It seemed like a great idea on October 24, 2016.
I’m not getting any younger. Why not live it up and splurge with a custom made guitar, one by a master Laguna Beach luthier? What is money anyway?
Kirk Sand, who operates out of the little “Guitar Shoppe,” on Pacific Coast Highway, has made guitars for many of the greats, including Chet Atkins, Richard Smith, Jose Feliciano, Richie Sambora, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel, Doyle Dykes and Kevin Eubanks.
I wouldn’t have chosen a pandemic as the time to make such a splurge, but I’m glad I did. Because now there’s a “Jefferson” nylon string edition. In the style of the great Richard Smith, of whom I believe shares the title with Martin Taylor of the “Greatest Guitar Player” I wish I could one day be.
My new guitar is made of Indian rosewood, with a mahogany neck, Alaskan sitka spruce top, ebony fingerboard, and wooly mammoth ivory for the nut.
Kirk describes it as a “crossover” guitar, in that it’s built for both classical and fingerstyle jazz with nylon strings, but it can be plugged in and amplified as well, which most pure classical guitars can’t do.
Longtime readers know I’ve been playing the guitar for years, mostly jazz standards and TV themes. (Such a combo!) My mom describes me as always “having a camera around my neck and guitar on my lap.” And as anyone who has watched my guitar videos over the years knows, while I have a soft spot for my beloved vintage Gibson ES-125 jazz guitar, my big love is nylon string guitar for two reasons.
We begin with the stellar sound of the nylon guitar, long favored by classical and bossa nova players for the soft tones, and then beloved for playability. Nylon strings are easier to play, for many hours. They feel better on your fingers. I recommend a nylon string for any beginning guitar player.
I invite you to watch my interview above with Kirk talking about the guitar and the long process of making it. Plus as a bonus, I’ll play you two tunes on my new Kirk Sand special, with “Sweet Lorraine” electrified, and “Skylark” as pure acoustic. (Thanks to Jan Schrieber from the AdventureMuse YouTube channel for documenting the moments.)
Kirk uses two types of wood, rosewood from India, and Brazil, which he says is harder to come by, and thus more expensive. “Any guitar made of Brazilian rosewood will see the resale prices go up faster.”
Speaking of prices, if you have to ask, you know the answer. Kirk has rates sort of listed on his website, if you know where to look. It’s not hundreds of dollars, but the next level up.
The advantage of a homemade guitar? “It was made by hand, by one person,” he says. “You get a guitar made by a company like Martin or Gibson, and it was touched by hundreds of people on a factory line. I made everything, from start to finish.”
Plus, he adds, that when a guitar player makes a guitar, he/she understands it so much better. “You know how to adjust the action, because you’re going to play it. A woodworker doesn’t have that knowledge.”
The average guitar on the shelf for sale is a generic guitar, meant to appeal to players of all styles, bluegrass, classical, fingerstyle, etc. and each has their own needs, Kirk says. With a homemade guitar, “this is set up for you.”
Why did it take over three and a half years to get my new guitar made? Crafting guitars is “an art,” he says. “There’s no manufacturing schedule. When it’s ready, it’s ready.”
And he works on his schedule. My model is the 748th guitar Kirk has made since starting this passion project in the 1980s. He’s currently working on a new batch of 18 guitars, which he hopes to have finished in 2022. And he says he’s not accepting orders now for new ones. Well, unless you know someone or ask nicely.
The art of the guitar
Many people say, “Hey Jeff, how many guitars do you have?”
The answer: that would 10, but as my friend Scott Kelby can tell you, you can never have enough.
First of all, you can put your art on the wall, but for me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a wonderful guitar, or actually, any instrument. Violins, cellos, accordions, they all are amazing to look at. (And just try hanging an accordion!)
If you haven’t seen it, please take a look at my piece about the highlight of our Portugal trip, and the visit to Porto’s Casa de Guitarra, where I fell in love with the Amarante.
And secondly, every guitar sounds different. An acoustic steel string Yamaha has a way different tone than my steel Martin, my old Gibson ES-125 just sings on jazz in a way my more recent Fender Telecaster never could. But the Tele rocks, and the ES-125 never will be able to.
And now that I’ve got a personalized Sand Guitar hanging on the wall and resting in my hands, Howard Paul, you’re next. I’ve been dreaming about the Benedetto for 5 years. Do you accept lay-away? Over a 3.5 year period?
After all, it’s just money, right?