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.
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.
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.