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The character Tufnel was born in Squatney, east London. He was given his first guitar, a Sunburst 'Rhythm King', by his father at six. His life changed when he met David St Hubbins (Michael McKean) who lived next door. They began jamming together in a toolshed in David's garden, influenced by early blues artists like Honkin' Bubba Fulton, Little Sassy Francis and particularly Big Little Daddy Coleman, a deaf guitar player, and wrote their first song, "(Cry) All the Way Home." Before long they had formed the Thamesmen and the rest is history.
Nigel's hobbies include collecting guitars; particularly noteworthy is his Sea Foam Green six-string Fender Bass VI with the price tag still attached, which he has kept in mint condition by not allowing it to be played, touched, pointed at, looked at, or talked about. He also has a Gibson Les Paul 1959 model, whose acoustic properties and carved flame-maple top he praises. He also plays mandolin, piano, and does backing vocals. He is currently writing a classical piece which he feels combines the musical characteristics of both Mozart and Bach (a "Mach piece") in D minor, which he claims is the 'saddest of all keys'. The piece is provisionally entitled 'Lick My Love Pump'. According to Christopher Guest, Nigel has not yet completed the trilogy, and is still working on it.
Nigel has a great love for Gumby, carrying a figurine in his shirt pocket and wearing Gumby shirts frequently. He is also a self-proclaimed 'fish nut', liking cod and canned tuna because it has 'no bones'. Nigel currently sits on the Editorial Board of his preferred in-flight periodical, Car and Driver. His favorite cookies are Oreos, but without the filling. The rider in his contract requires a large plate of Oreo halves without frosting backstage (similar to Van Halen's request for a bowl of M&M's without the brown ones.) Onstage Nigel wears glam rock-inspired makeup and usually plays a Gibson Les Paul.
Tufnel has stated that if he was not in the music industry he would like to either enter the field of haberdashery or become a surgeon: 'I like surgery'.
Tufnel's work outside Spinal Tap includes his appearance on the 1979 album "Lenny & Squiggy sing Lenny and the Squigtones", released on Casablanca Records four years before Spinal Tap. Lenny and Squiggy were fictional characters on the TV series Laverne & Shirley, and Lenny, like Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins, was played by Michael McKean.
2011 Nigel Tufnel Day
Tufnel is especially noted for his amplifier which has numbering going "up to eleven", which he believes makes it louder than amplifiers that only go up to ten ("It's one louder"). When he is asked why the ten setting is not simply set to be louder, Nigel pauses, clearly confused, before responding, "These go to eleven."
In the run-up to 2011 Spinal Tap fans created a movement to make 11/11/11 "Nigel Tufnel Day." The movement was organised by The Nigel Tufnel Day Appreciation Society and Quilting Bee in Favor of Declaring & Observing November 11, 2011 as Nigel Tufnel Day (in Recognition of Its Maximum Elevenness). The theme of Nigel Tufnel Day was to take whatever you are doing on that day and "turn it up to 11".
- Using a violin (as opposed to a violin bow, as made famous by Jimmy Page) to play his guitar
- Playing another guitar with his foot
- Classical music inspired solos
- Facial harmonics
- Turning amps to 11, which is 'one louder' than 10
- Using a wireless unit, which accidentally picks up radio transmission from an air force base during a guitar solo.
- Playing another guitar from a distance using horseshoes (as in the Return of Spinal Tap)
- This Is Spinal Tap (IMDB)
- The Ultimate Spinal Tap Discography – an illustrated guide to Tap's albums (both real and imagined)
- Info on Nigel Tufnel Day