There’s no doubt that musicians develop unique relationships with the instruments they play. Instruments are more than just tools of the trade. Think about it, you don’t hear of many carpenters giving names to their hammers or circular saws! Why is that?
I’ve played guitar nearly all my life and I’ve never bought a guitar for myself. Never. My Dad bought my first acoustic guitar from Black River Music in Watertown when I was in middle school and my Brother Ryan got me my second one from Beatstreet Music in 2002. In 2006 I met my musical partner John Hanus, who just so happened to have one of the most beautiful vintage guitar collections in the world. So once we started performing he said, “why don’t you just use my guitars?” So for the next 14 years that is precisely what I did. I laugh when I look back on pictures of myself playing on stage from years past because I’m never using a guitar that I owned and it’s always a ridiculously expensive guitar that I could never afford.
Here’s some proof… (none of these are mine)
Gigs were a bit stressful for me because I was always worried that something was going to happen to John’s guitars or someone was going to steal it. But even more so was the connection that I was missing with the instrument. They were never mine so I could never truly connect and this may sound weird to the non-musicians reading this but I longed for a relationship with a guitar. So that’s when John introduced me to reverb.com and my obsession with finding the “one” began.
All hours of the night I would research acoustic guitars and send them to John for his feedback. I probably drove him absolutely crazy but I just couldn’t help it. At the beginning of my search I was doing a lot of blues style thumb-picking so I was looking at vintage Guild F-30’ s because that’s what Mississippi John Hurt played. They also kind of fit my budget, which was obviously key. I would get close to pulling the trigger but then I would see a video of Neil Young with a Martin D-28 and say to myself, maybe I need a dreadnought. So I would scour reverb.com for days until I would eventually find an affordable D-28 that I loved. I would hover the mouse over the buy now button and never hit it. Something just didn’t feel right and the cycle would continue.
This went on for months. I went through all the big names Martin’s, Gibson’s, Guild’s, etc… I looked at parlors, OM’s, dreads, jumbo’s, etc… I researched tone woods and looked at how different species influenced sound. And to really show you how obsessed I was with this here are photos of some guitars that I started to build myself. I had a problem and I knew it, but that is when the guitar found me.
I was playing a string of shows with my friends Chris Merkley and Charley Orlando. Charley came into one of the shows and said, “I bought a new guitar that I will be playing tonight.” It was a beautiful Martin deep bodied 00-17. It sounded wonderful and I asked him where he bought it and he said, “from my good friend Len.” I didn’t know who Len was and never really thought anymore about it. I just kept looking on reverb.com for the “one”.
Fast forward to the fall of last year and my search was still going strong. I was still sitting up in bed at 4am looking at old pieces of wood with strings on them. At the time I was performing with John’s 1970 Martin 000-28 and I’d really fallen in love with the body size. It was really comfortable to play so I knew that was the shape I was looking for. I had a show in a old barn at Heritage Hill Brewing as part of the Original Gravity tour and as I was sound checking when I ran into LEN! I asked him about the guitar he sold Charley and we did some small talking. I told him that I’d been on the guitar hunt for a long time and asked him a few questions. I could tell by his answers that his knowledge of acoustic guitars was incredible and much greater than mine. Before we packed up and left that night Len gave me his number and said, ”call me anytime and feel free to stop over to the house and try out some of my guitars”. Then he said something that really struck me, “every guitar player deserves a great instrument”.
A few days went by and I decided to give Len a call to follow up. We talked on the phone and he said, “after watching you play I think the perfect guitar for you would be a Santa Cruz OM”. In all of my searching over the previous year I’d never once looked into Santa Cruz guitars. I didn’t know anything about them, so I looked them up on reverb.com and the first thing that jumped out at me was the PRICE! Yikes, they were really expensive guitars and way out of my league but I started to research the brand and this was the first video I stumbled on.
Len said something when he was talking about Santa Cruz that still hits me, “There’s soul in Santa Cruz guitars.” I started to dive deep into Santa Cruz guitar history and Richard Hoover in particular. I would set “Santa Cruz OM” on my reverb.com feed and hope that I would be alerted that one just came up for sale. But time went by and nothing. So, just when I was about to give up on my search, Len called and invited me to swing by and play the guitars he has. I was in town with nothing to do so I agreed and stopped by his home.
I walked into his living room and he had 7 or 8 guitars out on stands that he thought I would like. Some Santa Cruz guitars, Martin’s, Preston Thompson’s and more. All incredible guitars - let’s just say that Len knows his stuff! I played through all of them and purposely waited on a guitar that I immediately recognized as a Santa Cruz OM Grand. It was stunning. It had a bear claw spruce top with what Santa Cruz calls a “buttered toast” finsh, ebony fret board with micro inlays and that beautiful signature SCGC inlay on the headstock. I don’t mean to be over romantic about it - but it was love at first strum.
I thanked Len for letting me play his guitars and having me over to his home. I expressed that after playing his OM Grand I know that is what I want to save up for and hopefully one day get. Len was right, it was the perfect guitar for me. Thats when he said, “why don’t you stop looking and just buy this one?”. I said well, firstly because there’s no way I can afford it and secondly because you should keep it. And then he said it again, “every guitar player deserves a great instrument”.
To give closure to this already long tale, Len was so incredibly cool and generous about it, we worked it out financially and thanks to him - I now have the “one” and I plan to play it for the rest of my days. Thank you Len - I owe you big time man!
Now it's time to name it!