4 Reasons I won’t lend you my Guitar
“My name is “Guitar Collector”. I might perform in the local guitar orchestra or attend the concerts that the Guitar Society of my locality presents. I buy the CD’s, I buy the season pass, but mostly, I buy Guitars. My certainly modest collection includes 3 Dammann’s, 2 Smallmann’s, a couple of Redgates, one Paco Santiago Marin, and a handful of others including possibly Fleta’s, Romanillo’s and a Hauser I. Pre war! Can you play my guitars? Certainly, but don’t ever think of going 3 millimeters outside of my sight with it and don’t you dare put a finger on the top, god forbid the scratch. Don’t thank me, its just who I am.”
I think probably every professional or aspiring guitarist in the world has had this experience at one time or another, and if this has not yet happened, it certainly will. To avoid social media innuendos, apologies in advance if you feel offended (or identified) with the description above. Guitar professionals need the encouragement and support of enthusiasts and guitar collectors/patrons. Without you, our lives would be even more difficult. But, you know what else we really need? GOOD GUITARS!
Guitars are getting more expensive by the minute, and in addition to an already oversaturated market with diminished demand for professional guitarists, high college debt and low return on their music career investment, guitarists’ only hope to break through the noise is to get EVEN MORE in debt to buy a competitive instrument. FEEL RELATED?
First, lets take into account a couple of assumptions before exploring how this can be:
- Guitars are, by comparison, incredibly cheap: The most expensive guitar in the world, probably even something that either Williams, Bream or Segovia himself played at some point, will run you just about as much as a top notch violin bow. About $300,000.
- In spite of the above, concert classical musicians, solo artists and even promising students around the world have access to violins, cellos, and other instruments that easily surpass $1,000,000, AT NO COST TO THE PERFORMER. If you want to have a better insight on how this is done, and which factors play into consideration, read the following article in The Economist which analyses this practice: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/12/expensive-violins
So, now the question: HOW COULD THIS BE?
After years of perusing the practices of guitar collectors and artists/students in the USA and Europe, the following list covers my reasoning behind this issue.
When comparing the attitudes of individual collectors at the classical music and classical guitar levels, one main difference strikes as obvious: CLASSICAL MUSIC COLLECTORS DO NOT USE THE INSTRUMENTS THEY BUY.
When was the last time anybody heard about an old guy playing twinkle twinkle in a two million dollar Stradivarius? The psychological relationship between the buyer and the instrument is one of respect, of acknowledgement of the instrument as a piece of art, whose secrets can only be uncovered by those who master the art of playing music. Doing otherwise would be like buying Picasso’s to have your kids paint on them during their after school art class.
Lets now look around guitar collectors. Since age 15 I have seen people drop $10,000, $20,000, or even $50,000 on guitars, only to go to the local “guru” to work on ‘Adelita’ by Tarrega, as they have done for the last 20 years. For them, buying an expensive guitar is like buying an expensive car: you can suck at driving and still buy a Mazeratti or a Ferrari. For them the instrument is a toy, something they can ‘play’ with. A nuisance.
Another striking difference is that while guitar collectors rarely encourage others to play in their investments, classical music instrument collectors find pride in lending them to a select group of people based on – most usually – artistic merits.
But what if you are a collector wholeheartedly interested in having your instrument played by a professional or an aspiring artist? Where do you go? Who helps you with the tax, legal, insurance, logistics, etc?
Many guitar organizations spend a lifetime preaching words like ‘community’. Wouldn’t it make sense to provide the artists they consider the best with instruments that can fully represent the breath/depth of the guitar culture? Besides taking in money in competitions, seminars, masterclasses, and subscriptions, which service do they provide to the ‘creme de la créme’ of the community they claim to support?
Violinists, Cellists and even pianists have the great fortune of having the likes of the Nippon Foundation (Which buys and provides artists with Stradivarius, Guarnieri’s, et al), Steinway, and other large organizations that provide the select few with the instruments they need to further their art.
Guitarists have? ___________ (Fill in the blank).
Given the above: why aren’t professional guitarists demanding similar treatment from their supporters in equal stance as violinists, cellists and other musicians do?
After all, the numbers show that these instruments are much cheaper, which means a lower insurance. There is a less likelihood of accident if cared properly and the market value of guitars will only rise with time.
Another cultural consideration is the conception of the guitar as a ‘developing instrument’. Most aspiring players change guitars frequently, and use them as means to success in their ‘competition careers’. This, obviously, leads to the development of instruments for technical rather than artistic purposes, mostly focused on projection and loudness rather than quality of sound. The community values the new and cheaper over the older and expensive, pretty much because nobody can afford the old and expensive guitars. They are all sitting ducks next to scrabble, and monopoly games in someone’s attic.
The effect is then a vicious cycle in which young aspiring guitarists – influenced by the ‘competition winners’ – consider only desultory factors during their guitar purchase, hampering their artistic development with such a narrow view
By any means, the classical guitar ‘market’ is at best 30-40 years old as an identifiable entity, and therefore is very immature in these practices. The concept of having an anonymous donor give you a pristine guitar for your upcoming competition tour is still mostly unheard of in this culture.
Hopefully this article serves to remedy this situation.
However, in the end someone always wins. And in this case it is my friends the Luthiers. Why would they change a thing? Guitar collectors have already oversaturated the waiting lists for the most promising ones. Further, given the scarcity, collectors sometimes pay premiums for faster delivery or immediacy, further inflating the price of these valued instruments for the great majority of professional and aspiring guitarists.
Not all is happiness in the luthier turf though. The luthiers for John Williams, Bream, Yepes, and the generation that followed enjoyed the heightened exposure of their instruments in CD’s for big labels, collaboration with important musicians and TV/Radio/Print media. As fewer guitarists have that kind of impact, it is not so easy for Luthiers to cut through the noise. That being said, Luthiers are the ones with the lowest incentive to change the status quo of inflationary appreciation of the price of guitars.
Classical musicians on the other hand, have nothing to worry about. Its not like Stradivarius is going to wake from the death to start making violins anytime soon.
SO, WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?
In talking with my dear friend Sergio Assad, he gave a light of hope for these practices as he mentioned individual cases of people providing instruments for his students on a medium-term basis. Sometimes, professors and friends also do this for the love of the art or for other not so altruistic considerations (E.G. Professor wants to have his student win a certain competition, lending the ‘Loud’ guitar).
After speaking with multiple connoisseurs, guitar collectors and people from the arts, one theme kept recurring: ‘It is a pity most guitarists play with ‘soulless’ guitars nowadays. This double top/loudness frenzy is terrible for the development of the art’
I couldn’t keep on thinking: If you want to make a difference, why not allowing them to play the ones in your basement?