On a warm September Saturday morning in 1971, when I was a Senior in High School, my Dad and I walked into a music store (I can’t recall the name of the store), on the northside of downtown Libertyville, Illinois, to trade-in my drum set in order to buy a new guitar. I was conflicted on what I wanted. I was certainly new at learning the guitar and I couldn’t decide whether to buy a steel string acoustical, or a nylon-string classical acoustical guitar. I ended up purchasing the steel string option that the clerk showed me. I NEVER regretted that choice. It was a Martin Guitar, the 000-18 Model. This particular Martin Guitar featured a small box with a slightly smaller neck than most guitars that fit my small hands better than other guitars.
I was happy with the price of $310, minus the $150 trade in value of my drum set, bringing my final cost to $160.00, plus whatever the sales tax was at that time.
When I walked out of the store with my new guitar, I had no idea what a world-class guitar that I had purchased. The sound of that guitar was phenomenal and it has only gotten better as the years have rolled forward. The value of this Martin guitar has increased MANY times since then. I could go on and on about the virtues and benefits of Martin Guitars, especially this rare model. However, I still left the store thinking maybe I should have bought the “other” guitar. My thought at the time was that my next guitar, (I was already planning on buying another one), would be the classical guitar.
Over the next 50 years I have owned six additional guitars. Among the other guitars was a 12-string Yamaha. I loved the unique sound of that 12 string guitar. It was such a marvelous strumming guitar, which is what I was better at than my "flat-top picking" abilities. I bought that 12-string from a friend that was a classmate of mine at York College at the time in December of 2013. I owned that guitar for the next 45 years! One day out of almost nowhere he contacted me via FaceBook. After we traded messages for a few days he asked, did I still own that guitar he sold me back in 1973? Yes, I did! Then very facetiously I added, "Wanna buy it back from me?" He did. We negotiated a price, he wired me money, and I shipped it back to him! I made a good profit on that, unless you consider the increased value of the guitar after 45 years, then I probably lost money. Have you ever bought anything from somebody and sold it back to the same person 45 years later?
I also owned an Ovation brand acoustical guitar at one time. I always thought they would be cool guitars because of the plastic rounded backs. I was actually in the market to buy my oldest son an acoustical guitar. One of my guitar playing buddies said, "Steve, you can get the best deals on used guitars by going to one of the local colleges and looking at the bulletin boards, especially as the semester was coming to and end." That's exactly what I did. I went to the student Center of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, looked on the bulletin board and found an Ovation for sale. The price was almost too good to be true, and it included a hard shell case that was probably worth as much as he was asking for just the guitar! In fact after I accepted the deal, paid for it, and was walking away, I felt guilty, like I was taking advantage of some poor college kid who needed money. I turned back around and offered him $50 more, to which he surprisingly said, "No, it's ok. I'm happy with the price." When I got it home and played it for a few days I soon realized that yes, they did have a good sound because of the rounded back, but I couldn't hold it in my lap without it slipping away.
My son had it for a few years before he gave it back to me. I kept it for a long time after that but hardly ever played it. Recently I gave it to my grandson Gavyn to learn how to play. It's still in the family.
In around 2006 my Advertising and Public Relations agency was helping a Children's Home with an event that included a fundraising auction to sell off some donated items. The item that caught my eye was large box Gibson guitar much like that which many of the country music stars played. Large box guitars always had a BIG and loud sound that I wanted. When the auction started I put in the first bid, and was quickly countered with two or three other bidders. We went back and forth upping the price, but soon the price got too high for them and one by one they dropped out. I probably paid too much for that Gibson but I got caught up in the auction bidding adrenaline and couldn't seem to stop. I consoled myself with the fact that 100% of the money went to the Children's Home.
I kept that Gibson guitar until about 2011. We were having a Garage Sale in Searcy, Arkansas, to off-load some of our excess stuff as we were downsizing. I didn't even put this Gibson in the Garage Sale because I knew the best I could do was get pennies on a dollar for anything that we sold that day. After one man perused our junk for a while he turned and started to say thanks, and goodbye. For some reason, I asked him was he looking for anything in particular? "Yes, he said, I was looking for musical instruments, especially guitars." I knew my Gibson was in a hard shell case inside the house, but still thought, "there's no-way I could get my asking price for that Gibson at a Garage Sale." After I told him I had some guitars for sale, but I didn't put them out for the Garage Sale, he insisted that if he liked what I had he would give me a fair price. Ok, I went and retrieved it from inside and he gave me almost what I paid for it many years before!
I once owned two electric guitars over time. One of those did not have a cool story... but the other one... It was a Fender was a 2004 American Fender Stratocaster made with a 50th anniversary stamp, I actually bought this from my future brother-in-law. My sister and he were planning their wedding and their future together. They were short of funds and were planning on selling some of their more valuable items. One of those valuable items was the aforementioned said guitar. I knew he didn't really want to sell that guitar but they let me know it was available and that if I wanted it they would give me first right of refusal, and at a good price. I bought it at a reasonable price more because they needed the money more than I needed the guitar. It was few months before their wedding, which by the way, I performed their ceremony. My BIL was a computer geek, so they selected 10-10-10 as their wedding date. He was in geek in heaven with all those one's and zero's.
A little over two years later, on January 27, 2013, my sweet sister died of a heart attack at the young age of 50 years and one week old. As my family gathered to console her husband and for all of us to celebrate her life, he asked me about that guitar. I didn't know what was coming next but I quickly asked him if he wanted it back? "Yes, he said, Can I just give you your money back?" Absolutely! It gave him great delight to see and play that Fender again, and I didn't want anyone else to have that guitar but him.
I have since then sold all of my additional guitars because the promise to my wife that I would sell off my current collection before I started shopping for the Classical guitar that I walked away from in 1971. I sold them all except the Martin. I will never sell that Martin Guitar. And none of those additional guitars were the Classical model I so wanted in 1971.
Yesterday, my Yamaha Classical, CGX102 model nylon stringed guitar arrived. FIFTY YEARS after I walked into that unnamed guitar store in Libertyville, Illinois, I finally had my Classical guitar. As I took it out of the box, I reflected back to the day I almost purchased a similar guitar. I gasped at how pretty my new guitar was, how easily it tuned up, how smooth it sounded with the nylon, instead of the steel strings I was used to. The now fifty-year-old Martin is on the left in this photo above, the Yamaha Classical guitar is on the right.
Then it dawned on me… I don't know how to play the guitar, or at least I’m still not very good at it! Check back with me next year to see if I've learned enough to play for others.
Post Script: Since first posting this and promoting it on Facebook, one of my classmates from high school and church reminded me that the Music Store was called Sage Music.
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Steve Shaner, is a professional storyteller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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