Hello Troubadourians! I could have just as easily titled this column “Story Time, part 4,” as it contains the final chapter of my time with the “White Rose” but I’ve always liked Carly Simon—she’s so sexy to see and hear—and it’s also a study in wanting, waiting, sacrificing, and finally having something you desire, so I’ll endeavor to write with as much passion and angst that Ms. Simon delivers with her performance of that song. I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to decide if I achieved that goal.
I love guitars. I especially love fine guitars and I don’t mind paying good money for them. As long as they can transcend their beauty and actually become real “working instruments,” with which I can express my feelings through my music, then I’m all about spending whatever it takes to possess a superior axe. I’m worth it, my music is worth it, and most of all the people who spent their time, money, and emotions to listen to my music are worth it. Everything that I have to do to deliver my best performance possible is my responsibility and I need the best tools I can afford to accomplish that goal. On the surface, that sounds like rationalization for spending money on expensive gear—and it undeniably is—but it is equally true that good gear almost always sounds, plays, and looks better than mediocre, run-of-the-mill gear, and it’s as satisfying to play as a fine wine is to drink.
Some of us are lucky enough that our dream instruments are readily available and within our budget. Sometimes it’s a matter of that instrument being unachievable because it’s far too costly: $300,000 or more for a ’59 sunburst Les Paul is obvious, but $3,000 for an excellent reproduction may still break the bank. For others, that dream instrument only exists in our obsessive imagining. Yeah, I’m so guilty… the only alternative in this case is to special-order it from someone who is willing to build it. That’s the first hurdle. The second one comes right back to affording that fever dream you so desire. My story involves defining what I wanted, three years of negotiations with the builder (Collings Guitars), convincing them to make my custom adjustments to their already excellent design, and then once they agreed to make it, finding a way to pay for it. I’m no wealthier than any of you and being cash-poor but possibly instrument rich, I had to sacrifice some precious instruments to feed the need so to speak. One of the guitars that ended up on the list of those I could part with was White Rose. I had stopped playing it and had left it languishing in its case for several shameful years and I needed to pass it along to someone who would play it and appreciate its beauty and sound. Two other guitars that would be made expendable by the new guitar were my two PRSs, both of which were somewhat custom in and of themselves, and both were also signed by Paul Reed Smith. Could any guitar be worth that much? I seemed to think so. I tried to sell them for over a year with no success. Now a less obsessed person might have taken that as a sign that he was on a fool’s errand and should be grateful for what he had instead of chasing that special something that he didn’t possess and at the time didn’t even exist. Enter my good friend Rick Fagan. Rick understands me. He knows that for me when the subject is gear of any kind; guitars, amps, pedals, etc. I will work it out in my mind long before there is any desire attached to a decision. For several years while my thoughts and ideas for that “just right” instrument were gestating in my brain, there was no one for me to turn to where I could acquire what I wanted. Then, Rick opened his shop. He has the industry trust and reputation that is necessary to open relationships with the finest instrument builders in the world. It just so happened that he could be the conduit between me and Collings Guitars where I could finally get the guitar I had imagined and have it be legal. Legal and affordable. Rick was willing to take my three sacrificial lambs in trade and facilitate my purchase of the Collings guitar that would come to be known as “Pearl.” The details shall forever remain private, but it is also true that I have no idea what the final monetary terms were. I gave up three special guitars and received one very special guitar in return. That’s all I needed to know. Trust is a wonderful thing when you find a friend worthy of it. Thanks, Rick. You rock my world, my friend.
With the Collings on the way, the challenge of managing my expectations was now at the forefront. Could any real instrument measure up to the grand expectations I had created? That would be a challenge for any builder but I believed that Collings would get it right. They didn’t. Well, at least they didn’t build the “exact” guitar I ordered. No, they didn’t… I received a call that the wrong bridge and tailpiece had been installed by mistake. I had ordered a wrap-around bridge because that was what I was used to on my PRS. What Collings installed was a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop-bar tailpiece, the traditional type of bridge that is usually installed in Les Paul-type instruments that my City Limits model exemplified. Managing my expectations, I realized that that “mistake” was a fortunate one as the bridge I wanted wouldn’t have been as versatile and in-tune as the one that was installed (a fact verified once I received the guitar and began playing it regularly). When it arrived at Rick’s shop, there was moment of not understanding what I actually held in my hands. It wasn’t perfect, yet it was perfect. I would have to learn how to play it to be worthy of it and it took a while to get to know her, Pearl… why that name? To remind me of my sacrifice. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” —Matthew 13:45-46. What more needs to be said?
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)