Author: Campbell, Bruce

How many instruments is too many?
Like most people, I only have two hands. Like a lot of other musicians, I play several instruments. So the short answer the above question is a simple formula of (Instruments I can play) X (Pairs of hands).

But wait! I like to play both electric guitar AND acoustic guitar. OK, so we’ll treat those as separate instruments and the formula still works. But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? I’ve been playing music for nearly 40 years – surely I my needs have moved beyond the student-quality instruments I used when I was just learning how to play.

So, now the new question is, what do you do when you decide to graduate to a higher quality instrument as your skills progress? Some folks use the culling method, where each new instrument replaces the old one, and total number of instruments owned remains the same, unless they decide to learn how to play yet another instrument.

If guitars and mandolins and banjos were just tools, like a box-end wrench or a crowbar, it would be simple. But for me, every instrument has a unique tone, and a unique history. I find it very hard to get rid of musical instruments. I have, on various occasions sold them to finance an upgrade to a better instrument, and on one sad occasion, pawned a fine instrument to pay my rent. (A beautiful walnut Gibson SG – I grieve for it still). In point of fact, I miss every instrument I no longer have, so I try to avoid losing any more instruments.

So, I have the guitar may parents bought me when I started guitar lessons in 1967. I have the guitar that supplanted that one, and the one that supplanted that one, and the one that supplanted that one. Maybe supplant isn’t appropriate, because all of those guitars are in regular use. One resides at my mom’s house, where my sons play it every time they visit. One is the “house guitar” that is always out and available at my home. One is the number 2 guitar, ready to step into action should guitar number 1 be unable to perform its duties, and one very special guitar is just for looking at, and very occasional playing.

I still covet other instruments. My electric guitar collection still has some glaring gaps, and I believe I am ready to upgrade my beginner mandolin for a more substantial model. I think I’m set for life in the banjo front, but it may be time for an upgrade on the bass…

I hate to be such a conspicuous consumer, but I really do enjoy my instruments – they don’t collect any dust. Although it pains me to ever take any instrument out of the collection, I am planning on donating the “house guitar” to a local charity. If you ever want to “thin out your herd” of axes, please consider giving instruments to charities – the CBA has a wonderful program for this. If you have an interesting musical instrument collection – let me know!
Posted:  8/31/2005

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