One of the great things about being a guitar player is being able to share the passion with friends. Several of them, with whom I also do a lot of work, are not only talented musician/singer/songwriters, but happen to be quite knowledgeable about acoustic guitars. Together, we’ve held a handful of Acoustic Summits, where each of us brings several of our favorite instruments to the table and shares them, along with some good vibes, fine wine, killer food and stories of the road.
Guild D-66 NT; 1934 Gibson L-00; Larivee P-05 Parlor; Collings 01; Collings CJ.
The discussions range from the artisans and companies who build the instruments to the tonal ranges of various woods for necks, tops, sides and backs. While all the talk and specs sound nice, it’s not until you play these instruments side by side that you hear the subtle nuances of each. It’s a real ear-opener that clearly shows what differentiates each guitar from one another.
Together, we have assembled quite a diverse collection of sound at our gatherings. Dave Murphy, who has owned over 40 acoustics, including offerings from Collings (at least 20), Huss & Dalton, Santa Cruz, Gibson, Martin, Lowden and Bourgeois, has recently settled on a 2008 Collings CJ with mahogany back, sides and top. It’s a truly a beautiful, crystalclear instrument that works perfectly for his style, especially since he happens to play tuned down half a step. He’s a fan of builders who make guitars that pay homage to the great pre-war Martins and Gibsons of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.
Scott Moore, who has also owned several Lowdens and Collings guitars, is currently playing a vintage 1934 Gibson L-00 with a mahogany top, back and sides, a 1999 Larivee P-05 Parlor with a Sitka spruce top and a 2007 Greven 000hb with a Lutz spruce top and Madagascar rosewood back and sides. Since I’ve been at the other side of the mic recording all these guitars, I can attest to the fact that each one has their own special thing.
I happen to be a fan of the sustain and big sound of Guild acoustics and have a Nashville-built D-66 NT co-designed by George Gruhn, an old jumbo F-50 with spruce top, maple sides and back, and a sprucetopped 212XL. Certainly it can be said that it’s not how many acoustics you own and what they’re made of, it’s what each brings to the table.
Moore and Murphy are singers. They noted how important it was that the acoustic guitar they are playing not conflict with the tonal range of their voice—something I’ve never had to deal with. “It’s annoying to have to compete with your guitar, not just for volume but for frequency range,” says Murphy. “I look for the guitar that takes up that sweet space.”
Both Murphy and Moore also play out live, and each have their own preference of pickup systems—another great discussion topic. The acoustics I choose are strictly for recording in the studio—hence none of them have pickups installed. In addition, they both use their fingers and a pick, whereas I play only with a pick. Many great tones come out of their instruments just with finger touch, but it’s just not my style or my sound.
Interestingly, none of us currently own a Martin, something that is often discussed, since it’s certainly one of America’s classic guitars. Moore has almost pulled the trigger on a few models recently, but held back, waiting for that one that truly speaks to him. Murphy noted how he is always “trying to find the one that really works,” and also noted how his sensibilities change as he gets to know each guitar. As he sheepishly stated, “It’s that never-ending search for the holy grail.” Sometimes though, it’s not about a guitar built by a company, but one built by a single builder. “When they’re built by one person, the soul of the builder can truly come out,” said Moore. “There’s vintage, there’s boutique’s and then there’s wood. That’s really what it’s all about.”
There’s a lot to learn by sitting down with friends and playing some great instruments. Your ears tune themselves to the sweetness of each, and it makes you want to learn more about the different makers and their works of art. Often though, it’s just filling up the wine glass and simply playing—letting the guitars speak for themselves.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie. A life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.