Nothing but the Best

I am constantly amazed at the type of instruments that beginners buy these days. When I first started playing, I bought a starter guitar, and then, as my talent improved, I moved up to a better guitar.

I see so many kids now that have $2,000 – 3,000 instruments as their starter guitar. I suppose it is no different than the 30 handicap golfer buying an expensive set of clubs. Maybe there is a belief that buying at the top will somehow make it easier to learn. Or maybe that buying at the top will somehow make you play better.

Gifted players have touch and feel. They can make an expensive instrument sing. Beginners lack touch and feel. And they can make the same instrument sound terrible.

It is not just kids spending big dollars on a starter guitar. Baby boomers are taking up the guitar in record numbers and they do not shy away from spending money on the best instruments. According to Music Trades, guitar sales have almost tripled over the past decade, from about 600,000 guitars in 1997 to over 1.6 million units in 2005.

Collectors will spend remarkable sums of money on guitars. Christie’s held an auction in June 2004 for a set of Eric Clapton guitars. The top lot of the evening was Blackie, a black and white composite Fender Stratocaster that served as Clapton’s sole stage and studio guitar from 1970 till 1985. Blackie was sold for $959,500 becoming the most expensive guitar ever to have been sold at auction.

Here is a picture of Blackie, the million dollar Stratocaster:


2 replies
  1. Jim S.
    Jim S. says:

    I am one of those guys who is just now getting back into music after a 20 plus year hiatus. I’m now 46, and not ready to start listening to Lawrence Welk like I did as a kid. Getting back to the subject at hand, sometimes you DO get what you pay for. Sometimes you get a great deal. You always have to do your homework and get lots of info on what you plan on buying. This is insanely true with musical gear, it’s always been that way. Thing is, the internet has made consumer research fairly easy, and you end up learning a lot in the process.

    You can go into a mass marketer or QVC and buy a crap guitar for a couple hundred bucks. But if you can’t keep the thing in tune, it is more liable to sit in a closet because you won’t pick it up. So it end up being a waste of money. Point is, good instruments have always commanded premium prices. Back in 1980, I was in the Marine Corps, stationed in southern California. A number of other like minded guys decided that playing music would be a nice way of meeting girls and having some fun in the process. We went to most of the music stores in the area, and quickly figured out that it was going to cost each of us a fair amount of cash. On the way out the door, there was a small bulletin board, one of the messages said that a yard sale was coming up not too far away….musical gear was being sold. So I showed up at this guys house, and sure enough he had a garage full of musical gear. Guitars, amps, pedals….you name it. Long story short is that I bought a genuine ’59 Les Paul for about 500 bucks. What a deal. So I learned to play a bit, and never got really good at it. But I did have lots of fun with it.

    Fast forward about 10 years. My father had died of cancer, and I had some leftover medical bills. So I sold that ’59 Gibby, and got 8500 bucks for it. I shoulda held onto it, for that same guitar today might be worth 50 grand. I did manage to keep the rest of my gear.. pedals and amp…books…

    Fast forward again to a few years ago. I get invited to a party where there is gonna be some live music. I thought, perhaps it’ll be good. Four hours after getting there, I am more than slightly buzzed, and getting reaquainted with a guitar. All courtesy of my buddy, who I found out has a band, and loves music as much as I do. To say I had a blast would be an understatement.

    A few weeks later, I am running around to different music stores, and going through the dance of buying my first new guitar in a very long time. Doing the homework on the internet. After about a year of trying out various guitars, I found a Fender Strat that felt really nice in my hands. It sounded as good as any other I tried, and the finish is beautifull.

    So I bought it. Yes, it cost me a cool grand. It stays in tune, even when I do a hellacious dive bomb with the whammy bar. The thing is, the guitar isn’t sitting in a closet. It sits in my living room, waiting to be played. I pick it up a few times a week and play some, if only for 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes I manage to squeeze in an hour or two of practice. I’m getting better. Eddie Van Halen doesn’t have anything to worry about anytime soon. But I gotta tell you… It sure is fun playing again.


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