I didn't set out to do it, but somehow over the years I have become addicted to old guitars. It all began about 50 years ago when I blagged my dear old granny into buying me a four stringed plastic guitar from Exchange and Mart. It was about £7, and the advert said 'as played by Elvis Presley', so obviously I couldn't go wrong. The guitar had a moulded plastic fretboard and friction pegs, and was of course completely untunable, let alone playable.
Since that time, a number of guitars have passed through my hands, mostly (and nowadays exclusively) acoustic. They have included a Terada classical guitar, a Guild D40, a strange oriental thing with moveable frets, a Hayman electric, a Gibson LGO bought with my wife's tax rebate while she was away ('Is that it?' was her incredulous reaction when I nervously showed her what her pilfered windfall had been spent on), a Gibson 335 and a resonator guitar whose make I forget. I have also owned a Hofner Congress and a Senator. I have a soft spot for Hofners, and would dearly like a Committee or a President, but they fetch silly money now. A Fernandez 'Elephant Guitar' also lodged with me briefly. It was an amazing thing: a travel guitar, solid, with built-in amp and speaker. I liked it a lot, but it was so short scale that intonation was always a problem.
I was not and am not a good player, but I loved and was fascinated by the things, and if I had access to any funds, they would usually go on a guitar of some sort, only to be sold on again when times got hard. This situation still obtains, so I don't have a big collection, but I do have some rare and wonderful items and I love them all.
Here is what presently clutters my living room:
A Yamaha FG-411-12 twelve string, the most modern guitar in my possession. Typical Yamaha, good solid workhorse, with probably the easiest action of all my instruments.
A Martin Coletti - not one of the 50s junk jobs that he let his name be used on, but a sweet little thing made from good woods, which easily matches for tone and playability any thousand pound guitar I have tried.
A blond Radiotone archtop with some pen and ink drawing added, I guess, by some hippy in the sixties (it is signed Angie - if that is you, please get in touch). This has a rich sound and a slightly deformed neck which makes the action a little high down the fretboard.
An Epiphone Zenith from the 30s, of which the Ultimate Guitar Book has this to say: As well as the superb Emperor and Deluxe . . . Epiphone made a number of other significant archtop acoustics, some of more humble manufacture. These included the Broadway, Triumph, Royal, Spartan, Blackstone, Devon and Zenith models. It is a lovely old jazzer. Carved top and recently fitted up with fat low frets which make sliding up and down the fingerboard very slick and easy. For some reason, it has a bridge from a Hofner President, which is a great thing as it allows for some intonation adjustment.
An Emile Grimshaw - a British made guitar of the thirties. Grimshaw started as a banjo maker, and this guitar features a wooden resonator back similar to those found on banjos, making it very loud. Not a subtle instrument, but great for busking outdoors. The fingerboard has been replaced so the original inlays have been lost. I should have liked to have seen them - apparently they were very clumsily proportioned and badly inlaid. Note the early adjustable intonation patented bridge.
I would like to hear about any old or unusual boxes out there. Please don't be put off if yours are not in pristine condition - I mostly only buy beat-up guitars myself because that way I a) can afford them and b) don't have to get paranoid about people playing them.
Other stringed things
Anyone who goes in for accumulating guitars is liable to acquire, through curiosity or the misguided generosity of friends, a number of other stringed instruments. I have had a zither, two autoharps (one of which I re-jigged to play blues chords) and a Victorian instrument which was similar to a zither, but featured keys attached to brass weights on spring steel, that when activated bounced up and down on the strings making a mandolin-like sound. Several mandolins and a bouzouki have crossed my path, and a couple of balalaikas have seen me coming. I have also shared premises with an Apalachian dulcimer which I bought for my wife (now by the way my ex-wife, but I don't think that is entirely down to my promiscuous guitar buying habits).
Currently on the wall I have a balalaika, an undistinguished pear drop mandolin, and a lovely 60s or 70s Hoya mandolin in the shape of an archtop (picture soon) and gathering dust on a landing is a fiddle which I thought I would learn to play when I was in a ceilidh band, but was too embarassed to practice when I realised how loud it was.
I haven't done anything on the blog for a good while, but two events have prompted me into action. One is my recent acquisition of a (gasp) brand new shiny guitar complete with case and warranty and all. The other was an equally unexpected event - somebody has actually looked at the blog, and sent me a comment.
Well, my new box is a hand-built in Ireland jobbie - an Avalon L32. I happened to see it on eBay when I had no intention of buying another guitar (as I firmly told myself when I logged in). But it looked so lovely, and I had read so many favourable comments about them on the net, and it was just down the road, and the seller said come and try before you buy, and it was half list price; in short, fate was saying, 'forget your stern resolution to leave guitar buying alone for a bit, and check it out'. What can I say? I saw it, I played it, I had to have it. I won't put a picture of it up, because there are lots on the net, but my advice is if you get a chance - grab one.
The correspondent whose email helped stir me into life, and possibly the only person other than myself who will ever see this blog, is somebody who has bought a Radiotone similar to mine, and wants to compare notes. I am always happy to chat guitars, so if by chance anyone else is reading this, please post a comment.
I have not forgotten my promise to post a pic of my Hoya mandolin, but I keep forgetting to photograph it. More later. . .
This Landola is your Landola
If you know what that heading is about, you are probably a) old enough to remember Woodie Guthrie, and b) well advanced in guitar addiction yourself. The Landola range of hand-built Finnish guitars has not been very well known in this country, but recently a spattering has appeared on eBay, including several 12-strings. I came upon one of their jumbos a few days ago, and since it was at a low opening bid with no reserve I thought I would have a go. However, as I am now a reformed character, I was only going up to £250, and when it passed that my mate Nick took over. He won it at £338, and we arranged to meet the seller at a service station on the M5. We got a lift with our friend Colin who is an ace guitar doctor, and drove up to meet the seller. He turned out to be a nice chap, not a player himself though, and looked slightly alarmed as Colin opened his bag and set about the guitar with fret guages, straight edges, truss rod crankers and the like instruments of the guitar fettler's art; which he buys like some people buy guitars. The box being beautiful and basically sound, we trundled off whith it, Nick happily, and I thinking bugger - I should have gone to £350 for that. Ah me, at least I am now feeling virtuous to have resisted temptation, and feel entitled to get back to just looking on the net.
Well, who'd have thought it . . .
Here is what you get for innocently just looking looking on eBay.
There you are, flitting happily about with no intention of spending any money, when all at once - Kazanga! (as you might say) a gorgeous big-bottomed blonde from way back when is suddenly flaunting her irresistible curves and an outrageously inlaid pick guard at you, right there on your screen. In vain do you try to shut out the blandishments of the Guitar Goblin who sits on your shoulder pouring his poison in your ear. 'Go on!' he says, 'This is no time to be counting money - after all doesn't a vintage guitar get you through times with no money better than etc etc?' It is futile to resist. You already have many guitars? But what if the tree outside your flat came over in a big wind, and fell through your window crushing everything but the stand where you already picture your Antoria sitting? Guess you'd feel pretty silly then, eh? You can't deny it makes sense. You'll just make an offer - it probably won't be accepted anyway. . . .
Dear reader, not only did the seller accept my offer, but my friend of ages Graham, who works in London where the seller hangs out, kindly agreed to pick it up for me. I was helpless. The guitar arrived, and I restrung it with Newtone twelves. From that moment, it has scarcely left my hands. Plays like silk and has a voice like Bessie Smith. Excuse me, I just have to go and, erm, practice some scales. More anon.