Saturday, December 22, 2012

Collecting (1900 Martin 0-28)

Collecting is all about serendipity, about which Jim Bollman knows a thing or two.  I was introduced to Jim by a mutual friend after a game of tennis.  Turns out this fellow tennisman co-owned the Music Emporium for thirty years, starting when it first opened locally in Cambridge, MA in 1974.  He is nationally recognized among instrument collectors for his seminal book "America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century."  He has been collecting vintage banjos for four decades and owns the pre-eminent collection of vintage banjos in the world, which adorns nearly every room of his Boston-area home.

Upon learning of my interest in vintage guitars, Jim generously offered me the chance to view his collection of vintage instruments that includes a couple turn of the (nineteenth) century guitars. That is how this week I learned that in the late nineteenth century the banjo was America's most popular instrument, spanning entertainment from ribald minstrel shows and classical banjo orchestras in dance halls to every high society sitting room.  By 1890, Boston was the premier center of Banjo manufacturing.  A.C. Fairbanks & Co., William A. Cole, and Bay State were all Boston rivals manufacturing beautiful hand-crafted banjos, mandolins, and guitars.  It was the Cole company, though, that had the good fortune of enlisting the talents of master engraver Icilio Consalvi from Italy.  By 1891, Consalvi was adding his signature exquisitely-carved pearl inlays to Cole instruments, and single-handedly elevated the decorative artistry of American instruments in his day.  The high-end presentation models from this era are considered some of the finest vintage instruments ever made.  Consalvi's personal banjo, known as the "King" banjo for its over-the-top inlay work totaling nearly 40,000 individual pieces according to Consalvi, was recently donated to the instrument collection of the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston by his family.

Speaking of family, Jim befriended Consalvi's granddaughter after she started selling off some of Consalvi's stuff.  He was able to acquire numerous of the master craftsman's items including his tool chest full of the artist's tools and instrument parts.  In the process Jim was even gifted Consalvi's wife's turn of the century Martin 0-28!  While that guitar does need restoration, Jim also acquired the late 1890s unsigned 0-size parlor guitar with typical Consalvi inlays seen here.  It has a chunky v-shaped neck (this was before truss rods) and sturdy bracing, making it heavier than one would expect for such a small instrument.  It also sports gut strings, which hold less tension than the modern steel strings that were not widely known or used before the 1920's.  It is a work of art that rivals the finish work on any modern high-end guitars.

And that is how I went from a passing conversation on the tennis courts to a private showing of the world's finest vintage banjo collection just a few miles down the road.  What a great Christmas visit!  May you also experience musical blessings during the holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

eBay Closet Find (1984 Yamaha FG-335SB)

The eBay platform, which lists a constantly revolving inventory of thousands of vintage acoustic guitars for sale on a daily basis, makes the search for hard to find or otherwise unusual instruments that much easier.

When a Yamaha FG-335SB in near mint condition was recently listed my interest was piqued.  I use a well-worn 1979 FG-335 as my travel guitar, which is a popular model, but the FG-335SB, with a beautiful antique sunburst finish, was only made for one year in 1984. Online listings are uncommon.  There is little to no additional information available about this guitar as even the Blue Book publisher does not have access to the original listing information from Yamaha.

This particular guitar was un-played in its original chipboard case, which was also pristine.  Reportedly stored in a closet since 1984, all it needed was a new set of strings to come to life.  It plays brightly across all registers and has excellent clarity and sustain.  Almost thirty years later, the factory set-up was right on.  I should have no problem finding this beauty a good home. Maybe Santa will stop by to pick it up soon!  Merry Christmas everyone.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Collings Guitars

Courtesy of The Music Emporium
Bill Collings has been making guitars out of Austin Texas since the 1980s.  Last night I jumped at the chance to hear from him and sample his latest models at the Music Emporium, our Boston-area high-end acoustic guitar mecca in Lexington MA, and a recently-named Premier Collings Dealer, where he was presenting with his colleague and master craftsman Bruce VanWart.

Collings Guitars is widely recognized as one of the finest high-end boutique guitar makers in the country.  They now produce over 2,000 instruments annually, including acoustic guitars, electrics and archtops, ukuleles, and mandolins.  Bill was able to share a little window into how they are able to maintain the personal, artisanal attention to detail and quality throughout the 30,000 sq. ft., 90-employee shop.  He was especially proud of the fact that at least 50 employees are themselves enthusiastic guitar players, and everyone is there because they enjoy making great instruments.

It all starts and ends, however, with the quality of the woods selected and their cut.  Besides discussing the advantages of different tone woods, Bill passed around two Sitka Spruce guitar tops to help illustrate the importance of selecting properly cut wood.  One top was perfectly quarter sawn.  This means the growth rings of the wood run through the thickness of the top at a perfect 90 degree angle ("dead quarter") to the horizontal top viewed from the bottom bout.  This provides the greatest available stiffness to the width of the top, which translates into the ability to vibrate and quickly return to its original position and thus greater tonal responsiveness.  The second top, cut from the same wood but just five to ten degrees off the quarter, was surprisingly rubbery when flexed from the bass to treble side.  A high quality top thus usually comes from trees like Sitka Spruce well-known for their high density and consistent growth rings, which, when properly cut, provide consistently stiff and resilient tops.

After Bill fielded what felt like a hundred questions from the guitarists in the room, I was itching to actually try some of the Collings guitars in the shop.  I immediately gravitated to the CJ (Collings Jumbo) models, the Collings slope-shouldered dreadnoughts.  The two I played had beautiful sunburst varnish finishes, one with additional style 42 appointments including abalone trim and rosette inlays.  Varnish finishes have recently become popular because they are extremely thin and flexible enough not to impede the wood's vibration.  As such, they can produce a more responsive instrument with greater depth of tone.  While a varnish finish also provides a rich luster, extra care must be taken not to scratch them as the finish is not as protective as thicker lacquer options.

The CJ model is strikingly light for a guitar this size and both guitars were impeccably finished. Interestingly, the more tonally impressive guitar was the less expensive one without the extra bling. It was responsive across all registers, warm and expressive.  Of course, at these prices, the dollar difference is meaningless for most as these particular guitars will set you back approximately $7,500 and $8,500, respectively.  Mere mortals will only enjoy boutique guitars like these in the shop.  And if you are privileged enough to be shopping in this price range, the price difference may be negligible.  Carpe diem!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pawnshop Find (1980 Yamaha FG-300D)

Sometimes you come across an acoustic guitar that does not show up in any commonly used guides. Even in the case of Yamaha, a ubiquitous Japanese guitar maker, some of its models were never distributed in the United States, but only sold in Japan.  So when a vintage Yamaha FG-300D listed by a pawn shop on eBay caught my eye but had no corresponding Blue Book listing to easily assess its value, I headed to the world wide web.  With the help of Google Translate I was able to confirm some basic information from Japanese listings.

The FG-300D was manufactured in Japan between 1980-1986.  It features an Ezo Spruce top and Walnut back and sides.  Premium appointments include abalone binding trim and rosette inlay, Gold-plated Yamaha tuners, and pearl Yamaha inlaid lettering on the headstock.  Ezo Spruce from the high altitude mountains of Hokkaido, Japan, is prized for its close, even grain that produces a soundboard of exceptional energy and tonal projection. Because of its scarcity, it is no longer available as a top wood for Yamaha guitars.

This particular guitar had apparently been brought back from Japan by a serviceman and was in very good condition.  With little publicly available pricing information, I was the winning bidder. Now, after a professional set up and some new strings, it is ready for a good home.  We'll see if anyone is interested in a unique Yamaha with some history, a premium top, and some nice appointments.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving (Guild CV-2C)

Spending the Thanksgiving weekend up in NH with family and feeling very thankful.  Everyone is healthy, we have a roof over our heads, with electricity and heat, and we are employed.  These are all things we have recently been reminded not to take for granted between the still lingering effects of the 2008 recession and Hurricane Sandy's devastation along the East Coast.

I've been working two jobs lately and have not had much time to pursue any neglected guitars or find good homes for the ones I already have in the stable.  The Thanksgiving break is thus a welcome chance to spend some time playing, tweak the action on one guitar, and finally get around to customizing one of the guitars I plan to keep - my Guild CV-2C.  First, I upgraded the original bridge pins inserting bone bridge pins with abalone insets.  Next, I swapped out the original black plastic truss rod cover with a hand-crafted ebony wood cover inset with Mother of Pearl and Paua Shell in the form of a fleur de lis in honor of my French heritage.


I highly recommend the craftsman in Winnipeg Canada who sells these handmade truss rod covers on eBay for any different number of guitars, including Guild, Gibson, and Taylor.

Of my growing collection of guitars, it's the Guild CV-2C I brought over to our friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner after which we enjoyed a musical evening.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Guild Guitars is Back!

It is no secret that American guitar-maker Guild, founded in 1953, has gone through numerous changes in recent years.  After the guitar company was purchased by Fender in 1995, there was the Guild departure from its long-time manufacturing site in Westerly, RI, for the west coast in 2001. Soon thereafter the Guild facility was moved from Corona, CA, to Tacoma, WA.  In 2008, Guild moved back to New England after Fender bought Kaman Music Corporation's production facility in Connecticut.  Each change brought some discontinuity and uncertainty that negatively affected customer and dealer enthusiasm and loyalty.  Product lines came and went, some of the records on older models were lost along the way, and confidence in contemporary Guilds as a marquis guitar brand waned.  Resale values on Guild guitars cannot compete, for example, with those for guitars from C.F. Martin & Co., a family-owned company that has been making guitars in the same location in Nazareth, PA, continuously since 1838.


Well, this past week I was lucky enough to be given a complete tour of the workshop floors of the new Guild manufacturing facility in New Hartford, CT, hosted by Guild with a group of fellow Guild aficionados who congregate online at Let's Talk Guild.  It is a bright and clean facility occupying a historic pre-civil war manufacturing plant that years ago housed a cotton mill and a sewing machine manufacturer, among others. It is retro-fitted with sophisticated temperature, humidity, and dust controls to maintain an ideal guitar-making environment.  It was fascinating to watch programmed routing machines cut out various guitar parts with lazer-like accuracy while individual shop workers sculpted guitar necks, assembled guitar bodies, and applied sunburst finishes by hand.  Huge computer-controlled lathes operate next to industrial-era hand presses.  We were able to view every aspect of guitar building from the wood supply room to the final set up of a finished instrument.

What was striking was the obvious enthusiasm and pride every employee had, from shop-floor artisans to top management, for the production of beautifully crafted instruments.  Most employees there have been making guitars for years, if not decades.  They share responsibilities for multiple stages of the guitar-building process and each is empowered to reject work that does not meet the shop's high quality standards.  Master Luthier Ren Ferguson, overseeing acoustic engineering for Fender as of this year after decades at Gibson, summed it up best for us: "Why build a guitar out of something that doesn't already have music in it?"  That Fender was able to lure Ren away from settling into a tranquil retirement in the Midwest to instead participate in research and development at Guild speaks volumes about a renewed commitment to produce the highest quality Guilds yet.

Picture courtesy of Brad4d8
Another score for Fender this year is signing up Doyle Dykes to represent Guild guitars.  Doyle is a premiere fingerpicking guitarist who helped put Taylor guitars on the map, but some of his earliest guitars were Guilds. Doyle was in New Hartford, CT, this week to finalize Guild's first signature model, a custom F47-sized acoustic/electric with quilted Maple back and sides. We had the chance to play the prototype, still being tweaked to Doyle's specifications, which will be launched in January 2013 at the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show in Anaheim, CA.  It is a beautiful guitar and Doyle made it sing in a private concert for our group after lunch.  I was especially touched with Doyle's tribute to the 9/11 victims, an instrumental piece whose hook references two-tone rescue sirens and reminded me of the plaintive fire-fighter rescue beacons that littered the World Trade Center site after the towers came down.  I was not the only grown man in the audience who shed some tears.

Picture courtesy of Alive@RandyWalters.com
Guild will also be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary next year, and is preparing a limited run of anniversary guitars to be also unveiled at the NAMM show.  We were able to view a number of these special all-koa-bodied guitars, which will be limited to 60, at various stages of production.  I was also able to spend some time later in the day playing one of the finished guitars.  Sweet!

The take-away is that Guild is back up to speed making its Standard and Traditional Series lines of guitars in quantities that should meet demand, along with some exciting custom projects, while maintaining its tradition of hand-crafted instruments.  Guild is back baby!

P.S.  We were under strict orders to leave our cameras at the door, but here is an article with great shop-floor pictures of the Guild guitar-making process at the New Hartford, CT facility.  Additional pictures are posted on Guild's Facebook page.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

eBay Reality Check (1983 Guild F-45CE)

eBay uses a grading system to enforce transparent transactions and weed out sketchy players. Sellers and buyers have their number of transactions tracked and their feedback is available for viewing. The higher the number of transactions with positive feedback the more confidence one can have. Parties thus have an incentive to promptly resolve any concerns that do come up in order to maintain positive feedback on all their transactions.  In extreme circumstances, eBay itself can and does intervene to level the playing field when a party is trying to unfairly game the system.

That said, there are some tips to keep in mind when buying and selling guitars on eBay. There is no better predictor for a smooth transaction than previous experience at buying or selling guitars online.  Check whether the buyer or seller has consistently positive feedback specifically on guitars or other similar musical instruments (unfortunately, eBay only lists the item bought or sold for transactions within the last 90 days).  Check for the seller's return policy.  In the event you need to return an item you will usually be responsible for return shipping and may even be assessed a re-stocking fee.  Don't forget to factor in shipping costs when bidding on a guitar.


Should you be the lucky winning bidder on a beautiful guitar at an attractive price that then arrives and is not as advertised, eBay provides a platform to try to resolve the issue directly with the seller.  Short of returning the guitar, which some sellers do not provide for, one can request a partial refund based on material omissions or misrepresentations in the description of the item.  If you have a legitimate complaint, most sellers will negotiate a partial refund that is acceptable to both parties in order to avoid negative feedback.  It is important to hold off on your feedback until the transaction is entirely complete to your satisfaction, as that is your only real leverage short of elevating the dispute to eBay management.

Last week I received a 1983 Guild F-45CE purchased on eBay.  I know this model well having successfully bought, restored, and sold a 1984 version earlier this year.  There were few bidders so I could not resist bidding even though the seller had very little history on eBay and none for musical instruments, and accepted no returns.  There was only one picture (sellers have to kick in a little extra to add multiple pictures to listings) and the description was unenlightening as to the guitar's condition.  The seller had answered some relevant buyer questions that were posted, however, including an assurance that the guitar had "no dents or scratches" and no issues, and that the guitar case was beat up, but functional.  My winning bid was well below Blue Book value.

When the guitar arrived, the packaging itself did not inspire confidence.  The seller had taken some recycled cardboard sheets and taped them together over the guitar case.  Not only was there no extra padding provided, but the tape at the bout of the guitar case had split open so that the base of the guitar case was completely unprotected from the vicissitudes of shipping. Note that if you have a guitar to ship, all you have to do is go to your local guitar/music store and pick up a discarded guitar shipping box by either asking or going around back and dumpster diving.  Bubble wrap, packing paper, or the like, should be used both inside the guitar case and around the case to stabilize the guitar.  Extra care should be taken if the guitar is being shipped without a case.  It is also best to loosen the string tension befor shipping.

The guitar itself arrived intact, thanks to the US Postal Service and a hardy case.  On inspecting it though, I found several obvious dents and scratches on the guitar despite the seller's assurances to the contrary.  Even more significant, the bridge was visibly lifting off the body and showed evidence of an unsuccessful re-glue.  Vintage instruments lose value when they are cosmetically damaged, and even more value when they have to be restored.  This was no longer a good deal.

I contacted the seller with pictures and after several days of exchanging emails we settled on a partial refund that should cover the cost of having the bridge professionally removed and re-affixed, and account for the cosmetic issues.  Once agreed upon, a refund is easily processed through Paypal without having to disclose any financial information, as eBay has made linking to Paypal accounts part of its platform.  I should still be able to find a good home for this cool vintage guitar and come out ahead.  Live and learn.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2007/08 Guild CV-2C Antique Burst

Guild's 2006-2008 Contemporary Series guitars were the guitar maker's brief foray into bolt-on necks.  One of the desired advantages was that a neck reset (adjustment of the neck angle required when smaller truss-rod or saddle and nut adjustments can no longer produce the desired string height and intonation over the fretboard) would no longer require ungluing the bonded wood dovetail neck joint at the body of the guitar. Unfortunately, a number of these guitars were reportedly sent back to Guild with various neck, fretboard, and joint problems.  When Fender moved Guild acoustic guitar production in early 2008 from Tacoma, WA, back to the East Coast, Fender presumably decided that transferring the Guild Contemporary neck-block technology to the Kaman Music manufacturing facility in New Hartford, CT (yet another Fender purchase) was not worth the effort and Guild discontinued the series. Defective and new unsold models were all processed alike through a commercial refurbisher and are still fairly common on the re-sale market, but with the word "USED" imprinted on the back of the headstock and the serial number on the label blacked out to void out the Guild warranty.  Because of the poor history of these models, their resale value is not strong whether new or second-hand, and you can pick up one of the "refurbished" guitars new at half to less than a third of what they originally sold for.  The trick is not to pick up a lemon.

The top of the Contemporary Series line was the CV-2C, a F-40 Orchestra-style body guitar with Florentine-style cutaway, solid Red Spruce top, solid flame Maple back and sides, one-piece Mahogany neck, multi-layer ivoroid binding, Ebony fretboard and bridge, a Madagascar Rosewood and ivoroid, red, and black inlaid accent lines rosette, Chrome Gotoh tuners, and D-TAR Wavelength Load and Lock pickup and electronics.  It was manufactured for less than a year with a MSRP of $3,000 and a street price (true retail) of around $2,250. I have been tracking these guitars on eBay for several months now, attracted by the chance to buy a lot of guitar for much less than the current retail price for similar new models such as the Guild F-40 Traditional Series acoustic (approx. $2,650 street price in Antique Burst) or the F-47MC acoustic/electric (approx. $3,050 street price in Antique Burst).

So it was with great anticipation that I received my latest eBay purchase this week, a 2007/08 CV-2C in Antique Burst (no way to determine which year as it is a "refurbished" model with a blacked-out serial number). It came in a brand new Guild deluxe TKL hardshell case. The guitar itself was new, as advertised, without any visible blemishes.  The Antique Burst finish is beautiful, especially after a good cleaning.  The inlaid Madagascar Rosewood rosette is especially striking.  Once tuned up, I was relieved to find no issues with the neck, the set-up, or the intonation.  The fretboard is tightly flush to the body of the guitar (one of the potential issues with these models based on anecdotal on-line evidence).  Unless you look inside the body of the guitar, the ill-fated neck block system is undetectable.  What is immediately noticeable is the wonderful warm tone of this solid Maple-bodied guitar, my first ever.  The Wife was immediately seduced by it, instructing me not to resell this one!

Curious to confirm our initial impressions, we conducted an unscientific test.  I pulled out my 2001 Guild F-47RCE (solid Rosewood back and sides), which played brighter, but less warmly.  Then I switched to my 2011 Guild GAD-25 (solid Mahogany back and sides), which sounded much darker. These are guitars I really enjoy, both aesthetically and sonically, but I am definitely a new convert to Maple and plan to keep my eye out for other interesting Maple-bodied guitars.  In the meantime, the CV-2C is a welcome addition to the stable.  Anyone else a fan of Maple...?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

eBay Find (1999 Guild F-47RCE)

First, let me say that nothing beats walking into a well-stocked premium guitar store where the staff have been playing, maintaining, and selling guitars for years. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced guitar aficionado, such visits should be savored not for the prospect of buying a guitar, but for the pleasure of experimenting with the visual, tactile, and auditory cornucopia of multiple instruments one after another. Comparison playing is experiential learning at its best and the differences are often not so subtle as to be beyond even a beginner's appreciation. How you rank those differences however, is subjective, so that there is no definitive list to consult as to the best guitar at any given price point. Such a visit should thus be part of every curious guitar player's repertoire whether you are in the market for a guitar or not.

Once you have identified the size, type, and perhaps brand models that you most enjoy, and gotten over the sticker shock, you can buy a new guitar from the store with which you are by now familiar. This is probably the best bet for the beginner or intermediate player with little guitar-purchasing experience. In the unlikely event you purchase a lemon, you can enlist the store's help in activating your warranty remedies (a repair or replacement).

For the more experienced guitar purchaser there are other less expensive options online. Local listings on Craigslist allow you to test drive the principally second-hand instruments and negotiate a good price directly with the seller based on your assessment. This holds true even more with premium models, where you want to make sure the guitar has the sonic and playing personality you desire before dropping several thousand dollars. The downside to a local Craigslist search or even a guitar store is that certain brands and models are rarely listed or on display. Even a well-established brand like Guild, for example, has little representation of its current model line in the Boston area and only occasional local second-hand listings.

The obvious alternative is an eBay search, opening up a huge national market for both new and second-hand instruments. If no private or commercial seller has the particular guitar you are looking for at the time, you can have daily search results sent to your email so you don't miss a listing.

This is how I was alerted to only the second Guild F-47RCE to be listed on eBay this year. This is a Westerly, RI-made model that was discontinued sometime after Guild moved production to the West Coast in 2002. I know the guitar well because I purchased a 2001 model earlier this year off of Craigslist locally. It has a cutaway grand concert-style body, solid Spruce top, Rosewood back and sides, scalloped bracing, Mahogany neck with bound Rosewood fingerboard and pearloid block inlays, and logo and Chesterfield pearl inlays on the headstock with Gold Grover tuners. After a professional set-up and some cosmetic repair work, it is one of the nicest instruments I own.

The particular listing title for this 1999 model was incomplete ("Guild F-47CE"), so I was pleased but not surprised to be the winning bidder at $400+ under the Blue Book value for this top-of-the-line (at the time) F-47 model. I was even happier upon delivery of a nearly flawless guitar as described. The original Guild hardshell guitar case is in like-new condition. The guitar itself has no dings and only some minor pick wear on the sound-hole above the pick guard to suggest that it has been well-played over the last dozen years by its single owner. There is one small area of binding separation from the body, which seems to be a recurring issue with these Westerly-made Guilds, but an easy fix. The frets were professionally replaced and are like-new, and the nut was upgraded to bone.

The disadvantage of eBay is that you are purchasing a musical instrument without being able to play it before delivery. Some sellers are happy to give you an in-hand description over the phone, but this is only as good as the seller's ability to give you an accurate read on the instrument. Some also post video samples of the instrument being played, which can be helpful. I only had a brief written description and some pictures to go on. This is why I held my breath as I took the Guild out of its case for the first time, tuned it up, and played it... Joy and relief! It has a balanced warm tone that is well-defined across all registers whether amplified or unplugged. The sustain is wonderfully rich and strong. The action may be a tad high, but that is easily adjusted. A week later and having enjoyed it over the Labor Day weekend, I am still reveling in my good fortune.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Livin' (1979 Yamaha FG-335)


Threw my travel guitar in the car for a summer weekend on Moose Pond in Maine where my friends are hosting.  My 1979 Yamaha FG-335 is always ready to go.  It is a solid guitar with great volume and intonation.  After thirty years in a closet, it just needed a little TLC to bring it back to life. Now it has also flown over the Atlantic in carry-on and because it does not need to be babied, I end up playing this guitar more than my Martins and Guilds.  It has turned out to be one of my best Craigslist buys.  Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Irish Seisiun (1964 Martin D-28)

Monday nights are Irish Seisiun nights at the Green Briar Irish Pub in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston just around the corner from St. Elizabeth's Hospital.  Starting at 7pm, musicians of all levels are welcome to come learn and play along to the standards, while at 9pm, the regular seisiun begins with the veteran players.  This week, I took my son who plays violin to introduce him to some good fiddle music.

Propped up in the veteran musician's corner before the regular seisiun began I spied what looked like a vintage Martin guitar.  From afar, though, the logo was too faded to read and the guitar was sporting an uncharacteristic Gibson-like pickguard. Intrigued, I asked around until I met the owner, Terry, a good Irish lad.  He confirmed that it was in fact a 1964 Martin D-28, but that he had replaced the original pickguard after it developed a crack. He also noted that he would be mostly playing banjo that evening as without amplification guitarists tend to break a lot of strings trying to be heard over the accordeons, banjos, and fiddles.  Indeed, he recently had a Fishman pickup installed in the Martin for when he plays out in more formal settings.  With a pint of Guinness and friends old and new, you could do worse than to spend a musical evening with lads like these.  Cheers.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Martin Weekend Getaway (2006 Martin Custom D)


It's been a beautiful hot summer weekend up on Lake Winnipesaukee.  Besides the beach and good food, there's nothing like having some down time to pull out a guitar and make some music.

If you are looking for a solid-wood Martin travel guitar, you could do worse than the Martin Custom D that sells for just under $1,000.  Mine is a 2006 model with solid Sitka Spruce top, solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and solid Mahogany neck.  The satin finish throughout highlights the wood grain and makes for comfortable playing up and down the neck.  The tortoise-shell pickguard adds a nice retro touch to the otherwise simple appointments that are reminiscent of the Martin 15 series guitars of the 1940s. The sound is warm and woody with a great bass response, and even the wonderful Rosewood smell helps transport you to another place.  Happy Trails!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Musical Scenes of Paris

Jazz quartet with no-name "gypsy" guitar
Yamaha FG-335 (1977-81) out on the city
Paris is a wonderful city for walking around. Beautiful monuments give way to distinct neighborhoods. Go one block off the usual tourist attractions, take your time, and you can feel like the city is your own too.

If you keep your eye out, artists are everywhere. Here are three guitar sightings within 500 yards of each other in the historic 4th and 5th Arrondis-sements behind Notre Dame Cathedral.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Luthier in Rouen, France


On our family sojourns in France this summer, we had the occasion to visit Rouen and the old market square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 after being captured by the English.  Wandering around this historic city that has been a major business center in one form or another at least since the middle ages, we stumbled upon a luthier's shop, "Il pleut des chordes..." on beautiful rue Damiette, and stopped in.  Large street-level windows allow passerby to watch work being done at a work bench at the front of the shop, while a side door down a covered alley leads to the display room to the rear of the shop.

Although the building itself has probably housed a street-level commerce for several hundred years, it turns out that the young owner, Baptiste Bernard, just opened the shop this year.  A graduate of the École Internationale de Lutherie d'Art, he put down his custom violin in progress to talk to me about his work.  He carries stringed instruments from baroque to modern, and is available for repairs, restorations, custom orders, and sales of beginner to professional instruments.  I was interested to learn that he does have clients seeking American-made guitars and mandolins, particularly vintage instruments from the C.F. Martin Company.  Besides the beautiful instruments, I couldn't help but admire this young luthier's entrepreneurial spirit and his beautiful shop.  It's a tough economic time to be starting a business in Europe, but I wish him the best and look forward to visiting again. Be sure to stop in if you happen to be in town.  I'll let the pictures whet your appetite...  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Flying with a Guitar (1979 Yamaha FG-335)!


Few things cause a musician more angst than trusting a precious instrument to baggage handlers and the cargo hold of a plane.  Expensive instruments can also be easy targets for theft en route.  I witnessed first-hand the sad result when my brother picked up his guitar from the carousel at Logan International Airport on a flight back from Europe back in the 80s only to find the top of the neck of his Ovation molded hardshell case bent sideways at a 20 degree angle.  The amount of force the improperly stored case must have been subjected to is hard to imagine.  Thankfully, the case did do its job as the guitar was unscathed, and the airline replaced the case, but guitarists are well aware that dangers lurk when traveling the not-so-friendly skies "avec guitare."  

Anticipating a trip to France this summer after years of traveling without a guitar, I researched the various options for bringing a guitar along.  Certain case manufacturers cater to the traveling musician, whether on tour or on vacation, and offer extra reinforced guitar cases for check-in, such as Gator Cases.  I even purchased a used CaseExtreme "Clam" travel case that actually envelops your hardshell guitar case in a corrugated plastic case with sturdy foam holders for an added layer of protection.  The preferred option, however, is not to check your guitar at all but carry it on.  Here it can get dicey though because if your flight is full, your plane is small, or both, you may have to check it at the gate anyway at the discretion of the flight crew.  Using a padded gig bag will increase the chances that you can fit your guitar in overhead storage or, failing that, that a sympathetic flight attendant will agree to place it in an upright coat check space for you.  The alternative gate check, however, while still better than simple cargo because it will be handled and delivered by hand along with children's strollers and the like, can cause your blood pressure to go up, especially if you indeed opted to leave your hardshell case behind.  Most guitarists simply decide not to travel with any prized guitar, but have a workman-like backup guitar that will not destroy their psyche if it is damaged or has to be replaced.  A travel-size guitar (a downsized model or one that has a collapsible neck) can also be a good choice, assuming you can find something you enjoy playing, as it will easily fit in most carry-on luggage compartments in a soft-shell case.

Before leaving, I confirmed online that American Airlines considers guitars hand carry luggage.  I opted to bring my refurbished 1979 Yamaha FG-335 $90 closet find in a Roadrunner padded gig bag. As I was traveling with a family group of five, including my two kids and one of their friends, we presented ourselves at the gate before the boarding for our section was called without any problem.  Although eventually full, our Boeing 757 easily accommodated my gig bag in the overhead storage.  I noticed at least one other passenger also traveling with a gig bag.  Mine never elicited even a second look from the gate or flight staff.  We'll see if the return flight goes as smoothly.  In the meantime, it's been great to be able to play some in front of a Normandy hearth while on vacation.

Check out a more recent flying with a guitar post here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

1971 Manuel Reyes Blanca Flamenco Guitar

Legendary Spanish luthier Manuel Reyes, Sr. has made some of the most sought after flamenco guitars over his 60 years in the business. Making guitars since 1949, he produced about 20 concert-quality guitars a year, with perhaps only half as many being Flamenco guitars.  In later years the wait list reached upwards of 15 years and all but closed to new orders.  He is now reportedly no longer making guitars due to health issues, although his son Manuel Reyes Jr. is continuing the tradition.  Because of their recognized quality and great scarcity, used Manuel Reyes Sr. guitars in excellent condition can easily run $10,000-20,000, and some have commanded significantly more.

So it was with great interest that I recently had the good fortune to play one of these gems in the home of its original owner, a former student of flamenco guitar who had the guitar custom-made by Manuel Reyes Sr. in 1971.  A "Blanca" model, it boasts a solid European Spruce top and solid Spanish Cypress back and sides.  It has been admirably maintained despite traveling the world over, thanks in part to its custom-made vintage Mark Leaf case, which boasts a built-in hygrometer and a positive seal between the top and bottom of the case to maintain a stable humidity level.  Although my classical guitar repertoire is very limited, I pulled out some rusty Malagueña fragments learned over 30 years ago for the occasion and revelled in the authentic flamenco sound this guitar produced.  It sure sounded worlds better than any classical guitar I have ever played.  Everything from volume, depth, and clarity across all registers was exquisite even to my relatively untrained ear.  Words fail, but it's one of those things: "you know it when you hear it."

Thanks to YouTube, you can check out this short clip of Vincente Amigo playing a 1988 Reyes Blanca to get some sense of how lovely one of these guitars sounds, especially in the hands of a pro.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Martin M-21 Steve Earle Custom Signature Edition

Mitch demos the M-21
On the occasion of a family trip into New York City last weekend, I had time to visit Matt Umanov's Guitar Store in Manhattan and meet one of the guys behind the counter, Mitch Distefano.  An accomplished guitarist himself, Mitch grew up hanging out at the store and has worked there off and on for years while teaching guitar, helping various artists with their songwriting, DJ'g in the City, and performing with various bands.  While pulling down various guitars for me to play, he regaled me with tales of recent celebrity walk-ins, which are a common occurrence at this guitar mecca in the heart of the West Village.  Carlos Santana, for example, anonymously walked in wearing a skull cap recently and other customers were too busy playing away on their instruments to even notice him before he headed back out the door without a word.  Johnny Depp, on the other hand, came in with a bodyguard who had to shoo away the paparazzi to allow him to buy two high-end guitars in peace.

After sampling the Martin 000-28, the HD-28, and a clean 1974 D-18, I asked Mitch whether he had any particularly interesting guitar in the store.  He handed me a beautiful shaded-top Martin M-21 Steve Earle Custom Signature guitar, which Matt Umanov helped Steve Earle design.  The M-size combines a jumbo-sized body (0000) with the slimmer depth of a 000 model.  Matt Umanov helped develop this particular combination after he converted a Martin archtop to a flat top in the 1960s. It was later used as the pattern for the Martin M model, which debuted in the 1970s and has been used extensively by Steve Earle.  First issued in 2008, the M-21 boasts a solid Italian Alpine Spruce top with forward-shifted scalloped bracing, solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and a dressed down look that combines various style 18, 21, and 28 appointments.  The old-school headstock, butterbean tuner knobs, and tortoise-color pickguard complete the vintage-looking package, which will set you back $4,000+.

This is a sweet guitar.  The low profile solid Mahogany neck and East Indian Rosewood fretboard plays easily.  The M-sized body is comfortable and light to handle.  The guitar has wonderful presence and a full sound all the way through its high to low registers.  I especially liked the rich bass response. Meanwhile, the understated appointments give it a classic Martin look and feel.  The shaded top on this particular guitar is an additional option that makes for a handsome instrument that looks as good as it sounds.  Give it a try when you get the chance.  You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Guild Face-Off: D-25 vs. GAD-25

So today I finally had a chance to put my 1981 Guild D-25M up against my 2011 Guild GAD-25. The D-25 is the best-selling Guild acoustic model ever and has gone through various iterations.  Mine has a solid (Mahogany-stained) Spruce top and arched Mahogany laminate back.  The GAD-25 has a solid Mahogany flat top and back and is closer to the original D-25 introduced in 1968 and a second version discontinued in 2003.  It is one of the Guild Acoustic Design (GAD) series models built in China to Guild specifications to achieve a lower price point for an all solid wood guitar. First introduced in 2005, this year's GAD model is now called the D-125 and lists for $739 with a street price around $550.

Both guitars are big and powerful, with a warm sound, but one stood out with its crisp note definition in all registers: the GAD-25!  By comparison, the D-25 sounded muddled, especially in the middle ranges.  Thinking it might be the strings that were due for a change, I repeated the comparison with the D-25 strung with my favorites: Elixir medium-lights.  Although the new strings sounded better, it was still an obvious win for the Chinese-made GAD-25 (on the right) over the Westerly, RI-made D-25 (on the left).  The finish work on the GAD-25 is also impressive.  The Mahogany wood binding around the body is particularly striking (although the 2012 model now sports a more prosaic black binding).  And you can get it brand new for less than what you would have to pay for a vintage model in good shape.  Who knew?

2006 Martin Custom D Rosewood

Although, the Martin Custom D is made for Guitar Center, the Walmart of guitar stores, (also available online through Musician's Friend), players should not dismiss this mid-level all solid wood Martin available new for under $1000.  It has a solid Sitka Spruce top with book-matched halves, solid East Indian Rosewood one-piece back and sides, and a solid Mahogany neck.  There is also a Spruce top and Mahogany back and sides version. Its unadorned features include simple white binding around the body and a satin finish, which I actually prefer to more expensive high gloss finishes.  It is a very comfortably-light dreadnaught-sized guitar.  What you get, without paying for more bling and a classic pedigreed Martin model like the D-28, is that wonderful Martin tone and easy playability.

When a pristine 2006 Custom D was listed this week locally at an attractive price, I arranged to check it out in the North End the next day during lunch.  It was a beautiful sunny day and as I navigated the narrow streets, presumably-retired Italian-American gentlemen were out on their chairs on several local sidewalks shooting the breeze just as one might imagine they have been doing in this historic Boston neighborhood for a couple of centuries.  It was thus not incongruous when I left my car double parked on the seller's one-way street, he brought down his guitar, and I gave it a go right on his building's front steps.  I was immediately struck with how warm and mellow this guitar sounded.  Strung with relatively new Elixir medium-gauge strings, it was plenty bright but with a full deep bass register.  Sweet!  With nary a blemish, as advertised, I ended up paying the asking price.  The guitar safely in the back seat, I drove off, leaving behind one of Boston's authentic neighborhoods and a wistful former Martin owner.

Monday, May 28, 2012

1981 Guild D-25M


Spent a glorious Memorial Day weekend in New Hampshire's lakes region strumming and picking on my latest Craigslist find, a 1981 Guild D-25M.  This is a classic Dreadnought-sized guitar added to the Guild line in 1968.   It is the most popular Guild model ever built. Originally an all-solid Mahogany guitar, the D-25 was switched to a Spruce top and a laminated Mahogany arched back in 1976.

My 1981 model, built in Westerly, RI, has the arched back, solid Mahogany sides, and a Mahogany-stained solid Spruce top (hence the "M").  Because of its large size and deep arched body, it has wonderful volume, projection, and sustain.  Also known as a "Bluegrass" model, the D-25 is a great finger-picking guitar that can hold its own against a banjo and fiddle.  It is also a favorite of buskers, not only for its volume, but because it is nearly indestructible.  This is a very solidly-built guitar that can withstand some abuse and still sound great, or in the words of Guild, it is "Made To Be Played."

Now that I'm back in Boston, stay tuned for an A-B comparison with my 2011 all-solid Mahogany Chinese-made Guild GAD-25!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

1980 Fender FJ-70 (2)

















This weekend I found a good new home for my Fender FJ-70.  I just was not playing it enough to justify holding on to it, even though it is arguably one of the nicest models from the halcyon days of Fender acoustics.  I sold it to someone looking for a jumbo-size acoustic, and the FJ-70 is arguably the nicest one you can buy for the money, if you can find one.  The only Fender in the F series to be offered in sunburst finish at the time, it was only made for a little over a year in 1980-81.

It is a beautiful guitar.  I even dig the attractive abalone-inlayed Fender logo on the headstock.  Rest assured that this is a guitar that also sounds as great as it looks.  I feel good that it is in the hands of someone who will appreciate it as I did and play it as much as it deserves.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

1980 Fender F-50


Visited with a fellow guitar enthusiast last week who has been looking to sell his vintage Fender F-50 acoustic guitar.  The F-50 is a grand concert style guitar with a solid Spruce top, Rosewood back, sides, fingerboard, and bridge, and Mahogany neck, made in the USA.  It has the design and finish of a pre-war Martin 000 14-fret body, including the Martin style 28 herringbone body binding and the teardrop pickguard.  In fact, but for the Fender logo and V notch in the top of the headstock it is basically a Martin look-alike, which may explain why the F-50 was short-lived, only being produced in 1980.  All but one of the original Fender F Series guitar models were discontinued by 1981.  Fender then introduced a new "Standard F Series" in 1982 with a completely different headstock design with a swoop top.  The pick guard design was also changed to have a straight edge along part of the top.

This guitar had some significant cosmetic wear, but the natural finish top had turned an attractive golden hue.  The action was low and very playable.  The tone was bright, but a little muddled without the crisp note definition of my Martin 000-1 and a little tinny.  Overall, though, the guitar had an attractive Martinesque vintage feel.  As my friend was willing to part with it for a very reasonable price, I couldn't resist.  This weekend I loosened the truss rod to raise the action just a tad and eliminate some buzzing at the A and low E strings.  I also replaced the light Martin strings with medium Elixirs to get a warmer sound.  When I brought it along to a Saturday night gathering with friends, it was the toast of the evening.  The friends' son just back from college took a shine to it after giving it a go.  It would make a good replacement for his starter guitar as he has recently begun getting more serious about his playing.  It is also a perfect travel guitar, inexpensive and already broken in.  I left the guitar with him on trial and today he confirmed that it had found a good new home.  Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breedlove Jamming!



File this under "too cool not to share." And believe you me, it's gone viral big time and in a hurry. More than four million hits in its first week online! Noah is only eighteen, but no Justin Bieber. Instead, let him blow you away with his mature, soulful voicing and driving guitar re-interpretation of LMFAO's raunchy anthem. This kid is talented, and he sure makes his Breedlove guitar sound good! Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bourgeois Guitars

(c) Music Emporium, used by permission
Master luthier Dana Bourgeois traveled down from his 1860's mill-house workshop in Lewiston, Maine to the Music Emporium in Lexington, MA last night to regale a large crowd of enthusiasts with a glimpse into his artisanal guitar-making process. After passing around an unfinished Adirondack Spruce top with scalloped braces, Bourgeois continued the show-and-tell by carving down the braces with intermittent tapping of the top as he explained how he voiced it to obtain as many tones as possible.  Little by little, as he carved away at the braces, shared personal anecdotes and tricks of the trade, and fielded dozens of questions, the top became more flexible with varied tones across its plane.

What became very clear is that the optimal voicing of any top is more art than science as every piece of wood has its own characteristics that, as Bourgeois explained, are unpredictable and unique.  An artisanal guitar maker's experience allows him or her to recognize these qualities and obtain the optimal balance between the responsiveness of the wood and its structural integrity.  Mr. Bourgeois has been designing and building acoustic guitars since 1974 and explained how he learned early on by repairing wonderful pre-war Martin guitars before these became recognized as premium "vintage" guitars.  The results could be seen in the dozen Bourgeois guitars we were able to assess after the presentation, from parlor-size to dreadnoughts, in beautiful hand-selected tonal woods.  He has also been experimenting with a vintage varnish that offers much better clarity and breathability, and with beautiful results judging by the two guitars I examined with this finish.  If you are gassing for a high-end acoustic by one of the best small shops in the world, head over to the Music Emporium or check out Bourgeois' very well-done website and order yours today.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Once!



This weekend I took my wife to NYC for her 40th birthday, staying at the beautiful new Intercontinental at Times Square.  Up first was a matinée performance of "Once," the most Tony-nominated show of 2012, with its acoustic guitar-heavy score, set, and book. What a great show! Think Irish Sesiun with a contemporary edge.  Even as the audience files in for the show, the actors - all musicians - are on stage jamming on acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, cello, and piano. The simple set is a large open space with a bar and the audience is encouraged to come up and buy a drink before the show (and at intermission) and mingle on set.   From then on we follow the story of a singer-songwriter-guitarist Guy in Dublin who meets a Girl who plays the piano and sings.  She inspires him to give his music another chance, they make beautiful music together, but they have to deal with their respective unfinished relationships while it is clear they have fallen in love.  The arrangements for guitar and piano are simple and effective, allowing for the full power of the lyrics to hit you like a ton of bricks with the raw emotions of love.

Special kudos to the sound crew, as the balancing of the wireless mic'ed voices and acoustic instruments is extremely well-done (sound designer Clive Goodwin, who workshopped the show at the ART here in Cambridge, has one of Once's 11 Tony Award nominations).  The lead Guy of "Once" plays what looks like a well-worn Johnny Cash-model Martin D-35 guitar that rang out whether finger-picked or strummed.  Indeed, the Martin guitar company has recently become the official guitar and guitar strings sponsor of "Once" (earlier promotional materials and video of the musical had Guy playing a well-worn black Takamine like the original Guy in the original movie from a few years back).  Well played C.F. Martin and Co.

Later, we had time to drop in on Matt Umanov Guitars in the West Village before dinner.  They had a good selection of Martin and Taylor guitars, among others, but I was disappointed not to find any new Guilds in stock to test drive even though they are a Guild dealer.  In fact, the only acoustic Guild in the whole store was a used 1995 D-55.  I took the opportunity to put it up against Martin's new HD-28 that I have raved about before and that they had in stock, but the Guild came out ahead of this particular guitar in my book.  My wife even commented that the D-55 was noticeably more resonant than the HD-28 from her vantage point across the room.  Too bad they wanted $1995 for it. Bargain hunters are out of luck at this iconic store...

How I came to also play a 1971 custom spanish guitar worth $10k later that weekend will have to wait for a later post...!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

1984 Guild F-45CE (2)

My 1984 Guild F-45CE is an interesting guitar with a great vintage look and sound.  First there's the oval soundhole and venetian cutaway.  Very cool.  Then there's the beautiful Mahogany arched back that helps add depth and projection.  Finally, there's the slim neck and two retro pre-amp knobs that add to the electric guitar-like playing feel of the guitar.

The F-45CE was a happy eBay find.  I bought it at a reasonable price because the electronics did not work due to corrosion in the battery holder.  I was even able to buy the original full-page color ad for this very model from the January 1984 issue of Guitar World, also on eBay for a couple of dollars.  After my go-to luthier replaced the battery holder and connecting wires that had blackened beyond use, the guitar was once again in full working order.  I enjoyed playing her, but with my total guitar count having crept up in the interim, it was time to find her a good home.  Several Craigslist postings later, I met up with her new owner today.  No haggling was necessary after he picked out a few bluesy licks and confirmed that she was in pristine condition as advertised.  It was love at first sight!  I got my asking price, and he got a beautiful vintage instrument with many years left in her.  It's nice to know that she will be appropriately appreciated.  Happy trails!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome)



Being new to the blogosphere and various online forums for guitarists and guitar enthusiasts, it is not unusual for me to come across unfamiliar acronyms.  One common term I repeatedly encountered and for which I had to look up the meaning is "GAS," or Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.

And OMG, I recognized all the symptoms in myself.  It is basically the uncontrollable urge to purchase "just one more guitar."  It is in fact a highly contagious condition that tends to be propagated by fellow guitar enthusiasts, with known hot spots being well-stocked local guitar stores and various online guitar forums.  (I'm talking about y'all at "Let's Talk Guild!")  It is also enabled by such online portals as Craigslist, eBay, and all the online guitar stores with the cool guitar eye candy.  It's now clear I've got a recently re-acquired and virulent case of GAS after being in remission for a couple of decades.  The dangers of this affliction include financial hardship and marital difficulties.

When I relayed this humorous acronym to my wife, her only comment was "it's not funny."  LOL!  So it's time to winnow the herd, as they say.  No more purchases until I can sell a few of my recent acquisitions that are not keepers.  Not unless a screaming buy happens to come to my attention, of course...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

30-Year Closet Find (1979 Yamaha FG-335)

Finding a good used guitar on Craigslist is all about knowing what you are looking for and serendipity. Good guitars at attractive prices are often scooped up within hours while overpriced models get re-listed over and over. Short of checking the local listings often enough to respond to the good listings immediately, I wondered if there was an online service that could automate the task with an email alert. And, of course, there is one. Craigslist Checker will run your search hourly and send you an email with links to any listings that pop up for the item you are seeking. Free searches are good for seven days.


Yesterday, a vintage Yamaha acoustic that had been in a closet for thirty years popped up for short money. Within an hour, dozens of prospective buyers popped up as well according to the buyer, but I was upfront with all my contact info and how much I was willing to pay, so I got the call back when the first buyer no-showed. Going in I knew the original chipboard case with its missing handle and other scars was worthless. Nor is a 1979 Yamaha FG-335 anything like a vintage Martin closet find. The guitar was also missing one of its plastic bridge pins. Upon inspection, there were also a few more small dings than advertised. Even with only five 30-year-old strings on it, though, the guitar had decent tone. The white binding had that vintage yellowed appearance and overall the condition of the guitar was excellent. I was able to close the deal for less than $100, 30% below asking.

With a little TLC, some new strings, a replacement set of matching bridge pins salvaged from another guitar, and a hardshell case I had left over from another used purchase, this now makes for a solid traveling guitar for those campfire outings. It even still had the original allen wrench in the old case pocket that I was able to use to tighten the truss rod and bring the really high action down. Note the cool wood truss rod cover (Yamahas went to truss rod access above the heel block shortly after 1979).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yard Sale Treasures (1938 Martin 000-28)

With spring having sprung, yard sale signs are starting to sprout on the weekends and you never know what treasures will lurk among the usual junk.  My current favorite tennis racket, for example, is a $10 yard sale find from several years ago.

According to the press release for this week's Heritage Auctions' Vintage Guitars Auction at the Dallas Guitar Show, the top vintage acoustic guitar for auction this year is a $75 garage sale find from many years ago, now appraised at $40,000+!  It's a 1938 Martin 000-28.  Unsurprisingly for a garage sale find, it is in only fair condition with several top cracks, a small break in the side waist, and moisture damage to the finish.  The listing notes severe wear to the original frets and severe playwear to the body.  One of the original tuners was replaced with a non-matching one and there is a hardware store bracket screwed right into the top back of the headstock, presumably for a strap (or to hang the guitar up in the garage?!).

And yet, this is a highly desirable vintage guitar made by Martin pre-war with beautiful Brazilian Rosewood back and sides.  Brazilian Rosewood is a prized hardwood for its outstanding resonance, colorful shades and figures, and floral fragrance reminiscent of roses.  It is only found in Brazil from the eastern forests of Bahia to Rio de Janeiro, and it is now banned for harvest and trade as an endangered species as much of its habitat has been converted to farmland.

Opening bids start at $20,000 plus the 25% buyer's premium (another $5,000). You have one more day to place an online bid.  The auction goes live this Friday!  Or you could just keep an eye on your local yard sales...

If you want a cleaner vintage small-bodied Martin and money is not an obstacle, check out this 1928 Martin 00-44 listed for $100,000.  Back here in Boston, though, I'm perfectly content strumming my unassuming 2002 Martin 000-1 bought last week for less than $500 off of Craigslist.  It's bringing me and my son lots of playing pleasure and none of the headaches and costs of restoring and caring for a museum piece.  Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2011 Guild GAD-25

Guild Acoustic Design (GAD) series guitars sport the Guild logo, but are built in China.  This allows Guild to offer its traditional designs in solid woods at half to a third of what similar US-built Guilds go for.  If you are looking for a lot of guitar for short money, these are worth at least a try.  I have been curious about this series and yesterday I got my opportunity to check it out when a recently purchased GAD-25 was listed and priced to sell. The gentleman who just bought it in January was unfortunately due for hand surgery.

The Guild GAD-25 is a dreadnought-sized guitar with solid Mahogany front, back, and sides, wood binding, three-piece Mahogany neck, and Indian Rosewood fingerboard and bridge.  The headstock has the Guild name and Chesterfield pearl logo, like the vintage Westerly Guilds. The guitar comes with a distinctive tweed-covered arch-top hardshell case with leather-like trim that is Guild-branded as well.  The GAD-25 listed for $900, and retailed for $500-600.  It looks to have been discontinued for 2012.  

This guitar appeared well-made with a clean finish.  I was pleasantly surprised with the playability and tone.  It is loud with a rich sustain.  Built to Guild specs, the guitar does play and sound like a Guild. I found the factory-set action comfortable and responsive for both finger-picking and strumming.  Being practically new, it has no playing wear and only one unfortunate small scratch on the front of the headstock. It still has the pungent Mahogany smell from the factory.  With a new set of Elixir strings on it, it will be ready for a good home.  In the meantime, welcome to the family!

You can also read about my A/B comparison of the GAD-25 with a vintage US-made D-25.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2002 Martin 000-1

Friday was a good day!  I jumped on a Craigslist listing for a Martin 000-1 guitar that popped up late in the afternoon, and went out to see it that evening.  This guitar has a solid Spruce top with satin finish, solid Mahogany back, and Rosewood bridge and fretboard.  The 000 models are a couple body sizes down from the Dreadnoughts, but the 000-1 retained the full length neck (25.4 in.).  The 000-1 model was in Martin's middle-level line with a solid wood back and front, but laminate sides, that sold for under $1000 between 1995-2005 and has since been discontinued.  This guitar is occasionally available used for around $500 if you're lucky.  By comparison, new Martins below $1,000, including the 000 size, now have high pressure laminate (HPL) back and sides (compressed wood particulates, much like formica). Because the older 000-1 is such a quality guitar in an affordable price range, it usually gets snapped up anytime it appears second-hand.

Having never played this model before, I was immediately struck by how well-crafted it appeared despite its unadorned features.  It was extremely light and comfortable to hold with easy playability and that wonderful Martin tone. There were several deep scratches/gouges in the top of this one, but the satin finish made these less jarring to the eye. That it was not pristine worked for me in any event, because of the reasonableness of the asking price and the fact that this size guitar would be perfect for my son who was showing an interest in taking up the guitar.  His first guitar could be a Martin, just like his dad, and something worth holding on to!  Rounding out the deal was the Martin hardshell case with attractive dark green plush lining (my son's favorite color) and a new set of strings in the pocket.  It was an opportunity I could not let pass.  After a bit of haggling I closed the deal. And I'm so glad I did. This is a guitar that you just want to pick up and play as soon as you put it down.