A light-hearted anecdote that brings a smile but also has something to say about cheap versus expensive guitars, laminates versus solid wood builds, and what makes for a good guitar.
Like many players, I’ve longed for that ultimate guitar. I’ve spent time and money on my quest too – although, I’ve never gone (completely) crazy. Naturally, there’s a guitar for every room of my house, not forgetting the garden. Inevitably, I acquired one that is rather more expensive than the rest. She lives in her case, until there’s a special gig, a recording to do, or company I want to impress. She’s refined, articulate, projects well, everything I could wish her to be, and yet (how can I say this?) …she’s not ‘the one’.
I’ve been seeing someone else.
It started about three years ago. We met on Ebay. It was just an impulsive moment, I wanted to try something different. A bargain, £32, no questions asked. I took her home, sneaking guiltily past my long-suffering wife. Twenty-odd years my junior, a 70s model, oriental, Yamaha G-230 – so the label said. I had no great expectations. Frankly, her finish, tone or volume didn’t seem likely to blow me away either. But we carried on meeting anyway, sometimes in the lounge, or the garden, or the bathroom where the acoustics were best, and which is where our relationship grew.
I’ve met many guitars to make the heart beat faster, and seriously lighten the wallet too. Wonderful honeymoons they were – if a little short. It seems that after the initial euphoria of an expensive guitar there is often only one way to go: discovering the things you don’t like about your new partner. Yes she has a voice, one to reach the back of a hall, but that doesn’t mean all her notes are nice ones. Play a little too hard in a certain register, and she’ll squawk contemptuously back at you. And what of that pristine, French-polished, complexion? Where did all those fine nail lines come from? Did you come close to a full-blown Rasgueado in a moment of passion? You’ve only yourself to blame, she glares back, accusingly.
So, mine lives in her case, awaiting the joy of rediscovering the things I genuinely do like about her –which are many.
Meanwhile, my dalliances with the Korean-made Yamaha take up an increasing amount of time. Instead of disappointment, I delight in finding more good things. She doesn’t object if I handle her ‘insensitively’. There are no bad notes in her entire register, familiarity only reveals sweeter tones in hiding. Does her song reach the back of the room? I’ve no idea, but she reaches my ears, and I can always mic-up, if needs be.
But it hasn’t been all ‘hearts and flowers’. A few months back I admit I made the mistake of looking into her past, and production materials, on the Internet. Someone suggested she was of ‘laminated construction’. This news was deeply repellent to me. I could only think of ‘laminated construction’ as a posh term for plywood. It shouldn’t have mattered, but I couldn’t even look at her for a full week.
Eventually, I had to get over these preconceptions and prejudices, because I yearned to play her again. But I demanded a full internal examination. If G-230 (as I now affectionately called her) was my ‘plywood siren’, I meant to know her innermost secrets, the mechanics of her voice. My hand delved into the soundhole, way past the knuckle, almost to the elbow. What I found mystified and appalled me further. G-230 wasn’t even what I would regard as ‘traditional construction’. Where seven braces (a fan of reinforcing wooden pieces strengthening the vibrating top) might be judged the ‘norm’, there were only four.
Life is full of surprises. Clearly a good guitar does not have to be an overly sophisticated one. The design here is actually quite crude, but the workmanship is enduring and excellent. I know nothing of Yamaha’s more recent offerings but my experience of other makes strongly indicate that the modern factory guitar does not compare well with this thirty-odd year-old example. Technology, ‘progress’, doesn’t always equate with better. Production speed and profit, are the key words in today’s market. Don’t let the salesman bamboozle you. I’ve got a good thing going with a cheap guitar, and we really do make sweet music together.