The moment is all too precious: the case has been laid at your feet; with trembling anticipation you reach down and unclasp the latches, carefully grasp the case top and lift to reveal the concealed treasure—a brand-spanking-new Taylor 454ce 12-string guitar! Someone hands you a flatpick; you lift this beguiling beauty from her resting place and make a quick mental notation: the ovangkol back and sides are wonderfully figured and the color a pleasant surprise (more “woodsy” brown, almost like walnut)—not what you expected. Suddenly, the guitar is resting on your knee and your hand instinctively finds the comfortable neck; your fingers naturally form a first-position, G major chord. The flatpick is ready, you make the requisite downstroke motion with your wrist and your reward is instant and oh-so gratifying: the sound is rich and full! The bass is strong yet not overpowering; there is that wonderful shimmering and glistening “chime” only a good 12-string guitar can deliver. For the next hour you are transported to another world, another dimension, as your new companion yields her secrets and caresses your ears with her charms.
Attempting to describe what it’s like to play a fine acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, harp, viola, flute, horn, etc., often elicits language evocative of love or romance. Why?
To those musicians already captured by an acoustic instrument no explanation is necessary. Indeed, for many musicians, the signpost to their musical path was discovered upon hearing the sound of a particular acoustic instrument—a kind of “love at first sound” event—being played “live” or in a recording. For myself, hearing Who Will Stop the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival along with The Boxer and El Condor Pasa by Simon & Garfunkel on my Mom’s kitchen radio as an impressionable 12-year-old in the summer of 1970 has fueled a 35-year obsession with acoustic instruments. (Note: I didn’t actually start learning to play the acoustic guitar until I was 18-years-old, but the seeds had been planted in 1970.)
One of the primary joys of playing an acoustic instrument is just the sheer simplicity and immediacy of picking it up and being able to make it produce sound without first plugging-in an amplifier, then locating a patch cord to connect the instrument to the amplifier and so on. Other than replacing strings or wiping/polishing with a cloth every now and then, most acoustic instruments do not require an inordinate amount of care and their sound almost inevitably improves with age. An acoustic instrument can bring joy and fulfillment to several generations of musicians.
But, of course, the real joy in playing an acoustic instrument is the sound—particularly the sound produced by an instrument that’s been built with loving care, attention to detail and using the finest available materials. For someone like myself, who began learning to play the guitar on a very inexpensive instrument, few things compare to the magic of hearing say, a Martin D-28 respond to a thumbpick and fingers with a deep, resonant bass—the sound I fell in love with when I first spun Don McLean’s American Pie album on my stereo in 1975.
While Marty and Don at Wildwood Music are in the business of selling high-end and custom acoustic guitars, banjos and dulcimers, what they really offer is a safe haven; a respite from the crazy, frantic world-at-large where marvelous acoustic sounds can be explored, inhaled, dissected, analyzed and appreciated in depth without repeated interjections from a commission-driven salesperson eager to make a quick sale. Wildwood Music is a place where it’s virtually impossible to turn around and not bump into an instrument that doesn’t wink at you and whisper “play me, my song is heavenly.” In simpler and perhaps more accurate terms, Marty and Don are in the business of wish fulfillment—they can make your acoustic instrument dreams come true.
Many, many thanks to Marty and Don for giving me the honor of designing their new website and for letting me help initiate the new Wildwood Blog where Don—and perhaps Marty if she can be coaxed into taking the plunge—will be sharing his/her extensive knowledge and thoughts about all matters concerning acoustic guitars, banjos, dulcimers and whatever else crosses his/her mind.
Ted Haughawout (aka Ted Lamarsson) is an Akron, Ohio-based artist, musician, graphic designer and all-around nice guy.