Tuesday, September 18, 2012


If you go to buy an acoustic guitar these days you can spend anywhere from $100 to $10,000.  Anything much below $100 is more toy than instrument, and anything more than $10,000 is a collectible, a piece of artwork that is hung on the wall or in a display case and rarely played—certainly never taken anywhere to be played.  With a guitar costing more than $3,000 you aren’t really paying for better sound or playability; you’re are paying for bling—pearl inlays, abalone trim, or even the name of a well-known custom builder.  There are some great sounding guitars out there that cost $1,000—and some really good sounding guitars that can be had for $500 or so.  The other night I actually had the opportunity to play with some professional musicians—the lead guitar players for Nashville recording artists James Wesley and Dustin Lynch—and neither one of them had a guitar that cost more than $600-700.
So what’s the difference between a  $200 guitar and a $500 guitar?  For the most part, they are going to look the same and maybe even play the same, but in order to keep a the price down manufacturers are going to use cheaper woods—plywood, mainly.  The back and sides and maybe even the soundboard are going to be laminated.  Thin pieces of a cheap, readily accessible wood like pine will be glued together to the proper thickness, and then on top of it all a thin veneer of a traditional guitar wood like rosewood will be glued on.  So to the naked eye it looks like the guitar is made of rosewood, but that is just an illusion.  The rosewood is just a veneer; the substance of the back and sides is cheap wood.  There is a sacrifice in tone, however.  Wood is resonate, glue isn’t.  Wood is musical, glue isn’t.  For every layer of wood there is a layer of glue, and while each layer of glue is very, very thin, it makes a difference in the sound.
Laminate guitars are not bad.  I have played one for over thirty years and it sounds really, really good.  It’s the first guitar I ever bought, back when I was in college, and it was all I could afford, but I play it almost every day.  But here’s the thing: it pretty much sounds the same as it did back in 1979.  The sound of a guitar made of all solid wood, however, will improve over time.  When I deliver a guitar that I’ve just made to a customer, I tell them to play the living daylights out of it.  The wood has to learn that it is no longer a tree, it is a musical instrument.  The more the guitar is played, the more the wood vibrates, and as it shakes, the wood fibers and natural resins that act as glue loosen up.  It takes a couple of years for the wood to approach its natural settling point, and it never really gets there.  Even decades later the wood is still settling, though subtly, into its role as a musical instrument.  And as it does so the guitar becomes more resonate, the sound becomes more complex and interesting, and its voice gets bigger.
It’s easy to communicate with lots of people today, more so than ever.  It’s easy to allow texts, emails, and blogs make up our communication with each other.  With a click you can “friend” someone, and with another you can “unfriend” them.   
Click.  Done.  
I guess there is some good in that, but there is also the temptation to give people a curated and manufactured Facebook profile of yourself.
In other words, a veneer.  Rich-looking rosewood on the outside, cheap pine plywood underneath.  We can do that with God as well.  And that’s OK when your just beginning a relationship, but if you stick with the veneer, you’ll never grow.  You’ll sound the same in 30 years as you do today.
The solid wood of relationships, including your relationship with God, is intimacy, face-to-face connection, honesty even when it’s ugly.  Such a relationship does more than just exist, it grows, and as it grows it resonates more and more.
A veneer is OK when you are just learning, but eventually you’ll want the depth of solid wood.
I mean, who wants to sound the same after all these years?

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