So I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. 33 years next month, in fact.
And back when I was 14 and was just starting to play, “cheap” guitars were really, really awful. By “cheap”, of course, I meant the kinds of guitar you found in department stores and catalogs for under about $200. They had anemic electronics, terrible workmanship, necks that felt like polished telephone poles, and wouldn’t stay in tune for more than half a song.
The advent of the global economy, computer-assisted manufacturing and mass-marketing of musical instruments has had the sort of effect that the free market was supposed to; not only can you find guitars for under $300 today that rival the quality of some of the axes that went for $600 1980 dollars thirty years ago, but it’s even dragged up the quality of some of the few remaining knockoff brand guitars you can find at Target and WalMart, which aren’t professional-quality, but aren’t embarrassments either.
Anyway – I’ve been playing a long time now. And that whole time, I’ve been playing three guitars:
- A mid-seventies Ibanez “Lawsuit” SG that I wrote about a while ago. It’s my most recent purchase, by the way, in 1979.
- A 1960 Fender Jazz that’s been hotrodded way out of spec, and will be the subject of an upcoming HGF. I got it for $150 in 1978.
- A “Ventura” acoustic I bought for paper route money when I was 14. It was $140 in 1977, which made it kinda low-end, but it has a nice high-end tone that actually made it a decent recording guitar. Needs some bridgework.
And so I’ve been thinking – maybe it’s time for a new toy?
I’m spurred somewhat by my kids. I’ve been teaching them how to play. Bun plays a Yamaha acoustic that she got for Christmas two years ago. She’s picking it up at her own pace, and she’s not bad.
Zam? He’s got mad hand-eye coordination; he’s picking it up real fast. I got him a guitar – a little Jackson electric, on mind-warping special at Guitar Center before Chistmas – and a Peavey amp. And he’s doing really good. He could have some talent.
So the other day we went to Guitar Center – which, it occurred to me, was the first father-son “hobby” junket we’ve taken in many many years.
And we both fell in love with the same instrument; a tobacco-sunburst single-cutaway beauty with hot electronics, a gorgeous, smooth action, a slick neck, a dense but comfortable body…’
I looked at the headstock. “Paul Reed Smith”.
“No wonder it played like a dream; it’s a Smith”. I braced for sticker shock as I reached for the price tag. Paul Reed Smiths are traditionally hand-made wonders that sell for well into four digits.
Turns out Smith’s new SE line are factory-built guitars – and while a discerning guitarist can no doubt tell the difference between one of the hand-built high end models, the SEs are pure joy expressed in wood and wire.
So if I get a bonus this year…
DISCLOSURE: Nobody paid me to write this. But they sure could.