By Tony Martins
There are, of course, guitar owners and collectors of all stripes, operating on very different and sometimes very personal principles. While I’m hesitant to generalize based on my own experience, let me table the idea that most guitar people choose instruments in ways similar to how they choose the people to have in their lives.
Some guitars, for instance — and some people — are absolutely central to a player’s existence. They are the mainstays, the ones that help you become you, the companions that you simply can’t do without.
Other guitars, much like your doctor or your auto mechanic, are very important but serve a limited, specialized purpose. They are utilitarian and highly effective tools that you need to keep handy but with which you would rarely develop a deep emotional bond.
And then — this is where the pulse starts to quicken — there are the highly memorable instruments that you might bring into your life purely out of what we might call guitar lust.
These gems you often acquire spontaneously, irrationally, and usually at great expense; the ones that inspire such passion that you might forgo the typical due diligence involved in a hefty purchasing decision. You might, for instance, buy guitars in this category without even having touched, felt, or played a single note upon them.
Yet given the inherent risks, does it make any sense to buy a musical instrument in this way?
I’ve convinced myself that it does make a lot of sense, albeit on very particular occasions. In fact, lustful impulse may actually be the best way for a seasoned guitar owner to operate. My paradoxical theory is that if you definitively feel that full-blown passion to the point where you lose your marbles, you’ll always make a smart purchase.
Are you skeptical? To illustrate my point, here are two accounts of how “passion guitars” came into my life based almost entirely on irrational and crazy decision-making that, in retrospect, made perfect sense.
The Naked Lady
By the spring of 2013, I’d been playing for about 10 years but owned only two guitars: an inexpensive yet highly versatile Krafter acoustic and an Gretsch Electromatic hollowbody that I’d wanted purely because of the aesthetics. (Importantly, craving a guitar strictly for it’s curb appeal is not the same as bona fide guitar lust. In fact, after a few years I traded the Gretsch for a very interesting Guild acoustic that I’ve gotten much more use out of.)
In those first 10 years of guitars, I’d learned enough about playing and buying them that my tastes became fairly mature. I knew exactly what I wanted when I saw it.
And then I saw it.
And not in guitar store, either. I saw it online. The Tom Rush Naked Lady signature model. A Martin-inspired, dreadnought-shaped acoustic made by a quirky company out of Montreal called MacKenzie & Marr.
The compelling pitch from this company is that by selling direct over the Internet they cut out the multiple layers of “middle man” price markups and can thereby offer exceptional guitars at very reasonable rates.
This made rational sense to me but would not have mattered at all if the limited-edition Naked Lady itself had not so inflamed my passions. I loved the shape, the colours, the wood tones, the dark rosewood fingerboard, and, most importantly, I loved the huge fingerboard inlay depicting a biblical Eve entwined with the fateful serpent. This to me was the show-stopper and the deal sealer.
Wisely, MacKenzie & Marr offered a one-week trial period and seemed very much on the up and up. They’d appeared on Dragon’s Den and convinced Kevin O’Leary to invest. Everything seemed legit and the price was much lower than the typical high-end Martin acoustic. Breathlessly, I pulled the trigger.
And my instincts served me well. The Naked Lady soon became my main squeeze, my everyday guitar, as well as a cool conversation piece. Buying it in a haze of lust was the single best guitar purchase I’ve ever made, with the possible exception of …
The Anacapa T
Fast forward to the spring of 2020, when in the middle of the global pandemic and economic crisis, I made another seemingly ridiculous guitar purchase driven almost entirely by, yep, plain old lust.
By this point, long after trading my Gretsch, I’d firmly become a Tele man when it came to electric guitars. I’d picked up a Fender Classic Player 60’s Baja Telecaster that rocked my world and seemed like the only electric I’d ever need … but hey, guitar lust can have a mind of it’s own.
In fact, in the weeks prior to the purchase, I had been griping about the constant distraction of online “guitar porn,” particularly the kind that floods my Instagram account and seems to be of a very high quality.
Then came the moment of fate: Instagram served up images of a Tele-style custom build made by Jackson Herrera, a Venezuelan-American dude launching his Ventura Guitar & Company brand in California.
When I beheld Jackson’s Anacapa T #19003, it was lust at first sight. The aesthetics, materials, methods were perfectly aligned with my tastes. The ash, maple, and rosewood finishings, the minimal-but-edgy hardware, the all-important shape of the headstock, even the script-style logo — seemingly every choice that Jackson made met with my full approval.
Commenters on Instagram were salivating over the beautiful-yet-affordable guitar and I found it remarkable that it had not been snapped up. Needing to act fast and with a brain gone fully haywire, I messaged Jackson to ensure that the whole thing wasn’t a mirage before taking the plunge. It turned out he’s a very humble, straightforward guy, clearly making his one-off guitars out of love for the instruments. In addition to my boiling blood, I also felt good about supporting a guy who was essentially an artisan and a one-man brand. I whipped out my credit card.
The guitar arrived after an agonizing 10-day’s of shipping time and exceeded all of my desires. Unlike my Fender Tele which can issue some beautiful clean tones, this single-pickup axe is really intended for getting gritty and mean. The Gemini pickup has a dark and rich character that really rips when I run in through a compressor and an overdrive pedal. Here’s a quick YouTube demonstration.
I love my Fender Tele but with the Anacapa T, it’s straight lust. It’s a hand-crafted and totally unique work of art and an incredible instrument to boot. Sure, buying it had a upsetting effect on my debt load, but honestly I feel not an inkling of remorse. As with the Naked Lady, this is a guitar that I will take with me to my grave.
And the bigger take-away? I’ve learned to totally trust my guitar lust. As it is when making music, the strongest instincts are usually the ones worth following.
I mean, with music or people or with guitars, when you know, you know.