Apparently, guitar players are a lot like golfers.
First, there’s the whole equipment thing. Golfers need golf clubs, balls, tees, shoes, ball markers, towels–the list of things you can buy for your golfing habit is nearly endless.
Guitar players need guitars, straps, picks, music, humidifiers, tuners, metronomes–the list of things you can buy for your guitar-playing habit is also nearly endless.
Second, guitar players and golfers are both quick to believe that better equipment will make them better players. As a budding guitar player and occasional golfer, I know this to be true. Despite the fact that I golf only once or twice a year, I will admit to buying an oversized driver in hopes that it’d help my game. And, to a degree, it did.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
I’ve been taking lessons now for about 5 months, playing an inexpensive Palmer acoustic-electric guitar I picked up at ProSound Audio, one of the local music shops.
You’ve never heard of Palmer guitars? Well, me neither. In fact, there’s no such thing as the Palmer Guitar Company. The guitar I picked up, however, seemed like a decent instrument for beginners. The action was decent, it felt playable, and frankly, the price was right. I wouldn’t feel like I’d flushed a fortune down the loo if I didn’t stick with it.
I named it, too. B. B. King has “Lucille,” right? My Palmer’s name is “Buzz.”
I played and practiced diligently, and as I played more, Buzz’s shortcomings became more apparent. I noticed that its tone wasn’t all that great, and Charlie, my guitar teacher, pointed out some intonation issues. Of course, intonation can usually be improved, but does it make sense to throw too much money at a professional setup for a cheap guitar?
It probably didn’t help that I’d visited the acoustic room at the local Guitar Center a few times since I started playing. It was pretty obvious that there was a lot of distance between my cheap Palmer and some of the nicer Taylors and Martins, not only in tone but also in playability.
So it would be no surprise to you if I said that I was starting to seriously consider an upgrade.
Charlie encouraged me to check out Recording King guitars. He plays a Johnson guitar (insert your own punch line here) when he performs, and (not surprisingly) the Johnson name has since been changed to Recording King. The model he plays can be had for about $450. I played it during one of my lessons, and I had to agree that it was a great value for the price.
But I managed to resist the urge to pry out my wallet and spend the money. There’s no hurry, I told myself. If I was going to upgrade, I wanted to get it right.
On Valentine’s Day afternoon, my wife Dot and I visited Tejon Street Music (a mom-and-pop shop in Downtown Colorado Springs). I was still “just looking” but thought it’d be fun to visit a shop that both Charlie and my boss had recommended. Tejon Street Music was a wonderful little store. There were plenty of guitars, ukuleles, and banjos in a wide price range–literally something for everyone. The lady behind the counter greeted me with a smile, invited me to play anything I’d like, and even showed me where the picks were.
Dot quickly busied herself with a ukulele and an instruction book while I began inspecting the wares. The first guitar I pulled off the wall was a Recording King RO-227, a nice rosewood guitar priced at $699. Sounded nice, played nice. But there was a whole room full of guitars waiting, so I moved on.
By the way, it’s much more fun to go guitar shopping when you can actually play a guitar. Buying my first guitar was hard because all I could do at that time was strum a few simple chords–hardly a decent evaluation. And then there’s the intimidation and embarrassment factor of plinking on a guitar while some other guy is furiously laying down some smack that a beginner like me couldn’t even imagine how to play. Thankfully, by this time I could actually play a couple of things that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about.
In fact, there were a couple of times that afternoon where someone actually stopped to listen to me play. The first time was when I picked up a Martin OMC-16E made from koa and sat down to play a fairly simple version of Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” Another customer stopped to see how it was played. Frankly, I consider the fact that he even recognized the song to be a good sign my playing’s getting better. And even Dot was amazed at how great the Martin sounded, even in my hands.
The second time, this cute blonde wandered into the store as I was playing one of the songs I’d learned from Charlie. She just stood right in front of me and watched intently as I picked my way through a simple arrangement of “Freight Train.”
Okay, she was probably three years old. But it’s fun to have an audience.
We spent over an hour in the store, and I kept going back to both the Recording King and the Martin koa guitars, playing them over and over again. The Recording King was definitely a nice instrument, but the Martin just sung to me–its tone was absolutely gorgeous, and the koa wood was stunningly beautiful. Its price tag was also a bit stunning: $2299.
Keep in mind that (a) I just went down there to look around, and (b) I’m a cheapskate. So there’s no way I’m going to walk out of that store as the new owner of a $2299 Martin guitar.
That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway.
Dot’s kept an eye on the proceedings, though, and she’s seen me fall head over heels for this Martin. I think even she fell in love with its fabulous tone. So she said to me, “You know you won’t be happy with a cheaper guitar. Why don’t we just buy it? It’ll be my Valentine gift to you.”
I love my wife.
It still took a little mental arm-twisting, but I did indeed walk out of that store as the proud new owner of that fine Martin guitar. Since then it’s garnered oohs and aahs from Charlie, from my boss, and from just about anyone else I could find who’d let me show it to them. It’s a joy to use, both because it sounds wonderful and it’s easier to play. I’ve hardly been able to put it down since.