Author: Karsemeyer, John

Old Gibson and Martin Guitars – Finally Got My Hands on Them

Maybe you know how to spot them. Maybe you've see them being played on various bluegrass festival stages, or in jams. Or maybe not. But they are there, occasionally, every so often, or once in a “blue moon.”

Sometimes their sound will catch your ear. Sometimes somebody sitting next to you in the audience will lean over and say, “That person is playing a 1935 Martin D-28.” Or during the next set you may overhear a person say, “That's the best sounding 1948 Gibson guitar that I've ever heard.”

Has that ever happened to you? It's been happening to me for years at various festivals. I've become the victim of involuntary, naturally released dopamine, spurred on by the celestial (almost) sounds being emitted from the aforementioned old-and-not-in-the-way guitars.

Slowly, and little by little, mostly likely on an unconsciously level, a tiny thought begins to make its way into your awareness. “Wow, I'd really like to PLAY one of those guitars,” says that inner voice that you've been so accustomed to hearing. That's a potentially dangerous thought though, because if you do actually get to play one, it can lead to thinking like, “Wow, I'd really like to OWN one of those guitars.”

Perhaps some of you have been fortunate to know somebody who owns one of these “Holy Grail” instruments. Perhaps you have been even more fortunate when that person says to you, “Here, would you like play this?” I must digress here, and assume that you are a guitar player, if you interest in this is to remain high enough to keep reading.... Or if not and you just like to read, please continue.

Most of us don't have the good fortune to know somebody who possesses one of these musical historical treasures. Most owners have the good sense to not let just anybody play their coveted “axes,” and with good reason. After all, did you ever see the hole in Willie Nelson's Martin guitar? And he owns it!

So, what to do, what to do? Do you just give up everything but your dreams, and forget about getting you hands on one of these musical monsters? That's what I did. And then, and then....

It was in a dream-like, almost surreal state that I actually found myself clutching about a dozen old Gibson guitars from the 1930's and the 1940's, and half a dozen Martins from the late 1930's and 1940's. Nobody said, “Here, do you want to play this?” I just picked them up, one at a time, and played them for as long as I wanted. If this had been the most opportune moment in time and space in my life, I would have been at a garage sale. Unfortunately I was not.

A few months ago I received a postcard in the mail that advertised, “California World Guitar Show.” It was being held the last weekend in July at the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, CA, for two days. Another show was also held the weekend after that in Santa Monica, CA. I really didn't have much else to do, so I made the Saturday drive to the one in San Rafael, not really expecting too much.

Walking into the huge convention type room, my eyes widened to view what seemed to be over 1,000 guitars. Acoustic guitars, old, new, all sizes, all the name brands we are used to seeing, and others as well. Racks and racks of guitars, out of their cases, accessible. Guitars staring at you with dog-like looks in an animal shelter that beg you, “Pick me up, pick me up!”

No guards were standing by to stop anybody from picking up a guitar and playing. In fact, I was frequently offered, “Here, try this one.”

Now to be clear, I found that this guitar “show” was an environment where you can buy, sell, or trade guitars. They don't give these old, great guitars away, even though the potential for purchase is there. However it is also, definitely, a show where you can, play, play, and play some more. No time limits. No used-car-salesman type hype. (I found out these guitar shows are held two times a year at the same places)

Finally, after all these years, I found myself playing quite a few of those old guitars that I have seen and heard over time. A rare opportunity, if you're into that kind of stuff. Yes, those old Gibson and Martin guitars. I finally got my hands on some of them.

The only bad part is that I didn't get to bring any home.

But now I'm thinking that I'll head out to that “Bluegrassin' In The Foothills” festival on September 17th, 18th, and 19th in California's Gold Country on Highway 49 at Plymouth. I'll keep an eagle-eye out looking for one of those holy grail guitars. Good people are at these festivals. Kind, generous people. Maybe kind and generous enough to let me hug one of those guitars for a few minutes, if they have one.

Maybe Larry Baker has one. If I see him at the festival I'll ask. And if he does, well, you know. It's just possible....
Posted:  9/11/2010

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