Tonewoods absolutely matter when it comes to acoustic guitars, right? But how much difference does the wood actually make? If you’ve tried out different guitars made from different woods by different vendors, then are you only hearing the woods? Or are you hearing the shape? The body size? The bracing? Or maybe other differences in the design and construction?
Could you ever tell the difference between guitars from the sound of their tonewoods alone? That question has puzzled us, too — for years. Sweetwater reached out to Breedlove Guitars to try and answer these questions by doing something that’s never been done before.
“What if we made the same guitar out of different woods? How much difference would we hear?”
The premise seemed simple enough: same guitar, same dimensions, same maker, same everything. The difference? Only the wood in the backs and sides would change from guitar to guitar. Simple — but no one has ever committed the time, expertise, and resources required to do this. Until now.
Can You Hear the Difference? Acoustic Guitar Tonewood Showcase
Your initial reaction to these guitars may be like ours when we first flipped the latches and opened the cases — lots of “ooh-ing” and “ah-ing” over how beautiful the instruments are. They are truly works of art. We’ll start with a gallery of photos while treating you to sound samples for each of these exquisite guitars, played by Don Carr.
Note: We used premium microphones and preamps to record these and reveal all the nuances between them. Using high-quality speakers or headphones is the best way to listen to these.
One of the densest tonewoods in the world. Listen on Sweetwater.com.
A strikingly beautiful wood with a unique tone. Listen on Sweetwater.com.
A perennial favorite, offering power and definition like no other. Listen on Sweetwater.com.
Warm, full, and brilliant. Listen on Sweetwater.com.
A Breedlove favorite, Pacific Northwest native, and new to many players -- it may surprise you. Listen on Sweetwater.com.
How This Project Began
Thom Grant, Sweetwater’s acoustic guitar category manager, reached out to Angela Christensen at Breedlove Guitars and brought up the intriguing idea of a Tonewood Showcase series. In this project, we would build identical guitars from different tonewoods to compare the sounds of each. From the start, Angela was all in. As head wood buyer for Breedlove, she was intrigued by the properties and characters of different woods. As a company, Breedlove adores coloring outside the lines, and this group of Tonewood Showcase guitars certainly fits that model. One word that kept coming up was “unprecedented.” Nobody has ever done anything like this before. With buy-in from a premium builder like Breedlove and a dedicated luthier like Angela heading up this unique project, we began with a completely blank slate. Imagine having every option available to you: Where would you begin?
Where Do We Start?
This amazing opportunity presented us with a number of questions:
What guitar model should we use?
We decided to use the Breedlove Concert body style, the company’s most popular model.
What wood will we use for the top?
We decided that the tops would be spruce, and Angela agreed to personally select the highly figured Bearclaw Sitka spruce tops that would be used on all the guitars. And the tops are stunning! Each is hand-tuned with Breedlove’s proprietary Sound Optimization method. In this hand-voicing process, the company’s luthiers meticulously tap, listen, and shave away wood while targeting specific frequencies to make each instrument sound its best. Each instrument comes with a certificate that documents the optimization process for that specific guitar.
What tonewoods should we use for the backs and sides?
Sweetwater and Breedlove decided that these five woods — chosen for their unique looks and sounds — would be utilized for the backs and sides:
If all the guitars are identical except for their backs and sides, then how will you tell them apart just by looking?
Each guitar has neck inlays, an inlaid rosette around the soundhole, and a veneer on the headstock that matches the back and side wood. The original Breedlove “B” logo appears on the headstock to visually differentiate these guitars. Note the beautiful wood binding around the body as well.
What about the necks?
All the necks are made from mahogany and have ebony fingerboards. The guitars’ neck inlays are quintessential Breedlove and match the body wood — koa inlays on the koa guitar, for example. The one exception is the neck on the myrtlewood guitar, which is maple — a pairing prized by Breedlove.
What bracing and hardware do we use?
All the guitars are identical in terms of bracing. The tuners and bridges conform to Breedlove’s high standards.
These look like limited-edition guitars. Are they?
These are NOT strictly limited-edition guitars because we can make more. We have ordered five of each with the option for building more. They are Sweetwater-exclusive instruments, however, and with the look and panache of an instrument valued at more than $10,000, each will surely be rare and highly prized but at a more reasonable cost. Sonically and visually, they compare well to guitars that cost twice as much.
Player's Perspective: Do Tonewoods Matter?
Don Carr had the unique privilege of playing these five guitars on multiple occasions. Here are his thoughts after spending time with all of them:
"Normally, when playing various guitars in a head-to-head comparison, there’s a long checklist to consider for each instrument: visual appeal, body size and shape, design and construction, action and setup, wood choices, quality vs. price, and ultimately, of course, how it sounds. This experience was not a normal comparison. In this one-of-a-kind context, the only difference I had to consider was how the guitars sounded, and as a player, how that sound felt to me and how I responded to each one.
I’ll start with the fact that all of the guitars sound incredible. This is a testament to Breedlove and Angela’s expertise and resources. Breedlove’s Concert guitar is a perfect platform because the feel is balanced, and the sonic spectrum is evenly represented. Plus, it’s just a joy to play. Breedlove has an amazing wood library, but beyond having the right woods, knowing how to choose the right pieces and pair them properly is an art. All that considered, with every other aspect of the construction of these guitars being as close to identical as possible, there are subtle differences.
As the person lucky enough to play and record all five guitars, I got a chance to spend a decent amount of time with each one. From the player’s side, the most noticeable differences are in the low end, largely because you feel the way it resonates against you. When picking a favorite, this is a factor depending on whether you like to feel the body resonate and be enveloped by the low end of the instrument. Spoiler alert: I found that the more I played them, the more difficult it was to pick a favorite. Sorry, not sorry! I honestly enjoyed every one of them, and they each have their own unique and useful sonic signature."
These extraordinary instruments are some of the finest, most unique acoustic guitars you may ever see, and they are only available at Sweetwater. Pick the one with the sound you like most and reach out to your Sweetwater Sales Engineer at (800) 222-4700. While we hope to make enough for everyone who wants one, there are no guarantees. We’re not sure how long they’ll be around, so don’t wait — order your favorite today!
Don Carr’s original compositions and performances are featured in this article, and Jason Peets engineered the sessions at Sweetwater Studios. We used a pair of Telefunken C12 large-diaphragm tube condenser microphones through a DW Fearn VT-2 Dual-Channel Microphone Preamp recorded directly recorded into Avid Pro Tools through Avid MTRX converters. Photography was done by Sweetwater’s own Matt Owens, and the tube lights utilized in the shoots were Chauvet Pro WELL STX 180 LED tube lights.
Making a living doing the thing you love is great—in fact, it’s something that so many players aspire to. But it changes the relationship between player and instrument when the instrument is a source of work. How do they stay excited about their work? And how do they get excited when they’re in a lull? What keeps their creativity flowing? These are big questions, but our hosts are both having their own renaissances with their guitars. And—surprise!—it’s because they’ve both come into some new key pieces of gear.
Get 10% off from StewMac when you visit stewmac.com/dippedintone
On this episode, Rhett and Zach discuss the relationship that they each have with the guitar at this point in their careers. Making a living doing the thing you love is great—in fact, it’s something that so many players aspire to. But it changes the relationship between player and instrument when the instrument is a source of work. How do they stay excited about their work? And how do they get excited when they’re in a lull? What keeps their creativity flowing? These are big questions, but our hosts are both having their own renaissances with their guitars. And—surprise!—it’s because they’ve both come into some new key pieces of gear.
Zach reports that he has been rippin’ totally sweet Metallica licks on his sick new ESP LTD Kirk Hammett Signature Series KH-602. He’s a longtime fan of the band—and has conveniently fallen back in love with Kill ’Em All and Ride the Lightning—and says he’s wanted a Hammett signature guitar for his entire guitar-playing life. When he saw this one at Nashville’s Guitars To Be Played, he fell in love with everything, from the skull and crossbones fret markers to the Floyd Rose. And you know what? The Floyd Rose isn’t hard to set up. This guitar, Zach says, is kickstarting his “love of the guitar again.”
Meanwhile, Rhett has been enjoying his new Soldano SLO-100head and matching 4x12 cabinet, even if he does keep the cab a few flights below his control room. He’s stoked about the story of Soldano, who he admires for being one of the early boutique amp builders, and has been playing this new 100-watter all week.When it’s time to dip a rig, it’s hard to find any faults. No spoilers, but it’s a nice one (and an easy gig load).And in the shill zone, Zach talks about the importance of running a brown box for owners of older amps and talks briefly about the difference between the Brown Box and a Variac.
Fishman's new micro pedals add scads of acoustic performance flexibility and a ton of fun.
Tailored specifically for acoustic guitars, Fishman AFX Mini Acoustic Pedals allow you to explore new textures, rhythms, and spaces without sacrificing your tone. Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned player, experience the acoustic focused design of Fishman AFX Mini pedals and unlock the full potential of your acoustic sound.
Three quality reverbs – Hall, Plate, Spring – are blended in parallel with your direct sound while preserving your acoustic tone. The Reverb Time knob controls how long you hear the effect, and ranges from short to very large spaces. Tone knob affects only the reverb and not your direct sound. Similarly, the Level knob adds the effect into your signal chain without overwhelming the sound of your instrument.
Recreates the classic sound of a spring type reverb found in many electric guitar amplifiers.
An all-around reverb with natural, resonate spaces capable of replicating rooms both small and large, with long reverb decay times.
Recreates the dense reflections and metallic characteristics of mechanical plate reverbs used throughout the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Based on the highly-regarded Fishman Platinum series of instrument preamps, AFX Pro EQ Mini offers quality preamplification and critical equalization voiced specifically for acoustic instruments.
This is no off-the-shelf graphic EQ – plug in and your signal begins with a high-impedance instrument preamp to condition nearly any passive or active pickup.
Then, use the four bands of acoustic tone control to sculpt your bass, mids, treble, and brilliance.
A sweepable Low Cut fine-tunes the very low frequencies to reduce or enhance thumps and subs.
Finally, hold the footswitch to toggle your output polarity. Also known as “phase,” this simple circuit can tame low-frequency howl very effectively.
Broken Record Looper/Sampler
AFX Broken Record packs high-quality audio looping and sampling into a tiny, yet deceptively-simple stompbox package. It features intuitive one-button operation, endless overdub capability and offers easy transfer to a computer.
A single footswitch is all it takes to record, overdub, and play along with your coolest riffs and patterns.
Featuring high-quality 24-bit, 44.1kHz audio recording of up to 6 minutes, AFX Broken Record let’s you capture cool ideas and build on them, or even play along with pre-recorded audio you transfer from your computer.
Built-in memory will retain what you recorded even after the power is disconnected. So, you can unplug at your gig and transfer your loop to your computer later. This also means that the backing track you transfer from your computer will be ready and waiting for you to play back at your next performance.
The Dao of Acoustic Jerry Garcia
The Grateful Dead leader’s guitar playing traveled a long and complex road that begins in the dusty fields of American music. Here’s your guide, from the Black Mountain Boys to Workingman’s Dead to Dawg.
Twenty-eight years after his death, Jerry Garcia may be more famous than ever. There are reputed to be over 5,000 Grateful Dead cover bands in the U.S. alone. Guitarists in towns small and large mine his electric guitar solos for existential wisdom, and his bright, chiming tone and laid-back lyricism continues to enthrall successive generations. What is less talked about is his acoustic guitar playing, which is, after all, where it all began.
One cannot fully understand the man without knowing how powerful and enduring the acoustic guitar remained in his life. Picture the West Coast in 1962; this is before everything went electric. What’s in the air is the Folk Revival. A generation of young urban kids had discovered American folk music, old-time, bluegrass, ragtime, and Delta blues, whether it was Woody Guthrie, Clarence Ashley, Bill Monroe, or Reverend Gary Davis. Plenty of future rock ’n’ rollers, including Jorma Kaukonen, John Sebastian, and Mike Bloomfield, absorbed this music, but none climbed as deep into its corners as Garcia.
Our recorded evidence goes as far back as 1961, when Jerry played banjo and guitar with the Black Mountain Boys, the Hart Valley Drifters, and other Bay Area outfits that included contemporaries like Eric Thompson on guitar, future Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter on bass, and multi-instrumentalist Sandy Rothman. What strikes the listener is how burning these early recordings are. Jerry, barely out of his teens, mostly on banjo, has gone straight into the hardcore stuff. This music, coming from the likes of the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and the Osborne Brothers, is not for the faint of heart. It’s virtuosic, wild, and, in its purest form, downright scary. Death and violence run amok in many of their lyrics. As Jerry’s longtime ally, mandolinist David Grisman, put it, “Back then, all of it was pretty hardcore compared to the ‘pop grass’ of today.”
Jerry followed Bill Monroe around for close to a year and is reputed to have approached the father of bluegrass to audition for his band. He studied numerous lesser-known figures, too: Dock Boggs, flat-picker Tom Paley from the New Lost City Ramblers, Mississippi John Hurt. In the mid-’60s, he set aside the banjo to focus on guitar, because as he put it, “I’d worn the banjo out.”
“In the mid-’60s, he set aside the banjo to focus on guitar, because as he put it, ‘I’d worn the banjo out.’”
Garcia’s voracious appetite for American musical history drove him to dive into a subject and completely exhaust it, absorbing new influences like proteins. A set in those days might include bluegrass staples like “Rosa Lee McFall” and “John Hardy,” but also folk tunes that Peter, Paul and Mary or Joan Baez might cover: “All My Trials,” “Rake and Rambling Boy,” “Gilgarra Mountain.” There were also classics from the old-time repertoire, such as “Shady Grove” (a Doc Watson favorite) and “Man of Constant Sorrow,” along with Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins” or Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene.”
The locus for this outpouring of West Coast roots-music activity was the South Bay, Palo Alto, and Menlo Park—community gathering spots where the culture turned from beatnik to hippie. The precursor of the Grateful Dead was the Palo Alto-based, all-acoustic Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Jug bands had roots in early African American history, but at that time the main influence among the young, white players in the genre was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.
Hot dawgs: Garcia and his acoustic-mandolin-playing cohort, David Grisman, clearly enjoyed hanging out together on the 1993 day in Mill Valley, California, when this shot was taken.
Photo by Susana Millman
When most musicians play traditional American tunes, especially bluegrass, they hew to a set of timeworn principles and licks from which they extrapolate. Jerry didn’t do that so much, though he knew plenty of those licks. He made the music his own. He accompanied himself as a singer on acoustic guitar as much as he did on electric, with a simple, strong picking hand. In solos, he ranged freely around the neck, not content to stay close to first position, like bluegrassers Jimmy Martin or Carter Stanley might. You never feel that he’s relying on much besides his ear. We hear the ever-present pull-offs, the chromatic approach tones, the hints at Tin Pan Alley harmony, and even the note-bending—all the stuff you find in his electric work.
“Calling himself ‘lazy,’ he suggested that playing acoustic could be a battle, and that this guitar generally made life easier.”
Consider “The Other One,” which often became a springboard for the Grateful Dead’s long electric jams. In more fiery renditions of this staple, Jerry plays long lines of eighth notes—a relentless stream that builds the energy much like a bluegrass solo, where the right hand never stops and rarely slows. In “Deal,” you hear the pre-war Tin Pan Alley sound, with echoes of early jazz. In “Cold Rain and Snow,” “Wharf Rat,” and “Loser,” you hear the modal drones of early country gospel, and the way Garcia solos evoke the primeval fiddle lines and moaning vocals of the nascent 20th century, back when death, murder, destitution, and lost love made up a lot of the lyrical subject matter. It’s a perfect mating. His flatpicking is at the heart of “Me and My Uncle,” “Cumberland Blues,” and “Brown-Eyed Women.” You hear some of early Merle Haggard and the Bakersfield sound, too.
In the mid-’60s, Garcia set aside the banjo to focus on guitar, because as he put it, “I’d worn the banjo out.”
Photo by Jerald Melrose
And what of the gear that Jerry used through four decades of creating his signature approach to acoustic American roots music (which includes rock ’n’ roll)? Let’s start in 1980, when the Grateful Dead did an acoustic and electric tour of 25 shows with three sets per gig—the first set unplugged.
Jerry had grown tired of dealing with the sound of a miked acoustic. It was too unpredictable, too woofy. The sound of the guitar, he said, comes at you from a number of directions. To simply put a mic near the soundhole captures only a portion of the sound waves. When the first guitars with built-in pickups were made, and could be plugged straight into the soundboard, he went for it, bought a Takamine EF360S, and never looked back. Compared to, say, a Martin, these guitars are rather snappy in tone, emphasizing highs and mid highs. Jerry sometimes opted to further emphasize the brightness by picking close to the bridge. He told interviewer Jas Obrecht that he also favored the Takamine for how easy it played, compared to some of his earlier dreadnoughts. Calling himself “lazy,” he suggested that playing acoustic could be a battle, and that this guitar generally made life easier.
Way back in the early ’60s, Garcia played a big-bodied Guild F-50, and then a Martin D-21. As the decade progressed, he chose an Epiphone Texan, and a Martin 000-18S and 00-45. During the rail-riding 1970 Festival Express tour—captured in the excellent 2003-released film Festival Express—he was spotted playing a Martin D-18 and a D-28, and in 1978 he was using a Guild D-25. Jerry reportedly revisited his Martins in later years, but most often he performed and recorded with the Takamine or an Alvarez Yairi GY-1, aka the Jerry Garcia Model. The GY-1 was designed with Garcia’s input by Kazuo Yairi in the early ’90s. It boasts solid rosewood back and sides, an ebony fretboard, gold tuners, custom fretboard and headstock inlays, and Alvarez System 500 electronics. Today, vintage GY-1s sell for between $850 and $1,500, depending on their condition.
“He had the three T’s: tone, time and taste. And, most importantly, he had his own unique voice, immediately recognizable and distinctive.”—David Grisman
Jerry’s acoustic playing is at the heart of early Dead albums, such as Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. When you hear “Ripple,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Dire Wolf,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and later, “Standing on the Moon” or “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” you’re hearing an incredible evolution of American song, in part thanks to his stellar fretwork.
The Alvarez Yairi GY-1 became known as the Jerry Garcia Model. It was designed with Garcia’s input by Kazuo Yairi in the early ’90s. It boasts a solid rosewood back and sides, an ebony fretboard, gold tuners, custom fretboard and headstock inlays, and Alvarez System 500 electronics.
Photo courtesy of Dark Matter Music Company/Reverb.com
I was at a couple of the Grateful Dead’s shows at San Francisco’s Warfield in 1980, during their acoustic and electric tour, and the experience was a revelation. It showed how strong the songs were, without the hue and cry of electricity. Sure, the Dead were a dance band, and a decidedly psychedelic band, but their acoustic playing revealed depths of intimacy that were a lovely counterpoint to all that. Some of Jerry’s most mournful material, Garcia’s “To Lay Me Down” and American Beauty’s “Brokedown Palace,” is even more heartbreaking when he’s in this setting. You feel the band’s subtle chemistry in a new way.
But as an acoustic player, Jerry is most clearly represented in his side projects, such as Old & In the Way, a first-class bluegrass outfit (with Jerry back on banjo) that stretched past traditional repertoire into songs by the Rolling Stones as well as mandolinist Dave Grisman’s and guitarist Peter Rowan’s “newgrass” originals. The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band of the late ’80s harkened back to the Black Mountain Boys. The fiddle player in the band, Kenny Kosek, says the group started when some of Jerry’s old friends gathered by his hospital bed when he was recovering from his diabetic coma in 1987. They encouraged him to use the band as an opportunity to heal and renew.
During his early years in bluegrass and old timey music, Garcia’s first recording instrument was the banjo, which he played in groups like the Black Mountain Boys.
Photo by Jerald Melrose
A charming piece of history is also found in the album The Pizza Tapes, an informal 1993 jam—released seven years later—with Grisman and bluegrass-guitar icon Tony Rice that was recorded in Grisman’s home and released after a bootleg began to circulate. It’s useful to contrast Garcia’s solos with Rice’s. Save for Doc Watson, Rice was possibly the greatest bluegrass guitarist to walk the planet, with enough technique to steamroll you right off the stage. But Jerry doesn’t flinch. He just wanders up and down the neck being Jerry—a little behind the beat, playing melodies … always melodies. He’s not out to compete with Rice, and, indeed, his collaborative approach was one of the Grateful Dead’s pillars. But it’s clear Garcia is no visitor to these stylistic realms as they play songs by John Hurt, Lefty Frizzell, Dylan, and even the Gershwins. He lives there.
The final act of Jerry as an acoustic guitarist was captured on the four Garcia/Grisman recordings of the ’90s. Talking to Grisman, who coined the term “Dawg Music” to describe the mix of bluegrass, folk, and jazz which he and Garcia loved, one can infer that this trove of material, recorded over many sessions at his house, came about partly because the Dead had become such a monolith. Stardom had its burdens, and Jerry didn’t care much for the pressure of being an object of worship. This music was a refuge, and Grisman describes the undertaking as “providential.” It’s moving to hear Garcia reach back to his roots with accumulated wisdom and gravitas … before he leaves us. His playing is deeply relaxed, his voice authoritative, resonant. He is an emotional interpreter, getting right to the soul of the tunes. These lesser-known recordings are some of the true gems in Jerry’s protean career, and luckily there are deluxe editions with a lot of music at Grisman’s acousticdisc.com.
The musicians who played acoustic music with Garcia all note the wide reach of his repertoire. Kenny Kosek describes feeling fully supported by Jerry, who infused that support with a sense of openness and playfulness. Grisman adds, “He had the three T’s: tone, time and taste. And, most importantly, he had his own unique voice, immediately recognizable and distinctive, reflecting his heavy addiction to listening to great music of all types.”
Joel Harrison wishes to thank David Grisman, Eric Thompson, Steve Kimock, and Jack Devine for assistance with this article.
Hear the Grateful Dead tackle an acoustic rendition of the 1920s song “Deep Elem Blues,” alluding to Dallas’ historic African American neighborhood. Yes, Jerry solos!
Get Some Jerry in Your Ears
If you’re not already familiar with Jerry Garcia’s acoustic playing, here are a few recommended recordings:
- “Uncle John’s Band,” Workingman’s Dead, The Grateful Dead (1970)
- “Jack-A-Roe,” Reckoning, The Grateful Dead(1981)
- “Whiskey in the Jar,” Shady Grove, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia (1996)
- “Louis Collins,” The Pizza Tapes, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and Tony Rice (2000)
- Before the Dead, four-CD/five-LP compilation of Jerry Garcia’s pre-Dead bands (2018)
As one of life’s simple pleasures, playing acoustic guitar—especially outside—can be the perfect mental-health solution.
“Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.”—John Stuart Mill
My heroes have always been musicians. After a lifetime of gigs and a decade of Rig Rundowns, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of musicians that I have loved, emulated, followed, stalked. For the most part, they are nothing like the demigods I imagined. If you get an unguarded glimpse into who they are, often you will recognize a kinship, for we share this same fragile, nervous, socially awkward, somewhat insecure core. Distill it all down without smoke and mirrors, or smoke and beers, and you can see that like most of us, they were drawn to music from an early age because it gave them something they needed.
Maybe music is the words they can’t say, or the feelings they can’t express, or emotions they need to get out, or a chi-aligning meditation that centers them, or gives them the recognition they crave. Most teenagers like music, but for those who go on to become full-on musicians, it goes way beyond liking music, or even loving it—it’s a necessity. Perhaps, for some who don’t feel at home in the world, they retreat into music. I suspect that most of us spend all those hours alone with our instrument because it’s our therapy.
Research has found that musicians are three times more likely to experience anxiety or depression than the general public. And odds are, if you are reading this gear-nerd mag, you are probably a musician. So yes, I’m talking to you, gentle reader, because you (like me) are wired differently than the so-called “normals.”
Why am I bringing up this cheering fact? Because this is PG’s acoustic issue, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it just so happens that my personal mental-health panacea is playing acoustic guitar, preferably outside. Here’s why it works for me.
Most teenagers like music, but for those who go on to become full-on musicians, it goes way beyondliking music, or even loving it—it’s a necessity.
Often, I find myself lying in bed in the middle of the night, obsessively dwelling on problems that have no solution, my mind busily polishing every horrible detail. If I continue lying there, these negative thought loops will accompany me until the sun rises, and then through the following miserable day.
Playing electric guitar works, too, but not as well, because it’s too easy to get bogged down in gear with an electric. What I love about acoustic is the immediacy of it. It’s right there, the sound literally comes out of your fingers and the wood, and presses against your body to resonate. There are no cables to chase down, amps to fiddle with, pedals to think about; it’s just making music. Best of all, acoustics are highly portable, so you can take it outside. Provided the weather is not horrible, outside is where you want to be.
I suspect we are living in the least mental-health-friendly age ever, with the average American spending 7 hours per day staring at a screen that feeds us a constant diet of anger, desire, and fear. You are what you eat, and that dystopian diet has a cost. Combine that with the fact that for the roughly 2 million years that Homo genus has been walking the Earth, we’ve been grounded to earth the entire time until now, and that too has a cost. Research suggests that reconnection with the Earth’s natural electric charge stabilizes our physiology at the deepest levels; reduces inflammation, pain, and stress; improves blood flow, energy, and sleep; and generates greater well-being. If you happen to drive by my home at 4 a.m. and it’s not freezing outside, there’s a good chance you will see me sitting cross-legged on my lawn playing guitar alone in the dark.
My main acoustic is my Epiphone Lil Tex. The strings are so old on it, you may need a tetanus shot after playing it. Although Tex does not have a great tone, it feels like part of my body; we have seriously bonded from all the hours we’ve spent together outside, sitting with my toes in the grass and connecting to the universe. Twenty minutes outside playing that thing always makes me feel like what I imagine an advanced yogi must feel like after a deep meditation.
So, when this world is just too much, grab your acoustic and go outside and play with your toes in the grass or sand. Get lost in the music and I promise you will feel better. And if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, there is help—samhsa.gov is a great resource.