the golden age of guitars

the acoustic guitar is an amazing thing. it's fun to play, doesn't require electricity, and has such a fun history. here's just two tiny tid bits to get you started. (warning: don't trust any of the information in this post) john dowland was a lute player. he was on tour back in the 1500's or thereabouts. he was also a consumate partier and ladies man. "lutes" were the thing for another 300 years after john had played his last request. in about 1830 c.f. martin, a german luthier, came to the united states and started producing some pretty cool instruments that would end up defining what would be the modern day acoustic guitar. there are 1930's and 40's martin guitars that regularly sell for 50, 60, even 70 thousand dollars.

now, if you were to walk into almost any sizable guitar shop and ask for a modern day acoustic guitar, you'd get a bucket of questions thrown at you about what type you might want: dreadnought, classical, resonator, orchestra, parlor, backpacker? 6 string, 12 string, 8 string? cedar or spruce top--and what kind of spruce? 12 or 14 frets? rosewood back and sides, mahogany, maple? ad infinitum.

the reason i mention this is 'cause i got it on the brain right now. see, i've come to this point in my life and my playing where i decided that i wanted a really baddass instrument. currently i own a tacoma guitar. relatively inexpensive, and made right here in the united states, although it is semi mass-produced. i can't say a lot of good things about most of thier instruments, but the one i own sounds rather incredible. problem is, it's come time to find me one that sounds incredible incredible.

oh. and just so you'll know, the only kind of guitar that i'm really shopping for--culled from that list above--would be a dreadnought, 6 string, spruce-topped, 14 fretted instrument, most likely with rosewood back and sides. the deal here is, though, that i didn't really know to even say that until a few weeks ago. i'm exposing my ignorance, but i had really just hoped to avoid the whole gear head thing and just start playing a guitar one day that i immediately fell in love with. turns out that making the decision based on love just ain't gonna work out.

too many quality guitars these days sound too good. It becomes preferential, and the differences become harder and harder to identify. this is especially true if you wait weeks between playing a pair of them--let alone take into consideration that each and every one of them is going to sound different from the one before. if you played one hundred dreadnough6stringsprucetopped14frettedrosewoodbackedandsidedmartin guitars--all produced within the last year--you'd get 100 different sounds. and not only that, but one particular one might have been exposed to too much moisture the day before, or perhaps not been played in a while (instruments like to be played--maybe one of the reasons my tacoma sounds like it does). now, throw in the number of legitimate luthiers working right now in the u.s. and canada and you've got a mess on your hands. there's huss and dalton, proulx, santa cruz guitar company, gallagher, collings...

my current favorite is one particular guitar owned by a friend of mine named harry--horizontal harry, to be exact, and so named because he was a motorcycle racer that evidently wrecked in every race he ever entered. it's a proulx--made by mario proulx in canada--and harry ain't comin off of it. i've begged and pleaded. i told him, finally, that i'd come and help work on his house with him. no deal.

proulx's claim to fame is that he uses carbon fiber bracing. at least i think it's carbon fiber. anyway, it's something wierd. i like this guitar because it's an underdog. First, it's kinda ugly. next, it sorta sneaks up on you. it doesn't really want to respond when you first start playing it. but then, after it warms up...ahhh, such smooth highs, such clear and resonant lows. and it's loud, too.

my last problem is even more troubling: most likely i'll never be able to afford any of the guitars of this calibre. the best and cheapest i've played thus far was a santa cruz, up at cotton music in nashville, for 1,900 dollars. and yet even more troublesome: why do i need one? just the other night i looked at myself in the living room mirror as i was kinda peripatetting around--like john dowland-- playing a song. it appears that i've become that middle-aged guy with a closet full of musical instruments and nothing to do with them but badly sing a john denver tune occasionally. what am i gonna do with another guitar? besides john dowland never made it to middle age.

and then, of course, there's the banjos....


jotaeme said...

Hey Walter. I don't know if you remember me, but I think we played in band called "Pagan Luggage" back in the 90s in Nashville. I'm living in Austin now, occasionally playing guitar and mandolin in a couple of bands. I'd be interested in catching up. Looks like you've become quite an artist. I'm a blogger on this site as well.

Walter said...

so, are you j.t. roe? i couldn't get to your blog from this link so write me back...oh and, yes, we did play in "pagan luggage" (although i'm not sure who you are exactly, yet)and "grab the headboard" and whatever else we named ourselves. i think "sam's mammoth" was in there, too.

Anonymous said...

I haven't thought about "Grab the Headboard" in awhile. (I think that was Paul D's idea.) I am J.M. Roe. I'm not sure what other names we kicked around. I'm on the technicallyspeaking web site (I'm a technical writer, now -- much more lucrative than straight journalism and it keeps me from smoking).