Man, What A Guitar Shop!

For weeks now I’ve been scouring the web trying to figure out where to go and what to look for in my new guitar search.  I’ve registered with two or three new (to me) online guitar communities, looked through old issues of Flatpicking Guitar magazine, etc., etc.  I’ve read up on guitar makers like Gallagher, Collings, Huss & Dalton, Froggy Bottom, and others. Time to go out into the world a strike a few chords on some actual instruments.

It happens that we live only about 20 miles away from Mandolin Brothers, one of the country’s most respected shops for acoustic guitars.  I’d never been, but I’d read about them for years.  With my wife, Suzy, navigating by my trusty MapQuest printout, we headed out for Staten Island.

The building is so nondescript we almost drove right past it.  This is probably a good thing for a place that routinely houses entire rooms full of guitars with price tags running up to $20k and higher, but I had my eye out for the usual storefront display you so often see, with guitars hanging in rows behind huge plate glass windows.  Just as we were about to pass it, Suzy saw the name on the building and I pulled in to the small gravel parking lot on the side.

Inside, past the front office desks piled with papers and books, is a guitar lover’s dream world. Room upon room filled floor to ceiling with guitars and other fretted instruments of every description.  I’ve been in a lot of guitar stores, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.  I didn’t even know where to start.

Of course there were people there to guide me.  One of the guys asked if I had anything specific in mind, or if I was just browsing.  After a fairly short back-and-forth, he put a new Martin D-35 in my hands.  The feel of the neck was outstanding, and it sounded like a cannon.  I think people here in Maplewood could probably hear it.  And the price tag was half what I had given him as my upper limit!  When was the last time a salesperson of any kind offered you a product that was half what they knew you were willing to spend?  I could learn to like this place.

After noodling around on that guitar for a bit and gazing at a few others while Suzy checked out the composite guitars, we made our way into the small-builders room.  I messed with a Gallagher Doc Watson model (too boxy-sounding), a couple of Santa Cruz models (not significantly different than my own D-28, to my ears), and a wonderful baritone guitar, the maker of which escapes my brain now.  I imagine I played 12 or 15 different guitars in that room, none better than the Collings D3.

I had never played a Collings, and didn’t much care for the first one I picked up.  But the D3 was out of this world.  Bass notes that rattled my chest, but at the same time very clear mids and crisp highs.  Great volume and responsiveness all up and down the neck.  This was quite clearly the best-sounding guitar I have ever personally played.

I could very easily have ended my search right then and there.  But I determined in my mind before leaving home that no matter how much I liked whatever I found today, I was not going to make a purchase.  I intend to play LOTS of guitars before I settle on one.  Perhaps that means this one will be gone my the time I’m ready to buy, but that’s a chance I have resolved to take.

But right now I’m hoping it stays there for awhile.

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