Arlen Roth

I suppose how you treat your instrument says a lot about you, and I’m sure you have thoughts on this subject, but I have found that the treatment of my guitars has kind of ebbed and flowed over the years. I can remember in the beginning, when I was first starting out, and finally got some good guitars, I was almost “anal” about not letting others play, touch or even so much as breathe on them! I was that way about many things in my life at that time, such as everything from my record collection to my guitars, and everything in between, too!

What became rather interesting was how it seemed that more expensive and collectible the instruments became, the more “utilitarian” they became to me as I worked at being more and more of a player. It’s as if the more the guitar is a part of you, the less worry you have of it getting hurt, or not being by your side. In fact, when I think back on my observations, it’s always the new and more “inexperienced” players who seem to clutch onto their precious guitars more fearfully than us experienced pros, who have learned to take the instruments more for granted!

I’ll never forget a very interesting story related to this subject during the time I was playing with Art Garfunkel. We were getting ready for a gig at Carnegie Hall in NYC, and we were doing our afternoon sound check. Our cellist, one of the best in the business, and a top player from the NY Philharmonic, was taking a cigarette break and had her cello, as many players do, lying on its side right next to her, on the floor. I decided to go to the back of the hall to get a sense of the grandeur of Carnegie Hall, having not played there before, and was listening to Artie kind of going through his vocalizations in a “scat” kind of way, testing out the sound. All of a sudden, I heard the loudest “crack” I’ve ever heard in my life, and right away knew something was terribly wrong!

It turns out Art was looking up at the ceiling, and took a step that made this cello (I think from 1630!) fall over on its face, and made a crack in the top that was about two feet long! This instrument was priceless….and what did the cellist do, she simply kept her legs crossed, blew out another puff of smoke from her cigarette, and said “don’t worry about it, I can easily get it fixed.” Artie Garfunkel was devastated, and what I learned later was that she simply didn’t want to see him any more hurt. Of course, that cello could be repaired, but it would never be the pristine thin it was before, but she had it in perspective that even though this was a work of art, it was still her musical tool, and that a broken heart might be a harder thing to repair!

So I hope that neither you nor I actually have to encounter a similar even regarding our favorite guitar, (although I’ve had similar guitar experiences myself!), I hope you find a happy balance in terms of how you wish to treat your instruments, and just what place they have in your life as possessions! Best of luck!

Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.