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Acoustic Guitar Notes #4

Cautionary Note
by Eric Schoenberg

A Cautionary Note

It may seem obvious to many, and many may not agree, but I'd like to mention once again that you can't buy guitars with your eyes alone. There's a gorgeous Irish traditional song named "Star of the County Down", in which the singer sees a beautiful woman at the fair, immediately falls in love and starts scheming on how to "make her his". Aside from the fact that his scheming is in incredibly bad taste (because he's going to "tell her lies" and put on false airs to trick her into liking him), he's fallen head over heels based solely on looks! He's looking for a wife to share his life, not a painting to hang on a wall, and he'll spend a lifetime doing a lot more than looking at her! People can make this mistake when they look at beautiful guitars, too. These instruments make music! Sound and feel are a major part of the work of art that is a great guitar... they are characteristics of great breadth and subtlety... and they make this guitar habit all-consuming.

Some examples

Counting grain lines. These have nothing to do with the sound or feel. I was the worst offender years ago, but have learned the lesson from the experience of going through hundreds of potential Schoenberg Guitar tops. Koa tops: just because some of the old Hawaiian koa Martin's don't sound great, one shouldn't assume that none do. You have to play each; some are absolutely amazing.

A Word on Condition and Originality

I sent out a mid-fifties D-28 a while ago that was mint. It was sent back by a collector saying the neck had been reset and the frets replaced, and was therefore not in original condition. Aside from the fact that he was wrong (because neither of these repairs had been done), his concept of originality strikes me as being wrong. If the repairs had been done poorly, they would detract; but refretting and resets are part of the healthy life of guitars like this. Examples: Stradivarius violins get their necks replaced, and are still worth six and seven figures. The most wonderful guitar to cross my path recently, a 000-45 from 1930, was refinished by Martin around 1950. In my mind, it hasn't lost a thing by being altered. The job was perfect, the guitar is perfect. Let's not get too obsessive about all this collector mentality; it's giving us collectors a bad name!