Are collectors selfish assh@les?

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Guitar collecting (or hoarding) is common amongst us guitarnerds. But why do we do it?

I’m currently in Boston, USA on a work trip attending a graphic design conference. I don’t know if any of you have done a trip from Australia to the East Coast, but it’s not pleasant. 4 airports, 2 near missed connecting flights, half a dozen X-ray scans and 24 hours later…here I lie in bed wide awake with a sweet case of jet lag.

While surfing Facebook, I came across a photo of a Melbourne band called the Grey Daturas… whose bass player bought my Mosrite Ventures bass back in 2005. I hadn’t seen the bass in many years and my first thought was ‘Man, I’d like to get that back.’ But then I stopped myself. Why do I want it back? To play it live? The reason I sold it was that I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out if it. So I don’t want it back to play… I want it back to pack away in storage and not play it for 10 years. Which is crazy.

In the time that I’ve sold this bass, it’s traveled around the world on tour, recorded many albums and played hundreds of gigs. In the time I owned it, I played it maybe 10 times live and then had it in a cupboard for 2 years before I sold it. So obviously it’s with the right person. It’s being played and loved. It’s making music. It’s doing the thing it was built for.

I’ve started thinking this way whilst shooting the short guitarnerd documentary with my bandmate Dan. In the doco, I say “…you start buying guitars not because you need them… but because you don’t want anyone else to have them.” And whilst it’s a funny throwaway line, there’s a fair amount of truth in there. It’s especially bad with my main love, Maton guitars. I’ve had to physically walk out the room when an eBay auction is ending so that I don’t crack and bid on it. Because I don’t need anymore Matons. I barely play the ones I have.

Recently I sold one of my Matons as I was getting another of the same model in a trade later in the year. The buyer had never owned a vintage Maton before and emailed me to say he’d received the guitar and was stoked. Where to me it was another vintage Maton in my collection that I barely played, to him it was his ONLY Maton that he loved playing. And that is what the guitar deserves. Someone who appreciates it for what it is… a cool piece of Australian history that can still deliver the goods in a garage band. I’d owned that guitar for 4 years and never played it live.

Another thing that’s started happening to me is that when I’m offered a guitar to buy or see one that I’d want, the first thought that pops into my head is… so you’re not going to play your EGC anymore (which is my main guitar at the moment). Of course I’m going to play my EGC… I love that guitar. So, why are you buying it? When are you going to play it? Well… probably never. So why are you buying it? And then I realise I’ve reached saturation point. I’ve got more than enough guitars.

I’ve always respected guitarists and band players who have played the same instruments throughout their career. Spencer P Jones has his white Strat. Ian Rilen (RIP) had his Tele Bass. Malcolm Young has his Gretsch Firebird. It shows a commitment to that instrument, and a bond that takes years to make which is not easily duplicated with another guitar. When I saw Spencer playing a guitar other than his Strat, it seemed like the universe was slightly out of whack. It looked wrong. I mean, Spencer can make any guitar sound like Spencer. But it wasn’t the same. It’d be like Angus Young playing a Strat. Heads would explode, riots would explode and cars would be overturned… governments would be overthrown.

I’ve always kind of wanted that for myself. To be ‘known’ for playing one particular guitar. Not that I’m an important enough a muso that anyone would notice what I was playing anyway. But to have a guitar that people would say “That’s Tony’s guitar”. And I haven’t got that. I’ve owned and played WAY to many guitars over the years for that to happen. I’ve diluted my ‘brand’. With my band The Arcolas, I don’t think I’ve played the same guitar twice at our gigs. First gig was my G&L SC1, second my red Fyrbyrd custom, then my sharkbite Fybyrd, then my pinstripe SG, then my 1970 SG Special, then my silverburst Les Paul, then my EGC. Now… that’s the benefit of owning some of the coolest frikken’ guitars on the planet and I’ve worked my ass off to get these guitars so I should be able to enjoy them. But would I be just as happy with just one amazing guitar?

And more importantly, the guitars I don’t play… am I keeping them from playing gigs around the world and recording the next biggest selling album with someone else? Just so I can pull them out and play them every five years? That’s selfish of me yes, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that.

There’s a Mosrite collector in the US who is a bonafide asshole. He bought every Mosrite under the sun during the vintage guitar boom of 2003 to 2007 and in doing so drove up the market as there were less guitars available. Which pissed people off. And now, he’s over Mosrites so he’s selling his collection for insane prices. People hate this dude. I don’t want to be like that.

So what next? I’ll never stop obsessing about guitars. It’s been 24 years since I bought my first guitar and I love them even more now. Plus guitarnerd keeps the fires burning in my brain more than ever before. But what it’s done is stopped my finger hitting that ‘buy it now’ button. And I’ve started selling guitars I have to buy others I want. Enough is enough.

At the end of the day, we’re not owners of these guitars, but caretakers for future players. In my head I see a white void with many large groups of buzzing bees. These individual groups of bees represent guitar collections. Some bees swap from one group to another. Some fly off all together to their new swarm far away. And when that collector dies (or decides to quit playing), the swarm explodes and the bees fly off in all different directions. I got this image when I heard the Chinery collection got split up. One of the best guitar collections in the world that took decades to assemble… gone in one auction. It just seems so pointless.

So at the end of the day I say this… enjoy the guitars you already have. Play the guitars you want to have.