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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guitar Thoughts

Not only we play the guitar to find joy and peace, we sometimes interact with it ... like talking to your guitars ... done that? In a warp sense, the world appears stable because all elements supporting it are not. It is in balance perceptively and delicately ... my drift is we like and dislike our guitars at different times. Imagine when there is no alternative to good. Good will gradually lose its meaning and relevance. Our love partners don't please us all the time, right? Guitars can play an important role in our lives, of course not for those who don't play it. On days when we feel in total control with our guitars, we like them and can't seem to put it down. Inevitably, there were days we felt like idiots when playing the same guitar. There can be so much fond memories generated by guitars which form part of our lives, it is like a never ending story ...

This is the first ...

Dream Guitar; a definition or an evolution?

Are you still seeking for it? Arguably, this is the most fundamental question regarding the hunt for your personal holy grail of guitar(s). What constitutes a dream guitar? It is anyone’s guess. My propositions to the phrase dream guitar are either a defined specific or it is simply an evolution.

Picture taken during my trip to Atlanta.

Perhaps we can recall the first guitar you have bought … not given, loaned, found, etc. Do you remember the process? Finally you have saved enough and summed up enough courage, you went out to hunt for your first guitar. Shopping for guitars in the 80s was a far cry from the current market. Back then, there weren’t many brands available for budgeted cum beginners’ guitar players in Singapore or in general speaking. The frame of mind or approach was to look at a well established brand, along its line of guitars, probably at the bottom tier, identify the most affordable one, presumably sounds like a guitar, plays like one, and buy it. There weren’t much information available for beginners to read or contemplate about in preparation for this monumental decision. Moreover, the number of retail outlets with decent musical instruments were limited therefore the brands availability too. Back then, affordability and the reputation of the brand were important for me. How about yours?

Today’s market has evolved a great deal especially with the internet as one of the driving force. Although I have made no attempts in accounting for the number of musical instrument retail outlets in Singapore currently, it would be easy to guess that the number has tripled from the 80s. Along with the outlet growth, the brand presence did too.

Accessibility to guitars has been thrown wide opened. Buyers are no longer confined to the usual in-person retail outlets experiences but buying musical instruments online has become widely accepted among the post 80s youth. With the connectivity of internet, trading used musical instruments across boundaries has never been easier. Not only I could see my dream guitar in my dreams but it is now reachable by a click, which became the impetus for buying more...

Brand presence in Singapore has increased tremendously, proportioned with the birth of many new brands in the world. The connectivity of the internet brought them into Singapore with greater speed and numbers as compared to the pre-internet days. Big brands are no longer monopolizing the markets so are the big retail chains. Many smaller but quality boutique brands are giving the big brands a run for their money. Jame Goodall, Santa Cruz, Collings, etc are just a few boutique guitars makers that are placed on the same quality platform as Gibson, Martin, Taylor, Yamaha, Cort, Fender, etc. conceivably above the big names in terms of intricacy and customization. In Singapore, big musical instrument retail chains are feeling the pressure from many smaller setups because their cyber accessibility, nimbleness and personalized services. With such wide varieties present in the market, it is hard not to “bumped into” my dream guitar.

Discerning guitar qualities has never been clearer and sharper nowadays. In my early guitar playing days, most people were concern with practical issues like changing strings, keeping the guitar tuned, cleaning the guitars, etc. As long as the guitar plays, it is a fine guitar. With the internet, beginners and mid-level players are concern with wood varieties, architectural properties of the guitar construct, tonal qualities, type of strings, high end guitar care products, various brands of transducers, amplifiers, performance considerations … etc. the list goes on … yes these are the topics discussed by beginners of today before they even get down to buy their first guitar. The leap and bound are indeed noticeable. It is now easy to obtain information of any guitars you have set your eyes on, probably a potential dream guitar too.

Guitar augmentation was a topic discussed by professionals in the past but it is now everyone’s interest and concern. There were limited options and knowledge pertaining guitar augmentation in the past, therefore guitarists were simply contented with the manufacturers’ specifications. Moreover, there weren’t many skillful artisans back then who marketed their services. Today, it has almost become a ritual to replace the original guitar parts by higher qualities ones. Sending guitars to a restorer is likened to a family doctor consultation. This is indicative of the consumers’ maturity and surely a good sign to those artisans who perform such works to earn a living. Realizing the options to augment guitars are just a few steps away, your forgotten guitar could transform itself into the dream guitar by the skillful touches of these artisans.

Upgraded with Fossilized Mammoth Ivory and Bone Pins
Prices verses affordability; remember a typical budget for a beginner’s guitar in the past? I bought my Yamaha at SGD $199.00 without case and freebies. It was made of laminated wood, a.k.a. plywood. With the enlarged brand presence in Singapore, guitar players have more options, more factors to weigh when buying one. Inadvertently it stretches the budget of a beginner’s guitar. The fierce competition has created guitars that were once regarded as premium standard but being marketed as entry level guitars now. Beginners are heavily tempted to acquire these value-for-money guitars even if their prices are bursting the budget. To encourage them further, the array of freebies dished out by sellers make it near impossible not to consider buying them not because one needs a guitar but they are just so many darn good buys out there! Gradually but surely, beginners’ of today are willing to fork out more for … perceptively more … for what might be a dream guitar to me a decade ago is within reach to the masses today.

My Charvel Jackson, bought more than 10 years back...

Beginners’ dream guitars are usually founded upon aesthetic value and perceived quality. Referring to today’s beginners, they are often bombarded with huge amount of information made available in the net. Most of them would have trouble sorting and discerning the abundance information. To emphasize, beginners should not be taken as young people as there are many adult beginners too. The big brands, mostly with huge marketing budgets will likely win their hearts over, therefore it is common for big brands’ guitars to assume as their dream guitars too. However, it is hard to ascertain if this perception towards big brands will stay long enough to secure a purchase. It is also usual for beginners to have limited vocabulary when describing the extrinsic and intrinsic qualities of their dream guitars. As I could recall, my dream guitar a decade ago was a six-string Guild when I saw Slash playing one in an acoustic number. Not too long after, I saw one seated in a showcase in one of the big retail chains in Singapore, beyond my reach … not sure if it is still sitting there today …

My Guild F50R, was a dream guitar
The intermediate to advance players’ dream guitars; how different are the two groups compared to beginners? The key differentiations are accounted by proficiency in playing, knowledge of guitars and revelation of one’s inclination in guitar playing. Budget is a plausible factor but it is less certain in the context of the said two groups. As one became proficient in playing, he or she would begin to discover the intrinsic properties of a guitar. E.g. able to recognize tonal differences among various tone woods. The perception of playability in relation to his or her preferences or style of playing will become lucid and comprehensible. A persistent player will finally realize his or her love in guitar playing which comprises the playability, type of strings, neck profile, guitar finishing, guitar body sizes, playing postures, tonal responses, brand loyalty, and aesthetic value. With these revelations, identifying a dream guitar should not be a problem. In summary, the two groups know their likes and wants, and able to describe clearly the properties that they are looking for. They are also able to moderate their wants and needs better than the beginners.

There is another unique group; the collectors. Suffice to say that dream guitar is not the appropriate term to be used. Instead dream guitars should be applied to this group. They can be anyone who plays very well or total novices but they have one thing in common, i.e. big budget and shrew taste buds. These collectors actively seek out for guitars that fit their requirements. Prices are the least of their concern. Playability is unlikely a priority for them. Critical to them is the collectable value of the guitars. Some common indicators that make up the collectable value are, year of make, scarcity wood type, maker’s reputation, unique features, intricacy of the construct, marketing hypes, aesthetic value, etc. Every guitar is a dream guitar and they don’t usually stop at one.

It is innate in us to dream, let alone the entitlement to conceive of a dream guitar in one’s mind. Dreams never stay at one place and would the concept of dream guitar be different? Without dreams, there will be no fun, much less any hope. In some sense, having a dream guitar keeps us going and playing. As we play more, the dream guitars in our minds also transformed by the increase in discernment due to more time spent in playing and learning. In the end, the dream guitar in one’s mind evolves, develops and grows as the person would over time. In a nutshell, there is no escape from changing.

Is there really a dream guitar out there waiting for you and me?

For the record, I have bought the mentioned Guild eventually … and I have sold it eventually… the search isn’t over …

Don’t stop dreaming, if one does, he may still exist but has ceased to live.

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