I've got a new guitar now but what's interesting is how I got it!
I had been planning to get a new guitar for over a year. In fact the plan was to get one from Valencian guitar makers Joan Cashimira when my wife and I were on holiday in Spain last year. That seemed like a good plan but I got cold feet while we were there, thinking I still wasn't sure whether my planned album, to record which I needed a decent instrument (more on the album in another blog) would ever materialise at the rate I was progressing; add to that a dash of my usual self-deprecation on the lines of "I'm not worthy of an expensive guitar" and buying a moderately expensive instrument while on holiday in Spain quickly went out of the window - to my wife's annoyance as I had been going on about it for a long time before we had set off and in fact had chosen our holiday destination specifically for this purpose!
Well, that was then. This year I decided to attend the London Acoustic Show last Sunday after a couple of years of not having been to one. I had told my wife that I intended to go to Spain for a few days once again, this time to complete the unfinished mission from last year, that is to by that Cashimira guitar I had in mind (to her even greater annoyance) but she very sensibly (as always) said I'd better keep my eyes open for a suitable instrument at the exhibition, just in case. My response was a bit dismissive because in truth you don't normally see many classical, nylon-string guitars at this particular exhibition as the emphasis is on still-string acoustic instruments. If you do, they tend to be either not expensive enough (i.e. not to the standard I tend to aim for), or as in one occasion, too expensive (i.e. too good for me)!
So there I was, meandering from one stand to the next, determined not to spend any money, perhaps apart from on some strings and bits and bobs, not showing interest in any of the acoustic guitars on display, when passing by the Auden guitars stand, I noticed three decent looking classical guitars hung on the wall. I was familiar with Auden guitars but didn't know they delved into classical instruments too. I later found out that the same workshop that produces the Auden acoustic lines is also responsible for the Montoya classical guitar brand in China. The one in the middle stood out, not only because of its light-coloured spruce top and the unusual and beautiful wood on the back and sides - which I later learnt was cocobolo - but also because of its fairly hefty price tag of £2,600. So I thought I had to play this one, if nothing else to experience what an instrument of that price is meant to sound and feel like.
I picked it up, sat down on this long bench (like you get in shoe shops), along with a couple of other guys trying out other guitars and as soon as I hit the lowest string, in spite of all the noise around me, I felt the vibrations travel through my ears to the whole of my body and I knew straight away I was dealing with something a bit out of the ordinary. I jumped at the opportunity of trying out the guitar in a quiet room when they suggested it. Once we were in the room, in spite of the artificial nail on one of my fingers falling apart by this time, after playing the guitar a bit more, I strangely found myself beginning to take to this slightly unusual instrument. I say strangely, because I had convinced myself that I always preferred the warmer sound of cedar-top guitars. With a new spruce top guitar, you tend to get a fairly thin sound especially in the top three strings. However, as much as my heart was trying to force me not to warm to this instrument too much, my head was reminding me that on the one hand spruce matures with time, its sound opening up and becoming more resonant and on the other hand, a brighter sounding guitar is likely to be more suitable for my own music, which is what I intend to concentrate on most of the time.
Doug Sparkes, the company's boss who was with me told me that he was trying to get rid of the classical guitars in his stock to concentrate on their main acoustic lines and not wishing to take any of the remaining guitars at the exhibition back with him, was prepared to make me a really good offer. When I learnt that I could take this guitar away with a custom made hard case for £1,500, this really was an offer I couldn't refuse so with still some apprehension, the forces of pragmatism won the day. I shook the man's hand, parted with the money and walked away with my bargain.
Although it is early days yet, already the instrument is growing on me and I am now convinced that I have made the right choice about getting a spruce-top guitar, which gives my pieces, especially the more folky ones, more of an 'acoustic' sound. I've also saved myself the money and trouble of going all the way to Spain just to buy a guitar, which wouldn't have been a prudent move these days, given the lower value of the Pound, however nice I know Cashimira guitars to be and however much I love being in Spain anyway. Maybe I WILL get a Cashimira guitar as well one day (just kidding, darling)!
I think I should also add that I neither feel disappointed, nor snooty about ending up with a Chinese instrument. I was assured that these guitars are entirely hand made in a relatively small workshop (with Chinese standards, I suppose) by well-trained artisans and for the price, I can testify that the workmanship on the instrument is very good. The guitar also speaks for itself with its strong yet not boomy bass and generally good projection. All I need to do now is to play it in, which given the amount of practice I need to bring my pieces up to scratch is not going to be too difficult to achieve. All in all, I'm a happy chappy!
My Montoya 80S, with spruce top and cocobolo back and sides (click on image to enlarge)
Side (click on image to enlarge)
Back (click image to enlarge)
Head (click image to enlarge)