Once again it was the annual check-up time for my actual level of musicianship as I made yet another journey to a beautiful little corner of Switzerland to teach and perform in the town of Gams. On this occasion my visit to Guitar-Repairs’ small concert room allowed me the opportunity to see if I could get away with playing nine instruments for a crowd who, for the most part, spoke very little English.
The reason I had access to so many instruments is because Urs Winkler is the proud owner of this fine establishment – which just happens to be one of the best music stores I’ve seen in the world and has a multitude of incredible instruments on hand for anyone’s musical dining pleasure.
From Resophonic Resonator slide guitars to a 4-string cigar box instrument currently tuned D A D F# and the last remaining steel string Tacoma Papoose in Europe, I must confess that my real lure was toward the two bog oak guitars. These instruments I selected off the wall for the show come courtesy of Brook Guitars, based out of the UK.
The 5,000 “years in a bog” walnut maple instrument with a Swiss Alpine Spruce Top was a real treat to have in my hands along with the (merely) 2,000 year old smaller body Creedy model guitar with a back and sides made from Yew.Taking a crack at an arrangement by my teacher David Walbert of the classic tune “500 miles” I caught myself doing something I always warn my own students against – holding my breath.I know some of this came from being in awe.
Urs also happens to be the proud owner of the only Plek machine in all of Switzerland, which is a brilliant machine invented by Gerd Anke and based out of Berlin, Germany. This miracle of a machine calibrates perfectly the precise action needed to make any guitar as playable as possible, with a perfect fret dressing job allowing for the player to glide along the fingerboard of the guitar free of anything remotely resembling a speed bump of any kind.
The trick in adapting to these instruments more than likely comes from experience and since I have a slew of instruments at home I would encourage you to, over the years, consider accumulating an array of instruments as it is bound to expand both your intellectual and physical level of playing capabilities. Just pretend you’re driving different vehicles on the highway. One is a little Fiat, one is a cement mixer and one is a tow truck. You just treat them differently and the handling is something you adapt to. More than likely a lifelong project, but as I’ve always said – enjoy the journey!