I've loved music and good sound for as long as I can remember. As a first grader in 1981 I taped a penny to a Columbia House magazine flyer and awaited the arrival of my six "free" cassettes. In second grade I brought Pink Floyd's The Wall into Ms. Van DeWeigh's class at Sonnesyn Elementary School and played Another Brick in the Wall for my classmates. By third grade I was drawing band logos on all my paper garbage bag covered school books. I had not only mastered the Van Halen logo, but I knew every word to every song.
Around the same time, I had the desire to play guitar. However, my attention span as a seven year old was fairly short, so I often thought about guitar for a minute, then went outside to play hockey (ice hockey in the winter, street hockey in the summer). As the years went by, I remained interested in guitar, but mainly in music, good sound, and hockey. Around 12 years old, I finally asked my parents if I could take guitar lessons at the local Schmitt Music. Schmitt charged $29 to rent a guitar and amplifier, and take part in several weeks of lessons. How could anyone say no to this? My parents didn't think too long about it and said NO.
At the time, my life was consumed with hockey. Playing seven days per week, traveling all over the state, and even to Canada as part of Team Minnesota (the best 20 kids in the state). I can kind of, sort of, in a way, see why my parents didn't want me involved in another activity, but not really. In reality, I needed something else, like a musical instrument. My sole focus on hockey 24/7/365 was detrimental and caused me to burn out by the time high school was over. I coached kids hockey for a couple years following high school, but give that up after dealing with overbearing parents. Unsurprisingly, I have little interest in hockey today.
My interest in music, good sound, and playing guitar only increased as I grew older. Bringing a four channel Klipsch KG5.5 system to college, bringing that same system to Milwaukee, WI for a three month internship with the US Marshals, buying a pair of B&W Nautilus 802 speakers and thousands of CDs after getting my first job, etc... But, I never acted on my desire to learn guitar. Until last week!
Note: Stay with me on this one, I'll link it up to audiophilia shortly.
A few weeks ago I finally decided it was time to learn guitar. I started researching all the endless options. I contacted @bluesman for some sage advice and he provided plenty. I read every article I could find about learning, using, and caring for both electric and acoustic guitars. Now I know what it feels like for people just getting into digital audio. The options never end and only branched out into other options. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing when just getting started.
After some analysis paralysis, I finally stopped the madness and purchased a Taylor 814ce acoustic guitar. I think electric may have been easier to use while learning, but an acoustic will enable me to play with my daughter in other areas of our house after she opens her Christmas presents this year. Shhh, don't tell her we got her a guitar too. She has been asking for a guitar for months!
The Taylor's arrival was a really big deal for me. It was like a dream come true, nearly 40 years later. Unboxing the 814ce I was immediately struck by the new guitar smell. Taylor's ultraviolet-cured gloss finish is pungent. After that initial, unforgettable olfactory experience, I picked up the spruce, rosewood, and ebony body and gave it a strum. WOW! The sound and the feel of this guitar were amazing. I don't remember the last time I heard an unamplified acoustic guitar and I know for a fact I've never heard on in my listening room.
I soon dove right into online guitar lessons from Justin Sandercoe's JustinGuitar app. Eventually I'll connect with a local guitar teacher for in-person lessons, but this app enabled me to start immediately. It didn't take long for me to learn how hard it is to play anything. I thought there was no way my fingers would bend or even survive this experience. I woke up the next day with incredibly sore fingers. In fact, as I type this six days later, the fingertips of my left hand are partially numb and hurt at the same time.
Painful fingers and a contorted wrist. This is what they call fun? Absolutely! The last week has been frustrating and exhilarating. I'm working on my D and A chords, and the nearly impossible feat of switching between them in a reasonable amount of time (don't even think about switching without looking at the strings). I feel fortunate to listen to this guitar every day and attempt to play along with the lessons. This is already a satisfying experience and I can't wait to continue the journey.
Relating to Audiophilia
In addition to the main reason for learning how to play guitar mentioned above, I also really wanted to learn in order to enhance my music listening experiences. The more I learn about an artist, a recording, an instrument, the more I like that artist, recording, or instrument. Learning guitar is a major step in helping me understand much more about what I listen to and it has already been fruitful.
During my guitar research I listened to many different styles of guitar, from dreadnaught, to parlor, to grand auditorium and symphony. Sprice, cedar, koa, and steel and nylon strings were also part of this. After playing for almost a week, I'm hearing my favorite music in a different way. I don't hear it as only an audiophile or only a "musician" (notice the quotes), but rather an audiophile who is starting to understand more about music. Listening to an acoustic album the other day I immediately identified a large dreadnaught guitar in the background. The sound was unmistakable. Prior to today, that would've been just another acoustic guitar to me. Now, I can't miss it and I love this new ability!
This also begs the question about an absolute sound or accurate music reproduction through our audio systems. Is it possible to identify if our systems are reproducing music accurately? I don't believe so, and here's why and how it relates to my guitar experience. In the last month I listened to guitars in several configurations. Among other things acoustic guitars can have steel or nylon strings (easy one), bronze steel strings, phosphor bronze steel strings, coated/treated strings, V bracing (my guitar), X bracing, shifted X bracing, scalloped bracing, sitka spruce, englemann spruce, lutz spruce, Adirondack spruce, or red cedar, mahogany, or koa tone woods, and the list goes on. How about the age of the guitar? It's relative humidity level? It's endless. Without knowing these things, how can one possibly begin to identify accurate playback in a home audio system.
One thing that I've always been told by people who think they know more than they do, is that musicians or people more involved with professional audio, don't get into the audiophile types of things like cables or power supplies, etc... Now that I have a toe dipped into playing an instrument, I can most certainly tell you that musicians have different but equally "crazy" obsessions with what matters with respect to sound. Spend a little time reading guitar forums and audiophiles will feel right at home reading general questions turn into crazy pursuits for that illusive sound.
At a local guitar shop it was fun to see an audiophile-esque item in the Danelectro carbon zinc batteries. According to the company, "Alkaline batteries suck your tone. The Danelectro battery is just like the batteries of yesteryear. You will dove the tone!" I'm not speculating on the efficacy of these batteries to do what is advertised. I just find similarities between these batteries and audiophile power supplies. Thus, I picked up a two-pack of the Danelectros and will use them in the ES2 pickup in my 814ce.
Bringing It Home
After nearly 40 years of dreaming about playing guitar, I finally took the leap. My music-loving journey started long ago, while my music-playing journey started last week. In only one week, plying, learning, and listening to an acoustic guitar has been good for my soul and fueled me in ways I never imagined. The additional benefit of enhancing the listening experiences of my favorite music through high end audio components has been enlightening and enjoyable as well. The way these two worlds meet should enable me to better translate what I hear into written product reviews for members of the Audiophile Style community. It's really a win-win all around. Life is good, now it's time to take the rest of the week off work to learn guitar and enjoy Thanksgiving with family :~)
P.S. Aurender N20 reviewing coming next week.