Saturday, October 12, 2013

2011 Martin D-18P

In another eBay bargain purchase, I decided to give the 2011 Martin D-18P a try. This is the classic D-18 with a solid Sitka Spruce top and Mahogany body, but Martin put its slimmer performance artist profile neck on this guitar and called the model the D-18P. Apparently, the high performance neck was popular because Martin went ahead and made it standard on the 2012 D-18, along with some other changes, making the D-18P designation obsolete after only one year. (Note that one should not confuse this model with the 1987-1989 D-18P, which was the designation made by Martin for D-18 model guitars that they continued to make with the old neck style after a change to a lower profile neck on the standard D-18 in 1987). Street value new for the 2011 Martin D-18P is $2,000, while current Blue Book value in excellent condition is between $1,175 and $1,375.

When I received this brand new guitar I was initially disappointed as it played all buzzy and was in serious need of a proper set-up. Now that I have gotten it back from my guitar tech, though, I can't stop playing it. What a difference! This is a responsive guitar that is wonderfully playable all the way up and down the frets. It sports a 1.75 inch nut (compared to the earlier D-18 nut at 1.6875 in.), a compensated saddle, and a low profile high performance neck, which makes it easier on the hands and ideal for finger picking. The tone is super clear and bright. I applaud Martin's move to the faster neck on its iconic D-18 model, which makes this dreadnaught an even better workhorse for the serious player. If you haven't played any of these new Martin D-18's, I think you'll be impressed when you finally do.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

O-oh, That Musty Feeling (1970 Martin D-28)

Serendipity struck again last month as I scored a beautiful 1970 Martin D-28 guitar off of Craigslist. Turns out the seller is the same guy who had previously sold me a wonderful Martin 000-1. He is slowly whittling down his collection as he no longer plays much due to some chronic tendonitis. I peppered him with questions over the phone and confirmed that the guitar was in excellent condition so I headed over to see it within hours of its listing.

The D-28 is the flagship Martin dreadnought guitar. It features a solid Sitka Spruce top and solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides. The 1970 D-28 model was the first to be made with East Indian Rosewood after Brazil put an embargo on Brazilian Rosewood logs, making it impossible for Martin to obtain sufficient quantities. It has a Blue Book value between $1875 and $2350 in excellent condition. By comparison, a 1969 D-28 made with Brazilian Rosewood is valued between $4500 and $6500 in excellent condition!

Before even picking this D-28 up, I was struck by its darkly burnished golden hue that only comes with decades of aging. The plastic binding around the body had likewise yellowed, but was still tight to the body with no cracks. The guitar itself had no cracks and only a few minor dings and faint checking in the finish. The frets and fretboard were in surprisingly good shape given that the guitar was definitely played. The seller explained that he had had the guitar recently serviced by a well-respected local luthier who had re-glued the slightly shrunken pickguard. That the guitar was also perfectly set up at that time was immediately obvious upon playing the instrument. This is a booming guitar that played comfortably up and down the neck with no intonation issues. At this point I knew I might not ever get another chance to own such a beautiful instrument at the asking price so I gladly paid up and left with my prize.

By the time I got home, though, it was obvious that I had a mold issue as the guitar case was stinking up the car. When I took the guitar out, it too was impregnated with a powerful musty smell. Bummer!

The first thing I did was clean the exterior of the guitar with a guitar cleaner and soft guitar cleaning cloth. As the guitar still reeked, I dropped some rice in the body and left the instrument to lay flat out of the case for 24 hours. That, and sitting out of the case for a few weeks, has definitely helped.

The guitar case I set open outside in the sun for a week with little effect. Products like Febreeze simply mask the smell, but don't attack the cause. If baking soda and a white vinegar spray don't work next, sadly I may just have to trash the case (despite it having a certain mojo, including several bluegrass festival stickers). If you have successfully banished that musty smell from a guitar case, let me know what was your secret formula in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

2010 Taylor 310CE (Tobias Rauscher)

Here's talented German fingerpicker and percussive-style guitar player Tobias Rauscher giving his 2010 Taylor 310CE a good workout on his original composition Memories. The 300 series guitars are Taylor's introductory solid wood acoustic guitars. The Taylor 310CE is a dreadnought with a solid Sitka Spruce top and Sapele back and sides, and a venetian cutaway (softly rounded). It currently retails new for $1,700.

Note that Tobias explores the guitar's many voices without adding electronic effects, taking advantage of the built-in Taylor Expression System and applying only a bit of EQing with Logic afterwards. The results are clear and bright tones in all the registers, including percussive taps to the body. Wunderbar!


Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Martin Experience

I had the privilege of hearing Ed Golden, retiring manager of the Martin Custom Shop after 20 years with Martin, play and speak about a selection of Custom Shop guitars he had designed from a size 5 up to a Dreadnaught this evening at the Music Emporium. It was part of a broader presentation about the history of the family-run Martin Guitar Company founded in New York City in 1833 and currently run by the fifth generation of Martins.

Martin guitars enjoy a devoted following because of the quality of the construction and their consistent Martin "tone." Some of the most prized Martin guitars are 70 years old and up. What the Custom Shop has been able to do in more recent years (they have now grown to 14 artisans in the Custom Shop) is respond to a strong demand for meeting individualized design requests while maintaining signature Martin elements from their traditional lineup. Available "aux choix" now are all of Martin's current and past body sizes, neck lengths and profiles, nut and bridge widths and designs, and appointment styles such as "18," "28," "35," "45," and even "100."

Acoustic Picker on a custom Martin OM-42
Every prospective Martin guitar owner now has the ability to design their ideal instrument based on their playing style and subjective preferences. While custom upgrades that can include exotic woods and specially-designed inlays will be pricey, a Custom Shop Martin guitar that simply includes standard elements that are not currently available in the combination you desire need not be prohibitively more than a regular production model. Keep in mind, though, that you will have to wait about eight months for your own signature guitar to be made due to the high demand!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

1990 Lowden O12C (Jon Gomm)

Lowden guitars are handcrafted in Ireland. With current MSRPs starting around $4500 and reaching into the five figures for models made out of reclaimed Brazilian Rosewood, these boutique guitars are for the professional or avid connoisseur of fine guitars. One of my guitar heros Pierre Bensusan plays his own signature model Lowden guitar.

English guitarist Jon Gomm bought his used 1990 Lowden O12C acoustic guitar "Wilma"in 2000. He has since put thousands of shows and miles on it while touring the world. His original playing style integrates percussion and rythmic scratching (inspired by his early experience with Flamenco guitar) giving his instrument the visible wear and tear of a touring musician's life. The guitar is admittedly beat up, but boy does it still respond on stage. Here is Jon's hit "Passionflower" that went viral last year after several well-known personalities tweeted this YouTube clip (currently at 4.5M views).

Jon plays the piece above with his Lowden tuned to Eb G Bb F G Bb. He's installed banjo tuning pegs for the bottom two strings so he can tune these strings up a whole step and back during the piece. Those are hand-made Newtone strings, which can be ordered with a larger diameter core that will tune down without losing the tension of a standard tuning string. The guitar's electronics are a Fishman Rare Earth humbucker and microphone system and a Fishman Acoustic Matrix transducer. Each pickup goes through one of Jon's three Boss PQ3B parametric EQ pedals and he uses a Tech 21 Blonde overdrive pedal, a Boss OC3 octave pedal, and Line 6's Echo Park delay and Verbzilla reverb pedals for effects.

Once you've experienced the music that Jon and his Lowden O12C guitar make together, you will have some insight into the intimate relationship between performer and instrument that Jon shares with his beloved Wilma! Enjoy.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Live Brain Surgery! (Schoen Turbo Diddly)

Brad Carter is an actor and former musician suffering from Parkinson's disease a progressive neurological disorder. In an effort to reverse the hand tremors that had cut his musical career short, doctors at UCLA Medical Center successfully implanted a brain pacemaker during an awake brain surgery last week. While this in itself is not unusual, doctors live tweeted the operation, including Brad testing his fine motor skills by playing his guitar during placement of the electrode in his head.

The unique resonator guitar Brad is playing above is handmade by Kurt Schoen in Washington State. Schoen electric and resonator guitars are all one-of-a-kind built to order custom guitars. The Schoen cigar box style resonator guitar Brad owns is known as the Turbo Diddly. Kurt builds his guitars out of centuries-old reclaimed wood such as from antique dynamite or liquor boxes. His guitars are prized by well-known aficionados such as Bon Jovi and Led Zeppelin. Owners of the Turbo Diddly model similar to the one played by Brad Carter include Billy Gibbons, lead guitarist for ZZ Top.

Here's wishing Brad Carter a successful recovery and many more years of guitar picking on his wonderful Schoen Turbo Diddly!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Space Oddity (Larrivée P-01)

Canadian commander of the International Space Station (ISS) Chris Hadfield just returned to earth two days ago accompanied by the release of his music video of David Bowie's iconic "Space Oddity" recorded in space. It stars the Commander, an accomplished musician, floating around the Space Station with the first guitar in space, an acoustic parlor-size guitar, the Larivée P-01. The video also features superb footage of the Space Station and Earth from space. It's garnered 11.5 million views in three days. Don't miss this!

NASA psychologists sent the guitar up to the Space Station to help with the mental health of its astronauts. A high-quality parlor-size guitar was required as space is at a premium on the Space Station and it costs upward of $45,000 per kg to ship stuff up there. Two identical Larivée P-01 guitars were thus purchased from a local Guitar Center in Houston so comparisons between the instruments, one on earth and one in space, could be made. The Larrivée parlor guitar Commander Hadfield played has actually been on the International Space Station for over a decade now and has completed close to 60,000 orbits around earth!

The Larivée P-01 is a 24" scale length guitar with 12 frets to the body and a 13.25" lower bout and 7.75" waist. The depth is 4.5" with a 1 & 3/4" nut. This all-solid wood guitar features a select Spruce top, Mahogany back, sides, and neck, and Ebony fretboard and bridge.

The P-01 model has been out of production for over a decade according to John Larrivée, Jr., but he announced today that he is taking orders for a limited edition "ISS Commemorative Parlor" that is a P-01 replica. It will be interesting to see whether all the buzz around this space recording will revive interest in parlor-size guitars the way Eric Clapton was able to revive interest in 000-size models after his MTV Unplugged success.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sexy and I Know it!

In case you guys out there needed any further encouragement to play the guitar, two recent studies confirm what we all already knew - that playing the guitar is attractive to the ladies. In fact, it turns out just holding a guitar in your Facebook avatar will almost triple the probability that a random woman will accept your friend request according to an Israeli study published in Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science. In a French study published in Psychology of Music, just carrying a guitar case when approaching a random woman more than tripled the probability that she would give out her phone number. (Hat tip to Fender guitars).

No study yet on swooning percentages when the guy can actually play the guitar (and sing!), but to illustrate the point, here is young guitar phenom Noah rocking his original acoustic arrangement of LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It!" Enjoy. Seventeen million others already have!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Guitar Hero (5): Mark Knofler (Martin HD-40MK & 000-40S)

Mark Knopfler and his band Dire Straights burst onto my musical consciousness with his hit Sultans of Swing off their debut 1978 Dire Straights album. If you want to hear how an electric guitar can be made to sing, check out Mark's virtuoso live performance of the classic hit below.

What may be less known is that Mark is also considered a fantastic acoustic guitar player. In fact, Martin has issued two signature limited edition Mark Knopfler acoustic guitars!

The Martin HD-40MK is a dreadnaught-sized guitar with solid Italian Alpine Spruce top and solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides. Only 251 of these numbered and signed guitars were made in the summer of 2001 with a current Blue Book value in excellent condition of $2,250-2,750. A whimsical feature of the guitar is the etched reproduction on the inside heelblock above the model number of a dinosaur Masiakasaurus Knopfleri, named after Knopfler by the paleontologists who were listening to Dire Straights when they discovered this previously unknown species in Madagascar.

The Martin 000-40S Mark Knofler "Ragpicker's Dream" signature model was similarly a limited-edition run of only 155 guitars in the summer of 2006. This Grand Concert 12-fret 000-style guitar has the same combination of woods, but features a slotted headstock and a pyramid style bridge evocative of Martin's pre-war parlor-size guitars. Blue Book value on this guitar is at $3,250-3,750.

Among Knofler's personal collection of fine vintage instruments, his 1938 Gibson Advanced Jumbo has often been featured on his albums.  Here he is demonstrating some basic picking techniques on the guitar, including his own distinctive take on clawhammer style.  It's the next best thing to an in-person lesson from a guitar legend (with the bonus that you can study it over and over again). Brilliant!

And here's a more recent Knofler guitar-playing primer (2017), showing off so more of his vintage guitars.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombing

With the rest of the country, I have been grieving the death and destruction we experienced here in Boston yesterday on what was otherwise a perfect Marathon Monday. The pictures and footage of the detonations and carnage do not convey the full horror of dozens of instantaneous amputations among a cheering crowd of onlookers, well-wishers, and friends and families of the runners.

Unable to focus on work and overwhelmed by the wall-to-wall news coverage, I felt relieved yesterday afternoon when I was able to beckon my son outside to throw a baseball in the street out front. Such a simple pleasure in life, one that sadly will no longer be possible for some local families. I hope those directly affected by the blasts have family and friends to support them through such tragedy.

Later in the evening, I forced myself to spend some time cleaning and re-stringing my latest guitar acquisition. In times of what can be paralyzing grief, focusing on manual tasks helps me to go on. A newly re-strung guitar must be played and frequently re-tuned while the strings initially stretch. So I played some and re-tuned, and played some more. So too, we must process this terrible attack on our community and adjust step-by-step and resume living, enjoying the small blessings of each day. I simply pray that we can protect our children and continue to make music as we move forward, as we must.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2010 Yamaha FG-730S

Another Craigslist strategy that has served me well when I notice a guitar for sale at an inflated price is a respectful email informing the seller what the actual resale value is and expressing interest if they ever want to sell at a more realistic price. So it was that I received a text message this week from a seller who had had no luck selling his Yamaha FG-730S guitar after listing it at $300, which is the current street price new. (The MSRP is $490).

The Yamaha FG-730S features a Solid Sitka Spruce top, and Rosewood back and sides. (Yamaha has designated its solid top FG models with the "S" suffix since their introduction in 1977). Premium appointments include an attractive abalone rosette and vintage-looking yellowed-cream binding, including a bound fretboard and headstock. The headstock also sports an inlaid MOP Yamaha company name and leaf logo and die-cast chrome tuners. Online reviews overwhelmingly agree that this is one of the best options currently available new in the price range for the beginner or intermediate-level player.

The seller had received the guitar as a gift, never learned to play, and was now very motivated to sell before an impending move. We met up outside a local restaurant and I quickly confirmed that the guitar was in brand new condition. Even with its old set of strings, the guitar was easy to play with medium action and without the tinny tonal quality often found on cheaper guitars. It even came with a floor stand. Short story even shorter, I am now the happy owner of an unused 2010 Yamaha FG-730S at a steep discount to retail.  Sweet!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ovation CSD225 Celebrity Double Neck (Mark Kroos)

File the Ovation CSD225 Celebrity double neck guitar under niche market!  This production model acoustic electric guitar made between 2001 and 2005 is set up with a 12-string neck on top and six-string neck on the bottom allowing a performer to switch instruments instantaneously.  It features a Spruce top with sunburst finish, nato necks, and super slim shallow bowl back.  Note that the current model, the Ovation CSE225-8TY, now features a figured Maple top that is finished in transparent blue.

One guitarist who has made this guitar his own is Guitar Player Magazine's 2011 Guitar Superstar Competition winner Mark Kroos.  As Mark tells me, he just didn't have enough space to do what he wanted on one guitar neck, so he bought a used Ovation CSD225 guitar in 2009 and took half the strings off the top neck to be able to play two six-string necks at the same time.  The results are so impressive that he is now sponsored by Ovation.  Check him out below playing both parts of Dueling Banjos simultaneously with his distinctive tapping style!  Mind-blowing!!  If you like what you hear, check out his two albums of instrumental tracks.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

1981 Fender FJ-70 (3)

A neighbor and friend who also collects guitars recently picked up a Fender FJ-70 knowing that I really dig this guitar. I was really impressed with the last one I had, and to my ears this one played better than the several vintage Gibson guitars my friend currently has, so I eagerly negotiated a sale that involved a trade and a few greenbacks.

The Fender FJ-70 acoustic guitar 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. Additional premium appointments include the MOP-inlayed Fender logo on the headstock. This is 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 and it is therefore quite rare. The FJ-70 originally sold for $360, but is now coveted for significantly more because of its playability, sound, and classic looks. The last one to sell on eBay sold for just under $600.  Fans of this guitar believe it is one of the best acoustics that Fender - better known for its electric guitar line-up - has ever made. I couldn't agree more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Guitar Hero (4): Eric "Slowhand" Clapton (1939 Martin 000-42)

Eric Clapton's storied career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter goes back 50 years. Raised by his grandparents in England, and starting on guitar in his teens, he is the only three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having been honored as a band member of the Yardbirds and Cream, and as a solo artist.

Best known for his bluesy-rock electric guitar work, his artistry on acoustic guitar erupted to world-wide acclaim in 1992 with his live MTV Unplugged appearance and corresponding album, which won six Grammy Awards and has since sold over 10 million copies in the United States alone. The album features acoustic versions of earlier hits such as Layla, as well as new compositions like the heartbreaking Tears in Heaven written following the death of his four-year-old son Conor who fell out the window of a New York City apartment building in 1991.

1939 Martin 000-42
Clapton is no stranger to tragedy, having struggled with addiction in the 1970s and 80s and lost close friends and collaborators to substance abuse. In 1997, he founded the Crossroads Center in Antigua, a treatment center for addictive disorders.  Clapton has raised millions of dollars for the Crossroads Center by auctioning off some of his prized guitars from his extensive collection. These auctions have shattered records for guitar sales prices raising over $5M in 1999, $7M in 2004, and $2M in 2011.

His 1939 Martin 000-42, which featured prominently in his MTV Unplugged concert and on the album cover picture above, remains the most expensive acoustic guitar ever sold. This pre-war Martin features Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, which is coveted for its exceptional tonal qualities and is no longer available due to heavy de-forestation of its native habitat. The Style 42 appointments include abalone inlay around the soundhole and the top body border, with delicate snowflake pearl inlays on the fretboard. The guitar had a pre-sale estimate of $60-80,000 at the second Crossroads auction in 2004 and sold for $791,500 (including the buyer's premium)!

The Martin company has since successfully cashed in on one of the most famous performers to feature their guitars by issuing eight Eric Clapton signature 000-size models since 1995 that continue to be popular with high resale values. (There are also Clapton signature Martin guitar strings). The stock Eric Clapton signature Martin 000-28 that currently lists for $4,599, has sold over 17,000 units since 1996.

Indeed, Clapton is credited with single-handedly re-popularizing the smaller 000-size Martin guitar. With its shorter scale, notes are easier to bend for blues and other style fingerpickers such as Clapton. Clapton's long-standing devotion to Martin acoustics and his ability to make them sing has made this partnership a homerun for Martin.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pierre Bensusan Master Class (2): Tales from the Road!

Two other guitarist friends of mine and I had the good fortune to be able to attend a master class this week with one of my guitar heros, French guitarist Pierre Bensusan.  One of those friends is none other than Boston-based French bluesman Bertrand Laurence who met Pierre many years ago when he opened for him at Johnny D's here in Somerville.  Not being familiar with Pierre's music back then, Bertrand only realized this was no ordinary gig when he saw a line of hundreds of people waiting to get in for that night's concert!

July 2011 Acoustic Magazine
As folks settled in for the workshop, Bertrand greeted Pierre as a friend and colleague.  I also said hello to Pierre, reminding him that my dad had booked some of his earliest concerts in the States right here at UMass-Boston.  After a great master class, Pierre having signed CDs and being done for the evening, Bertrand suggested to Pierre that we get a beer together.  Pierre had not had dinner yet, so we ended up at Christopher's in Porter Square for a late bite and drinks. And that is when the real fun started with both musicians sharing tales from the road.

It turns out both of them had great Pete Seeger stories.  Early on in Pierre's touring career, the US immigration service had balked at granting him a work visa to tour here. Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell, among others, had then written letters on Pierre's behalf as they shared the same agent.  Pierre had not had the opportunity to thank Pete for this until some 15 years later at a music festival in Vermont.  Pierre and his wife were having lunch in the performers' tent when who should sit down at the table next to them but Pete and his wife!

Bertrand also reminisced about being at a music festival in France when he offered to help an old hippie-looking dude carry multiple guitar & banjo cases he was unloading from his vehicle.  Dutifully following the guy all the way on to the main stage where 5,000+ fans waited, Bertrand then heard the presenter on the PA system announce to the crowd "Pete Seeger!" much to his shock and surprise!

Speaking of carrying equipment on the road, Pierre recalled playing in LA and having Pierce Brosnan come up after the show to chat.  When Pierre had packed up all his gear, Pierce generously offered to help him carry it out saying that Pierre had already put in his work for the evening. Shortly thereafter, Pierce Brosnan's Bond movie "Die Another Day" came out in theatres and Pierre was able to impress his then 10-year-old son with his experience having Bond help him as his roady!

Thank you to two great musicians for sharing a little bit of themselves for a great evening out in Boston!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pierre Bensusan Master Class (1)

picture courtesy of the Music Emporium
This week I was privileged to attend a master class with world-class guitarist Pierre Bensusan, one of my guitar heros.  One of the masters of the DADGAD alternate guitar tuning, Pierre is a student of the instrument and a prolific composer and recording artist.  Thirty of us brought our guitars for an interactive workshop with Pierre at the Music Emporium outside of Boston, not knowing what to expect, but only that it was a unique opportunity to spend time with a wonderful musician.

Before playing a single note on his beautiful signature Lowden guitar, Pierre started by sharing his philosophy on music, musicianship, and instruments.  Here is some of what I heard: (1) Music is not something we create, but it already exists autonomously as energy.  It is our role as musicians to allow the music to take place by working on ourselves as the first instrument and learning the vocabulary of the guitar as our second instrument so that this energy can be transmitted.  Thus, as musicians, we must pay as much attention to our posture, lack of tension, and approach to the guitar as much as to the discipline of learning how to manipulate the instrument itself and its vocabulary.  (2) On a related note, the quality of the music is determined by the quality of the composer/performer's listening.  The player needs to listen to be able to self correct errors and to become a conduit for the music that needs to be.  Pierre noted that it takes humility to get to the point where you can in fact disappear in service of the music.  I was very much reminded of hearing the late great song-writer John Denver in concert explain how his songs were independent entities that would come along and he just had to be ready to listen for them.

The rest of the session was spent addressing individual exercises for the right and then the left hand that challenged beginners and advanced players alike on articulation, syncopation, dexterity, and position.  After two hours together, we would not let him finish without performing one of his pieces and he generously obliged.  For a short primer on Pierre's techniques, check out the video below. Also, stay tuned for a follow up post wherein Pierre regales me and a couple lucky friends with tall tales from the road over a beer after the workshop...

Friday, February 22, 2013

1996 Martin D-16T

Jumped on a Craigslist listing this week for a Martin D-16T guitar.  This dreadnaught-style guitar was made between 1995 and 1998 and originally listed with an MSRP of $1,650.  The discontinued model is an all solid-wood mid-level Martin guitar with a satin finish Spruce top, and Mahogany back, sides, and neck.  Both the Rosewood fingerboard and the Rosewood bridge sport abalone diamond inlays.  The tortoise-color pickguard and body binding, herringbone soundhole ring and backstripe, and the darkened honey-hued top give it a nice vintage look.  The "T" stands for new "Technology" as this is the first Martin model to incorporate a mortise-and-tenon neck joint. Blue book value in excellent condition is $750 to $875.

This particular 1996 Martin D-16T was in average shape, but the satin finish is thankfully forgiving of scratches. Upgrades included a bone nut and saddle, Fishman under-saddle pickup, new frets, and $180 relic Waverly oval nickel tuners with the vintage patina adding to the great vintage looks of this guitar.  The action was low and the tone was all Martin.  This is a very comfortable light guitar with a low-profile neck and scalloped bracing that gives it a wonderful resonance that is beautifully balanced across all registers.  If you come across one of these guitars at the right price, snap it up.  You will be very favorably impressed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Closet Find (1983 Yamaha FG-375SII)

It's a unique thrill for the collector and enthusiast alike to discover an older instrument that has been squirreled away for decades waiting to be brought out of hibernation to make music again.  So it is that I picked up another eBay 30-year-old closet find that was just as advertised, super clean and showing little use.  This 1983 Yamaha FG-375SII guitar still had the original hang tag and the 1984 sales receipt in the case pocket!  It had nary a scratch and the frets and fretboard were like new. Cool.

The FG-375SII is a dreadnaught-size guitar with a solid Spruce top and laminate Rosewood back and sides.  Premium appointments include Gold tuners, inlaid MOP fretboard diamonds and Yamaha logo, and a bound neck and headstock.

The top of this guitar had darkened to a beautiful honey-gold hue.  With new strings the action is comfortable and true up and down the neck.  The tone is bright and even.  All-in-all, this is another great vintage solid-top Yamaha with a sound that matches its classic looks.  And it won't break the bank.

Monday, February 18, 2013

1985 Yamaha FG-470S (Flying Bird Model)

The Yamaha FG-470S solid-top acoustic guitar was made between 1985 and 1989. Yamaha added an "S" suffix to its FG model numbers to designate a solid top starting in 1977 when it introduced the first solid-top FG guitars ("S" previously designated a Sunburst finish, which was then changed to "SB").  This is a great mid-range Yamaha guitar, just below the standard production top-of-the-line L models.  The FG-470S has a solid Spruce top, with richly figured Indian Rosewood back and sides, and the neck is Nato.  Premium appointments include abalone purfling in the rosette and around both the top and back of the body, binding on the neck and headstock, inlayed Mother of Pearl (MOP) Yamaha and flying dove logos on the headstock, gold Yamaha tuners, and unique bird-in-flight MOP fretboard inlays.  The flying bird fretboard inlays only lasted a couple of years, as Yamaha switched out the flying dove headstock inlay in 1987 for the Yamaha leaf logo and the fretboard inlays reverted to more standard pearl diamond inlays.

This unusual Flying Bird guitar is another eBay find, the seller having accepted my best offer below his asking price.  When I received it, however, there were some significant undisclosed cosmetic issues so I contacted the buyer who promptly issued a partial refund.  I hope to be able to buff out most of the offending scratches.  With new strings on, the Yamaha FG-470S has good tone and sustain.  It projects a strong bass and crisp mids and trebles.  The neck is a very comfortable low profile C shape.  So here's another attractive vintage Yamaha guitar that can still be found at a reasonable price.  Happy pickings!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

1982 Yamaha SJ-180

The Yamaha SJ-180 ("Semi Jumbo") was made between 1981 and 1985. Yamaha no longer provides the specs on this model beyond listing a Spruce top and Mahogany back, sides, and neck, but I measure this model with a lower bout width of 15.5" and depth of 4.25" and a narrow waist at 9.625", which puts it between an OM (Orchestra Model) and a 0000/M Grand Auditorium size. If you like a smaller guitar than a dreadnaught this could be a good inexpensive choice. Although it is an all-laminate construction, this vintage Yamaha model has a devoted following, especially with fingerpickers.

This guitar was another inexpensive eBay find in good condition. Besides needing a good cleaning, one of the tuner covers was bent such that it would not tighten cleanly to the headstock. As it happens, I already had another SJ-180 that I bought cheaply more for its case than for the guitar, which was so beaten up the fingerboard was separating from the neck at the cracked headstock.  I cannibalized the identical tuner off the first guitar and replaced the bum one on the clean SJ-180. After putting on extra-light Martin strings, I now have a great little finger-picking travel guitar that should be good to go for another 30 years.

1981 Yamaha FG-336SB

Here's another interesting vintage Yamaha guitar I recently plucked from eBay.   The Yamaha FG-336SB was made from 1977 to 1981.   It has a beautiful sunburst finish and an iconic Gibson songbird-style pickguard.  The FG-336SB is a dreadnaught-sized guitar with a very comfortable thin neck and loud resonant tone.  With a professional set-up, it really shines as demonstrated on the YouTube video I found below.

This particular guitar was advertised as in "pristine, mint condition."  When I received it, the guitar looked great until I took a look at the back, which was all scratched up and had two small cracks in the finish.

When I contacted the seller with pictures and suggested a partial refund based on the misrepresented condition, he did not want to believe that the pictures were of the guitar he had sent me.  After I uploaded video of the guitar, including the serial number, confirming both the identity and condition of the guitar, I received no response.  This is where the eBay platform really shines because within 24 hours of opening a case with eBay, the seller refunded me the partial amount I had requested in the first place.

This is a guitar that will really shine after it receives some TLC.  The strings look so ancient they could easily date back to 1981!  Besides buffing out the scratches on the back and cleaning the fretboard, I'll adjust the saddle to lower the action.  With new strings and a proper setup I look forward to finding this lovely vintage Yamaha sunburst a good home.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Taylor Jamming!

Trust me, you've never heard a Taylor guitar sound like this!  Kudos to 15-year-old guitar phenom Ben Lapps for this rendition of Phunkdified by Justin King.  Five million hits and counting.  They don't teach this in guitar school.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Five Rules for Buying and Selling Guitars for Fun and Profit

So you want to buy and sell guitars?  Welcome! The thrill of getting a great deal on a beautiful guitar is addictive. Finding that instrument a good home with an appreciative owner can also be very satisfying. Assuming you are not actually planning on opening up a storefront, here are my Five Rules for Buying and Selling Guitars for Fun and Profit.

Rule 1: Buy and sell what you know and love.
Indulging your passion for the guitar is what makes buying fun and sharing your passion with others is what makes selling easy. If you do not love guitars and have a playing knowledge of at least one make or model of guitar on which to build, don't bother. You will be missing out on both the fun of playing lots of guitars and on any profit from the experience because there won't be any.  Sorry. Unless you really love guitars, it's just not worth the inevitable aggravation, even for the most seasoned guitarist, of making a bad purchase once in a while. And if you are inexperienced, the likelihood of buying and selling smart (see Rules 3 and 5) is all that much lower.

While the number of makes, models, and vintages of guitars can be overwhelming, focus on those you already enjoy. Drop in on as many guitar stores as you can to sample their inventory and become familiar with the models you like, especially if your experience is limited to the guitar you own and/or usually play. For acoustic guitars, for example, consider what body size, neck profile, and wood type(s) you prefer. Start in the price range you would feel comfortable with as a buyer yourself. This will help you know a good deal when you see one and offer a competitive price when you are ready to sell.  It will also prevent you from getting financially over-extended.

Rule 2: Research the market.
New instruments have both a published MSRP and a lower actual retail ("street") price, which may or may not be published. Dealers cannot publish prices below the guitar-maker's authorized street prices, but they may offer further discounts in person or over the phone. Be sure to ask for the best price available on the models you are interested in so you know what the real market value is. Dealers take trade-ins all the time as well so ask to see any used models they have for sale.

Used instruments are generally available well below their original sales price and this is where bargains can be found. For used and vintage instrument values I start with the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars. This will be the best $20 you spend. It will help put any further information you glean online or in a shop into proper perspective. (Note that there is a companion volume available for electric guitars).

The best online resource for actual market prices is, you guessed it, eBay.  Search for any guitar model and chances are it's listed. Now go to the advanced search function and select "completed listings" to view recent sales for a real-time snapshot of current market value. (Note that the condition of the instrument and the quality of the listing and seller will greatly influence any given sales price). While you are at it, you can save your search and choose to have new listings that match it emailed to you daily.

Rule 3: Buy smart.
This is the most important rule. There is no profit unless you really do get a bargain with a wide enough cushion to allow for any additional expenses related to fixing, adjusting, and preparing the instrument for re-sale with a set of new strings. Besides researching the qualities of a potential model, you need to become proficient at appraising condition, playability, and tonal quality, which will determine value. The more experience you have playing and assessing different guitars (see Rule 2), the better you'll become at avoiding duds.

Keep in mind that a guitar can be worthless (except for parts), for example, if the neck is warped. A poorly maintained guitar can have separating parts, cracks in the wood, and crazing in the finish. Dings, scratches, and an impregnated smell of smoke will also reduce value. If needed, a neck reset, which involves steaming off the glued neck from the body to reset it at a proper angle, will set you back several hundred dollars. You need to also be aware that any changes/repairs or even "improvements" to vintage instruments can actually crater their resale value. Educate yourself on the basics of guitar maintenance so you can spot these issues and determine their effect on value.

These days the classifieds have moved online and this is your best source for both local and national listings. Locally, Craigslist is the best resource to review private listings and arrange to assess a guitar in hand. See my previous post for some additional Craigslist tips. As in any face-to-face transaction, use common sense caution. Take your time evaluating the guitar because you will be buying it "as is" with little recourse if it turns out not be everything you hoped for. eBay provides a much larger market, but involves additional considerations. Because an in-hand evaluation is generally not possible and the instrument will have to be shipped to you, be sure to ask plenty of questions before the sale to establish condition so that you have a recourse if the guitar turns out not to be as advertised. Also, beware of online scams encouraging you to complete the transaction outside of the eBay system.

As always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Rule 4: Establish a working relationship with a good luthier.
Rare is the used guitar that does not need some adjustment and some TLC to bring it back to optimum playability. A good cleaning and new strings will do wonders for resale value. You can also easily learn to check for proper string height and do simple truss rod adjustments yourself to achieve the best intonation possible. For any necessary repairs though, you'll need to enlist the help of an experienced luthier who can advise you, as a poorly repaired guitar will be hard to sell at any price. Fellow guitarist enthusiasts may have a recommendation or you can try Craigslist to see if there are any freelance luthiers in your area as their rates will likely be well below those charged by your local guitar store. Don't give them a major repair job until they have proved their skill and trustworthiness with lesser projects.

Rule 5: Sell smart.
Craigslist is a good place to start. The advantage is the transaction is face-to-face and in cash with no transaction costs. I recommend a neutral public place so you do not have to let a complete stranger into your home. I rent a nearby office/storage space that has worked well for this purpose, but I have also sold a guitar in an office parking lot. Bringing the guitar to the buyer's local workplace has also worked well for me. Be flexible, but be safe. Price should be set near what you really want for the guitar.  Generally, the more attractive the price, the likelier you are to get any response. Expect to negotiate based on the buyer's in-hand evaluation of the guitar, but don't do this until you are face-to-face and you've already convinced the buyer he really wants it. Also, be aware that Craigslist is rife with email scams. Be sure to use Craigslist's email randomization feature to withhold your actual email from your listing and do not respond to such vague and cookie-cutter inquiries asking "Is this guitar still available," which are designed to harvest your email if you respond. Experienced Craigslist users include in their listings specific instructions for inquiry emails to distinguish legitimate missives.

If you do not live in a populated area conducive to selling your guitar locally, then eBay may be your ticket. The advantage is that the national market and exposure can get you top dollar.  Be forewarned, however, that there are any number of transaction costs involved. Not only will eBay charge you a listing fee, they will also take a (not-insignificant) percentage of your sales price and your shipping costs, and then Paypal will also take its percentage for the financial transaction. In addition, you have to be prepared to deal with the potential headache of your buyer deciding they do not like the guitar once they receive it and/or trying to extort monetary compensation for imaginary problems with the guitar. Your best pre-emptive tactic is making sure your listing is over-descriptive and fully discloses condition with lots of good pictures (more fees!). Getting eBay to take your side and protect your rating from an abusive user will be aggravating and time consuming. You'll have to decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the risks.

So there you have it. There are now many valuable online resources, both free and paying, that expand on any number of issues flagged here. If you do take the plunge, know that you will be providing a valuable service for your fellow guitar enthusiasts, while expanding your own enjoyment of the guitar. And who knows, you may even come out ahead with a few extra bucks for "just one more guitar."

Friday, January 18, 2013

2008 Guild GAD-JF48 ASB (NOS)

If you are in the market for a good guitar, but don't have the equivalent of a spare house payment in the bank, do not despair.  Just as with cars, you can get much more guitar for your dollar on the used market.  Even if you are not ready to jump into those waters with the sharks, consider NOS guitars. NOS (New Old Stock) guitars are new guitars that have not been previously sold.  Most often they are no longer the current year's model and are usually discounted as a result.  For a an even bigger discount, also keep an eye out for older NOS guitar models, especially models that have been discontinued.  Some of these guitars may have been on display, but at the bigger dealers especially these are just brand new guitars that did not move enough units.  The more remote the model year, the longer the guitar has just been sitting in inventory not making money.  Sellers will likewise be motivated to clear out discontinued models that are no longer promoted.

Sellers now have a perfect place to liquidate such NOS inventory in eBay where they at least have a chance to sell above liquidation value to a national and even international market of private buyers.  Meanwhile, this is a great chance for you and me to find more guitar for fewer bucks.

This is why I flagged an eBay listing last week for a beautiful new Guild GAD-JF48 ASB (Amber Sunburst) selling for below retail with free shipping - two signs of a motivated seller.  Turns out the GAD-JF48 was discontinued back in 2008 - another good bargain hunter's sign.  The final clue that the seller was motivated was the "Make an Offer" option on the listing.  So I submitted a low, but not unreasonable bid, signaling that I was well aware of the value of the guitar in the used market.  While my initial offer was not accepted, the seller counter-offered at a further significant discount from retail.  Because it was still more than I was willing to pay, I too counter offered, raising my initial bid by $25 and indicating it was my last and best offer.  I was pleasantly surprised when the seller accepted.  A motivated seller indeed.

One week later, I'm sitting here admiring my brand new, immaculate all solid-wood Amber Sunburst Jumbo Guild acoustic guitar, safely delivered courtesy of UPS.  The pickguard and the Guild logo on the case still have their protective plastic film overlays.  The Guild Acoustic Design (GAD) models are solid-wood Guilds made in China.  They come with an attractive archtop hardshell Guild-branded case with a distinctive tweed body and brown leather-like trim.  I had already been favorably impressed with a GAD-25 guitar last year and was pleased to discover that this GAD-JF48 is also a well-made guitar. The dimensions and feel are consistent with US-made Guilds, and these cheaper Chinese-made models come with some premium appointments that are well executed, including wood binding around the body and MOP (Mother of Pearl) snow-flake fret marker and headstock logo inlays.  The top is solid Spruce, the back and sides are richly grained solid Mahogany, the nut and saddle are bone.  My only complaint is that the frets on this particular guitar sit a bit high and could use a good dressing.  This would probably also address the slight buzzing when played aggressively, without the need to adjust the nice low action.  Overall, the intonation is good and the guitar has a nice full jumbo sound evenly distributed across all registers.  With a new set of strings, this instrument should really sing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Flying with a Guitar - 2 (1965 Gibson ES-335)

I've previously written more extensively with tips on safely traveling with a guitar by plane.   For a recent horror story guaranteed to elevate your anxiety levels, however, check out the $10,000 vintage 1965 Gibson ES-335 that Delta Airlines managed to just about destroy last month after refusing musician Dave Schneider even the option of buying the guitar its own seat.  The gate-checked guitar ended up getting wedged in a bag elevator upon delivery.  After a very public online trashing of Delta started on the guitar owner's Facebook page that ended up being featured on Yahoo! News and other outlets, Delta finally coughed up some compensation, and Gibson tossed in a brand new guitar for good measure!  It helped that the sordid mayhem was caught on film.  Then, of course, there is the classic song and music video by singer Dave Carroll after United Airlines destroyed his Taylor guitar that has now garnered over 12.5 million views.  Caveat utilitor!