Friday, October 29, 2010
Guitar players talk about an affliction called GAS - Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. It stems from this belief that if only I can finally find the right guitar, the perfect guitar, then my playing will be incredible and the music of the spheres will find its release through my fingers. Two other ideas feed it - the first is that we live in the golden age of guitar building. There are literally hundreds of incredible builders who, in spite of the growing scarcity of the best wood, are building better guitars in more designs than have ever been done in history. This excellence trickles down even to the larger factory companies like Martin and Taylor building as many as 400 guitars a day and to the least expensive guitars built in Asian factories at numbers dwarfing the American factories. The second idea goes back to the Summer of Love. Back in the hippie days, consumerism was frowned upon and owning more than you needed was a serious no no... except when it came to musical instruments, especially guitars. Somehow, it was still OK to have very expensive guitars.
The three ideas come together and many guitar players go through instruments like candy. If you look at the classifieds on any guitar forum, you'll see significant numbers of hand built instruments for sale with prices nearing 5 figures or passing that barrier. Wherever you see a gathering of guitar players with their instruments, you're likely to see some serious and beautiful guitars.
I'm not as susceptible to GAS as I once was because I'm pretty happy with my Lowden which is pictured above. When my previous Lowden was stolen in Philadelphia in '99, the folk at Lowden were amazing to me and built me a very special guitar. George himself carved the bracing in my guitar. I've been playing Lowdens since about '87 and the sound fits me. So, even though I deeply appreciate the art and beauty of lots of what I see out there, it is difficult to imagine finding something that I really want instead of my Lowden.
FAR-West was one of the largest gatherings of guitar players I've attended so it was fun to see what instruments the performers had and what accessories they were using (also included under the general malady of GAS). I didn't count anything so these are just guesstimates... but fun for me none the less. It seemed that the single most popular make of guitar was Martin. That surprised me. I thought Martin had been dethroned by Taylor... which seemed to be the second most popular company. I wasn't surprised that neither one was a majority. I saw lots of smaller company guitars and a number of high end single luthier built instruments. I know how much money guitar players make so that part does surprise me... There was a very small number of Asian built guitars and one or two Larrivees, a quality Canadian factory built guitar that also has a factory in California.
Among the small shop guitars I saw a number from Santa Cruz Guitar Company who build Martin inspired guitars of very high quality and a few from James Goodall who builds a more modern style of guitar. I didn't see any Lowdens, Collings, or Bourgeois. I didn't see all of the players so I may have missed one or more of any of these companies. Then, I saw a number of the single luthier guitars... I saw one each of a Greenfield, a Sexhauer, a Wingert, and an Olson. All of those guitars pushed me towards a bout with GAS - beautiful sound, immaculate craftsmanship, sublime materials - although my wallet is nowhere near fat enough to even consider one. Then there were a few guitars that I didn't recognize which were likely built by other single luthiers without the same degree of recognition, at least to me.
Accessories were also interesting... I participate on the Acoustic Guitar Forum where a regular discussion comes up about cases vs. gig bags. It feels almost like my teen years when you were either a Ford or a Chevy person. There are a variety of different ways to carry and protect an instrument from high cost, extremely protective,low weight carbon fiber cases to cheap gig bags that are little more than a nylon grocery bag which do nothing more than keep the dust off. There are lots in the middle. Again, no counting, but from what I saw people carrying around, about 1/3 seemed to have Caltons. These are relatively expensive (around $800), very heavy fiberglass touring cases. If you're going to hand a $10K guitar to a baggage handler... they are a good idea but because of weight and size, don't ever expect to carry one onto a plane and figure that if you have to carry it very far, your arms will stretch to orangutan length. I had one for a while and appreciated the protectiveness of it, but it was far too heavy and bulky for me so I sold it. Another 1/3 had high quality gig bags. These usually run from about $150-$350 and are made of heavy nylon or leather with thick foam padding. They are much smaller and lighter than the Caltons and usually have some system of straps to wear them on your back. The argument for them is that because of the smaller size and weight, it is easier to keep your guitar in your hands or on your back and safe. FWIW, all of my guitars live in quality gig bags including a wonderful custom leather bag for my Lowden made by Glenn Cronkhite. The rest were in factory hard cases - the kind that usually come with a guitar when you purchase it and cost from about $80-200 on the aftermarket depending on the quality and company. I didn't see any carbon fiber cases even with the most expensive guitars.
So...no GAS for me... but I got very, very close to catching it again.