Friday, January 8, 2010

Finding that "Magical" Guitar

Why are a very few guitars you play almost "magical" in tone and playability--even if they are the same model as others you've played? It's not the price, the make, or the model.

Certain individual acoustic and even solid body electric guitars just "have it" while others don't.

And I'm not talking about mere "stand out" guitars. Maybe one in ten of a certain model might "stand out" as significantly better than the others for some undocumented reason. I've seen this with Taylors and Breedloves. In a large guitar shop you can always find a few "stand out" guitars. But "magical" is something you only come across very occasionally.

I'm talking about an individual guitar that for some undocumented reason has almost "magical" tone, playability, resonance, and just transports you the instant you start playing it.

It has little or even nothing to do with:

1. Price
2. Who made it
3. The model number
4. What shop you found it in
5. The reputation of the luthier (whether Olson, Del Langejans, McPherson, Paul Reed Smith, Taylor or other) or how few guitars he makes per year or how long you had to wait for yours to be custom built.

But when you sit in a shop and you suddenly play a "magical" guitar, you instantly know it. Something just seems incredibly right, musical, and it's a joy to play.

Next thing you know you've played through half your favorite repertoire, even stuff you haven't played in months or years, and it just starts flowing. Your fingers just start going where they should go even though it's been a long time since you played that riff. It hits you, "This is why I started playing guitar!" And then a thought hits you like, "I may never run across a guitar like this one again."

I'm not talking about "collectors" guitars, those people pay thousands for and never play, and some of which are very mediocre or problematic from an actual player's perspective. Please. Find another blog or just collect art.

The first "magical" guitar I ever played
was a custom acoustic, concert grand (i.e., smaller than jumbo) made by Ross Teigen in Naples, FL. Ross has some excellent boxes. One afternoon years ago on my day off I went down and played pretty much everything he had in his shop, while he continued to construct a new acoustic at his bench in back. All were at least very good.

But then, I picked up this little concert grand. As soon as I strummed a chord to check it's tuning an alarm went off in my head: Sound of the sweetest, most resonant type I had ever heard from a guitar was coming not just from my lap, but from EVERYWHERE around me. Never had I heard that sort of completely beautiful sound, from the sixth to the first strings, coming out of a guitar regardless of the price tag (on some guitars I'd played north of $4000). I instantly started into my favorite acoustic songs, solos, cool riffs. The most wonderful music I had ever played on an acoustic came out. Old stuff came to mind I hadn't played in three or more years just flowed without a single mistake or stumble. After about 30 minutes I dug into some old classical stuff from college days and again, though the strings were steel and more closely packed, it all came out without a hitch. Finally I tuned to DADGAD for a piece I was working on and new improvisations just started coming out.

And about half way through the thought hit me: "I MUST somehow have this guitar, if there's any way at all." Even as I played, I was totaling up items I could sell (pre-ebay days) and what cash I had in the bank. I had pretty much determined if it were $3000 or under it was an instant buy. And I hadn't even been in the market.

Unfortunately for me, Ross seemed to also have realized that somehow, one the particular day he had grabbed the woods, or maybe shaped it's pieces, or whatever, it all came together in a way that was beyond even his own ability to consistently control. He wanted $4500 non-negotiable. And that was about 1992 prices. With a new baby, and "life" there was not way. I looked at him as if to say, "You know about this guitar, don't you?" He did. He had two other "prettier" guitars of the same basic desig---that had more man-hours in them, but that weren't "magical," and were priced significantly less. I tried, "Gosh, Ross, these two are fancier and you've got them priced less than this plain old one." Nope. Not budging or negotiating. Drat!

But I determined not to let the next "magical" guitar slip away.

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