I wanted to celebrate the birth of my children in a special way—so I made each a guitar. I wrote an article about making my son’s guitar which I’ll reprint below. It’s interesting to note the deepening color of these instruments. The aqua axe was build in 2002, the red one in 2003.
Guitar Lessons 101
I built an electric guitar for my son.
It wasn’t difficult –- it came in a kit and cost about $100. I spent another couple bucks on stain and sealant. Once I finished the body and shaped the headstock, it took less than an hour to put together, the only tools needed were a couple of screwdrivers.
I got the guitar kit shortly after my son was born, but I wasn’t motivated to assemble the instrument until recently, when I became aware of a terrible injustice among musicians, an injustice that has been prevalent for years, but about which I only recently took notice.
It started when a co-worker asked my advice on buying an electric guitar. He didn’t know how to play, but he wanted to learn on something good. He had a budget of $1,000. I told him he didn’t need to spend that much; he could buy a decent guitar for $200-$300.
“No, I want a good one,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “If I was going to spend that much, I’d buy a vintage Strat or a Les Paul.”
“No. I want a new guitar.”
I wondered why he even asked my advice in the first place. Our company’s vice-president overheard our conversation and tossed in his two cents. He owns an early ‘70s Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, a classic guitar worth several thousand dollars.
“It’s sitting in a case in the back of my bedroom closet,” he said. “I haven’t touched it in years.”
A few days later, my co-worker bought a brand new Gibson SG. It’s a beautiful instrument, and he’s getting pretty good at rudimentary chords. But I wonder how long it will be before that instrument is sitting in the back of a bedroom closet, too.
I conveyed these thoughts to a friend, who teaches guitar in Westchester County, NY. The majority of his students are young teenagers toting $1,500 guitars bought by wealthy parents. Most of these instruments will undoubted end up stowed away in closets and stuffed under beds, unplayed. Meanwhile, my friend plays a Frankenstein Strat, pieced together from various Fender parts for a total of around $400.
The pattern of injustice became clear: The people who can play and appreciate a fine musical instrument can rarely afford one. Good, quality instruments are not priced for working musicians, the guy who earns a couple of hundred bucks playing bars and wedding bands on weekends, maybe another $75 during the week giving lessons. That guy can barely afford toilet paper. The musician who already has a record deal and sold a few albums probably has an endorsement deal, too, and gets his instruments for free. Meanwhile, a vintage 1970 Gibson Les Paul sits in the back of a closet, a forgotten memento of some CEO’s youthful folly, its strings silenced, its shiny Goldtop shut away in darkness. It’s not fair.
Reprinted from TODAY Newspaper, October 2003.