4 Reasons I won’t lend you my Guitar

KEEP AWAY!!! DO NOT TOUCH!!! DREAMING OF HAVING ONE IS ALLOWED.

“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.

INSTRUMENTAL AFFINITY

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.

INSTITUTIONS

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).

CULTURE

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.

LUTHIERS

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may also like...

Comments

11 Responses

  1. Alvaro,

    I am a luthier in Tennessee and find the subject of your article and your comments on the guitar market very interesting and important to discuss. I just sent a guitar out the door to an aspiring professional guitarist with care instructions that amounted to, “if you want to take care of your guitar then don’t share it.”

    While I certainly benefit from the rise in the classical guitar’s market value, I was also an undergraduate performance major once, and understand that it is unrealistic for present luthiers to expect a college student with thousands of dollars in student loans, and few job prospects to also purchase our guitars. I do everything on my end I can do to make sure it’s a good, long term investment, but in the end, (while I am encouraging players to buy my guitars) I encourage these young players to create new markets for the instrument – to create their own path and following.

    Your article ended on a sore note for me and inspired me to propose that we look at this issue with a new set of lenses. The theme that “keeps repeating” – the idea that modern guitars or double top guitars are “soulless” and bad for the development of the art is a thought that I would like to argue against (while requesting a more objective definition of “soulless” ).

    Of all the sentiments in the guitar market, the idea that innovation hampers the development of the art is the most counterintuitive and counterproductive of all. You located the problem with precision – that players are entering an oversaturated market. Of course, new luthiers do the same. Yet, what you and I are hearing from classical guitar collectors, aficionados and other market drivers is that in order to grow the art, we must build a nostalgic blockade around it, eternally squeezing value from one moment of the instruments history (Segovia). Classical music (which I love very much) has already done a very good job at that, and the result is apparent to me each time my local symphony calls me (a ticket buyer) asking for a donation to keep the doors open.

    We know that scarcity creates economic value. I reduce the classical guitar market into two camps of scarcity:

    1) Great guitars made by deceased luthiers that express past successes of the art
    2) Great new guitars that change how we play, hear and create our art

    What path do you think holds a future for the young and talented classical guitarist about to enter this market?

    I think the best thing that classical guitar enthusiasts can do for the health of the art and these young careers is to re-examine the feelings that evoke the attribution of the term “soulless” and to invest in new career paths that bring new ears and new sentiments to the world of classical guitar. It’s better than demanding that we all squeeze through the same, ever narrowing entrance to success.

    Respects,

    Zeb

    • Hi Zeb,

      Thanks for your nice comment. Indeed my individual perception is not that any particular guitar is ‘soulless’. What I tried (and failed, obviously) to convey is the irony in the opinion of some collectors that do not like the sound of modern guitars and claim for the preservation of the old spanish guitar traditions, when it is very much their practices that prevent furthering this tradition.

      Luthiers respond – like any business owners – to market forces, and right now the demand is in double tops, pretty much for the reasons explained above.

      The guitar is in a very special situation, and I see the market moving further away from the classical core as explained in my first article “How Classical is the Classical Guitar?”. Therefore, people entering the market will have to make a very conscious decision of where to develop their art, with serious consequences in the short and long term.

      I will continue this series addressing some of my insights about the the topics you mentioned, as you might understand that one article cannot cover it all.

      With best regards,

      Alvaro

  2. George says:

    What we need is luthiers that make good guitars.
    And what we need is players that send us into extacy with wonderful music-making.

    In other words: we need sensitive luthiers and players.

    What we do not need, is people telling us that all the good guitars are in rich collector’s possession; and that they need to share more.
    In other words: we don’t need people who look only at business.

    • Jason says:

      I agree so much:

      What we also need is relationships between players and luthiers; and not between normal players and the super-rich.

      • Jason, Completely agree.

        However, as pointed above, luthiers are also artisans who need to remain competitive in the marketplace. Yes, they can sponsor one or two people (as I know they sometimes do, with ‘hot’ players) so that they can raise prizes, but with the guitar community so over saturated, less and less people have the bargaining power necessary to get enough traction to do this.

        This community spends a lifetime talking about the ‘great goods’ like ‘sanctity of music’ and remain ‘against business’, but once you look at what happens in the background, when you REALLY see what goes on, is the worst kind of business imaginable: corruption, nepotism, tradeoffs, luthiers (some) with players (some) who are also organizers barter, even sleep with each other, betray each other and form exclusive cliques and groups. Some have a competitive attitude and practices that would put the most vicious Wall Street Investment Banker or Trader to shame, and all for peanuts. All covered with the masquerade of ‘art’.

        “Business” – and of the worst kind – is unavoidable.

        This blog will continue to unveil some of these practices….one article at a time.

    • Hi! Thanks for your insights. Let’s pose a question, dont answer me, just answer yourself: Lets say I will give you money to go and buy any guitar you want, but you have to choose between the following luthiers: Dammann, Smallman, Martin, Redgate, Marin and Connor. Would you be able to get one this month? Next Month? In 1 year? EVER?

      It all depends on what your tastes are (I have purposely included 2ble tops, lattice, etc) but regardless of this, lets say it is pretty difficult to get a new instrument from these people. Why is that?

      The issues of performance and the development of the instrument are not in discussion, nor is business. In fact, students would think less of business if they only had the tools to produce the music you claim to need.

      Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist society in which if you want any good, either you go buy it at market price, or someone has to give it to you.

      So, who is going to give students the tools they need, YOU?

      • Wilson says:

        Ridiculous.
        Example: Look at your last two sentences and look at them hard.

        Point1: Leave the market alone. Luthiers who are well-established, well-known and very-in-demand should NOT sell their instruments for peanuts. What do you want? Communist regulation to ‘keep those damn well-known luthiers poor’ ??
        In addition you are basically saying that good instruments ONLY come from luthiers who are well-established, well-known and very-in-demand. That leaves behind a very bad (shallow) taste…
        I can tell you here and now: you CAN get a really great guitar for between 4000 and 7000 Euros. If you’re not willing to seek out good luthiers who produce guitars in that range; then you truly assume that good guitars come ONLY from well-established, well-known and very-in-demand luthiers. Then nobody can help you, because you’re then denying up-and-coming luthiers a chance to exist and creating something as disgusting as the violin market.
        (Also: if you are not willing to fork out money in that range 4000 – 7000 Euros, then you don’t deserve a good tool anyway.)

        Point2:
        If students think they are so great that they should be able to march up to Dammann and demand “I need one of your guitars in order to play well”, then there is something seriously wrong. Put another way: Guitar students should be humble and seek out luthiers and their age-group: They can visit students from colleges of ‘Musical Instrument Making’, and build relationships with them.
        Hey: why don’t you give that recommendation? All I can say: You and me -> we are very very very different!

        • Wilson,

          If you in any way, shape, or form read the article in its entirety, you would notice that I never conceived the possibility of the luthiers THEMSELVES donating instruments. Did you read just the title and comment? Did you even bother to click on the link provided to see that the practice I claim is missing is FOUNDATIONS (let me spell it for you: F.O.U.N.D.A.T.I.O.N.S) or private donors incurr in the practice of lending instruments (any kind, of any luthier) to deserving artists.

          Just with this fact your whole comment is left without any substance. Please make sure you read the article before commenting next time ;). What do you think Violinists do, go to the grave of Stradivarius to ask him for more violins?? There are a number of institutions who ensure that deserving violinists carry the best possible instruments they can, and THEY pay for it. Guitar collectors buy 5 Dammanns and keep them in their basement, collecting dust. Do you think that is OK? I dont.

        • None of the foundations you listed provides guitars to players over the long run. The only two applicable cases would be Milos and Xuefei. (The guitar was actually donated to the studio of Chen Zhi, not to Xuefei. I got to see it in 2007 as he still has it for his students).

          So you further proved my point. The guitar shops have entered this battle in recording artists with their guitars to boost sales, thats all. I am not 100% familiar with the work of the Hauser foundation, but in case they are lending remarkable Hausers, its a rarity.

          Certainly the actions of private donors like Williams or the Gillhams should be emulated. Right now – as my article demonstrates – it is a rarity that hampers the development of the full potential of our talent pool.

  3. Paul says:

    Yeah. Especially regarding our “great young players”… (that sterile bunch of clinical surgeons, sticking like chewing-gum to the score).
    Those “good” players playing on expensive instruments, is like turning to HD Television:
    It’s the same bullshit, only you hear it clearer.

    • Can I assume Paul, that you woke up in a good mood? If you complain so much about the dullness of young players, wouldnt it be good to change the status quo with initiatives that allow them to develop their art further instead of just complaining?

      The easiest thing to do is to sit down at home, put some CD’s and state “those were the good old days”. Take a chance. Be a man. Think of solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Loading Facebook Comments ...