About a month ago, I mentioned that novelist Jonathan Kellerman has recently published a book titled With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars, which is about his stellar guitar collection. I’ve since had a chance to read the book, and it is fantastic. The photos are gorgeous, and Mr. Kellerman includes detailed descriptions about many of the guitars. Not only is the book fantastic, but the guitar collection is fantastic, as well.
Mr. Kellerman was kind enough to answer a few questions about his guitar collection for us:
Guitar Lifestyle: What criteria do you look for when selecting guitars for your collection?
Jonathan Kellerman: Sound. Sound, and sound. LOL. Seriously, although tone is always paramount, I’m attracted to instruments that require high degrees of craftsmanship – premium archtops, classicals, deluxe flattops such as prewar Martin 45’s. But really, anything well-made that sounds great. However, given limitations of space, time, and funds, one does need to be selective. Though I have amassed around 120 guitars, they were acquired over a 35 year period. So you can see that the rate of acquisition wasn’t that high (by guitar addict standards.) I used to trade up, but once I started finding really great stuff, I stopped. One of my great pleasures is finding an old instrument that was rarely, if ever played, and opening it up.
GL: Is there one particular guitar that stands out as the “pride” of your collection, or are they like kids…you can’t pick a favorite?
JK: I used to answer that question with the old it’s-like-choosing among my kids reply. But now that I’ve owned – and have played Torres F.E.17, I have to say it’s the one I’d keep if I was stuck on a desert island. The history, provenance and sound are profound and I feel privileged to be the custodian of such a fabulous, historically and eminently playable instrument. Leading to your next question:
GL: I noticed in the book that you have an enviable collection of classical guitars, including two built by Antonio de Torres and one that once belonged to Francisco Tarrega. What is it like to own and play a guitar like that with so much history attached to it?
JK: The experience of playing a composition by Tarrega on Tarrega’s own guitar is as close to guitar nirvana as I could ever get. It’s a smallish instrument with an amazingly large tone and despite fragile construction and multiple restorations – include some butchery – it sounds amazing, with a strong bass and those bell-like trebles for which Torres was acclaimed. It is truly a piece of usable art.
GL: You mentioned in the book that you have passed on buying a 1959 Les Paul several times throughout the years. Given their skyrocketing value, do you ever plan to add one to your collection?
JK: Flametops remain too high for me, though I have noticed some serious drops in price due to the current financial situation. That may be because the prices were driven up by investment-oriented hedge-fund types who are now divesting, but I can’t be sure of that. Think about it: 58-60 LP’s are great guitars, but they were factory made out of solid wood, and well over 1000 were manufactured. Yet, they still sell for more than double what that Torres cost. I’ll be watching the market, though, to see if prices reach a point that I find comfortable. In the end, it’s subjective.
GL: Do you have any advice for others who are looking to build a guitar collection?
JK: I’d say do your research and self-educate meticulously, play as many examples of your target guitars as you can find so you can make an intelligent choice, be aware of the market and avoid over-paying – for example, when buying at auction, set your max and don’t go past it. Most important, buy what excites you – a guitar you’re really going to enjoy playing, rather than what you think will be a good investment.
A very special thanks to Jonathan Kellerman for taking the time to answer these questions. I highly recommend With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars as well as any of Kellerman’s novels.