Vintage Guitars Vs. New: When Touring, It's Best to Keep the Retro-Cool Valuables at Home

My name is Paul Pigat, and yes, I admit ... I'm a guitaraholic. I've been chasing the “guitar dragon” for most of my life.

It all started when I found a 1928 Gibson Nick Lucas Special. I was 15. A guitar of this caliber in a young man's hands is a dangerous thing. It leads to a never-ending quest for the “perfect” guitar (aka TONE LUST!).

Needless to say, I've spend hundreds -- if not thousands -- of hours (and many thousands of dollars!) scouring pawn shops, newspaper ads, and now the Internet, looking for the elusive “deal” and or “perfect” vintage instrument.

Recently, however, I've been playing a lot of new instruments, getting them either through endorsements or buying them because of the great quality and prices that are available now. When I was a kid, $300 would get you a plank and strings or an amp that sounded like it was made from a transistor radio. Now that has all changed.

At first this was troublesome to me, to say the least. Where did all my vintage cool go?!?! If my guitar wasn't from the '50s, then how could I possibly raise my head high and say the my guitar has “IT,” “THE MOJO” or “THE TONE!!”?

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of very cool new guitars being made out there, but my hang-up on that elusive “something” that makes an old guitar great was -- and still is -- a difficult argument in my head.

There are obviously pros and cons to both. Vintage guitars are COOL! They have a look and a patina that screams experience. Who doesn't want to think that their guitar has “been around,” so to speak, and has experience? There's a nostalgic whimsy that tugs at your heart when you try and imagine where this old girl has been over the years and what has been played on it and by who (Heck, I've got a 1928 L1 ... Maybe it was Robert Johnson's!!!! Sure looks like the one in the picture ...)

And there is certainly something to be said about old wood (no pun intended). It's opened up, and sound has traveled through its pores for years. I've always been a believer that wood has a memory and rings a certain way, depending on how it's been played (Did I mention I had it bad or what!?).

But on the other hand, my old girls are fragile, and valuable for that matter. I do a lot of traveling, and the thought of some careless baggage handler throwing my guitar to the tarmac in the middle of a sleet storm gives me a cold chill at night.

So now I'm traveling with a bunch of new instruments in my arsenal. They may not have the “retro cool” factor, but they are all based on traditional designs; so, from a distance, most folks can't tell the difference and they sound great! The frets aren't worn out, the wiring is reliable and they're built like tanks (I had one skid across the floor at a gig in the Netherlands this summer while talking to a fan who stood there in horror. I picked it up and said, “Look, not even a scratch!")

I sometimes miss my vintage favorites on the road, but I must admit, I'm pretty happy with my new rig. I don't worry about them nearly as much, and I can always depend on them to get the job done. I still play my collection when I'm home, but those old gals are retired from the road for the time being. Maybe if I play these new ones enough, they will get to be “old gals” for another player out there in the future.

Behind that unassuming grin and underneath those Doc Watson glasses lurks Paul Pigat, one of the most restless, combustible musical imaginations ever crammed like so much canned heat into a single body. Blessed with a jazz man's sheen, a rockabilly heart and a hobo's soul, there aren't many genres of music that don't pull at Pigat's wayfaring imagination like a magnet. In many ways, it's a mystery why Pigat isn't a household name yet. Pigat tours regularly with Cousin Harley.

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