OK, enough of the maudlin stuff. What was so, so cool about this transaction was the young man’s enthusiasm. When he left I thought back to my first really nice guitar, which was a Martin D-35 that I bought with the $500 that my late grandfather had left me when he passed. I can’t remember for sure (this was in 1971) but I think that was just about the cost of the instrument, believe it or not. I bought it from a discount music store in New London, Connecticut. They were not even a Martin dealer but somehow had some sort of “arrangement” with a nearby store that was, so there was no problem registering the warranty. Today of course that would have been impossible – Martin is absolutely strict about warranties only being issued by authorized dealers, and to the original purchaser.
Anyway, I was in love, to say the least! I couldn’t wait to open the case each day and smell that wonderful aroma that new Martins still have, especially the rosewood ones. Then to pick it up and strum an open G or Em minor chord and hear that Martin depth and resonance. Pure bliss. Unfortunately, things ended badly between me and that guitar as a few short years later it was in severe need of a neck reset and I had no knowledge of such things. I thought the neck had warped and even though it was covered by Martin’s lifetime warranty, at that time even simple repairs at the factory (there were no authorized outside repairmen then) were taking months and months, even years. Between my broken heart due to my once pristine D-35 now being all but unplayable and the possibility that I might not see it again for a year if I sent it back I did something very stupid: I traded it in for a top of the line…… Yamaha! Dumb, dumb, dumb. But I learned something, I guess.
OK, I said I wasn’t going to continue to be maudlin, right?! I’m reasonably certain that the young man who just bought my Gibson will NOT have such a problem and in any case would be smarter than me!
But back to the joy I witnessed. In order to truly appreciate a great guitar you have to have spent time – lots of time – on a not so great one. This is something I totally believe. Once in a while I get a new student who shows up with a shiny new Martin, Gibson, Taylor or even one of the boutique guitars and he has not a clue how good he has it. Sure, he may have been told by a friend who plays or the salesman in the big store that this guitar is one of the “best” but really, by what standards? Certainly not by any gained with experience.
Many years ago I had a student show up for his first lesson with a brand new Martin D-18K, a short lived koa wood version of the venerable D-18. It was a very, very nice instrument indeed and it was purchased with total innocence – and ignorance. The gentleman was the heir to an unimaginably vast fortune from his family’s pharmaceutical company and he was well known in the town as being quirky but also generous. Nothing wrong with that. But he was used to having the absolute best of everything and when he decided to learn to play the guitar he went to Wurlitzer’s Music in Boston, then one of the largest Martin dealers in the country and told them he wanted a “good” guitar. That was what they sold him. To make a long (but in terms of his guitar lessons, short) story short, he just couldn’t understand why having such a good guitar didn’t automatically translate to the learning process being easy! He lasted about six lessons before giving up, if I remember correctly. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that guitar…. (!)
I’m not saying everyone should start with a BAD guitar of course, but in the long term as it relates to the learning process, stepping up as your skills advance is truly inspirational. A raw beginner can certainly do just fine on an expensive guitar, no question about that, but what they may miss is excitement that equates to playing even more, with a much better instrument than they’ve been playing. That is what I mean about the joy and excitement I mentioned at the beginning. I am absolutely certain that the young man who bought that Gibson WILL turn out to be a very good guitarist, because playing that new guitar will be something he looks forward to doing – a lot.
In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s home playing it right now.
Peace & good music,