Acoustic Guitar Players!

June 16, 2010 6:56 PM

Acoustic Guitar Players. Have you fallen in love with a particular acoustic guitar? One that is your constant companion? If so, why?

While I've totally fallen in love with a few electric guitars, I've never had the "Wow, we were totally made for each other!" feeling with an acoustic.

My experience with acoustics is like having girlfriends that really aren't that into me. It seems like I'm doing all the work.

posted by snsranch (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I recently bought one. I'd had a few before but like you never really fallen in love. So I went to Long & McQuade in Toronto which has a MASSIVE acoustic room and I basically sat down and played every guitar in my budget range. It was a real learning experience. The guys in there answered every question I had and then left me alone and told me to knock myself out.

I quickly eliminated the guitar which I'd owned before -- one of the Yamaha APX series. It was easy to play, which was why I bought it back when, but it didn't 'give' anything in terms of the sound. I also eliminated the cedar-top Seagull guitars, which despite getting rave reviews were too warm and woolly for me. Eventually I totally lost track of which guitar was which but it became obvious which one I really, really liked and felt like it had a bunch of songs in it, so I bought it.

It was a Simon and Patrick Songsmith Dreadnought. It's a really plain jane guitar compared to, say, the Epiphones, but to me it sounded better than anything else under about $500. I've been playing it continuously ever since and I love it.

As a bonus it came with the nicest gig bag I've ever seen -- you could drop it out of an airplane -- but I only discovered that when I paid for it.

The other thing I added was a Studio Projects B1 condenser mic which made all the difference for recording it and is a ridiculous deal at $120.
posted by unSane at 7:45 AM on June 17, 2010

I'm still using my old brokedown hand-me-down acoustic, and it's more codependency than anything that keeps us together; it gives me an acoustic to play when I need to play an acoustic, I give it a good home. Part of it is that I have a hard time spending money on a new Instrument X to replace an existing one when I could spend that money instead on an Instrument Y that I don't already own one of, and so money/attention that might go to a new acoustic goes to novel stuff instead.

But even at that, I've spent real time with maybe a dozen other acoustics over the years but never really fallen in love with them. My mom has a slim Takamine with great action but it's a bit tinny to my ear; one of my high school science teaches had a 12-string I could never really get into; my buddy Brian has gone through a couple of really nice Martins that I haven't really got complaints about per se but still didn't click with me.

I don't know if there's an acoustic out there waiting to blow me away or not, and I kind of wonder if spending literally my whole guitar-playing life with the same dimestore model has just fundamentally skewed my perception of how an acoustic should feel and sound. I suppose I could haul my existing guitar in to some shops and say "show me something that's as close to this as possible except without the problems". But I'd have to feel like I was committed to shopping for a replacement first.
posted by cortex at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2010

I don't have a lot of experience with acoustics, but I had custody of my sister's 1970's vintage Alvarez dreadnought-style acoustic for a couple of years and let myself get a bit attached to it; it has nice action and nice tone.

Not long after I bought a Cort Earth 70, which for the low price is a fine instrument in its own right; very playable, solid spruce top, decent tone... but it doesn't really give me warm fuzzies the way that Alvarez did. I think maybe it just doesn't feel as dynamic or responsive.

One time at an open session I got to play a guy's 1960's era Martin; I usually play banjo, but we swapped for one tune and even though I was only chopping away playing rhythm chords, it blew me away in a way that's hard to describe. Part of it was the overall resonance of the instrument; at a session where everyone's playing loudly and maybe not all that well, it can be hard to hear yourself - but with that guitar I could feel what I was playing, and it was as though I could even feel each string independent of the users.

So yeah, I think those acoustic guitars are out there... but if acoustic guitar isn't your main thing and you're not obsessively searching and trying out every one you can get your hands on, maybe it's harder to come across the ones that really light your fire. I'd like to acquire a vintage Martin someday, but I'd really like to acquire a nice Fairbanks/Cole/Ramsey/Reiter open-back banjo first... so far I've managed to keep my guitar lust in check.
posted by usonian at 8:32 AM on June 17, 2010

My Martin D-28 is my favourite guitar. Sure I have Gibsons and Fenders and even a Yamaha semi, and I'm more of an electric guitarist than an acoustic one I guess, but if the house was on fire my D-28 would be what I'd rescue first. It's just......beautiful. Simple, effortlessly classy, great sound, great action and it smells good too! I do most of my writing on it, even if I don't actually use it when I get to recording. Oh and the people at CF Martin are really nice and helpful - a lovely company making a lovely product.
posted by MajorDundee at 10:51 AM on June 17, 2010

You can hear my Martin on a track I just bunged on the site called "Street Sixteen". I admit I'm giving my refined lady a bit of rough handling on his track, but, hey, she likes to let her hair down now and then.....
posted by MajorDundee at 11:39 AM on June 17, 2010

Many thanks to you guys for your comments and anecdotes. You've really changed my mind about this.

While I was expecting to be convinced that I need to go shop around for a different guitar, I realize that I've had 20 years to replace this acoustic and that the only reason I haven't is because I can't. FWIW, it's an older Washburn dreadnought and super hard to finger. After a few minutes my left hand feels like it's been sexually abused by a dozen demonic monkeys.

It is a hand-me-down, but it's been with me for a long time. It's been frozen in the back of a van way up in the mountains and it's developed big pick guard bubbles while sitting in the sun. It's ugly, scarred and cracked in a couple of places that don't really matter. And after all of this abuse, it still tunes beautifully and stays that way.

Maybe I should just STFU and see if someone can loosen up that action for me. (I've never considered that before, but I'll give it a try.)

Thanks again!
posted by snsranch at 5:22 PM on June 17, 2010

I have serious Taylor-lust. Every time I go into a music store I head straight for the Taylors, find the most expensive one, and play it for as long as they'll let me. They just feel so delicious on the fingers.
posted by ORthey at 5:54 PM on June 17, 2010

ORthey, it's really cool that you bring up Taylor. While I don't know exactly what's going on they are big heroes here in San Diego. I'm guessing that they have a sort of outreach program because I'd be pretty hard pressed to find a young and/or homeless busker near downtown that isn't playing a Taylor. I've tried to look it up on the internet to contribute, but there is no mention of it. You might remember a post about an armless guy who played with his feet...I'm pretty sure that was a Taylor too.

Since they're only a few miles away, I should take my kids over there and see what goes on in the factory.

(I played a really low-end Taylor once, it had a composite neck-like skateboards, and it actually sounded pretty sweet.)
posted by snsranch at 6:51 PM on June 17, 2010

I'm quite a big fan of new guitars, unless you're talking about something collectible or cool. Cheap guitars are SO much better than they used to be. You can go out tomorrow and buy a really nice acoustic guitar for $250. It won't be a snob guitar but it will be easy to play and sound pretty sweet.

For me personally, I want a guitar which is a pleasure to play. That means the whole package -- action, intonation, sound, ergonomics, fretboard width, neck accessibility, tuning stability and so on. A guitar which sounds like heaven but is painful to play for you (perhaps because, like me, you mostly play electric and don't have studly fingers or callouses) is not what I'm after.
posted by unSane at 9:30 PM on June 17, 2010

I bought my guitar (I only have one guitar, and it's acoustic) in Paracho, a small town in Mexico entirely devoted to manufacturing instruments. By this I don't mean that the town has a massive guitar manufacturing factory, the whole town is full of Luthiers who learn by doing apprenticeships in other workshops and who build and sell their own handmade instruments, it's a lovely place.

I was walking around from shop to shop with my dad, looking for just the perfect guitar, when a guy came up with a bunch of guitars, he asked my dad, who evidently was tired of walking around and seeing me dismiss guitar after guitar for reasons that must have seemed esoteric to him. The guy asked my dad if he wanted to buy a guitar. My dad said:

- Try these

I played one of them and I must have made a face like "this isn't so bad" because my dad immediately turned to the guy and said:

- How much?
- 200 pesos

And he paid. I can't remember what the exchange rate was back then, but I do remember the guitar was really cheap. Today 200 pesos are about 15 dollars. Might have not been that cheap, but it definitely was cheap.

That guitar is amazing and I love it. Every single musician who plays it invariably says that it has a remarkably well balanced range, that the bass strings (the lower-pitched strings, that is) are unbelievably deep while the higher strings are perfectly crisp. You can hear that guitar here. Keep in mind that that recording was done with a cheap plug-and-play computer mic.

Some time after that I did some carvings on the body of the guitar. Everyone said I was crazy and that I was killing it, but it didn't affect it at all. Like yours, this guitar has been freezing in the Andes and it has lied under the sun at the beach. It has moved around countries with me and I do have a special cariƱo for it. Funnily enough, now that you mention girlfriends, every single girl I've dated has been jealous of that guitar, even though I haven't given it any name and I don't talk about it or have it in a shrine or anything like that.

Now, regarding your own guitar. I have still to meet an American who uses nylon strings on his/her guitar. I'm sure there's millions, I just haven't met any. I, for one, hate steel strings on acoustic guitars and I'm sure that's worsening the feeling of being "sexually abused by a dozen demonic monkeys" -great description, by the way-. So, if I had to suggest something I'd say give nylon strings a chance.

Ah yeah, and one last thing. Definitely do take your kids to the Taylor factory. It sounds like the coolest trip to do with one's dad.
posted by micayetoca at 6:02 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm starting to feel like we need to do a Scars And War Stories thing with our favorite beat-up instruments. Take a picture or three, write up the history behind how exactly this thing to scratched/dented/cracked/burnished/crushed/etc.
posted by cortex at 7:14 AM on June 18, 2010

or stolen..... I had a cherry red 1963 Gibson SG Standard that was my pride and joy. I had to scrimp and save and do shitty jobs to pay for it, and I made my first apprearance on vinyl with it when I was 20. So it had sentimental as well as musical value to me. Some arsehole just...walked off with it. That was 25+ years ago and it still stings.
posted by MajorDundee at 2:44 PM on June 18, 2010

Micayetoca, that's brilliant, man! Nylon strings! You're bringing back memories for me too. My very first guitar was from Tijuana and had nylon strings. I think my folks paid 10 bucks for it. But it would tune up and I learned all of the basic chords on it. I'm getting some nylon strings this weekend!

cortex , that's a great idea. If you don't start that post/thread maybe I will in a couple of days. I'm sure we all have great stories to tell, like...

Major, I totally feel your pain man. In the late '80s, sadly, I was still living with my parents and when things became too caustic I sold all of my stuff at pawn shops and joined the Army.

Among the items were; a '79 Fender Twin Reverb-$200, a '71 Gibson ES-335-$500...(it's the one that looks black but reflects gold in the light...only up close could you see the actual wood grain), loaned out a Silvertone 335 copy w/ Bixby tremolo. All gone forever.

While I was in the army I used that money to get a VW bus, a Les Paul Studio and some shitty "solid state" 100w Fender amp. So sad.
posted by snsranch at 3:16 PM on June 18, 2010

I can really sympathise sns - you've mentioned before about your 335, and when you bond with a guitar like you did with that one (and I did with my SG) it's a genuine sorrow. I really believe that you have to love a guitar to get the best out of it. And it's like all relationships - some have that undefineable magic, and some just....don't.

my left hand feels like it's been sexually abused by a dozen demonic monkeys

This is scarily true. I had a real shock recently when I tried to play a set of songs with no break and my left hand started locking up - and I mean really going numb - after five or six numbers. I'm not in a band any more and I therefore don't do gigs. It was a real fright to realise that my muscles had wasted to the point that I literally couldn't sustain a basic 40-minute set without getting cramp. I guess that's a word to the wise for anyone who thinks they have their chops together but, without knowing it, is badly out of shape. I never realised until that point that playing a full set requires a certain level of "fitness" in terms of basic physical strength, and just pissing about at home for half an hour at a time is totally inadequate preparation for the demands of live work.
posted by MajorDundee at 4:31 PM on June 18, 2010

When I moved to London around 1990 I finally managed to scratch together enough money to buy a new Fender Jazzmaster and a very cool Hohner 12-string tele -- still one of the nicest 12-strings I've ever owned or played. I joined my first real band, made my first record, played my first real gigs, got my first review in NME, first play on John Peel with those guitars.

Then one day we came home to our basement flat on Camden Road to discover some SHITWAD had not only climbed in through the tiny bathroom window (about 1' x '1') but climbed out again too. The only things missing were my guitars -- apparently they were the only things which would fit through the fucking window. Everything else (TV etc) was left on the bathroom floor.

I'm not a violent person but I would still stamp on that person's face today.
posted by unSane at 4:51 PM on June 18, 2010

I'm not violent either, but I too would make an exception for the c*nt who nicked my SG. I mean, pinching a telly or even a car is one thing, but something as personal as a cherished too fucking much. Slow, painful death to all guitar thieves!
posted by MajorDundee at 2:18 AM on June 19, 2010

When I was moving around a lot a few years ago I had to pick a single guitar to take along, and I chose a Takamine Jasmine classical. I have grown extremely fond of it and used to it. I guess my playing style has formed to it.

I think I feel the same way about electrics that you feel about acoustics. Even when they're mine they feel like they're someone else's; I guess I've never wanted to play guitar the way they're supposed to be played.

I'm thinking about trying one again, though, since they make recording so much simpler.
posted by fleacircus at 8:25 PM on June 19, 2010

About 10 years ago (holy shit), I lost a bunch of guitars in a burglary right as I was joining a band. Desperate for a replacement acoustic, I went to a shop in south Minneapolis and bought the least-bad thing I could find for the money I had on me at the time... it was a Epiphone Skunk Baxter signature model. I bought it even though the body's kind of small and I loathe everything Skunk Baxter stands for.

I spent maybe 5 years not really liking the Skunk (it does have an inlaid skunk on the 12th fret, which is kind of charming)... I resented it for kind of falling into my life, and I didn't like the color, thought it was lame that it didn't have a pickguard, thought the built-in pickup was a piece of shit, thought the action sucked, was embarrassed by the cracks in the finish from when I left it in a car for a few hours, etc.

And then, I don't even know what happened. I guess it's probably just the force of time, but I got really attached to the Skunk. Who needs a pickguard? I mostly fingerpick anyway. Who needs a bult-in pickup? You want to be miking it if you're recording it. Lighter strings made the action more workable. The cracks in the finish? Fine, that's just the first step of my overall plan to play the fucker until it looks like Trigger.

I just recently replaced the bridge pegs with brass ones, and the resulting sound improvement pretty much kicked the Skunk up to 100% Rad as far as I'm concerned.
posted by COBRA! at 11:48 AM on June 22, 2010

The only thing I have to add is Wasburn-hate. I've got a Washburn acoustic-electric that really only sounds good when the strings have got less than a half-hour's playing time on them. The action is so high you could drive a bus under the strings at the fifth fret. The only way to change the battery in the preamp section is to take the strings off. But that's okay, because the nut that held the jack to the body came off and disappeared one day, so now I've got a wire and a jack rattling around inside the body. I hate that guitar. And yet I don't have the wherewithal to spend real money on another acoustic exactly because of the complaint here--I've never played one that really wowed me. Plus, yeah, like cortex says, I'd rather have a novel instrument. Possibly some kind of percussion, next.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:08 PM on June 22, 2010

The only instruments I ever hated were the fucking dreadful excuses for guitars that my school had when I was a kid. I think they were designed to put people off for life. The necks were so fucking bowed that most of them would have been better served in archery lessons. That was a real disgrace imo - if a school can't be arsed to provide playable instruments it would be better not providing any at all. Luckily it didn't put me off - but I bet others that might have got a lot of real pleasure from playing were.
posted by MajorDundee at 3:13 PM on June 22, 2010

A friend of mine has a Little Martin, their slightly smaller acoustic, and I love to play it. Every time I'm over at his house I walk past all his other guitars and grab that one. It just feels so solid and is so fun to play. I dunno. I want to get one.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:47 PM on June 22, 2010

Agreed wrt Washburns. I've never played one I liked, except for basses. My first ever guitar was a Washburn and I hated it with a hate beyond words.
posted by unSane at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2010

I wish I could afford a vintage Martin but I did the next best thing last year and fulfilled a dream by getting an HD-28 (also from Long and McQuade here in Toronto.)
A bit boomier and louder than the D-28, with the scalloped bracing (that they used to do on pre-war D-28s, I believe) and the herringbone detailing.
I'd been playing my Yamaha FG-331 for years and years and years. Really, it was my only concept of acoustic guitar for so long. It's been to India and Italy and England and many points in-between. I got it for Christmas in 1978. I also got a George Carlin album that year. I think it was Toledo Window Box. I was 10.
Anyhow I fucking love the Martin, it's like a whole different world of acoustic guitar.
But a year later it's still a bit of a love/hate relationship.
I found it sort of tricky to play for any length of time so I took it back to have the action lowered a bit (as I'd read that people often prefer this on HD-28s.) But now it seems tempermentally buzzy; like some days it will buzz on certain frets when I'm playing loud or soft, other days not. Also I'm not used to the medium strings, which I hate, but which do contribute to the great, projected sound.
I read that Neil Young (kind of my idol) hates new strings and only uses light gauge on his Martins, and totally shreds them, which is encouraging. But I've already lowered my action so I'm a bit concerned to switch to light, which might buzz even more...
Whew, too much information.
posted by chococat at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2010

For what it's worth choco, I use Martin Extra Light guage (010 - 047) on my D-28 and don't get much buzzing. I bought a couple of compensated saddles and fiddled around until I got the action as I like it. I guess it comes down to your playing style and tolerance levels. It's a trade-off between action and how much unwanted rattling you're prepared to put up with. I have a fairly light touch so I can get away with it mostly (but not always). Same applies with my electrics. Someone else playing them would probably find they buzz too much, but so far as I'm concerned so long as the notes don't choke off when I bend strings I'm willing to sacrifice pristine sound for playability. Oh and the only trouble I've ever found with very light strings is that finger pressure can sometimes screw up the intonation, particularly in first position down by the nut. So it can be a bugger to keep things bang in tune.'s all about what you're prepared to sacrifice.
posted by MajorDundee at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2010

My S&P songwriter shipped with 12s and the action is low with no buzzing. It's really easy to play. That's one of the things that impressed me about it.

Personally I think playability is a lot more to do with the physical set-up of the guitar than the gauge of the string... whenever you try to fix it by changing strings, you have to deal with a whole lot of consequences. In particular, if you go up or down more than one gauge you're going to need to adjust the truss rod as well as possibly saddles/intonation.
posted by unSane at 3:53 AM on June 24, 2010

Exactly my experience this week, unSane.

Micayetoca suggested I try some nylons on the dreadnought so I talked to my Local Guitar Shop guy who advised against it because the bracing requires much more tension than that to even try to tune it let alone play it. So I strung it up with some 11 gauge silk wound strings. Yep, I had to adjust the truss rod to compensate, but damn, it was worth the effort. It sounds and plays like a totally different guitar.

I still had to try some nylons though, so I put some on my kid's smaller scale guitar. The strings are still stretching out, but it sounds pretty damn good too.
posted by snsranch at 2:08 PM on June 24, 2010

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