I simply want to talk guitars. If it's not for you, sorry.
My friend Jim Cole called and simply wanted to talk about a new guitar he had in his hands. It had inspired him to play more each day and write new things and even readdress some of his classical training. He asked if I would check out the website of this maker and we could talk about it and stuff. I was more than ready.
1. You can never have enough guitars. (This is a shamelessly consumptive statement)
2. You will never own your 'ultimate' or 'final' guitar. (Until you die)
With that out of the way....
Jim Cole has consistently played Olson guitars for the past 10 years or so. He's owned others, but has chosen these beautiful instruments made by Jim Olson in Minnesota. Olson is a humble guitar maker, Christian guy, who made a name for himself by providing guitars for James Taylor. Others followed like Sting, Phil Keaggy - who in turn passed on a left-handed model to Paul McCartney, Leo Kotke, David Wilcox - one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and many many other players. Cole has been playing a couple of SJs that Olson makes. I lust after these a little, o.k. a lot. Rosewood back and sides, red cedar tops, ebony peghead, abalone rosette and purfling to match - all can make these instruments top of the line. I love the attention to detail. The cedar top on an Olson is a great wood for the light touch of a fingerstyle player. The key to the sound is obviously Olson's ability. At $13,000 each now, I think my ability to buy one has been put on hold until at least my children are out of college. If you have one for sale cheap.... Had a chance to visit Olson's shop some years back. It was fun to play one of the instruments before the maker. (There's a sermon in that.)
When I think of those prices, however, I begin to wander in my interest to things less expensive. Jim Cole was invited to consider a guitar made by Petros. Petros is a luthier from Wisconsin. I could hear Jim playing on it in the background. It sounded good over the phone. Whatever. So I went to the website last night to take a look. Great attention to detail. Great woods - you could almost smell them over the screen. (geeks you understand!) The detail options were exceptional - purflings, bindings, woods, inlays, a lot to take in. Interesting touch - the top is slightly arched. He's created the top like a speaker - thicker toward the center, lighter toward the edges, in an attempt to create a more breathable diaphram. The back is also slightly arched, which is not unusual. I'm curious. Jim will bring one with him in June - we'll see what it's like. As I roamed the Petros site (petrosguitars.com) I was aware again of my irrational desire for the higher end. Beginning just under $6,000, I doubt I will own one of these apparent gems in my lifetime. Sigh. There were a few things I'd have to get used to - not a fan of the peghead. But if I had to sacrifice...
As my sights shift in guitars, I end up in a remarkable place. My friend Margie Mirken has been playing a Collings OM that is at the top of my list. I think it is Indian Rosewood, back and sides, with a German spruce top. One of the great fingerstyle guitars out there by a maker who pays close attention to history and detail. Collings are without a doubt every bit the guitar that you can get in a custom shop. In fact you can customize your request from Collings if you want and get something quite your own. If you're willing to go down to Austin, TX you can probably select the actual sets to be used in construction. I love the pre-war (that would be wwII) look and feel of Collings. They've out Martined CF Martin. One of the things I like about my Baby Collings is that when you examine the bracing it is finely finished, sharp at the edges, lean and strong. I believe this helps the sound. It also shows attention to detail you get from custom makers. Well this OM thing is getting down in my range - (don't tell my wife). Don't worry dear, it won't happen any time soon I'm sure of it.
I'm tempted by lots of different luthiers out there. I think that Kevin Ryan makes a great instrument, inpsired in part by Jim Olson. Great sound great look great pric...big price. In fact Olson is matter of fact about how to make quality guitars. He doesn't take much credit, says it's pretty easy to do if you pay attention. I'm not sure about that, but I appreciate the humility.
Lots of these makers are christian people: Olson, Petros, Taylor in San Diego, Ryan and others. Don't know that it means anything, it is just a note.
As I head back to my Sands or Martin D-28 or Collings, I am reminded that equipment is really not the answer. If I had a set of Ping golf clubs or Callaway top of the line or fill in the blank, I'd still be a lousy golfer. Now you can buy junk and that will affect your game. But a good instrument in good hands can sound great. Every now and then I pick up the Seagull dreadnought in our associate pastor's office, the one we let the kids here play - and I'm amazed at the sound and feel. (red cedar top!) Not bad for under $400! (way under)
When I'm on with the Baby Collings, it's a sweet as anything. My D-28 is a treasure. My Sands keeps appreciating in value - thanks Kirk!
I'm glad Jim called and was excited about this new guitar. It got me excited about new guitars. In fact it got me excited about playing some more and learning some new stuff. Hey - great guitars can inspire in lots of ways. You don't always have to buy them to get the inspiration. Just a touch of the smell of rosewood could be enough to make us all play more and better. Now there's the joy. Jim - keep playing and let's all do the same!