Are You Being Held Hostage by Your Guitar?

(Image credit: William Baeck)

This is my first column for

So let me risk it being my last one by offering a suggestion that goes against one of the deepest desires of guitarists and a basic premise of this magazine: Maybe you should rethink your dream guitar, because owning one can be a nightmare.

One of the contributors to a guitar forum I read owned a gorgeous original 1950s Telecaster. Every so often, he would post photos of it, just to get our hearts racing.

It was everything you could want in a classic, vintage Tele. The guitar was in nearly mint condition, with ash grain swirling in eddies beneath the surface of a flawless nitro finish. Light sparkled off shiny metalwork as it sat like a jewel in its original case.

That guitar was breathtaking, and we all coveted it. I needed both hands to count the number of commandments I’d have been willing to break to make it mine.

Yet its owner hardly ever played it. Why? From what he said, it sounded and played as good as it looked. But having bought such a pristine and valuable instrument, he came to realize that if he actually played the guitar, eventually it wouldn’t be quite so pristine or valuable anymore.

And so that wonderful Tele stayed mostly locked away, shown only to other guitarists who could appreciate its unmarred beauty, with perhaps a tune or two played gently on it before being returned to the safety of its case.

The last I heard, he was planning on selling his guitar, because he just couldn’t bring himself to use it.

Lessons are an integral part of Guitar World. The lesson here is that before you chase after the guitar of your dreams, think about what that dream really is. Is your ultimate guitar a piece of art, an investment to be held somewhere safe that won’t affect its resale value? If so, that’s fine; talk to your insurance agent, call your accountant, and if they agree, go for it.

But if you want to play the thing, let me suggest a different definition of a dream guitar: something to make memories on with your friends, at jam nights in bars, with your band—in short, wherever you want to create music with all the emotion that the right guitar can inspire in you. And that means a willingness to go out there and use it, wear it down in spots, get it dinged, and even take a chance that eventually it may get hurt or broken.

Yeah, something like your heart.

I have guitars ranging from a Squier Bullet to a pre-war Gibson. What makes each a dream guitar for me is that each gets played regularly, whenever and wherever I want. I’ve never bought a guitar—even a vintage one—that I wasn’t willing to take a chance with damaging or losing as long as it also meant the chance to play and enjoy it.

So consider whether your personal dream guitar will look as intoxicating in the sober light of ownership. You might fantasize about that $6,000 handmade acoustic. But will you actually play it more often than you brag about it? If not, maybe a $600 off-the-shelf model that you’ll play every day, everywhere, will give you more guitar happiness in the long run.

In the meantime, here’s hoping you get the guitar you truly want. Even if it’s a Martin with three humbuckers and a whammy bar.

William Baeck is a writer, photographer and hack guitarist living in London. You can check out his webpage at and reach him on Facebook and Twitter.

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