Several weeks ago I contacted Ken Miller, a luthier in Tallahassee, FL. I’d grown increasingly interested in looking into having a guitar built, rather than buying one “off-the-rack,” and Ken seems to be getting quite a bit of good buzz on some of the online forums I’ve been following. I decided to contact Ken and try to find out if there were any of his guitars in my general area that I might be able check out.
Ken responded saying that someone within driving distance owned one of his guitars, and that he would give this person my contact information if he were willing to meet with me. Before long, I got an email from Bob Kidd, owner of Ken Miller guitar #118. Bob had been traveling, so it had taken him several days to contact me. Then it took several more for us to make a plan. But finally we agreed to meet at Mandolin Brothers on Saturday the 16th.
We met in front of the store, and walked to Bob’s car for a look at #118. We found a shady spot to sit down, and opened up the case. Right away I could see this was a completely new ballgame. Everything about it was beautiful: back and sides of quilted maple, unbelievable bear claw adirondack top, rosewood bindings, shell rosette. And not only was it gorgeous to look at. When Bob strummed a chord on that thing, it was astonishing to me. Even outdoors, the volume and tone were simply amazing. Every note crystal clear, balanced, ringing…. This guitar instantly eclipsed everything that had come before in my search.
We each took turns playing the guitar, and Bob pointed out all it’s details. He told me what a great experience he’d had working with Ken, and going through the building process in general. The more we played and talked, the more convinced I became that this is truly the way for me to go.
After a good half hour, maybe 45 minutes, we put #118 away and Bob led the way to Duffy’s. I’d never been there, but Bob assured me this was the place where many a musical decision has been made. “Guys come out of Mandolin Brothers thinking they can’t afford whatever guitar they just fell in love with, and after a round or two in Duffy’s they come out thinking ‘I’m gonna do it,’ ” Bob told me.
We lunched on a couple cheeseburgers and got to know each other a bit. Then we made our way back to the store and tried a few of their wares for the next couple hours. I played my first two or three McPhersons. Nice guitars every one, but so completely different from instrument to instrument. We each played several older Martins, swapped around a couple Santa Cruz models, and of course the Collings D3 I’d had my eye on. I still think that’s a great guitar, but by this point in the day I was completely over the line and into my first build, at least in my head.
Around 3:00 or so, we decided it was time to head our separate ways. Bob told me he and a friend get together pretty regularly to pick, and that next time it was his turn to host he’d let me know and invite me over. I’m very much looking forward to that.