I started as an acoustic guitar player. My first lessons were on a nylon string acoustic as part of the arts program at Stanley Field Junior High in Northbrook, IL. That was 1992 (8th Grade) and I only took the class because my friends were taking the class. It was my first experience with elective classes and I think I chose between guitar and industrial education.
The first acoustic guitar I bought was an Epiphone PR150 steel string dreadnought with the brown headstock, probably around 1993. Treated me well through my college years and I eventually gigged with it, using a Dean Markley removable pickup.
The PR150 had a perfectly acceptable sound and was easy enough to play and learn on. It held tune great I’d still recommend it for a beginner.
I liked it so much that I didn’t upgrade for a solid 9 years. That includes time working at music stores where I had opportunities to get some pretty solid discounts. I guess even back then, I already held the belief that, in order for me to justify purchasing something better, I needed to really appreciate and “feel” the limitations on the existing equipment. With that old Epi, I didn’t feel the need until after finishing college.
When I finally graduated college in 2000, I moved out to Northern California and bought a 1982 Taylor 815 for $900. Being a bigger guy, I always loved jumbo sized acoustics and this vintage rosewood big body looked and felt great on me
Unfortunately, this big beauty was stolen out of my car in Wrigleyville one night in 2004 after I returned from California. Looking at the prices of them now (~$4K), that’s a pretty big bummer. 🙁
I was deep in the middle of a busy gigging schedule with Reckless Truth Pail at the time though so there was no time to waste finding a replacement.
As it happens, I was also working at the Highland Park Guitar Center and was scoring sweet employee deals on gear. So, a few days after the Taylor disappeared, I ponied up the cash for a 2003 Gibson J-100 Xtra.
It was a similar body size but a brighter sound with the spruce top and it had a mustache bridge, which I thought was cool and “fit my music” better. Truth be told, I probably would have jumped at the chance to get a J-200 but that store didn’t have any in stock and this model was on clearance so I think I paid $900 for it.
Alas, it wasn’t too long after when that guitar too was stolen. This time, it was out of my apartment while we were moving.
I don’t think I had it more than a year or two but even in that time, I could sense that my tastes were changing. I was listening to a lot of Michael Hedges and then John Fahey so the allure of a more versatile dreadnought was growing on me. I think also the reputation of these jumbos as more “strummer” guitars crept into my head and turned me off. I didn’t want to be seen as a rhythm player only and I think that’s kind of what these models say, even if you do intend to shred a bit.
Fast forward a few years and I finally got my first Martin. It was the highest model I could justify but I felt like I got lots of the bang that you’d get with a D-28 without getting into the $3K range. It has a gloss spruce top and white binding, which I still love, but it also has satin rosewood back and sides, which I also think play better than gloss all around. Clearly, I also went back to the dreadnought shape where I started and haven’t regretted it.
Around 2010, a friend who started to learn to play guitar but abandoned the project offered to lend me hers indefinitely. I had low expectations until I saw it was a Larrivee D-03 from the highly regarded Vancouver brand. I took it in and it split time in my Martin for writing, recording and performing. It was on par quality with my Martin too so I never felt like I was sacrificing anything by choosing it. Alas, the residency of the Larrivee ended in 2019 when it returned to its owner.
I started to catalog this list of my guitar history precisely because I think it’s time for a change. Up until the forming of the band in 2017, I played acoustic guitar at least as often as electric. Since then, it’s probably been 90% electric or mandolin so when I return to acoustic, it’s with a pretty fresh perspective. With that in mind, I find that I don’t love playing the Martin anymore. I still like dreadnoughts but I’m open to finding something new to play. I’ve always liked the OOO style acoustics for fingerstyle but I’m rethinking my stance on strummer acoustics as well.
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