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Esoterica Electrica

I took this photo of Martin Turner of Wishbone Ash standing in his driveway after receiving the Standard bass. It’s not quite the first Hamer, but the first one with a serial number: #0001.

A vintage Gibson might have been a missed opportunity, but it inspired a pair of builders to reach for greatness.

Everyone has that “one that got away” story, and as a former small-time vintage-guitar dealer, I’ve got more than a few. The blue-chip examples that passed through my hands haunt me, but there were others that just spoke to my soul. I have fond memories of the hunts, catches, and the releases. Even the ones beyond reach or missed opportunities were exciting. Still, there was one encounter that sticks out maybe more than all. In fact, it led to my 50-year-and-still-counting stint as an instrument builder.

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Jerry Garcia plays a Takamine acoustic at Lincoln Center in Manhattan in 1984, where he performed with bassist and frequent collaborator John Kahn.

Photo by Susana Millman

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.

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This guitar certainly sounds superb, and thanks to its fine tonewood ensemble—which consists of a korina neck and body, figured maple top, and Brazilian rosewood—it looks great, too.

When it comes to electric guitar materials, choose the wood that looks good.

Nothing raises the hackles of electric-guitar players like the subject of tonewoods. Maybe that’s why I like to talk about the subject. Unlike many, I enjoy being proven wrong, and believe me when I tell you that, despite my decades of experience, it happens on a regular basis. And despite what may appear to be factual science, there’s also something that can change one’s opinion on matters that don’t get discussed: The practical application of the matter at hand.

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Photo by Paul Natkin

A self-effacing portrait of the legendary Spinal Tap.

Paul Natkin’s The Moment of Truth and Fleetwood Mac in Chicago by Jeff Lowenthal and Robert Schaffner remind us of the importance of the rock ’n’ roll and blues photography that used to accompany our favorite releases.

The convenience of digital music files is undeniable. Whether you’re swapping tracks, adding overdubs, or even collaborating on songwriting, it’s hard to imagine living without them. When I hear about a new artist, the first thing I do is sample some of their work online. Then, if I’m inclined, I can buy their entire catalog with a few clicks, or just listen on a streaming service. As much as I miss making the journey to the record store, digital delivery is pretty magnificent. The one thing that it lacks is the tactile and visual presentation of the record jacket. Especially those ones crammed with photographs.

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When it comes to making high-quality guitar content, Snarky Puppy—whose latest album, Empire Central, was recorded live in the studio—are at the forefront.

Photo by Brian Friedman

In the face of current events, we’ve witnessed the steady and resilient progression of the guitar industry.

Despite the tough times we’ve been facing over the past few years, the guitar world has kept on ticking. By all visible measures, the industry has been doing well, both for sellers of musical gear and for content creators. There has also been a resurgence of live shows, and even with the ebb and flow of infectious disease, the marketplace for live concerts is gathering steam. So, what has changed in our journey to the “new” normal?

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