Trust and Humanity | Gordon Pan’s guitars for Hillary Ang and Sonny Bahari

Following the positive response to the first post about Gordon Pan, SabahSongs received permission from Gordon and Hillary Ang to publish some pictures of guitars which Gordon made for Hillary.

Surprisingly, these stories haven’t turned out to be about wood, paint, varnish and electronics. Professional musicians give Gordon their guitars, or he works with them to make something new. The guitar is the way through which they express what they have to say to the world.

Not wood and varnish; rather trust and humanity.

Hillary Ang

Malaysian guitarist Hillary Ang bands Search, Cromok, custom made guitar made by Gordon Pan in Sabah

Gordon talked about the bond between musician and guitar.

“A person’s relationship with his/her favourite guitar is like that old pair of well worn shoes. It just plays and sounds right. A person can have relationships with more than one guitar and it is still personal with each individual one.

“If you notice Keith Richards or John Mayer’s arsenal of guitars when they go on the road, I am sure every guitar used has a connection between the person performing it and how he ‘feels’ the song.

“Sometimes it is also a mental state that somehow a particular guitar is believed to interpret a song more meaningfully. Let’s say for a Clapton song, a Clapton Signature Strat will psych the player that he is actually taking on Eric’s persona in that song.

“For a person who builds or customizes guitars, this consideration is very important. He must know what the player wants, whether aesthetically or functionally or both.”

Malaysian guitarist Hillary Ang bands Search, Cromok, custom made guitar made by Gordon Pan in Sabah

Gordon has made guitars for Hillary Ang [of Malaysian legendary rock/ metal bands Search and Cromok] since the late 80s.

“Working with Hillary is rewarding and a learning process for both of us,” said Gordon. “With a career as a session and live performing guitar player, he has to adapt to many styles and we found out soon enough that a singular guitar is not able to cope.

I remember the time when he was doing sessions for Cromok, he wanted guitar tones that were both dark and wailing. Then he went on tour with Siti Nurhaliza and needed a very ‘pop’ sound with some added funk.

“All this while he wants his guitars, regardless of style and tone, to play the same where he feels most comfortable and also look the part. Hence customization comes in involving newly builds or modifications to existing ones.”

Hillary Ang said in a message to SabahSongs, that he’s pleased there’s some information out there about Gordon now.

“He’s my Bro. I am glad there is an article done on him, since I have acknowledged him so many times in the CDs I was involved in and people ask, ‘Who is Gordon?'” Hillary Ang.

Malaysian guitarist Hillary Ang bands Search, Cromok, custom made guitar made by Gordon Pan in Sabah

Malaysian guitarist Hillary Ang bands Search, Cromok, custom made guitar made by Gordon Pan in Sabah

Recently, the two of them have been discussing a new guitar Hillary wants to be build to record his ‘post-Search’ new project band.

“The journey has certainly been enjoyable,” said Gordon.

Sonny Bahari

Sonny Bahari let Gordon take away his 1979 original Fender Stratocaster from the U.S., to fix it up for him.

“It was really beat up,” said Sonny. “The frets were almost down to the wood, really worn. The pickups were not really powerful enough to sustain any kind of gig. It was painted the third time already, and I did the last paint job.”

In the meantime, Gordon lent Sonny B a guitar named Greenie.

“Greenie is an original Fender Telecaster body,” said Sonny. “The rest is modified by Gordon himself: parts, body, everything, On the body, the only thing which has been replaced is the pickguard. He made his configuration on Greenie the same as a Stratocaster. It’s not the standard Telecaster configuration.

“Greenie was a working guitar which fit my body, with a Stratocaster sound. Gordon made it up! ‘Use this,’ he said. I played her for the next eight years!”

When Sonny eventually came back to KK from touring with Headhunters, his Stratocaster was ready. “He gave my guitar back to me in the original colour, with everything redone. Totally redone. It was perfect. That was in 2000.”

Here is Sonny playing his revamped 1979 Fender Stratocaster, with Malaysian guitarist Man Keedal. Man’s guitar is exactly the same, except Man has the lefthanded model. Bassist Leo Liew is in the background.

Malaysian guitarist Man Kidal, Man Keedal, Abdul Rahman bin Mahmood, band Lefthanded

“I didn’t see Greenie for more than ten years,” said Sonny. Then Gordon brought her to a jam session where Sonny was playing.

“I came in, and there she was!” said Sonny. “Gordon had put two new pickups on her, which were not supposed to be on a Fender guitar.

“These are recognisable pickups, guitar freaks will know what these are. Gordon put the pickups there for me. Because I like to play Fender Stratocaster, but he says: It’s not you. A Stratocaster is not you! The guitar has to sound like Sonny B.

Gordon elaborated on this.

“Another thing is that a good guitar must be comfortable and friendly to the player. I remember at jam situations where one has to use the existing band’s instruments, it is difficult to play at one’s best because the instrument feels alien unless by a stroke of luck, the instrument was set up friendly to that person.

“For a guitar to play well, it must not feel spanking new. It must have some ‘human’ attributes where parts of the body come in contact with the instrument such as the weight, the bulkiness of the neck, the ergometric touch and tone reception to the ears.

“A lot of vintage guitars seem to address this criteria and now guitar companies actually ‘relic’ new guitars to play as if they are decades old and sell them at premium prices.

“A customized guitar is even a step upwards: it is built to the individual’s wish list. Often a completed customized guitar will miss some of the initial aspired expectations but with further adjustments and tweaking, it may just fall into place.

“Electric guitars are so much more accessible now with Korean- and China-made instruments.” Gordon continued. “Some are very well made, and changing out selected inferior quality parts and tweaking the adjustments will result in them becoming very favourable instruments.

My advise to anyone taking a serious interest in guitars is they should learn as much as possible to maintain and periodically adjust their guitar to form a really close relationship with it.

There is no secret, just passion. Gordon Pan.

Guitarist Sonny Bahari, Momain Blues, Headhunters, RTM Sabah sound engineer, from Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Sonny remembered how it was seeing Greenie again. “The first thing Gordon said to me was: ‘You keep her. She’s got your DNA all over it.’”

Gordon said it was true, even after taking Greenie apart.

Actually I disassembled it in pieces and left to ‘air’ out for a few years to let all that road grime and smell dissipate before I put it back together again. Even then, it was still Sonny’s guitar more than mine. Somehow, I just had to let him own it.

Of trust, humanity, music and love.

3 responses to “Trust and Humanity | Gordon Pan’s guitars for Hillary Ang and Sonny Bahari

  1. Can anybody tell me how to get in touch with Gordon Pan? My brother and I have known him since his days in Australia and would love to connect with him again. He built me a guitar some 20 years ago which I still have

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