“I climb back up the stairs and return to my room, pick up my guitar and get into bed with it. The guitar lies next to me with its head on the pillow. I run a hand over its scarred surface, caressing the warm wood. ‘There’s the metaphor,’ I think dreamily, ‘there’s the marriage. It’s to this, this bloody thing’… the instrument is a sacred space you always return to.”
That’s Andy Summers, best known as guitarist with the Police, writing in his compelling memoir “One Train Later,” and waxing eloquently on the strange allure of the guitar in a manner that some might find a touch creepy, but anyone who truly loves the instrument will understand.
Summers’ words came back to me when it was announced that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd would be auctioning off the bulk of his incredible guitar collection through Christie’s and donating the proceeds to charity. Among the guitars Gilmour has said must go is the legendary Black Strat, a guitar with a recorded legacy so significant that an entire book has been written about it. (“The Black Strat,” by Phil Taylor.) Gilmour made it clear in interviews surrounding the announcement that, though the guitars had been used to make some of the most iconic rock music of the 20th century and that he’d developed a certain fondness for them over the years, they were, ultimately, merely instruments, "the tools of my trade,” as he told Rolling Stone.
I’ve noticed over the years that, though cultural pundits have been insisting that guitar-based music is largely dead as a major popular music force for a few decades now, here in Buffalo, “guitar culture” is alive, well, and adhered to by a cross-generational family of serious players. I asked some of them a few of the questions that the Gilmour announcement, and my recollections of Summers’ memoir, raised: Do any of you have guitars that you'd never consider giving up? Does a guitar become more than just wood and components after a while? Can a relatively cheap guitar be just as reliable of a partner as a pricey vintage one? Is tone in the guitar or in the fingers? Or is all of this just silliness?
“I believe guitars definitely have personalities,” said singer/songwriter Grace Stumberg. “Kind of like relationships - you have to try them all out to find ‘the one.’ I have two guitars that are near and dear to me and I will never get rid of them. Each has a different energy. All guitars are an avenue to a muse, I believe.”
“As musicians/artists I think our instruments become more than just objects, because of the blood sweat and tears that go into the hours of playing on them,” said Jason Stanisewski of, among others, Scarlet Begonias. “The energy they receive from us and others makes them even more special. You can’t get that off the shelf. It has to happen in the studio, at home, in front of others."
“I truly believe that the instrument is simply a tool in a musicians toolbox to help them express their inner voice, and in channeling that non-tangible energy and beauty that passes through a person from some unknown place,” said Mike Gantzer of Aqueous. “I feel that the human element that is passed through these instruments can transcend the equipment itself."
Perhaps, if you happen to live in a tax bracket I'm not familiar with, you might be interested in bidding on some of Gilmour's guitars. He's hoping you might.
"These guitars have given so much to me, and it’s time for them to move on to other people who hopefully will find joy, and perhaps create something new."