Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - 72

COLUMN Acousticville

ARMED AND READY
FOR ARLINGTON

Must-Have Items for the Serious Show-Goer
By Steven Stone

A

fter several years' hiatus due to scheduling
conflicts, this year I am returning to the
Arlington Guitar Show. Besides two pair
of shoes and my newest digital camera, I'll be
dusting off my guitar show essentials kit.
Guitar shows are great places to see a lot of
instruments in a short period, and perhaps even
buy one. But if you want to find a super-sounding
instrument you have to bring the right evaluation
tools. It's like fishing; without the right gear, you
can't snag a fish. Here's my list of guitar-show
essentials.

CHROMATIC TUNER/
TUNER APP
If you can't tune a guitar, you can't tell how
it sounds. Even more important, without a
chromatic tuner, you can't determine whether it
intonates. Since intonation has a lot to do with
how a guitar sounds and plays, it's imperative.
Peterson, the folks who used to make professional
strobe tuners, now offer a smartphone app called
iStrobeSoft that is accurate to within less than
one cent. If its $10 price tag is too much for you,
there are a bunch of others, such as Pro Tuner,
that are decent - and free.

NEW STRINGS
If I had a dime for every guitar I've tried to play
at a guitar show that had strings unchanged since
the turn of the century, I could buy a vintage
D'Angelico. I always bring several sets - light
phosphor/bronze, round-wound electric steel,
and flatwound steel. Changing strings on a
guitar accomplishes more than merely attaching new strings - it gives you an opportunity to
closely inspect an instrument. How well do the
tuners turn and hold pitch? How good is the
setup? Changing strings will give you plenty of
time to examine the details. And don't forget a
string cutter.

PENCIL FLASHLIGHT AND
DENTIST'S MIRROR
It's a really good idea to check the inside of a
guitar. Look for loose braces and signs of lesscompetent repair. Also, you never know what
you might find - genuine tortoiseshell picks,

rattlesnake rattles, cryptic messages from
prior owners, old treasure maps. Think of
the possibilities.

PICKS (MANY KINDS!)
As standard operating procedure, I take
a range of picks for use on different guitars
with various string gauges. I also recommend
having a capo because you might also want to
see how the sound changes when it's applied.

MONEY
Yes, this should be pretty obvious, but I've
witnessed more than a few folks who find a
guitar they want and say, "Shucks... I'd love to
buy this, but it's Sunday and my bank is closed.
Will you hold it and I'll send the money?" For
most dealers, the answer is "Yeah, right. And I'll
give you a big discount, a kiss, and a shoeshine,
to boot."
If you intend to buy a guitar, bring legal tender.
I often use travelers' checks, since carrying wads
of cash makes me nervous. And for the truly
modern show-goer, there's always a possibility
someone might take Apple pay.

REFERENCE MATERIAL
OR "GOOD" INTERNET
If you're looking for a particular brand and
year of guitar, bring your most-trusted reference book. There's nothing like a good picture
of the instrument with proper bridge, saddle,
tuners, and other accessories to confirm the
instrument you're interested in is indeed "stock."
Bookmarking internet sites with good pictures
or descriptions that you can access from your
smartphone works, too.

HOW DOES IT SOUND?
If you've been to a guitar show, you know
that if you need to really hear an acoustic, it's
likely going to be too loud in the exhibit room.
Most halls have a certain cacophony, and while
the second/smaller exhibit hall at Arlington is
quieter, it's still less than ideal because there are
no close walls to bounce the sound back at you.
If you want to hear what a guitar actually
sounds like, you have to play it in a smaller room.

VINTAGE GUITAR

72

December 2016

My trick is to take it to
the bathroom. That may sound weird,
but it's a nice, live room where you can actually
hear what the guitar sounds like. You'll have to
explain it to dealers, but most will be okay with
it even if they require a bit of collateral - your
wallet, ID, or some cash.

DO YOUR RESEARCH
It's easy to get swamped by info overload. If
you plan to buy at the show, narrow your choices
beforehand; don't go in looking for "a six-string
for $3,000." Rather, hone your options to a few
specific models. Also, consult as many sources
as possible for the price range. My first go-to
source is, of course, The Official Vintage Guitar
Price Guide, which is released every year at the
Arlington Guitar show.
Here's example of "Do as I say, not as I do." At
the Denver show in 1996, I shared a table with
an old trading buddy. We'd often swap instruments, and that year he had what was marked
as a '68 Gretsch White Falcon. It was in superb
condition with only a few replaced parts. Played
great, sounded like only a White Falcon can
with its floating T-bar bridge. So, I traded him
three nice guitars for it... and when I got home
discovered it was a 1970 model worth a couple
hundred dollars less than I'd paid. It was still
a great guitar, and I kept it for almost 10 years
before I sold it for what I had into it. Still, if I'd
done my homework, I would've cobbled a better
deal. Instead, an impulse put me at a substantial
disadvantage.
The moral is, "Don't make an impulse buy."
And always do your homework. And don't forget
your tool kit. See you in Arlington!
Steven Stone is a contributing editor to Stereophile's Guide
to Home Theater. He has also written for Stereophile, The
Absolute Sound, Creem, and Spin magazines. For relaxation,
he plays and collects guitars and mandolins. His e-mail
address is sstone8807@aol.com.


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Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - IFC
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