When I first started playing guitar, 54 years ago, I had a garbage Sears acoustic my father paid $12 for and gave me for Xmas. It was an awful looking sunburst piece of junk with strings about 1/2” above the fretboard and the sound quality of a banjo. I loved it, but felt the need to “fix” it after I played a friend’s Gibson. I sanded the paint job off of the top and neck, refinished the neck and body with rubbing oil of some sort, and made my first shot at dressing a fretboard and bridge. It played better, but still sounded like crap.
The first time I abandoned rock and roll, when I was 19, I moved to Dallas, Texas and traded all of my electric stuff for a Gibson J45 acoustic. At the time, I thought it was a great guitar. I played that instrument for the next 20 years and was reasonably satisfied with it. Totally on a whim, in 1980 I bought an Alvarez-Yari DY-87 double-neck acoustic that I loved to death. I sold the J45 to a friend and band mate and played the hell out of the Alvarez-Yari until I moved to Colorado in ‘91. I’d gotten back into recording and the double-neck recorded horribly.
On another whim, I decided to sell the Alvarez-Yari and buy a guitar I’d always dreamed about, a Martin. I found a “good deal” on a 00016C and bought it from a Denver session player who was down on his luck and needed rent money. From the day I owned that guitar, I loved-hated it. I always assumed that relationship was due to the fact that I pretty much quit playing not long after buying the Martin. It was used in a bunch of recording sessions, by other players, over the next two decades, but I barely picked it up. It recorded well, but I never liked the way it sounded to me while I played it. I bet I didn’t put 50 hours of practice on that guitar in 20 years. Honestly, I eventually flat-out disliked my Martin and didn’t think much of myself as a guitar player, either.
After reading Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument, I began to suspect there was a lot more to picking an acoustic guitar than I was capable of comprehending or appreciating. When my daughter Holly asked me to help her pick out an acoustic guitar as a present for her husband, I reluctantly agreed to try and help. My reluctance was all about doubting my ability to hear a good guitar when I played one. However, once I started picking up guitars, playing them, listening to them, and moving from one to another, I got absorbed in the project and lost my inhibitions. Eventually, I settled on a Seagull acoustic that I really loved. She bought it. Sherm loves it too. And I decided to rid myself of my Martin.
It went quickly. I don’t miss it, but after playing my crappy backpacker all winter I am wishing for an acoustic guitar that I might love. Yesterday, I played Sherm’s Seagull and I still like it (it needs new strings, Sherm). I don’t know what that means because one thing Holly and I learned when I was picking Sherm’s guitar is that all Seagulls of the same model do not sound or play alike. I might not be able to find another like his. This could be a long process. Acoustic instruments are incredibly personal and that is a lesson that took me 50 years to learn.