I own a more expensive guitar but not one that’s more valuable to me
By Mark Rutledge
Saturday, August 11, 2018
The first guitar that I ever knew was an old and poorly constructed dime-store model that my father brought home in 1966. He could play two chords. I did good to pluck two strings.
The instrument’s neck was so warped it could shoot arrows. At five, my small hand produced only dead or buzzy sounds. I started taking lessons with that cheap instrument when I was eight.
After learning two strangely similar songs—“Windy” by The Association and “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers—I begged my parents to let me stop the lessons. It had nothing to do with bouncy ’60s folk songs about girls walking down city streets.
I wanted to stop because my fingers hurt. The protective calluses that Dad promised would form on my fingertips never did. He put nylon strings on the guitar, but it was no good. I wanted out.
A few years later, one of my older sister’s friends tuned up the five remaining strings on that cheap box and produced sounds that were downright entertaining.
My interest was rekindled, and the next Christmas I had a new guitar under the tree. Made in the Republic of China by a Japanese motorcycle company, it was not the most expensive guitar on the rack. But compared to the old dime-store dud, it was a high-end Harley-Davidson.
Despite decades of use and moderate abuse, I still have the old Yamaha FG-75. It’s a small-body guitar known for producing a great tone despite its original 1976 price of $100.
A few years ago, my Greenville, North Carolina, picking buddy John Bradley performed a much-needed setup on the FG-75. Maker of the official Redneck Guitar, John straightened the neck and lowered the action. He made a solid old beginner axe into a sweet-playing vintage instrument.
I’ve been playing it a lot lately, to the point that I even take it with me to picking sessions. That can be problematic because it has no case.
The original case was of the cheap cardboard variety. It was ruined about 25 years ago when someone backed her car into it. Luckily, the tire just caught the edge of the case, and the guitar was spared.
Johnny Cash looked perfectly natural walking around with an uncased guitar on his back, but on me it looks like I just robbed a pawn shop. So I went shopping for a case that would fit my little guitar.
Something I learned in the process is that my guitar is sized and styled similarly to a Martin 000-28. That might help to explain the great tone.
In fact, the case I bought for the Yamaha is made to fit the Martin—which retails at more than $3,000. With my guitar inside, that new case is worth maybe 200 bucks.
Here’s the crazy thing: I’m actually afraid that someone might run off with my new case thinking it has a $3,000 guitar inside. I would be more upset about losing the $100 Yamaha.
Maybe Cash had the right idea.
Contact Mark Rutledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.