Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Great Acoustic Guitar with that Certain "Magic"

I finally bought a "magical" acoustic guitar.

The brand doesn't matter as every guitar is different.
As WWW Guitar Advisor notes:  Every manufacturer turns out the occasional dud -- and the occasional gem. Don't be a snob and refuse to look at unknown brands. You might miss out on something special. 
It just happens in my case to be a Martin Laurence Juber OMC LJ Pro (maple sides and back, etc.). But that matters not a bit.  You can play 200 of the same model Taylors, Martins, Breedloves, or whatever, and maybe one will stand out for some crazy unknown reason that even the luthier couldn't say why.  Two guitars of the same scale length and set up will sometimes play differently too.

Earlier I wrote about certain almost "magical" acoustic guitars that, for whatever reason, seem to stand way out beyond their peers--regardless of brand.  In my life I've played on maybe six I would put in that category.  And I've played many hundreds in various shops around the country from small high end luthiers that usually only guitar hero's own and can afford.   A very few have played so easily that you'd think it was nylon strings.  Yet at the same time the tone, musical richness, responsiveness, volume, resonance (and lack of fret buzz) were like few others. 

Speaking of duds, I've had one custom built by one of the most famous American luthiers and waited 18 months (and $3750 back in the mid-90's) for it, only to be sorely disappointed.  But that's also a previous post. To sum it up, not only did it not have the magic, I could hardly stand to play it and found that halfway through a song I'd be longing for the end (playability a 2 on a 10 point scale; tone a 3 maybe; sold it after 8 years of trying to love it).  Sent it back twice to have him rework the set up, then to another master luthier.  No luck!  Meanwhile I'd hear recording after recording by top guitarists with the exact same model and know that they could never play it on my guitar.  And people, including my wife, hated the sound.  "Honey, can't you just pull out your electric, pick out a nasty metal distortion, and crank up your amp until the windows rattle?"  Lesson:  never, never buy a guitar you have not personally played.

But now I have a truly magical acoustic.  I've never cared a wit about Martins.  That's just a name, and it still is.  Ditto all others.  In fact, at Gruhn's where I bought it I played a $12k Olson just before and it didn't come close, though it was a nice (not magical) guitar.

LJ holding my actual guitar about a month before I bought it!
While I had the Olson in hand playing, the salesman said, "If you want to play the best finger style playing guitar in the shop it's that Martin over there," pointing to a maple single cutaway on the wall.  As I picked it up he explained that Laurence Juber had just done a clinic at Gruhns and went to Martin and played all they had of this top of the line Pro LJ model and picked this one and had it shipped to them in Nashville so he could play it.  "Yeah, yeah" I thought.  It really comes down to how it plays and sounds. but that at least is something.

I sat down and gave it a strum with my fingers and instantly the room lit up from everywhere with some of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard from a guitar.  I quickly dove in to some songs and the playability was amazing. But also the expressiveness.  Every nuance of finger position, timing, subtle mutings, harmonics, taps and more were interpreted with such sonic rightness and musical richness that I found myself playing in ways I've never played before.

I burned through some standards, then to pieces and songs I hadn't played in months or years, then on to songs I only play on the electric including lead parts.  Testing the fret buzz on the middle frets it had almost none, and even that had a sweet sound.  Crazy.   Play softly and it sings, play loudly and it never gets harsh, just soulfully rich and with tremendous volume.  And the dying overtones coming from the strings altered over time and interacted in ways I've only heard on two or three guitars in my life.  Play a single chord and it's like playing a whole phrase of music and the rich permutations of tone and harmonics interact and fade revealing new ones.

This latter point I believe is a factor of the great sustain. Juber says the maple helps and says he was inspired by the strings in an orchestra while playing with them.  He noted that maple is the preferred tone wood for violins, cellos, bass.  Does maple have this effect on sustain?  I can't say, but I can say that my particular guitar has those qualities in spades.  Another of the same model may not.  It might be a nice guitar, but not magical.  After all, Juber himself took the time to play dozens of this same model to pick this one to ship to Gruhns for his clinic.


  1. Hi,
    I’ve bookmarked your blog just now and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also nice colors on the layout, it’s really easy on the eyes.

  2. Thanks!
    Update: It came with Martin LifeSpan light (.012) strings which sounded excellent. I was eager to also try LJ's own GHS True Medium signature strings, which is what he normally uses on it. At just $6 they are about 1/3 the cost and the good news is they also sound wonderful, are every bit as playable as the Martin lights, and the bonus is the 1st and 2nd strings have more body when soloing on them. The Martin lights wimped out a bit. As you may know, a medium string often plays as easily or in some cases easier than lights because of the physics of not needing to vibrate so far. Also reduce fret buzz. This proved true on the LJ Pro. Still, I'll probably go back and forth a bit. It's strange that LJ designed this guitar for mediums but Martin always puts the LifeSpan lights on them to ship.