Wars and Windmills

20 September 2007


Blindfolded, you may not be able to tell. I don't think I could. Make no mistake however, just because I am no expert at discerning acoustic guitars sans sight does it mean that I don't have strong feelings about the subject. Let it be known that I appreciate a fine guitar, no matter it’s creator. In this case the creators being either Martin or Taylor. That being said, if the head stock isn't crested with CF Martin 1833 insignia then I say pass. Pass. Pass. Pass.

This may be what a man named G called an irrational loyalty. That holds a high probability. But, while both makers create instruments that sing as though strummed by winged cherubim, I still have a difficulty considering Taylors in the same league. It is Martin's artistry that teeters the scale. Their innovations to the craft: x-bracing, 14-fret finger boards, and the dreadnought body style, are used by all steel stringed acoustic luthiers. This places these other craftsmen inexorably linked to Martin like modern Christianity is to Catholicism. Also, each Martin instrument is hand crafted. Taylor uses computers and lasers to cut each instrument. Each Taylor is perfect for it. However, the flaws intrinsic with all things hand made appeal to my common folk sensibilities and offer a feeling individuality, of owning a unique instrument. Which is why my money and heart belong to C.F. and crew.

It may be irrational. Martin was my first guitar so perhaps the allegiance I feel to them can be traced to that. Yet, I had the choice then and chose hand made.


  1. You'll be happy to know that I, coincidentally, pulled Mary Ellen Smoot out of the closet the evening last, for a joyous strum.

    I played the only two songs I remember, that I, coincidentally, received your fine tutelage on, and quickly placed her back in the case because my fingers hurt. It has been a while.

    Just another display of our supernatural simpatico in a long line of like instances. I pull your first Martin guitar out of my closet and play two songs I learned from you, all whilst you are contemplating your unyielding loyalty to said guitar maker, and I'm sure, yearning for the days when you and Mary Ellen spent many an hour laying forth the rhythmic ditties of Dave.

    I hope these 3 previous paragraphs were not as difficult to decipher the first time through as your original post was. Good Ghandi man, it’s as if you are allergic to the common mans guitar vernacular.

  2. I have a Calvin pissing sticker. He is pissing on a Martin JC-16RGTE Premium.

    Weird huh?

    OK, I don't and I so hate those stickers.

    I choose Washburn, Rodeo, & Ibanez, because they are better, because I am loyal to them, because.....uh....

  3. I know one Ben Howington who would agree whole-heartedly with you on this topic. We have already purchased our two year old his first guitar and it pained Ben greatly that they don't make miniature versions of the Martin. It's probably for the best since he's already broken it once...

  4. Mr. Breedlove, formerly chief designer of Taylor guitars has left to create his own line of laser cut instruments. Perhaps the Taylor Guitar Co. will turn over a new leaf and begin hand making some.

    Or not.

    I find that an Italian hand made shoe is not always worth the price. Nor hand made automobiles. I agree that there is a certain mystique about hand made crafts--undoubtedly making them more valuable.

    I think that certain items would have a much higher value being hand made, while other much less so. A guitar would definitely be on the the high side where a digital camera would be on the other. So I see your point. But at the end of the day I believe it's more in the hands of the player of the instrument than in the instrument itself. I am sure that Mr. Cash could make my cheap Washburn sound lovely.

  5. Let us hope you aren't making an allusion in anyway to the sappy emotional rape of a tale about the old violin, an auction, and a master violinist. Let us hope.

    I do agree Nate, not all things should be hand made. Nor do I think in anyway that all things are. If at all you gathered that from my post, I am both sorry and confused.

    And of course you're right, Justin could make even a dilapidated tree root with cobweb strings sing. But even he spends good money on finely crafted guitars...all half dozen he has. He was the one that told me to buy Martin. He knows the value.

  6. The only thing I know about guitars:

    I grew up in Kalamazoo, home of Gibson guitars before they moved to Tennessee in the 80's. The place is a mecca for all kinds of guitarists, I've run into multiple people coming to tour the old factory. I can't argue anything for Gibson guitars except I think Les Paul plays one. Who, incidentally, plays a set every week in Manhattan, which Ben and I want to check out sometime.

    Once again, no opinion, but Ben's Martin does sound frickin sweet.

  7. I would pit my old cheapo parlor Yamaha FG against any other guitar out there (with a little amplification)...

    IMHO, the ends (playability, response, tone) justify the means (production method). The brand doesn't justify a dern thing. I have played Taylors that make me swoon. And Martins. And a vintage Gibson Hummingbird that sounded like the sweet sweet cascades of Elysia. Incidentaly, there are Taylors and Martins and Gibsons that sound like worm-ridden cracker boxes. You know this.

    My little pocket-sized Yamaha has mellowed to where it is alive. My other argument is that Elixir strings could make a post Pete Townshend guitar playable again--shattered though it be. The Elixir debate could open a whole new can of worms.

  8. This is Ben, using Annie's account. I heard this discussion was going on and I'd be damned if I didn't jump in.

    Mr. Zufelt:
    BRAVO, my friend! BRAVO!!

    On top of every other argument I can think of as to why my heart will always be branded Martin, is this simple word....inspiration. Martin guitars inspire. Not just musically, but as Darren pointed out, the Martin design has inspired most luthiers I can think of. From the scalloped cross bracing to creating the most popular accoustic model, the dreadnought. Martin did for the guitar what Ford did for the automobile. Except Ford sucks...bad comparison.

    Mr. Griffin:
    Your argument is fair. However, I would also argue that a guitar is more than an instrument, it is a piece of art. People hang them on their walls like a gallery.

    I've seen countless copies of Van Gogh's Starry Night, but it's not until you see the original at the MOMA, and examine the individual heavy laid brush strokes that you begin to understand how incredible it really is.

    Handmade all the way.

    However there is also a third argument that needs to be made---tone is in the fingertips. I don't care who you are, tone will always be in the fingertips. Joe should take that as a compliment since he can make his Yamaha sing. I'm sure not everyone could.

    SRV had great tone, not because of his guitar (he beat the hell out of it) but because he used heavier strings with higher action than most had seen. Made his fingers bleed on the road because of it. But that still didn't stop him for pulling off two-step bends. Man had strong hands.

    I also think it will always come down to the player and the instrument. It's a marriage that works both ways. Some people are made for Taylors, Gibsons, Washburns, Larrivee's, you name it. My personal preference is Martin. One day I'd like to own a prewar D-28. Hell, I'll be lucky if I even get to strum one.

    Point is, a fine guitar is a fine guitar. But when I walk into a guitar shop, I will always head for the Martin wall.

  9. Mr Howington: I knew this topic would tease you out of your nest. You raise some fine counter examples also. And I must add that of anyones opinion on guitar matters, yours would rank near the top. You are a flatpick wizard. But let us knock ideas around further. I guess when it comes to instruments, I tend to the functional side of things. I agree with your idea of guitars as works of art, but you and I know that a playable guitar hanging on a wall is only filling half its measure. Or less than half. they are pregnant with that platonic "instrumental" value (pun intended) that is only realized in the performance of their function. I am sure that we are of the same mind on this.

    Now, concerning SRV and "tone is in the fingertips," are you discounting mechanical/craftsmanship methods outright? I would be shocked, if so. Didn't SRV himself leave his amps on for hours before playing, until the tubes were simply rank with growl? Is that a wive's tale? Guide me, fellow Tribesman. I would type more, but my blackberry is running low on berry juice...

  10. Ben: I am glad to hear from you. I was secretly hoping when Annie commented that she would apprise you of the goings on here and second what Joe said, your opinion on this matter is weighs heavy. I am glad we agree. You make some great points. Thanks for commenting. May Martin's reign be long and prosperous.

    I miss Ms. Smoot. I regret selling her. But at least she remains in the family.

  11. Darren:

    I don't like hraing that you regret selling Mary Ellen.

    Is it a "that would be cool if I still had my first guitar" regret, or "damn it all, why oh why did I make this illfated transaction, cursed be the day" regret. I can't live with myself it is the latter.

    At least when you come to UNLV to attend their top in the nation graduate program in literture and writting, you'll be close to the old girl.

  12. Fellow tribesman: excellent point. It takes a Ferris Bueller to see the irony in such a fine automobile being kept in a garage to only be rubbed down with a diaper. What good is a guitar if it just sits on a wall. Excellent point indeed.

    During my brief tenure as a teacher (babysitter), I would constantly have students (little punks) tell me that they suck because their guitar sucks. This marks the genesis of the "tone is in the fingers" mentality. Clapton will sound like Clapton no matter what guitar he plays. Somewhere over the rainbow will still be a beautifully melodic song even on a plastic ukulele.

    I had to tell these kids that it doesn't matter the quality of instrument you own (to a certain extent), getting a better guitar won't make you sound any better than you already are. Unless you're content with only playing open E power chords for the rest of your life.

    Of course it would be obtuse to suggest that Stevie's equipment was obsolete in tone manufacturing. I too have heard the same old wive's tale. I have also heard he would pour super glue on his fingers every night to keep the calluses from ripping off. One crazy, dedicated moe foe.

    For me, Martin's have always been just a personal preference. To be honest, I am horrible at distinguishing good tones from great tones when playing. It's more of the feel that matters to me. Plus how good it looks in the mirror, hanging mid thigh while I'm shirtless with my right hand raised to the sky.

  13. Just read your "got you covered" entry. Well done. While I'm on the SRV kick from my last post...Stevie's version of Little Wing by Hendrix. Dare I say that I've sought out every recording of Hendrix doing this one and nothing has come close to Stevie's. Maybe it was his choice to do an instrumental version.

    In reference to tone, that song encapsulates the essence of the stratocaster. Hot damn!!

  14. I assure you Matt, the only pangs are for selling my first guitar; it would be cool to still have it.

  15. Z,

    I can't help but chime in...again. I think a great deal of tone is in the fingers. There is an old legend of Ted Nugent playing Eddie Van Halen's rig and he still sounded like Ted Nugent.

    I also think that tone is found in the rig of the guitarist. Martins, Taylors, Takamines, sound great because they are made great. SRV couldn't get his tone out of a Les Paul. Although, maybe with the modeling technology today he could. I note with great pleasure that Eric Clapton's tone in the
    Cream reunion came from a Strat, rather than his SG.

    Lastly, and most importantly, tone is in the ear of the hearer. I see from the previous posters that they have discriminating ears. I heard a version of Little Wing redone by Skid Row. I'd bet my Washburn that a few of you would hate how the guitarists sounded in that version. I like it because I love the tone of the early 90's guitarists.

    So, what I am trying to say is tone is a hodgepodge of finger control, equipment, and taste.