Essay: Peculiar Perspectives in Guitar Making
So much has been said about the major and obscure guitar companies that I don't think I'll attempt to outline their histories entirely. I will try to limit my comments to my own personal experience in a way that may be helpful beyond mere opinion.
It would be easy for me to rave on about the wonders of the legendary Vintage Guitar. Many people treat vintage guitars as if they were gods. It is not difficult to find information on vintage guitars on the web and elsewhere, and it's a snap to find the home pages for each of these companies. I've got them in my own "Guitar Links" page, if you go back to "Home" and then the main guitar page, you'll find it (work a little).
Anyway, I am a guitar player. For me that always takes precedence above being a guitar collector. Therefore, I believe the most valuable information I can give some people is this:
IT'S OKAY NOT TO OWN A VINTAGE GUITAR !!!
Maybe I'm stepping on some people's toes with that attitude. So be it.
I personally have gone through a lot of anguish NOT owning vintage guitars, and perhaps even more anguish when I DID own vintage guitars and they just weren't all that great from a player's viewpoint. Is a 1957 Stratocaster with a $10,000 price tag really 20 times better than a 1991 Stratocaster with a $500 price tag? [This is a rhetorical question: I would never pay $10,000 for a guitar.]
Maybe to some people the older guitar really is that much better. But I think it's very important to distinguish between the PRIORITIES of playing as opposed to collecting. Although whole books can be written on the subject [and have been], in my experience it can be summed up in the following sentence:
Collectors are attracted to virgins,
Players are attracted to whores.
[No chauvinism is intended here - it's a metaphorical statement which is meant to comment on the mentalities of musicians, not women. Any woman musician can easily find a variation on the above statement which would appropriately apply to her. In fact, I'd like to hear from you if you do]
So, in that spirit, I propose a web page perhaps somewhat opposite from most web pages in this genre:
The OPPOSITE of a vintage guitar web page.
I would like to discuss some of the advantages of NOT having vintage guitars, in the hopes that it may be helpful, on a spiritual level as well as a practical level.
First of all, on a spiritual level, here's the main thing I have to say -
Don't shoot yourself if you don't have a vintage guitar collection!!!!
The person who plays well is far more valuable that the guitar he/she plays.
Now, on a practical level, the following observances:
Fender - Telecasters and Stratocasters are the greatest guitars NOT to own a vintage model of, because you can exchange parts endlessly with no guilt pangs. Bolt-on necks are interchangable, and pickup assemblies are easy to swap. Leo Fender himself, I'm sure, would have been the last person on Earth to imagine that the guitar models his factory cranked out in such unending, assemblyline machination would someday be held in so much awe as vintage items.
There's nothing more satisfying than pulling an entire pickguard assembly out of a Stratocaster, lock stock and potentiometers, and replacing it with something completely different and unpredictable. There's only two wires to re-solder: those that lead to the output jack. Who's gonna worry about getting their axe stolen when the body started out in Japan and the electronics say "Seymore Duncan"? . Strats are my work guitars - I've got four that are all mongrels, not one has a pedigree.
Gibson - Although most Gibson models have glue-on necks and are therefore harder to exchange, other hardware, including bridges, tailpieces, tuning pegs, end jacks, nuts and pickups are surprisingly easy to swap from one guitar to another, as has been aptly demonstrated by the Gibson guitar company itself, since they have designed so many different model Gibsons through the decades and often embellish one with parts left over from an earlier discontinued model. Who can possibly keep track of all those models, anyway? If George Grun can't remember every ES and L, who am I to attempt the project? So why not just experiment all you want? Most people won't know the difference anyway, and will be too wimpy to say anything if they think they notice a discrepancy here or there. I mean, what is it with this Flame-Top-Maple-Three-Color-Wine-Honey-Sunburst finish, anyway? Does it help the sound better one single soltiary note? Torch the thing! Everybody is scared to play a guitar that looks too good! When a guitar looks aweful, it's fun to play!!
Gretsch - What can I say about the guitar company
whose employees swap and pirate their own parts with such unending and
relentless abandon as the Gretsch Guitar Company? Are there any
four Gretschs bearing the same model name that really are identical?
If anyone invented the "each one is different" concept of guitar making,
it was Gretsch. I can just see them in their factory in Brooklyn
[Brooklyn? Talk about Urban Cowboys!] saying, "Let's see, why don't
we stick an extra tone control over here on these three." The harder
to describe a model specifically, the more it's worth in the vintage market,
right? It's almost as if they could have seen into the future.
"This one'll be worth twice as much if we just sort of arbitrarily decide
to stick another pickup over here. Don't put it any place logical, sort
of left-of-right-center- that's it!" I wouldn't be surprised if, upon close
enough scrutiny, one discovers that they even occasionally swapped hardware parts from the Gretsch
Drum Company! "Hey Rufus! These lug nuts sure make good tuning pegs!" Nothing if not eclectic, right?
And a minor yet stress-reducing added advantage to not owning vintage guitars is that you don't have to surf websites where pages take three and a half hours to come up on your screen because the webmaster is so damned obsessed with shoving his 1200-by-1600-pixel image of his stupid 1954-Hickory-sunburst-whatever in your face!!
So my advice to you, Everyman Guitar Player, is this: "Swap all you want!" Think of Pete Townsend back in the sixties, smashing those Strats and Rickenbacker twelve string guitars to splinters! Think of what they'd be worth today: Who Cares! Did he think of what they'd be worth today? Hell, no, he was too busy taking chances, being irreverent, entertaining western civilization in decline and making a legend of himself!
At that time a kid could buy a decent Fender, Gretsch or Gibson in a pawnshop for next to nothing and put some mattresses up in his parents' garage [or better yet, someone else's garage] and go at it and learn to play like Jimi Hendrick (or at least convince himself that's what he was doing). Now all those guitars are sitting in glass cases in Hermetically sealed environments so some Japanese yuppie can sip brandy and brag about them to his friends, as if he bagged a tiger in Africa, or something. Meanwhile, the kid has got to put up with some Korean hack job with a neck like a banana that won't be worth firewood in two years!
IS that JUSTICE?
I say, "Buzz saw them all, and let God choose
Randy Chance, L.A. 2000