Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Best Little Guitar Shop in Milwaukee (2012 Martin HD-28)

I've been going regularly to Milwaukee since 1998 as class counsel for thousands of children in state care seeking to reform the foster care system through the courts.  Yesterday, I was in town for a day of meetings that included the public release of the most recent settlement monitoring data, which was strong.  The Journal-Sentinel featured the latest results with some of my comments to journalist Crocker Stephenson here.

A good day got even better when I decided to check out Wade's Guitar Shop for the first time before my flight back to the East Coast.  It's a small shop crammed with electrics and acoustics, with mostly new and some used instruments.  These guys have been around since 1989 and know guitars.  They are the go-to Martin dealer in the area and had several walls of these in stock.  Alex was extremely accommodating in suggesting and pulling down a half dozen guitars for me to try.

As a guitarist, it's always fun to try various makes and models to discover all the options and challenge one's particular tastes in size, shape, sound, etc.  The real magic of it, though, is that even supposedly identical models can have different personalities that I imagine the maker would be hard-pressed to explain.  The challenge is to find a good match, which can obviously be a very personal experience.  In this store, one guitar stood out - a new Martin HD-28.  It's a dreadnought with a solid Sitka Spruce top and solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides.  Staff was excited about this one, calling it a "cannon," and it did not disappoint.  It sparkled with life as soon as I started playing it.  I really liked its easy-playing low profile neck and the tone was wonderful.  I would have loved to spend more time with it, but this instrument lists for $3449, and I don't have the $2200+ I would have needed to walk out with this beauty.  I had to leave this one for some other lucky guitarist to snap up.  If you are in the area, be sure to give it a try before it's gone.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Having a great-sounding guitar that is a pleasure to play is great motivation to progress and learn new material.

This weekend I had some time to work on the 80's classic "The Promise" by When in Rome that my wife has been wanting me to learn since forever.  The guitar arrangement below by Mile 77's Harry Watson was a great starting point.  He uses E-A-C-G-C-E open tuning, which is new to me, and an effective combination of fingerpicking, rhythmic and percussive strumming, and harmonics.

I grabbed my Guild F-47RCE, which to my ears rivals the tone and volume of Watson's Taylor.  With new Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze light-medium strings the open tuning rang out with clarity. Elixir coated strings are also more gentle on the fingers (having not played regularly in years, I am only just beginning to re-develop protective calluses on the tips of my fingers).  It's going to take me a little bit longer to master the lyrics and syncopation, but it feels great to be making music again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1984 Guild F-45CE (2)

FedEx delivered my first Ebay guitar auction purchase today.  I was relieved to get the instrument in one piece.  This vintage Guild was shipped insured from California in its case, boxed up with foam case holders at the top and bottom. Upon taking it out to assess its condition, I was pleased to note that it was as advertised: almost thirty years old and scarcely a blemish.  It played beautifully right out of its original case with a warm and full voice despite its smaller oval soundhole and much thinner profile than my dreadnought-sized guitars.

The Guild F-45CE is a lovely instrument with a delicately arched Mahogany back and retro-looking electric pickup controls.  Guild did not put pick guards on these so I was pleased to see that there were no significant pick scratches or gouges on the solid Spruce top.  Unlike my large Guild F-47RCE, this is not a guitar to be flogged with monster power chords, but is ideal for precise finger- and flat-picking.  Now that I've had a chance to meet her in person, I see no need to add a pick guard to her. The action is also good as is, with the only fixes needed being to re-glue the last inch of the binding at the top of the first fret (a recurring Guild issue on older models it seems) and replacing the Fishman pre-amp battery holder that has some corrosion on the metal contacts.  This is the best addition to the stable so far! I hope to sell some of the others I have recently listed to make room for this find.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Breedlove Atlas Stage C25/SR (2)

Here is my latest Craigslist posting seeking a good home for a recent acquisition that plays a lot better after a professional set-up adjustment.  I will be showing it tomorrow to my first potential buyer.

Breedlove Atlas Stage C25/SR Acoustic-Electric.

This is a 2009 guitar that looks and plays great.  Solid Sitka Spruce top, Indian Rosewood back, sides and fretboard with striking wingspread abalone inlays.  L.R. Baggs Stage Pro pickup is top notch (one of the reasons they call this guitar the “Stage” model).  Cosmetically intact but for a small ding on the front.  Comes with original Breedlove archtop Hardshell case in good condition.  Recently professionally set-up with easy low action and new strings.  Ready to go and priced to sell.

This guitar lists for $1339 and sells for $999.

See reviews comparing this model favorably to more expensive Martin and Taylor guitars here:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Musical Evening

My recent renewed interest in guitars and music has been well-received by my immediate family.  This week, before and after a celebratory birthday dinner at home, I broke out a number of my new guitars to show and various family members gave them a try, from my brother the professional musician to my son who tried his first couple of chords.  My daughter pulled up a clip and some chords online for a song she is learning to sing from one of her favorite acts, "City and Colour."  After transposing the song up to her preferred range (capos are a wonderful thing), it was very satisfying to accompany her beautiful voice and make music together.  Her grandparents were a very appreciative audience. It's always wonderful to be able to share a common interest with the ones one loves.

The family then spent the weekend in New Hampshire, another occasion for shared meals, some music, and birthday presents. The many music-related gifts that came my way were much appreciated.  My kids sprang for the Farley's folding guitarist stool and stand with footrest pictured above that delivered earlier in the week.  I also received a coffee table book surveying the acoustic guitar lanscape.  Although the text leaves a little to be desired, the large-size pictures are eye-candy to the aficionado.

My wife was even able to find me (courtesy of Amazon) the American re-issue CDs of one of my "guitar heros" Marcel Dadi's first two LPs I owned in the 70s as a teen (see my earlier post). These include some of the earliest finger-picking tunes I learned and with which I can now get re-acquainted (in other words, re-learn!).  I wonder how we managed before the internet.  The resources available online to the guitarist are almost limitless and I hope to continue sharing some of them in future posts.

Friday, March 16, 2012


If you spend any time reviewing want ads for used guitars you start developing a sixth sense for certain types of guitar sellers.  One common type starts by listing their guitar in "MINT!" condition. What this usually means is that the seller paid full price, brought the guitar home and tried it for "half an hour" (I kid you not, this is a recurring meme), the guitar has not left its case since, and the owner is under the delusion that they can get full price when they re-sell it.  While the guitar may be in like-new condition (if it has not cracked due to poor storage conditions), it does not mean it commands its sticker price or even close.  Many first-time guitar sellers apparently do not understand that this is just like selling a used car.  As soon as you drove that new car or guitar off the dealer's lot it significantly depreciated in value.  You are not going to get what you paid for it, or even close.

There are exceptions for premium vintage guitars, of course. Just like vintage cars, the right make and model can command premium dollars.  This 1942 Martin D-18 sold for $29,000 in 2008 on Ebay!  As the story goes, the original owner was unable to play it due to an accident shortly after he received it as a gift.  The guitar then spent most of the next 65 years in a closet.  If you have something like this that your grandparent strummed pre-war and that has been untouched in a closet since then you might want to get it professionally appraised...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Multiplying Guitars (Breedlove Atlas Stage C25/SR)

Rare are the active guitarists who do not accumulate guitars. For starters, it behooves professional performers to have at least one backup instrument ready to go should they break a string mid-set, start having technical issues with their electric pickups, or worse.  Performers and studio musicians also often look to different guitars depending on the playing style, sound, and vibe being sought on any particular song or project.  Even amateur pickers tend to collect guitars that they enjoy for various aesthetic and musical reasons.  And when traveling, many guitarists don't trust their most valuable guitars to the vagaries of airline personnel and baggage handlers, opportunistic thieves, and other disasters waiting to harm their baby, so they pack a travel guitar.

As a budding guitarist and performer, I was no different. My prize was my Martin, but I later added an Ovation.  I also owned a 12-string for awhile for its unique sound and a classical nylon-string guitar for more classical guitar music.  The upshot is that guitarists are constantly changing up their lineup of instruments based on their current needs, desires, and checking account balances. Then there are those who purchase a guitar with the intention of learning to play and after six months or ten years of the instrument staying in the closet or under the bed they realize they never will.  All this makes for a brisk market in used guitars for sale or trade that benefits those with the patience and cash flow to wait for the right instrument at the right price.

The other day I responded to a Craigslist add from a musician who needed to sell his second guitar for funds the same day.  As I was going to be in his neighborhood later that day anyway, I texted him what I was willing to pay for his Breedlove Atlas Stage C25 SR electric-acoustic guitar if it was in good shape and he got no higher offers.  We met up later in his building's lobby to check out the guitar and I finalized the deal.

The original Breedlove case had seen some travel, but perked up well after I used some solvent to peel off all the beat up airline FRAGILE stickers on the outside.  The hardshell case had clearly done its job as the guitar itself was unscathed apart from one small ding in the finish on the top.  I look forward to getting acquainted with my new find over the coming days.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dean Nouveau CR (2001/2002)

Got my used UltraSound AG30 amplifier today as an early birthday present courtesy of my dad and Ebay.  It's the first chance I've had to plug in my first recent used guitar purchase that I got back last week from my go-to luthier.  He custom-cut and installed a new nut to bring the action high enough to eliminate the buzzing of the low E string.  He also cleaned up the electronics so the pickup works now.  I feel much better now that this guitar plays well, looks good, and is ready for a new home were she can be appreciated.  This guitar is now my first Craigslist listing for sale:  
"Dean Nouveau CR -acoustic/electric guitar:
Sweet acoustic-electric guitar with cool double cut-away body. Attractive abalone trim and sound hole inlay.  Tapered body makes for a very comfortable guitar. No longer commercially available as only made in 2000/2001.  Check out all the specs and a couple of online reviews here: 
Recently professionally set-up with easy low action and clean electronics. New Elixir nanoweb light-medium strings.  Very clean with only three tiny dings on the top. Comes with new Dean hardshell case.  Ready to go and priced to sell."
We'll see if I can find her a good home.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Online Auctions (1984 Guild F-45CE)

Thanks to companies like Ebay and Paypal, anyone with internet access can now bid on guitars from beginner models at less than $50 to vintage and boutique instruments worth tens of thousands of dollars.  Valuable guitars are being bought and shipped all over the world at an unprecedented rate.  This is made possible by institutional sellers offering money-back guarantees if the instrument turns out not to be as advertised or wanted by the buyer, and - even in the case of individual sellers - by the threat of negative public feedback that very prominently affects the seller's online rating and ability to complete future transactions on a site like Ebay.

Still it is unnerving to plunge in and buy an instrument sight and sound unseen.  Even good close-up pictures can only communicate so much (although I have seen some sellers take the time to record a Youtube clip of the guitar being played).  My initial forays were on well-known models that usually hold few surprises, at least as to feel, playability, and tone, as long as their condition is accurately portrayed in the listing.  Predictably, however, the bidding reached well above my limits on these popular models by the time the auctions closed.  The advantage of greater access to a world-wide market is also a disadvantage when one is competing for a bargain-basement price against multitudes of other potential buyers who know the market value of these instruments.  So besides the need for lucky timing, it seems advisable to look at a niche of the market that is not too crowded, yet holds recognizable value.  So far, it seems that the vintage Guild acoustic-electrics that I like tend not to be bid up as much as similar model guitars by other premium makers like Martin, Gibson, or Taylor.

Today, in fact, I successfully won my first auction, out-bidding nine other buyers for a 1984 Guild F-45CE in very good condition with its original Guild hardshell case.  Like my F-47RCE it is a less well-known model that was in production for only a few years. The seller also noted that the battery pack for the pre-amp was corroded and would need replacement.  My luthier having assured me that this would be a minor fix, I bid aggressively in the final seconds and out-bid my closest competitor by $10! Here's a stock picture from Guild of the guitar I expect to be delivered to me within the next ten days from the individual in California who first bought the guitar in 1984.  Interestingly, Guild sold these guitars without a pickguard and the seller never added one so I will get to decide whether to add one and if so, what kind.  Fun!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guitar Hero 3 RIP (Marcel Dadi)

My earliest guitar instructor, after my dad who showed me my first chords and arpeggios, was Tunisian-born French finger-picker extraordinaire Marcel Dadi.  In the mid seventies I was given one of his early French LPs and studied his tablatures for hours.  As far as I know, he was the first guitarist back then to provide tablatures for every album track he recorded.  This allowed mere guitar mortals like myself to slowly pick up complex and lightning fast licks without vast guitar knowledge and/or a practiced ear.  Those are still among the most advanced licks I have in my guitar repertoire, even if they are a bit rusty these days.

Marcel was a disciple and friend of Chet Atkins and recorded covers of American finger-picking standards by artists such as Chet, Merle Travis, and Doc Watson, as well as wonderful original compositions.  Here he is performing his new "Big Chief" in the mid-1970s on French television.

It's a great clip.  Marcel was barely in his mid-twenties then and among the other guests is the giant of French song: Georges Brassens.  Brassens is the guy looking on while smoking a pipe on the set! Next to him is Maxime le Forestier, another famous French singer/songwriter/guitarist (also smoking).  Marcel self-deprecatingly introduces his new composition, explaining that it only has three chords -  Too Funny!!  Then he shows them how it's done, fingerpicking-style, on his run-of-the-mill Ovation guitar.

Having been mostly away from all things guitar for the past two decades, I wondered what he had been up to since I studied his charts back in the seventies, so I looked him up.  I was saddened to find out that on July 17, 1996, while returning to France after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville TN, he was on TWA flight 800 when it exploded over the Atlantic off of Long Island, minutes after its takeoff from JFK international airport, killing all 231 people on board.  He was 44 years old.  I feel like I just lost an old friend...

Here he is the year before his death during the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) convention playing another one of his compositions - "Je Te Veux" - for American friends in a hotel room on what looks like a museum-quality Gibson Archtop.  We have lost a special person and musician. Merci Marcel.

1980 Fender FJ-70

Here's my new vintage 1980 Fender FJ-70. It has a rich tobacco sunburst finish with an aged solid Sitka Spruce top, Rosewood back and sides, ivory style trim around the body and up the sides of the fretboard, and deluxe crown position markers.  It is in nearly mint condition and was recently professionally set up.  These guitars were only made in 1980 and 1981 according to Fender and are therefore quite rare. Originally sold for $360, they are now coveted for significantly more because of their playability, sound, and classic look. Fans of this guitar believe it is one of the best acoustics that Fender - better known for its electric guitar line-up - has made.  Makes you wonder why they discontinued this model. Even the original Fender case has a classic vintage look with its metal trim along the entire top and bottom.  The blue interior lining also nicely accentuates the guitar's finish.

Taking this guitar out for a spin is a joy.  It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and ear, with a bright tone that is not tinny.  Being a jumbo size it also has good volume.  This is a very solid flatpicker/folk guitar with noticeable style.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Guitar Obsession

This past weekend I met a neighbor and fellow guitar enthusiast through my Craigslist listing: "Wanted Vintage/Fine Acoustic Guitar: I'm looking for that special instrument that needs some love. Most interested in acoustic-electric mid-level Taylor, Martin, Guild, Breedlove, or similar. Higher-end Ovation also possible. Price must be right."

It turns out it was the same local guy I had noticed the week before with an impressive track record of buying and selling vintage acoustic guitars on Ebay.  As I strummed a beautiful 1980 Fender FJ-70 acoustic with a sunburst top that he was offering for sale, we compared notes and our shared obsession for vintage guitars.  Having grown up on much the same music and having similar tastes in guitars, I was happy to meet someone local bitten by the same bug.  Even better, he was generous with good tips and leads from his experience buying and selling online and locally, even hooking me up with his local luthier just one town over for any needed repairs and adjustments.

I ended up leaving with the Fender and a new friend.  Nice!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

2001 Guild F-47RCE (2)

Yesterday, I was excited to pick up my recent acquisition, a Guild F-47RCE.  I had brought it in to the Music Emporium for professional set-up and maintenance because the action was too high, some trim was unglued, and there seemed to be some buzzing in the body of the guitar.

The Music Emporium in Lexington, Massachusetts, is a Boston-area mecca for high-end acoustic guitars, but you would not know it from the outside.  It's easy to miss its strip mall location on Mass Ave right across the Arlington line next to a bank, a dry cleaner, and a pizza place, among other pedestrian businesses.  Belying its unassuming storefront, however, the Music Emporium is a Santa Clara 2011 Top Dealer and is also well-stocked in new Taylor, Martin, Bourgeois, and other fine guitars. Inside, the store is well-organized with multiple spaces to sit and give the various guitars a try.  A large livingroom-like space up front with a sofa and rug makes the store feel less institutional than most.  It's best to have done a little research prior to your visit so you won't be in complete sticker shock though.  They do carry used guitars as well, but the ones of this caliber that they purchase or take in on trade-ins get snapped up almost immediately so they have few on display.  Best to let them know if you are in the market for a particular used guitar and they can add you to their list of waiting customers.

I was anxious to play the Guild again, this time with a proper set-up, cleaning, and new set of Elixir light medium strings.  The technician had also re-secured some of the pre-amp wiring inside the body and that took care of the buzzing problem.  It played like a dream and it does have a big crisp sound with nice sustain.  One of the other customers who was picking up his new Martin even commented on how great the Guild sounded.  Can't wait to put this guitar up against my brother's Taylor 514CE.  Welcome to the family Guild F-47RCE...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Guitar Hero 2 (James Taylor)

I've grown up with sweet baby James Taylor.  The man is a master song craftsman and guitar lyricist.  His albums are classics, and at least a couple good JT covers are a must for any serious singer with an acoustic.  Now you can take personal guitar lessons for free from the man himself at his website!  Besides getting to admire his gorgeous post-and-beam barn rehearsal space, the production of his lesson videos is fantastic. He uses up to four simultaneous video angles so you can see exactly what he is doing.  The best part is the right hand is visualized from inside the guitar (yes, there is a camera mounted in the body of his guitar!).  The view angle of his left hand on the fretboard from above is equally helpful.  With closeup frames of both hands available simultaneously, an intermediate player should be able to pick up some classic JT riffs in one sitting. Thank you Mr. Taylor!

By the way, that's a Gibson J-50 he is playing in this 1970 performance and it still sounds great whenever it gets pulled out of Mr. Taylor's guitar vault! See the short clip below (a guitar collector's dream!):