Two months ago I was eyeing a listing on the Playstation Gear Store for a replica of Ellie’s guitar in The Last of Us Part II. It was a simpler time, and by that I mean everything was exactly the same as it is now with one distinct difference: I am over $2000 poorer and in that money’s place is that very same replica of Ellie’s guitar.
As I write this, the instrument is propped up against the end table in my living room, and it’s probably the nicest thing I own right now. It’s got a gorgeous sunburst finish and easily has the best sound of any guitar I’ve ever owned over the years. I first started playing guitar literally half my life ago as a freshman in high school, and it was with two hand-me-downs from my dad, one of which he’d had stashed away under his bed when I was growing up, the other was something we must’ve gotten at a yard sale or a flea market so both myself and my brother would have something to play. So I imagine he’d be pretty thrilled to see me getting back into guitar playing a few months after his passing in June.
But even with it being the nicest guitar I’ve ever owned, I keep getting drawn back to the moth on the third fret. It’s a notable symbol in The Last of Us Part II, and is even integrated into Ellie’s tattoo on her right arm. But it’s still a relatively small detail in terms of how much space it takes up on the guitar itself. All-in-all, you’d probably have no clue it’s from The Last of Us if you weren’t privy to that beforehand. You wouldn’t know it from a lot of the nerd collectible nonsense I have, but I’m a big fan of subtle merchandise that can exist in our world without calling a lot of attention to the fact that it’s meant to represent a piece of media. For that reason, it was certainly the preferable option compared to the other Last of Us guitar Sony was selling, which is adorned with Ellie’s tattoo on the body and has the game’s logo on the head. Even if it would have been literally thousands of dollars cheaper.
So I’ve got this gorgeous beauty of a guitar in my possession now and it’s got me feeling all sorts of nostalgic for a lot of things, both The Last of Us Part II (if I can be nostalgic for a game that’s only a few months old) and the time in my life where I was pursuing a music education degree. However, picking up the guitar after almost a decade of not using it kinda sucks.
The last time I played a guitar had to have been, at minimum, seven years ago. I pivoted from music into journalism in 2013, prompted primarily by my love for the original Last of Us, and I pretty much put down everything musical I was proficient in then under the pretense that I would come back to it all after I got well and settled in my new career. So a few years of school to get my degree and a job here at Fanbyte later, the Last of Us Part II guitar felt like a moment to bring it all full circle. But man, I’d forgotten how harsh getting your hands acclimated to playing guitar was.
Friends, the tips of my fingers are in a great deal of pain as I type this. I’ve gotta rebuild calluses that have been gone for seven years. Even my muscle memory is failing me, as trying to play songs I know by heart like large swaths of Coheed and Cambria’s discography is suddenly a struggle as my fingers don’t effortlessly land where they need to. Weren’t guitar strings closer together at one point? I learned to play on an acoustic guitar so it’s not like my hands should remember the make of electric guitars any more than the one I’ve got.
But the most horrifying realization is that, after years of not really doing anything musical at all, my once pretty much perfect pitch has disappeared. When the guitar arrived, it was mostly in tune, but it could’ve used some finer tuning, which I thought I could do all by myself. I’d done it hundreds of times before, and back when I was working in music and writing compositions for choirs I’d realized I had perfect pitch recall. But when I did the tuning myself and started playing some things, I realized the sound was off and downloaded a tuner app. Nearly all my strings were close to a half step flat.
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Back when I was still something that resembled a musician, the thing that was most drilled into my head by various educators in my college’s music department was how frequently you had to practice lest your instrument get rusty. I think, because I was still listening to music on that level in the time between, I expected most of my musical ability to still be with me whenever I finally started playing again. But having this guitar now I’m realizing just how much my proficiency at these things has degraded after not using my instruments, whether that be guitar, voice, or just musical understanding, for nearly a decade.
I’m not quite ready to start learning songs again. I’ve got to get the calluses built up, teach myself to finally use a pick, and see if I can finally get the rhythmic coordination down to be able to sing and play guitar at the same time. The last of which was a major weakness of mine even when I was at my peak, but maybe with time I’ll be able to cover Joel’s version of “Future Days.” Just maybe in a higher key.