It took me a while to work out why I’d hesitated to close a deal when to all intents and purposes I’d found exactly what I was looking for in a new acoustic guitar. Partly, I think, it was because of the fear of making a final decision. I’ve built this purchase up to being something special: a landmark guitar. It is, after all, my first acoustic purchase for 43 years and I was using it to mark a major birthday and my escape from being a wage-slave. Whatever I choose has an enormous weight of expectation to live up to. What if I make the wrong choice? What if every time I open its case I wish it was something else?
There followed a couple of days of enervating indecision. With electric guitars, it’s easy. Because of the cookie-cutter production process and relative simplicity of construction the initial selection procedure is narrowed to two questions: what shape do you want and how much do you want to pay? Once you’ve addressed those, your choice is made. Any shortcomings can be rectified by after-market adjustment or refinements. If you don’t like the way it plays, you can easily adjust the action yourself with an electrician’s screwdriver and a couple of allen keys. If the pickups don’t suit you, you can replace them. You can change the tuners, the pots, the strap buttons. You can even make it sound like a totally different guitar with a Chinese-built stompbox or an iPad app.
Acoustics are more problematic. Tonewoods, build and set-up all impact on sound and feel. You can’t just kick in an overdrive pedal to compensate for dead spots on the neck and even two examples of the same model from the same manufacturer can feel subtly different. What should I do?
The Taylor GS Mini re-surfaced as a possibility: it’s small, it’s available with a spruce top and a (laminate) rosewood back and sides, it has a good pick-up and it’s a name brand (although not USA-built). It would be fun, functional and easily portable and I know from my London Acoustic Show experience that it sounds tight and punchy. I entertained the idea of one for almost a whole afternoon before rejecting it on the grounds that, great though they are, I’m looking for an instrument that stands out as special.
I went for a walk and gave myself a stern talking-to. What the devil’s wrong with you? You’ve tried half a dozen eminently suitable instruments. Why can’t you make a decision? And there, in the relative tranquility of rural West Midlands, the answer popped effortlessly into my consciousness: because even after all my research and apparent open-mindedness, I really would like a Martin. But, of course, I’m not interested in the entry-level guitars, which to me look like somebody’s GCSE woodwork project. It has to be the 000-28 or one of the OMs. At the same time I’m painfully aware that those models are ridiculously expensive for an amateur player. I wrestled with my conscience. Should I just do it and hang the expense? I tramped on, examining the question from all points of view, not least of which was the probable reaction of my beloved when I broke the news to her. Three miles later, common sense prevailed. I simply couldn’t justify spending that much money.
I went back to the Auden Chester and more hours of internet delving. I was almost sold: it has the looks, the class, the quality, it makes a statement and it’s special. I was nearly there. I just needed to try the blessed thing again to make sure it was as good as I remembered.
Which is why the following Monday morning found me hacking up the M6 to Manchester and Forsyth Brothers. This wonderful emporium is a proper traditional music shop spread over five floors; its piano department alone has to be seen to be believed. The guitar department had, as their website promised, a carousel of Audens and once again I was efficiently shown to a small practice room and given as much time as I needed to explore them. I tried a full-body cedar top and a cutaway spruce top. Both had beautiful build, fit and finish; they exuded quality. Of the two, the spruce top sounded a mite more crystalline to me. But as in Leicester, an indefinable gut feeling stopped me from making a commitment and so, regretfully, with thanks all round, I retired. I was beginning to lose patience with myself. Maybe I was chasing an impossible dream and would never be satisfied by any extant instrument.
After a fortifying lunch in a nearby Byron Hamburger restaurant, I moved on to Dawson’s, where the guitars were in a bright, brash spotlit gallery and loud music pumped out of a dj rig. The emphasis here was on electrics and they had a fine selection. There were comparatively fewer acoustics but after an untroubled browse I settled down for half an hour with a Taylor 312ce. Again I confirmed my opinion that the brand produces beautifully-constructed guitars but they’re not quite what I’m looking for. Whatever that might be. I headed south again no further forward.