Tag Archives: just a wooden box

Some thoughts on guitar fetishism

No, it’s really not that kind of website. What I want to talk about is the relationship between guitars and guitar players, which in my view can sometimes be a little…strange. I know, because I’ve been there myself.

We all know that guitars can be beautiful things, and that our attention gets focused by names like Martin, Maton, Gibson, Taylor and all the rest. In our young (or old) and foolish phases of our lives, we can even convince ourselves that we’re better players, and perhaps even superior people, when we own one.

I don’t want to talk down beautiful guitars with gorgeous sound and silky playing actions. After all, that’s what I aim to make myself. Nor do I deny that a good guitar, compared to a horrible one, can help us play better. I find that a different guitar often helps me discover new things to play.

But let’s not get carried away with it. Some of the best guitar music I’ve ever heard was pumped out by a West African player on a guitar he’d made himself out of what was available to him. The strings seemed to be fencing wire, but maybe not. My point is that a guitar doesn’t make a player – it’s the other way around.

Sometimes cheap and nasty can be great. A guitar is just a wooden box – it’s the sound that it and its player make that’s important, not the beauty, the tonewoods, or the glossy finish.

Recently I saw a documentary in which three highly-accomplished concert violinists did a blind test to see if they could pick the Stradivarius from a couple of other high quality violins. None of  them could. It’s the sound that matters, not the name on the box.

Here’s one definition of “fetish” from the OED: something irrationally reverenced.

Hmm. Irrational reverence can be fun, though…