As a first post, and also a sort of review, I thought I’d tell you about my journey with guitars so far: what sort of equipment I started with, and where I’m going.

You may have already read in the About page that I only started playing guitar in the Spring of 2020, under lockdown. What I didn’t tell you there might surprise you even more. I had for years been thinking I should take up the piano again, which I played until early adolescence. But when lockdown came, my wife and I found ourselves subletting an apartment in Berlin, where fate would trap us for several more months than we had initially planned. Dear readers, this apartment did not have a piano it, but it did have a guitar. I picked it up, and started to make out some notes and some basic strumming patterns, and the rest is history.

I don’t remember the model of the guitar, it’s probably not worth remembering anyhow. It was an old Fender acoustic, and I was just lucky it still had six strings on it. There was an electric guitar propped in the corner as well, also a Fender, but it only had four strings so I didn’t bother with it (we were so paranoid about infection at the time that I didn’t even think about ordering equipment online — what was there when we arrived was what I had to work with).

By mid-summer 2020 we got out, and returned to the United States, visiting my mother at her home in the beautiful Inland Empire of San Bernardino, California. I was already so addicted to my guitar that I couldn’t even imagine spending even two weeks visiting family without one, so I had a Yamaha FS800 acoustic delivered from Guitar Center for about $150. You know what? It was pretty good. It was on this occasion as well that I decided, almost on a whim, to order a package of Dunlop thumb picks, hoping to learn the thumb-picking style of the great Merle Travis. This was one of the best decisions of my guitar-playing journey, and I’ll write about it on another occasion. I left that Yamaha at my mom’s place after playing it for just two weeks, and it awaits me on my next visit.

I was getting really interested in the whole sound and feel of country-music shows from the early years of television, and I wanted a guitar that shared in that whole “vibe”. So when we got home to Chicago I ended up ordering an Ibanez AS93FM Artcore Semi-Hollow guitar. I love the sigma-shaped sound-holes, and indeed it does deliver on the country twang. One thing I quickly learned about hollow-bodies is that in a way they combine the disadvantages and advantages of both acoustic and electric. I like to take my guitar with me to the park, when my wife has had enough, and although the hollow-body gives you some acoustic resonance and lets you play loud enough to hear the notes without amplification, you still really need to plug it in to sound good. And yet, unlike a properly electric guitar, it doesn’t deliver the sleek, compact ease you might crave. You still have to struggle to get the strings down, making barre chords is a real challenge, and it’s relatively big and cumbersome. It cost around $600, so if you are going to go for this or a similar hollow-body, you really need to be sure it’s what you want.

After some disappointment, I thought I wanted to go back to acoustic, so I bought a Sigma DM-1ST for about $300. I love its full-bodied resonance, but it’s also the most challenging guitar I’ve played yet. It’s pretty hard to avoid getting squeaky or muted notes, so robust is the frame and so rigid the fretboard. The strings feel like cables, and I feel like one of those poor North Korean children you can see on YouTube being forced to play the guitar well before they are physically ready to confront those giant instruments. Still, unlike with the Ibanez, here I feel confident that the struggle is worth it. When I get things right, the sound is so great that I want more, and I work harder to achieve it.

I also decided that I wanted to start playing electric for variety, and I went and bought a fairly low-end Squier Stratocaster by Fender for about $250. I love it! Its whole weight and gravitation in ones lap is just so different from an acoustic. The frets and strings are familiar, but otherwise it’s just a whole different instrument. The body of it is so heavy and dense, and the neck so light, holding it is something like holding a medium-weighted sledgehammer; I understand where Jimi’s primal desire to smash the thing came from.

I still think I’m more of an acoustic player. I alternate mostly between the Sigma and the Stratocaster, playing both of them several times a week. The next guitar I’m going to buy will be a performance-quality instrument, of the sort I’ve never even played before, but so far the instruments I have played have served me very, very well. Stay tuned for more!

–Stuart

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