How buying a guitar is comparable to buying a used car

Keith Brumley

Keith BrumleyColumnist

It wasn’t that tough of a choice. Buy a bronc saddle, get fit, and crack out in the senior saddle bronc riding or buy a guitar. Since I’m scheduled for a hip replacement later this month, I went for the guitar. After two weeks, I can now proudly pick out the melody of “Ode to Joy” with only four or five mistakes. I’m on a roll and I’ll be rockin’ in no time at all. The way I see it, I’ll be able to actually read music and understand a few chords sometime within the next year8212;providing I practice.

This isn’t my first attempt. When I was in the fifth grade, I got an acoustic guitar. The quality, however, left something to be desired and it started to fall apart after only a few weeks. I’d learned a couple of very simple chords by then and my parents thought it wise to repair the broken beast. The closest luthier at that time was in Aberdeen and it seemed like months before he got around to repairs. When the guitar came back, the strings were so high off the frets, I couldn’t even try to play it. I put it away.

I never, however, forgot and when I found that the ball of my hip was wearing grooves in the socket like two pieces of sandstone rubbing together, I figured a guitar was the way to go. And so I bought one.

It was with due diligence, I thought. The more I learned however, the more I realized that guitar buying was as much a crap shoot as buying a used car.

Sure, a person might find a good one at a good price, but the aphorism “you git what you pay for” still holds true.

It’s like the racehorse man’s joke. A tightwad has a horse he thinks might be able to run, so he goes to the track and starts talking to trainers. The first one tells him it’ll cost $50 per day with no guarantees.

“That’s too much,” the miser says, and walks away.

The second trainer offers a discount . . . $25.

“Too much,” he says.

The third trainer tells the guy it’ll cost him only $15 a day. Being always frugal, the money-minded client asks if he can keep the manure for fertilizer.

“At $15 a day,” the trainer says, “there won’t be any manure.”

That’s what it’s like with guitars. The more you buy, the more you get. But not always. There’s always a clunker in the bunch no matter how much money you spend and there’s always that diamond that cost less than a song that nobody pays any attention to.

Consequently, I’ve always tried to follow (with cars and now with guitars) what the Zen folks call “The Middle Way” and I’ve consequently become enlightened. The Middle Way, you see, is the path to wisdom and those who follow it learn that money doesn’t mean jackshit. It’s the process.

I found a used guitar I liked online and ordered it. It wasn’t set up correctly and I sent it back. Then I found a guitar I liked and bought it in person but it has some electrical problems and now I’ll have to take that one back as well. In the meantime, I’m starting to really appreciate guitar construction and I’m considering playing around with installing electronic upgrades. I’m in deep for sure. For the moment, however I have what the “real” guitarists call a GSO, a “guitar shaped object.”

It’s early enough to take it back and exchange it; or I can keep it, try to jazz it up (meaning pour more money into it) and see what goes from there. I can also hang it on my wall to impress my visitors.

When they step into my lair, they’ll exclaim, “Oh my! Do you play the guitar?”

Humble Rock God that I’ll be, I’ll reluctantly take it from its place of prominence, pretend to tune it and then play the acoustic version of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” . . . with FEELING.

Keith is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student. Contact him at [email protected].