Guitars: a new beginning

By the time I was in my late 30s, I had been playing guitar and bass for about 25 years.  I hadn’t been in a band since college, and my playing was mostly in our family room as records played(1) on our stereo, and I played along.  My instruments were the same as from my youth: the Gibson B-25N and Vox Cougar bass.  And the bass wasn’t even in my house, but was living with my brother along with the Ampeg amplifier.

Les Paul Custom, c. 1988


For my birthday that year I got a surprise from my wonderful wife: a brand spanking new electric guitar.  I had never owned an electric guitar.  And this was no pedestrian electric guitar – it was a Les Paul Custom, the king of rock guitars, favored by Jimmy Page and countless other musicians.  Black with gold metal work.  It was (and still is) simply gorgeous. 

A problem was that I didn’t have a guitar amp.  I did have my old bass amp, but that was at my brothers.  And in any event, it was old, underpowered, very heavy and had no effects.  So I went down to Manny’s Music on 48 St. and bought a tiny Peavy solid state(2) amp for $89.  It was more than loud enough to play in the family room, and I still wasn’t playing with any other human beings.  Now when I played along with my LPs, I could select the appropriate instrument – the acoustic guitar or the electric guitar – depending on which hero I imagined I was.  I suspect that my wife was sometimes not so pleased with her gift, as the Les Paul was a bit raucous.  

Let’s last forward about 5 years.  I went to a party being given by a colleague of mine from work.  One of my friends brought with him an acoustic guitar he had just bought, a brand new Taylor.   Taylor was a young brand in California which I had never heard of.   BobTaylor, the founder, was in the process of revolutionizing high-end guitar manufacture by applying sophisticated manufacturing techniques – CNC milling machines, etc. – where they were useful, and retaining the old style of hand work where it made sense.   This guitar was amazing, much better than anything I had ever played.   It was also beautifully made – the woods, trim and fit and finish were terrific.

I lamented to someone – perhaps my friend, perhaps myself – that I wished I could have such a nice guitar.  I was still playing my 25+ year old Gibson B-25, which had never been anything more than a starter model at the bottom of their line.  It then dawned on me that I could actually have such a nice guitar – I had a great job, and could afford such a treat.  

Taylor DCSM “Dan Crary”, c. 1991

The next day I went down to Rudy’s Music on 48 St. I tried about a dozen guitars, most of them models from Taylor.  And went home with a Taylor Dan Crary.

I think it was the ease at which I simply walked into Rudy’s and walked out with this wonderful instrument that proved my downfall.  After all, this was the first guitar I had bought since I was 15, when it required saving all of my summer job money to buy a cheap instrument. After this experience, I started thinking about guitars differently. Rather than “which guitar should I have as my single choice”, it became “which guitar satisfies some unmet need want”.   Since then, I’ve found one about once a year. 


(1) I mean actual records, LPs, round vinyl platters that were played on a turntable.   We skipped 8 tracks and were late to cassetttes and CDs.

(2) “Solid state” is a marketing term invented when “transistor” became unalterably associated with cheap, portable AM radios with tinny sound.  

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