My first guitar was a classical, a Garcia, six nylon string classical. I don’t remember buying it, or having it bought for me, but it was the one I played in high school, listening to James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt records over and over and over so I could play them back faithfully.
Lots of fingerpicking, not so much strumming. No flatpicking- it just sounded wrong on that classical guitar. And it was the same one I had in college, when I started playing out for the first time, in the Rutgers Rusty Screw Pub, four hours of cover tunes, most of them obscure, just because I liked them. Maybe one or two originals. A little Jobim, because it suited the guitar, and little Kenny Rankin, ‘cause that’s what he did, too. Laura Nyro, David Pomerantz, Todd Rungren, Rita Coolidge, Ralph McTell., Van Morrison. And of course, James and Bonnie.
I played entirely by ear, and often had no idea WHAT I was actually playing, no concept of key, or chord names beyond the basics. Although I had been taking piano lessons since third grade, it never really translated for me to the guitar.
And that was how it was, until I was out of college, playing here and there, and finally getting up the nerve to buy – dare I say it!! – a steel stringed guitar. Scary. Worried for my tender fingertips, my not-so-strong hands on those barre chords, but I went ahead and bought the coolest looking steel string acoustic I could find (and afford) – a black Fender with a cutaway for the unheard of sum in the neighborhood of $300.
It was so cool, but had such high action. It was so hard to play! I plugged on, determined to make the switch. At the time, someone gave me another guitar. That’s right, they GAVE ME a Gibson Les Paul electric that had been languishing in their attic. I wasn’t really into electric guitars, and the electronics were in need of repair, so, oooooh, how it pains me to say this now, I SOLD it for a pittance, along with the Fender, so I could buy a really GOOD acoustic, which at that time, for me, was a Taylor 314.
It looked beautiful, sounded beautiful, and it launched me on my ascendancy to life as a singer-songwriter. I played that Taylor for about three years, but it wore me out every time, and I reluctantly concluded that although I loved the way it sounded, it was just too big for me. I’m 5’2” on a good day, and as short as my arms are, my hands are even smaller. At that time, Taylor just didn’t have anything that fit the bill.
I began my quest: to find a guitar that sounded as good as the Taylor, but was small enough to fit me.
So I looked. And I looked. And I played. And played and played every kind of guitar. I learned a lot. I learned that some guitars are better for flatpicking, and some for fingerpicking. I learned about how construction affects tone; how spruce tops take a while to warm up but cedar starts out that way. I learned that guitars sound really different when you hear them acoustically than when you plug ‘em in. I learned that you really do have to play every single Martin, because you can’t count on one 000-28 to sound like every other 000-28.
I stumbled onto a brand I had never heard of before – Breedlove, at that time a small custom shop in Bend, OR. The guy at the store handed me a custom Breedlove Focus, cedar top, rosewood back and sides, cutaway. It was beautiful. And then I played it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh. Immediately warm and resonant. Great bass response. And It Fit. And off into the wilds of the singer-songwriter landscape I went.
I happily played that Breedlove for six years, spreading the Breedlove gospel. I LOVED it. It wasn’t temperamental; it stayed pretty much where I tuned it. It sounded beautiful plugged or unplugged. I’ve since played other Breedlove guitars, and I’ve liked every one. I can’t say enough about the quality and sound of their American made instruments.
I recorded three CDs with that guitar. Life went on around me, lots of life, which got etched into the Focus in the songs that we wrote and played together.
I thought I was done and settled.
And then it happened.
I was included in a group email from a friend who is a Breedlove dealer. He had a few models for sale. The prices were sooooo tempting. And there it was—called the Phoenix, a shallow body Concert shape, redwood top and a central American hardwood called ziricote on the back and sides, which gave the guitar an overall dark, mysterious beauty. And there, on the neck, an intricate inlay of a rising phoenix.
Maybe everyone thinks this of themselves at one time or another, but given my past lives as a commercial litigator and a stay-at-home mom, and my new incarnation as a singer-songwriter, the whole Phoenix idea spoke to me. And when I picked it up and played it, I knew we were destined to be together.
It fit me. And the combination of the two exotic woods created the most remarkable single note textures, which was important to me as a fingerstyle player. The deep bass response was powerful but not overbearing. The overall sound was complex and intriguing. And it pulled me in. And for the first time in my life, I bought the guitar that I really wanted, and not just the one I could reasonably afford.
Aaah, painting the house can wait another year. This one felt fated, no chance encounter. Remember, I wasn’t looking. It came to me. And I was lucky enough to recognize it as the guitar I’ve been waiting for. And we’ve just recorded our first CD together.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Singer-songwriter Laura Zucker wins audiences over with a hard-won perspective and a positive spin. The powerful imagery of her songs and stories ring so true you might think she’s read your diary – and you’ll find yourself humming her infectious melodies for days to come. She’s a two-time finalist in the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk competition in Texas, 2013 West Coast Songwriters Association Best Song of the Year, and has received numerous accolades and awards from the organizations around the world. She has released three CDs of original songs and is poised to release the 4th, "Life Wide Open," early this fall. More at LauraZucker.com