Dueling D’s & Other Concerns

This past Saturday I returned to Mandolin Brothers to compare my trusty Martin D-28 to the Collings D3 that has, so far, been the frontrunner in my quest for a new guitar. I was pleasantly surprised — not by the Collings, which was everything I had expected it to be, but rather by my D-28. The differences in the two guitars were clear, but not nearly as radical as I had thought they would be. The Collings, to be sure, is more responsive, brighter, and has an overall fuller sound. But the D-28 very definitely holds it’s own. In fact, I would say the D-28 was the best-sounding guitar I played that day with the exception of the D3 and one used Santa Cruz Tony Rice Model with Brazilian Rosewood back and sides (which was priced way too high for me, anyway).

Of course, one advantage my Martin has over these guitars is that I have been playing it for about 27 years. Obviously it has “opened up” in a way that these guitars have not. Which speaks to how good the Collings (and many others in the room) will sound 27 years from now. At some point a lot of these babies are going to be absolutely smoking, no doubt about it. For now though, the D3 is the only guitar I’ve played in a price range I’m willing to entertain that also has a significantly better sound than the D-28.

As an aside, I made it a point to give another try to the Doc Watson model Gallagher they have in stock. I had played it on my previous visit and was quite disappointed in it. I believe my description of it in this blog was “boxy.” This was a surprise, because going into my search I had thought I might very likely end up with a Gallagher. My faith was restored with this visit. I’m not sure if the strings were changed between visits, or if my ears were a little cleaner this weekend, or what have you. But for whatever reason this guitar sounded better by leaps and bounds than it did when I played it last. It still didn’t outperform the Collings, but it’s clearly a better guitar than it seemed to be a month ago.

All this said, I keep coming back to the idea of a custom build.

As I have mentioned before, I have been somewhat taken aback to learn that there are many reputable, highly sought-after luthiers out there building fine custom instruments that ordinary mortals like myself can actually afford. For a lot of people this might seem like a no-brainer, but for me it’s more like a brainteaser. It opens up so many possibilities and calls so many questions to mind that I don’t know quite how to handle it. One part of me thinks this is my chance to commission a one-of-a-kind instrument, and another part of me thinks that may be just one step too far out of my league. I’m not convinced I know enough about what I’m looking for, or that I can articulate it clearly enough to communicate it to a builder. Not to mention simply getting my head around the idea of buying a guitar that I can’t play first.

In an effort to address this last concern, I contacted Ken Miller, a luthier in Tallahassee, FL, in the hopes that one of his guitars may have a home somewhere within reasonable driving distance to me. Or, alternatively, if I might have one of his “stock” guitars sent to me under his 7-day approval policy. Luckily, he has graciously offered to put me in touch with one of his clients in my area. If all goes well, the idea is that the client and I might arrange to meet so that I can get a look at one of these guitars firsthand. Assuming this happens, it will go a long way toward helping me determine whether to go custom or “off the shelf.” To be continued, as they say….