer couldn't get a decent level before feedback, since getting the DPA 4088 I've had no feedback problems.

The Taylor and the DPA were not cheap, but it feels good knowing you've got some of the best equipment. I also feel obliged to play well and keep improving to justify having such good gear.

In January 2014 I got my first proper studio monitors for mixing ( Tannoy reveal 601a ). Up until then I had done most of my mixing on earphones with cross checking on other hifi speakers and my car hifi.

In Febuary 2014 I got an absolute bargain price on ebay for a roland/cakewalk VS-700R. It's a bit of an upgrade from my Motu traveler and is considered to have very clean pre amps.

In December 2018 I bought a brand new DPA 4099G (with the new core design) which is the rolls royce of clip on guitar mikes. You can see these mikes used by some of the best musicians in the world eg. Paco Pena, Ry Cooder, Stochelo Rosenberg.

I had wanted one of these for a long time, and hoped I could maybe find one cheap sometime, but you would be very lucky to get one of these cheap as they are used constantly by top professional bands and on TV etc.

In David Byrne's 2018 world tour, David and all of his musicians use DPA mikes on all of their instruments. So they are using the same mikes as mine, the 4088 for vocals and 4099 mikes on instruments.

In May 2019 I sold the VS-700R and got a roland studio capture. I wasn't able to find out for sure if the studio capture and VS-700R use the same preamps or if the preamps are better or worse.

Even if the preamps are totally different, the difference in sound between the two units would be microscopic and only mastering engineers would notice it.

I didn't really need to sell the VS-700R, but I liked the look of the studio capture and the auto level function.

June 2016 update on guitars.

Around the start of 2016 I noticed I was making more mistakes than normal with my right hand. I thought I would try a classical guitar as they are easier to play.

I ended up buying a new Ibanez classical guitar that looks almost identical to my Taylor. I already had the Ibanez bass which also looks like the Taylor being black with white edging.

This then made my old yamaha rgx stand out so I got an Ibanez electric to match the others. Then my Simon and Patrick 12 string stood out so I got a new Ibanez 12 string.

I took the Ibanez 12 string back for a refund after never being happy with a dip in the top near the bridge.

I was going to sell my old Simon and Patrick 12 string after buying the Ibanez 12 string, but I decided to make it match the other guitars.

I recorded the whole painting process on video which is now on youtube, link in my Music videos page.

I was suffering from full matching set syndrome so I ended up spending a lot more than intended, but I really like having these guitars and I'm now playing much more than normal.

Also, shortly before buying these I had an inkling to do youtube videos where I film myself playing lots of instruments so the full matching set will be great for that.

From left to right, 2001 Simon and Patrick 12 string, 2009 Ibanez SRX360 bass, 2003 Taylor 614CE acoustic, 2014 Ibanez RGIR20FE-BK electric, 2015 Ibanez AEG10NII-BK classical.

January 2019 update on guitars.

About two years after painting my Simon and Patrick 12 string I noticed lots of fine hairline cracks in the finish. The guitar still plays fine and the cracks are not noticeable in my youtube videos but I used this as an excuse to buy another 12 string.

I got a second hand Takamine EF381SC from a private seller in France on the reverb website. It was one of my worst buying experiences as the guitar arrived from France with a crack in the bridge in between all of the bridge pins.

I then had problems with the seller, the reverb team and paypal which carried on for weeks. I had to get the bridge repaired by a proper luthier, then a setup done by a guitar technician as the action was too high, but I eventually ended up with a nice guitar.

At the same time I bought a new Takamine GC1CE-BLK classical to replace my Ibanez RGIR20FE-BK. I liked the look and shape of the Ibanez more than the Takamine, and I originally chose the Ibanez as it looks very similar to my Taylor.

But I noticed after owning the Ibanez for about two years and only then recording it for the first time on video, that the binding is a yellowish colour.

It stands out like a sore thumb in my "Below the valleys" multi instrumental video as all my other guitars have a bright white binding.

June 2019 update.

I spent exactly one year and six months making my own unique 17 piece 3d printed drum kit. I finished it June 2019.

It has 7 toms, 1 side snare drum, 1 snare drum with an added rimshot pad, 4 crash cymbals, one ride cymbal with bell, 1 hihat and 1 bass drum.

The main snare and ride cymbal are 10 inch and all the rest are 8 inch. It currently uses a Roland TD-15 drum module, but I could easily use lots of other modules.

I might add details of the kit design/development here sometime. You can see me playing the kit in four of my multi instrumental videos on youtube.

The photo below was taken in May 2020.

Left to right on the wall : 2015 Takamine EF381SC 12 string, 2001 Simon and Patrick 12 string, 2017 Takamine GC1CE-BLK classical.

Left to right on the floor : 2009 Ibanez SRX360 bass, 2014 Ibanez RGIR20FE-BK electric, 2003 Taylor 614CE acoustic.

March 2022 update.

I spent over 2 years restoring/re-customising my unique KX500 street motocrosser and as you can see, I chose the colours to fit in with my instruments. More info in my KXinfo page.


I've tried all sorts of nail strengtheners, laquers e.t.c. which made my nails brittle and easy to break. A broken nail would be a disaster before a gig and have the same effect as a broken string.

In December 2006 I started applying acrylic coating to 4 of my fingernails on my right hand. I made it almost 2mm thick.

In 2015 I started using gel coating which is similar to acrylic, but I find it easier to apply.

When I first tried out gel coating I got it applied at a nail salon.

The coating was nowhere near as thick as I normally have and I remembered the reason why as soon as I played my guitar.

If the coating is thin, the edge of my nail is thin enough to fit in the grooves of the windings on the thicker strings and this makes a scraping noise.

So I have the coating thick and I completely round the edge off so it glides over the string windings (you can see this in the image below).

I then realised years later that a very thick coating around 2mm makes it easier for the coating to touch the string next to the one I'm plucking.

So I now make sure the edge that plucks the string is thick enough to round off and I file the other edge down to around 1mm.

My current process is to start by sanding the surface of the nails with a 100 grit file then I apply a tiny amount of primer, just enough that it soaks into all of the nail.

The primer is a strong acid that etches/softens the nail's surface to ensure a good bond. I've had the same very small bottle for over 10 years I reckon and it's still almost full.

It's very important to use primer before applying acrylic or gel otherwise the coating will come off easily, and I've also had times where the coating only stayed on for a few days after forgetting to sand the nails with the 100 grit file.

I have a good UV lamp and I usually apply a very thin first gel coat which also helps the bond (1 minute under the UV lamp), then 3 or 4 thick coats (3 minutes each under the lamp) making sure I end up with too much gel which can be sanded down.

IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE TRYING THIS. When I first put the thick coats under the lamp I have to hold it for only a few seconds (maybe 3 to 5) then pull my hand out as the gel quickly gets unbearably, painfully hot and keeps getting hotter. Once pulled out the coating will then heat up for a few seconds then start to cool then I can safely put my hand back under the lamp. I might even have to do this two or three times.

After applying all the coats I use a rough 100 grit file first then a fine metal file then a three way foam sander to end up with a glass like finish.

As the nail grows, the coating moves with it leaving a gap which can be filled with more gel, but I usually replace the coating after about a month as it starts to lift off from the cuticle end, but if the coating comes off before then, I can just super glue it back on and it's good for maybe over a week.


Strawberry switchblade

(Update 4th July 2013). I am extremely pleased to now officially be in a band with Jill Bryson. We are called The Shapists. I also built and look after the website.

More details in the Music with Jill Bryson page.

(Older update from 21st March 2012). I am very pleased to be currently building a website for Jill Bryson. Check the site out here

(Older update from 2010) I was very pleasantly surprised on the 1st November 2010 when I got an email saying I had received payment for one of my CDs from Jill Bryson.

I had to ask her to confirm if she was the Jill Bryson. She replied with this "Hello Craig, Yes I was in Strawberry Switchblade

and I love your versions of Trees and Flowers and Being Cold. I'm flattered that you chose to cover them and look forward to hearing the CD. Jill."

Jill wrote both of these songs so it's a great honour for me to get her approval, but it's maybe because these songs mean so much to me that I can produce worthy cover versions.

I've been a massive Strawberry switchblade fan since first hearing them on the kid Jensen and John Peel sessions in 1982. I still have the cassette tape of those sessions that I have listened to loads.

I also have either vinyl, Cd or otherwise versions of almost everything they've recorded. A lot of which can be downloaded from Merrick's great Strawberry switchblade site.

When I started playing in hotels and restaurants I had to learn some "songs for the punters", but most of the songs I cover are songs that get to me emotionally.

So many SS songs really get to me, I find it hard to describe how I feel about SS without sounding like a pathetic fanatic, but they've always been a sort of unique, special favourite of mine.

Getting this payment from Jill out of the blue is currently the highlight of my music career, but I'm still waiting for an email from David Bowie or David Byrne.

Devon Sproule

I loved Devon Sproule and her husband Paul Curreri's performances on the Jools Holland show no.5 2008, and was inspired to do my own cover version of Stop by anytime.

After uploading it to youtube I thought I better email her asking if it was ok to upload a cover and if she had any problem with it I'd delete it immediately.

I was pleased when she quickly replied saying "Good LORD, that's terrific! Really classy, Craig. I'm thrilled!". I've since had a few email conversations with her.

I was close to supporting her when she played the voodoo rooms Edinburgh 2009. She said it would be ok for me to play as an opening act, but it ended up not happening through a communication error.

I was then very surprised in feb 2010 when she emailed asking if I had tablature for stop by anytime. I think that's brilliant, someone asking me for tab of their own song.

I didn't have tab, but spent about a week learning a tab program and eventually sent her a very accurate tablature of her version of the song which is very different from mine.

I met her and Paul at the Edinburgh gig, they are a couple of cool dudes. I spoke to Devon for a while and very much enjoyed the gig. She's a brilliant song writer, has a really nice touch on guitar and a lovely voice.

Aaron Kaplan and Anna Montgomery

I did a cover of the song After the rain from the end titles of the film "Flock" starring Richard Gere. It's an amazing song that grabbed me on first listen. (It's a great film too).

I did the same as I did with Devon Sproule and emailed Aaron Kaplan (the song writer) asking permission to upload to youtube in case there was any copyright problem. This is some of his reply :

"I am sincerely flattered!!" and "I've gotten a lot of fan mail since "The Flock" came out and am so happy to know that people dig the song. You, however, have really taken the cake! I am blown away.

First off, you've given the tune a whole new life- I love the acoustic rendition/arrangement. Its beautiful. You have a nice voice. Again, I really appreciate this and find it to be an amazing tribute. Thank you again!! Aaron.

Soon after that I received an email from Anna Montgomery who sings on the original. Here is some of her email : "Hi Craig- Aaron just forwarded me your youtube recording of his song. I wanted to tell you how beautifully you do it.

I fell in love with the song when Aaron played it for me and understand what pleasure it brings to sing it. You play it QUITE well also. Aaron was very excited to see someone felt for the song enough to learn it."

Anna Montgomery has an amazing voice and very much helps to make the song so special. Again, I was very honoured and humbled by both replies.

Chris Simpson from Magna carta

I did a cover of Magna carta's Airport song from the 1970 Seasons album.

I think it's the world's nicest song (the Magna carta version). It has really nice acoustic guitars, violins, flutes, triangle etc.

I first heard it on a German satellite radio station around 1992 and soon hit the record button on my cassette deck. It took me about 5 years to find out who it was.

On 3rd march 2011 I got an email from Harry Pater who looks after the Magna carta website saying "Thank you for uploading your beautiful version of Magna Carta's Airport Song!

I just received an e-mail from Chris Simpson, who told me he's delighted to hear your version. He really likes it!."

Harry also embedded my video on the Magna carta site. I'm always a bit worried hearing from actual bands/songwriters in case they're going to sue my ass for copyright infringement.

So it was a great relief to get some good feedback, and a big privilege to have such a successfull and famous person spend time watching me perform.

The farmer's boys

I recently had two of my youtube vids added to the official unofficial Farmer's boys website

I listened to their "Get out and walk" album loads in the 80s and have a few other twelve inch singles.

"For you" is probably my favourite Farmer's boys song, but I don't think it would suit my style of playing guitar for a cover version or arrangement.

Here's my sort of ragtimey version of The way you made me cry.

And my more typical arrangement of A promise you can't keep.

Nancy Sinatra

2nd December 2015 I uploaded my version of "As tears go by" which was based on Nancy Sinatra's version. I changed the lyrics to "As time goes by" which is how the song was originally written by Jagger/Richards.

That song title had been used in the film Casablanca so the stones manager changed it to "As tears go by" which in my opinion makes no sense whatsoever and, why didn't they change it to "As years go by"?.

I mentioned my video on a Rolling stones forum and the Nancy Sinatra forum. A lot of forums for pop stars or groups are only used by fans, but Nancy herself regularly interacts with people on her forum.

I was still very surprised when she replied to my post after about 2 and a half months saying "Lovely. Thanks, Craig". I'll never know if she actually watched my video or for how long, but at least I can say that Nancy Sinatra typed my name.

At a family meeting (Christmas day I think), I was talking about how youtube and the internet is amazing as far as the possibility to contact famous people and my Dad was very impressed when I said that Nancy Sinatra had watched one of my youtube videos.

The Sinatra forum closed in 2021, but I was able to find my post on the wayback machine so I think it should always be available HERE

This is a screenshot from that page showing Nancy's answer to my post.

I've never really had high self confidence, so it helps me a lot when I get positive comments on my youtube vids or any contact from famous people as mentioned above.

If I go a while without positive comments I start to have doubts about my ability and wonder if I'm doing the right thing, so the comments help keep me on the right track and inspire me to keep playing.


Almost all of my guitar arrangements are my own unique version of a song.

When I first started playing a lot around 2002 I didn't have much of a repertiore and I learned a few cover songs by copying the original guitar part exactly.

But, copying something exactly is the opposite of creativity so I much prefer making my own version.

So I'm not concerned about playing the exact chords and I will regularly play chords that are just similar to the original or in jazzy songs I might use more basic chords.

In a lot of my arrangements I have made up a chord from scratch that has notes that fit in and is also in a convenient position on the fret board to change easily from the previous chord and to the next chord.

So these are chords that are unique to me and I like to call them "chords that haven't been invented yet" or "highly illegal chords". It would be easy to put the individual notes into chord software to find out the name of the chord but I have no need to know that.

I might use the guitar to play what a piano or violin or synth is playing in the original song and add chords and a simple bassline.

In my version of "Sittin on a fence" I'm playing an oboe melody from the Twice as much version along with chords and a bass line.

In "One day I'll fly away" I am playing close to the original bass line and adding chords to that at the same time.

In "Fifty ways to leave your lover" I'm trying to incorporate the feel of Steve Gadd's drums.

In other songs like "Rio" I first tried to incorporate the original bassline, but I wasn't too happy with that so I became roughly familiar with the song and just tried things out.

I might make a mistake which sounds ok and move more towards that or try out slightly different variations of bass/chord rhythms.

In "Rio" I ended up with a very different and unique version that still has some of the feel of the original and maybe adds a latin American feel which fits with the title.

In the middle section of my version of "White horses" that I made up for The Shapists, I play the original melody with added notes in between and a slightly more complicated bass line.

For the verses I play my own unique melody which fits in with the main vocal melody.

That is currently my hardest arrangement to play well and I've never been satisfied with any performance of it at a session.

I regularly use my pinky when playing and I also have a different style of playing from most guitarists as far as my bass notes where I regularly play alternating bass notes with my thumb that have a sort of bossanova timing.

A lot of guitarists play high then low bass notes ie, high low, high low. My bass parts are usually low high high, low high high or high low low, high low low. Eg. in an A major chord I will play E A A, E A A.

I never use tab or written music and a few times I've had to look at my own youtube videos to remember how I play songs I haven't played in a while. I just memorize what I play with my fingers, which is just the finger picking sequence and what frets I press on. So I don't need to know the names of the notes or the chords.



Around the start of 2016 I noticed I was struggling to play songs that I should be able to play easily. I started analysing my playing to try and find the problem.

A guy at a music session gave me a shot of his guitar and it was him who first noticed my index finger was straightening out or kicking out when finger picking.

I started trying things like wrapping an elastic band around my hand and the end of my finger which kept the finger tucked in. I also started making different things like sort of splints that would stop my finger from straightening. I made one from a bent piece of thin metal held on my finger with elastic bands.

Around the same time there was something wrong with the nerve attached to my right index finger and I could get a painful electric shock sensation if I pressed gently on that nerve in different positions where the nerve traveled up my arm.

So, if I touched the nerve, even very gently at my wrist or forearm, I would feel the shock sensation in the first joint of my index finger, even though I was pressing in a different area maybe 6 or 12 inches away.

Also, if I made my right hand into a fist with my arm out straight then bent my wrist fully downwards then over to the right I would get a burning pain sensation in that same first index finger joint.

A more accurate (medical) description of the pain location is this : If I hold my arm out and look at the back of my right hand, the pain was on the right side of the proximal phalange shaft of the index finger.

I'm not sure if there is a nerve or a tendon in that area.

I might have damaged my finger working on my car trying to squeeze my hand into a very tight space in the engine bay.

I went to my doctor knowing there was definitely something wrong but I didn't know what it was. She immediately said it was repetitive strain injury. I told her I don't play enough for that to happen then she said it was arthritis and arranged for an xray which took maybe 2 months to show "mild arthritis" which I am told is normal at my age.

But I have never had, and still don't have any pain whatsoever in any of my finger joints apart from my index finger nerve damage which only lasted about a month.

I still knew there was something else wrong and I eventually got seen by a hand specialist (Read appointment problems below for details of the trouble I had being seen by a specialist).


The nurse I saw was very good, but both of us didn't know what my problem was. I was taking my guitar in it's case into the hospital and she would look at what was happening when I was playing and would suggest different things, but we were both just guessing.

I went to the hospital maybe once a week or once a fortnight and, although the nurse was very helpful, we didn't really make any progress and she eventually felt like she didn't know what else to try that might help me, so I stopped going.

Maybe a few weeks later I phoned the nurse and asked if there's any place I could get a sort of solid plastic glove similar to knights armour to stop my circulation being cut off during sleep.

I had tried wrist splints for carpal tunnel before but they didn't work and I had a sort of vague memory of seeing something similar to a plastic glove before but I couldn't find it on line.

I was sure the glove I saw was red and one day it dawned on me, it was iron man.

(I had hospital tests before for carpal tunnel syndrome (which was like electric shock torture), but it took me years to realise it was just me occasionally sleeping on one or both of my hands).

Anyway when I called the nurse she said she was just about to phone me as she thinks she has found out that my problem is called musician's dystonia.

She had been researching it and studied the treatment technique of Patrice Berque who is based in Glasgow. He is an expert on the subject.

I think I had also recently found out about dystonia and had already looked at Patrice's website.

The nurse got me back into the hospital and she made me a treatment plan based on Patrice's knowledge.

The hospital is huge and nobody who worked there had heard of musician's dystonia and a few people were very interested in my treatment.

I followed the treatment plan religiously for 3 months. I had to play 2 hours a day for the first week then 1 hour a day from then on.

The first half hour was playing five different picking patterns. Each pattern used my fingers in different orders. I played each of the 5 patterns for 2 minutes making 10 minutes. A very quick rest then the same again twice. The second half hour was alternating between a slow easy picking song and a faster trickier one.

The target is to start off at a metronome speed where I can play perfectly without my finger kicking out, and very gradually over weeks or even months, increase the metronome speed until I can play those two songs at their correct tempo.

The treatment recommends having breaks every 10 minutes or so but in the first days I had lots of shoulder pains and I was pleased when I was eventually able to play continuously for the half hour.

I found this incredibly boring and after a few days started using my left hand to play cards on my tablet pc which helped pass the time.

I started getting bad pains in my left shoulder and arm and it took me a while to realise it was because I was holding my left hand out constantly for an hour a day playing cards on the tablet.

During the 3 months of treatment I did slowly increase my metronome speed and after just 1 month I was playing my easier song at it's correct 120bpm and after 2 months I was playing my trickier song at it's correct 140bpm.

So I was now playing both of these songs at the correct tempo without my finger kicking out, but I could only do this after doing the first half hour of picking patterns which sort of worked as a warm up.

If I waited an hour or so and tried playing, I would be back to my original problem of my finger kicking out and struggling to play.

After 3 months I was able to play both songs quite a bit faster than their original tempo, but again this was only after the half hour warm up.

I had a break from the treatment for a week because of shoulder pains. I know I was supposed to take regular breaks to lessen this, but I found it boring enough just doing one hour.

I then arranged for a personal appointment with the expert Patrice in Glasgow really just out of curiosity and to see if there was anything else he would recommend to help me.

The only thing different he recommended was a guitar rest instead of my foot stool to keep my back straighter. He told me to carry on with the treatment and reckoned it might be 8 months before I start to get more permanent results, but also there's a chance it won't work, and I might have to carry on doing this for the rest of my life.

That, on top of me just having a break from the treatment, made it hard for me to get back into it and I eventually decided to stop the treatment.

I had a couple of relapses where I was suddenly able to play perfectly without my finger kicking out. The second time was the day after my appointment with Patrice. I was trying out finger picking every note with my thumb wearing a thumb pick and after a while I noticed that my right hand felt the way it used to feel.

It felt like I was fully connected to my hand which I hadn't felt in months and I was able to play any one of my songs as good as I would before. I could play very fast, effortlessly.

The week before this I played the song "You're a lady" by Peter Skellern at an acoustic session. All of the regulars knew about my dystonia problems and I deliberately played that song to demonstrate how bad my problem was. I must have made over 100 mistakes and it sounded terrible.

But I played it again during this relapse and it was pretty much spot on with just a handful of tiny fret buzzes or maybe small mistakes with my left hand.

But both relapses only lasted a few days then I was back to struggling again.

I had read that some people learn to play their instrument in a different way like one guy who learned to play left handed after developing dystonia.

I tried lots of different splints or elastic bands as I mentioned before, and the thumb pick, and picks on each finger, and wearing a rubber glove which all got mixed results sometimes promising.

(The rubber glove is supposed to take away the normal feeling of the fingers and nails on the strings to trick your brain into thinking you are not playing guitar).

By coincidence, when I started my hospital treatment they had just got a brand new machine that makes splints using a composite plastic/wood material.

Me and the nurse designed a splint that fitted perfectly using this material which is softened by being heated up in a sort of microwave. It was moulded round my finger and was the exact angle to allow my finger to move enough to pick the string but not enough to straighen out.

The splint was held on with velcro and sometimes I played better with it on, but sometimes it made me worse.

One technique that I invented by mistake was to finger pick outwards or downwards instead of picking normally where the finger plucks the string upwards from below.

I named this technique "playing the guitar inside out". It meant positioning my hand differently so my nails started out above the intended strings. Any different technique means not just re-learning songs from scratch in a different way but also over writing the muscle memory of years of playing that song normally.


It maybe took me a year and a half to really notice the root of my problem and what was causing it. My index finger would only kick out if I was plucking a string with any of my other three fingers (not my thumb).

My own personal solution was to always use my index finger on every note so it wasn't possible for it to straighten out. So in parts that would normally be played as succesive notes using my index, ring, third or pinky fingers I would have to play every note with my index instead.

I also regularly pluck a few strings at a time using different combinations of fingers and it's possible for me to play those parts as long as I make sure my index is included.

Eg. if I normally played a pattern as index, middle, then ring and pinky together. I can now play that as index, index, then index and middle together.

It was probably just luck that it's possible to play every one of my previous guitar arrangements by always using my index finger.

I obviously struggled with this at first but I decided this was the best solution for me and maybe within just a couple of weeks I was playing very well always using my index and definitely much better than playing normally with my index kicking out.

I also have the normal dystonia symptom of an overall lack of accuracy and control while the finger is kicking out. So when I always use my index finger that problem isn't there.

It turns out that my thumb bass notes are not affected by this change in technique and I'm able to play my bass notes as normal.

The first youtube video I uploaded of me playing with this technique is this one.


I tried to be seen by a hand specialist which I knew they had in my local hospital after a snowboarding fall years before.

The doctor put me on a waiting list for this and (after phoning the hand specialist department at the hospital) I was told it would only be a few weeks as they don't have a long waiting list.

I waited a few weeks and hadn't heard anything so I phoned the hand specialist department and they told me I was on their system as having mild arthritis so I was a low priority and was not on the hand specialist list. I was on the general physiotherapy list for arthritis which took at least six months for an appointment and would be no help for my hand problem.

My doctor was on holiday but after a long call explaining my problems to another doctor, he spent a while talking to the woman who handles waiting lists in the hospital and he assured me I was now on the hand specialist waiting list.

I thanked him for his help then waited a few weeks, hadn't heard anything so I phoned the specialist department and was told again that I am a low priority with mild arthritis on the physiotherapy list.

This actually happened quite a few times with me once talking directly with the woman who handles waiting lists and also with one of the hand specialists themselves.

Each time I was promised I would see a specialist within a few weeks and each time I waited a few weeks then I was told I was no priority.

I ended up on the phone yet again to the woman who handles waiting lists and I think it was her that told me I can't be put onto the specialist list so I gave up.

It was unbelievably frustrating and a waste of months of my time constantly waiting, thinking I was going to get help soon.

Out of frustration I phoned the specialist department and asked if I could speak directly with a specialist thinking there would be no chance, but I did get put through to a nurse who listened to me and bypassed the system and said she would see me, so I had to speak to the receptionist and tell her I was on that nurse's waiting list directly.

Amazingly the same thing happened again, I waited weeks, didn't hear anything, phoned up and wasn't a priority, so I explained the nightmare I had went through to get seen and this time I actually made an appointment over the phone.

These problems were mostly caused by nobody having heard of musicians dystonia, but it took me three or four months to get an appointment.

And I only got an appointment by being very persistent. If I had just given up I might not have found out about dystonia.

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