I have recently been doing some “come-sit-by-me-in-the-bar” research* and found that on average guitar owners have about nine guitars (actually the number came out to be 8.7, but I’m not sure what a .7 guitar is, unless maybe a banjo…) of which they play regularly about 2.5 of them on a two times a week basis.
That led me to my next thought: which is, if we’ve collected so many and play so few, why waste all that good wood, when thanks to the Lacy Act we’re running out of some of the very best woods at the current time. To be sure in about 25-30 years the Brazilian rosewood will be back…but I for one do not wish to wait that long to buy my next guitar. So there is a bit of a hording/moral question here, but I will leave that to each individual.
Some guys responding to the research said they got by with one guitar. (Maybe two— an acoustic and an electric model.) And they specialized on that ax. I was somewhat jealous of them. There is a purity in that answer. A commitment. Like to one woman to be your wife. Forever. Scary, ain’t it?
A good friend of mine, David Grosvenor from the Hill Country in Texas reminded me that it is not how many guitars one owns, it is how sweet the music one produces from the ones you do play. (That is a rough translation of his much more elegant statement…but so be it. You get the idea.) It is not what you collect that matters, it is what you produce. And music should be the end game here, not a 401K substitute.
With that in mind, I returned in thought to that first guitar…I mean really good guitar…I bought for the first time. My father had delivered to me a Mexican market guitar that was about as refined as a rattlesnake in heat. (This was about the 7th grade if memory serves me correctly…and thanks to marijuana it usually does not serve that well at all.) The strings were so far from the fretboard that you had to virtually stand on them to make a sound. Forget bar chords. I longed for a guitar that smelled like rosewood and when I strummed it a beautiful sound would emerge from that sound hole and fill the room with sweetness.
I visited showroom and showroom. Shop after shoppe. From high end Martins to lower-costing knockoffs like the then Takamini (which looked just like a Martin, right down to the script type face on the head of the guitar. (A court of law later ruled that they had infringed on Martin’s look and therefore the trademark and Takamini and others had to stop the copying practice.) Then one day, I was in a guitar store in East Texas and I came across a Yamaha dreadnaught that filled all the bells and whistles for me. I do not recall its number or ID. But it was beautiful.
And for a kid, it was expensive.
In those days, I was mowing yards to make enough money to buy anything. A bicycle was top on my list. A ten-speed in those days. (My dad always wanted to know what the other nine speeds were for. He wouldn’t have understood my fifty-one speed racing trike, I guess.) So, once the bike was purchased and parked safely in the garage, I began saving every dime I could muster to buy that Yamaha.
In the interim, a buddy of mine lent me his Silvertone Achtop (made for Sears). It was a tobacco stained beauty with a matching set of “f” holes and a sound so sweet it would make your heart hurt. The strings were like silk compared to my Mexican imposter. I learned to really play on that guitar. I learned to save my money, too.
For soon I had enough to purchase the Yamaha. (A lesson of life hit me squarely between the eyes in the business transaction, which ensued.) The Yamaha was listed for something like $250. I had $251. I marched in, put my money down and pointed to the beauty hanging on the wall and announced that I wanted to be the owner of that guitar. The merchant nodded, took it down, and put it in a cardboard guitar case, after wiping it down with polish that brought out the most pleasing odor a nose ever did inhale.
With TAX… $265.
What? Tax? I should have joined the Tea Party right then and there, but of course was already a member of the Young Republicans. TAX? I had not calculated that into my plans. I wasn’t going to get the guitar that day. I would have to go back to my mother, who was waiting patently in the car outside for me, her air conditioning running wild to drive away the scorching Texas heat. Embarrassed, I turned to leave when the old guy behind the counter said. “You’re good for it. Bring me the $15 next week or two. Go enjoy this guitar.”
That man could have run for dictator of the world and I would have voted for him at that moment. It took me exactly two weeks to get back to Longview to pay off the TAX bill of $15, but when I did, he threw in a set of Black Diamond strings, because “You’re a man of your word, son.”
A Yamaha dreadnaught. It wasn’t a Martin, but in my eyes and at that time, it was heaven. It felt so good. It played so beautifully (even bar chords were possible) My dream guitar. I played it at school, at church, in my bedroom, in the city park…everywhere. It was a part of me. It was everything I wanted in a guitar. Until…
And now you get (as Paul Harvey used to say…) the rest of the story.
My eye spotted and Aria in the hands of a good buddy…It glistened like woman;s ruby lips. I had to have her. So, we traded cash and guitars. Then a Takamini. Then a Gibson. Then a Martin. Then a Fender and a Les Paul (first an Epiphone then later the real McCoy made in Nashville.) I added to the collection guitars from Guild, PRS, G&L, SCGC, Taylor, Eastman, a few more Martins and Gibsons, A Jose’ Ramirez, another Takamini. Hofner –both Bass and six-string. An ES 335, an ES 175, and on and on and on it went. Gibson begat Collings, which begat Benedetto which begat a twelve fret program my wife has me on now. I am not allowed into a guitar store without the aid of a friend firmly holding onto my credit card or other fiduciary controls or a person who is already in the witness protection program for GAS. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.)
The number of guitars grew and grew and soon surpassed 35. At first I called them my good luck seven. Then there was the sweet sixteen. (This was long before the NCAA copied my nomenclature.) 21 was a lucky number. I stayed there for a few months. Or was it weeks?
They were stacked in three rooms, hanging on the walls taking up sofa space and spilling into the bedrooms. I even found myself in the ownership of a Yamaha just like the one I had purchased in Longview back in junior high school. I had come full circle. Through a series of marriages and kids and different houses, jobs and crisscross ventures from one coast to the next, I slowly whittled down the number to fifteen. Then to ten. And finally today it stands at 5 (Although I have just seen a #six lurking in the window at a high-end acoustic store…)
I am not sure I am making any better music now than I used to. But I am trying. I practice on those five all the time. Daily. Sometimes hourly. And I am sure that #6 would make me a better player…
* If you are not familiar with that term, it means I asked my friends and friends of theirs to answer a couple of questions. Very little scientific demographic profiling here. Just some basic information. But it gets us in the ballpark (or on the stage) as it were.