Sunday, May 3, 2009

Need and Want; a Reality Check

Last weekend, Bea and I, along with the Mortal Jivester, took in the Northwest Handmade Instrument Show. A friend of ours makes violin bows and told me about it. Really an interesting take. Cellos, mandos, wood flutes... and plenty of guitars. Electrics, acoustics-- steel stings and nylon--basses. Beautiful, one-of-a-kind workmanship and style.

Up to a point...

Joseph Wait makes gorgeous acoustics. He described this one for me in great detail, from the think bear claw spruce top to the mango wood sides and back. He referred to it as his "J-14" and called his other guitars on display, "D-14's." When I asked him what style he emulated (Gibson or Martin seem to be the molds to aspire to), he, of course mentioned Martin, and Collings. He let me -- no, encouraged me -- to play the guitar. The neck was perfect and fretting superb. The beauty is lush as hell, but you know what? Martin and Gibson have already made this guitar, better and cheaper. I have a S200 with a custom finish that cost less than a Joseph Wait and my Santa Cruz VJ is probably as close as I need to ever get to a custom guitar. Joseph's J-14 had a full sound, with too much bottom and not enough treble. In retrospect, I am glad he insisted I play the guitar. I mean, who wouldn't love a custom, a made-just-for-you guitar? In egocentric theory, anyway. Mr. Wait is not a midget and the guitar is not oversized. It was being displayed on a table.

Kerry Char's two sunburst acoustics here were really pretty-- as nice as any Gibson parlor guitar as I've ever seen. They were also damned expensive. And maybe I am label conscious, but I just think Gibson looks better on the headstock than Char.

I don't recall this particular luthier's name. Wacky stuff, his guitars are. He told us that creating the asymmetrical bodies were a challenge to make and posed all kinds of headaches for creating the bracing and neck connection and subsequent stability. I listened to someone as he played some fingerstyle licks on this one. It sounded really good-- bright and balanced... but, it isn't balanced, is it?


Davaudian said...

It just shows to go ya that there are reasons for the way things are the way they are. There's just no reason to reinvent the wheel especially at inflated prices. These poor guys suffer from the seductive nature of guitar building just as I did. I'm still a recovering buildaholic and must fight the urge everyday to sketch on napkins, envision exotic woods, and fill the air with sawdust. Oh, how we suffer....I feel their pain.

barryshap said...

Did I ever admit to you that I coveted that white creation you have hanging in your shop? Oh, and that Tele you made, with the Warmoth body. Way cool.

I looked at the back of my Martin J-12 string after going through the paces with a Tom Petty tune and... I should not envy anything. The thing is pretty and sounds like church. The rest is, as you say, suffering.

Davaudian said...

You mean the white Ric/LesPaul hybrid?? Not for sale neither is my Tele. Me, I would like to have your 12 string as well as a Ric 12. I do make offers on guitars that come thru and that's how I bought my Les Paul.

I should build a nice 12 string with a ....there I go again!

Norman said...

Thanks very much your thoughts about the handmade guitar show. It is always nice to see luthiers who, for the most part, toil away in obscurity trying to make the best instrument they possibly can.

As we are both guitarists, I think that we can acknowledge that sound/tone is very subjective. When you critiqued Joe Waits guitar, it would have been helpful if you would have included a frame of reference, such as "Compared to my D-18, I found ...".

Wanted to suggest that if 2 guitars are identical, which is virtually impossible, the reason for preferring one over the other may be difficult to discern or articulate.

For instance, your preference to seeing the name Gibson on a headstock, as opposed to seeing the name Char on a headstock, may be because the "Gibson" label/name evokes a feeling of familiarity. I don't know whether that makes one a label snob or not; I think it is just an internal value system thing that seeks out the familiar at the expense of the novel.

My concern is that some people may read your blog & conclude that all handmade guitars are inferior to factory-produced guitars. It usually comes down to individual guitars & individual preferences because not all handmade guitars are great & not all factory-made guitars are horrible.

The important thing is to keep an open mind when evaluating an instrument. Personally, I have always enjoyed the relationship with luthiers & knowing that, on some level, I am helping an individual & artist survive in good & not-so-good economic times.