The New Guitar, and a Small Observation About Being a Dick

Most of you know I play a tenor guitar, which I like very much, but recently I decided I want to try playing a six-string guitar again, and went looking around for one that I thought I might like. Eventually I found one I thought I would like from a smallish company called Zager Guitars (and yes, for those of you of a certain age, that’s the Zager of Zager and Evans). The company makes acoustic guitars with a slightly lower action, closer to that of an electric guitar. Well, I like that in concept; one of my problems with six string guitars is I’m terrible at barre chords, so a lower action would be helpful. I checked reviews online and the company seemed to have a decent reputation, so I put in an order.

The guitar arrived a couple of days ago and so far I’ve been pleased. It has a nice sound, is indeed easy to play (I still suck at barre chords, alas) and generally speaking is providing me the enjoyment I hoped I would get from it. I’m still a terrible guitar player, but I’m playing terribly on a decent instrument, and that’s a start.

Tangentially, when I first got the guitar, I posted a picture of it on Twitter, and right out of the barrel someone sniffily criticized the guitar maker and said something along the line that I should have gotten a different guitar. Hot tip: Don’t be that sort of clueless dickhead out loud. One, it’s just rude. Two, if your first impulse when someone excitedly shows off their new instrument (or whatever) is to shit on it and them for getting it, the problem isn’t them, or the object in question, it’s you.

Three, even if what they got is something that’s not up to your standards for whatever reason, if they’re happy, than be happy for them, you jerk (there is a qualified exception here if they’re collecting, say, pro-Nazi paraphernalia or Mammy cookie jars or endangered animal hides or the like. If they’re doing it cluelessly, maybe clue them in gently. If they’re doing it with full cluefulness, maybe drop them off the holiday card list).

I should be clear this dude attempting a poop smear on my new guitar didn’t make me feel bad about my purchase. I researched and knew what I was buying and why, and to that regard have been perfectly happy with the guitar. It’s pretty much as I wanted and expected it to be. But it did annoy me that this was some grown-ass person’s first impulse. Be better than that, people. It’s not that hard to do.

60 thoughts on “The New Guitar, and a Small Observation About Being a Dick

  1. I’m glad you’re happy with your new guitar.

    WRT the guy shitting on you for not buying what *he* thought of as the best guitar–screw him. My mother’s been a piano player for more than 65 years. For their 30th anniversary, back in late ’99, my father received a very generous Christmas bonus (their anniversary is 12/27), so he decided he wanted to buy my mother a new piano. He asked her point-blank if she wanted a Steinway. They went around to several piano shops, where she tried several different brands, including Steinway. My mother decided that, for her purposes, she was perfectly happy with a Baldwin, so that’s what my father bought her. He absolutely could have *afforded* a Steinway, but that’s not what she *wanted.*

    I hope you have many happy guitar-playing years ahead of you.

  2. Some folks have nothing but negativity to make them feel better

    Which makes it _really_ hard for me to point out the grammar error.
    Not trying to be a dick but there it is :P
    >> Tangentially, when I got first got the guitar

  3. “if they’re collecting, say, pro-Nazi paraphernalia or Mammy cookie jars”

    I suppose if you were a historian you could have entirely legitimate reasons to collect such things – but then you’d probably be clueful enough to not boast about your latest acquisitions on the internet!

  4. Guitar zealots are the worst. That is why I own eight of them. I’m sure to piss off someone.

    As far as barre chords, though, you don’t need a custom setup, you just need more practice. :)

    ‘Grats on the new git-fiddle.

    / Barre chord zealot.

  5. Regarding barre chords, I always found it helpful to pull down a bit with my chord hand, specifically the index finger. And if it still gives you difficulties, that’s a good excuse to practice more ;-)

    Enjoy the new guitar!

  6. Beautiful Guitar! I’ve got a few, and even a pretty darn nice Takamine classical, but I always find myself playing my cheapo that I bought 30 years ago when I had no money and wanted to take classical guitar lessons, and I still long for my Lyle hollow body electric that I got in 6th grade, but sold another time I had no money. The instrument to play is the one that finds your heart and brings the music out.

  7. Play it in good health! Looks like a lovely instrument, and from personal experience, I am with on wanting a low bridge.

  8. Jerome O’Neil

    “Guitar zealots are the worst. That is why I own eight of them. I’m sure to piss off someone.”

    I took a different approach. I have one guitar that I bought over twenty years ago. Because I believe that my stuff should fit me, rather than me fitting it. And because I can’t leave well enough alone, I’ve heavily modified the thing.

    In the intervening years it’s become mildly collectible. Because it’s an ‘off’ brand some purists sniff at it. Those with a little more knowledge sniff because I’ve destroyed any collectable value it might have had. You can’t win so you gotta laugh.

    And play.

    Mostly play.

  9. Tell Mr. Clapton Wannabe to worry about his own strings. I have a Washburn banjo, which isn’t anywhere near the likes of a Deering. But I love its sound. Regardless of what some people think, it’s not about the price, it’s about the pleasure.

  10. One of the more useful things I’ve learned in my 35+ years of playing guitar is that most guitars are much better than we think they are. The super secret special secret is to take your guitar — even if it’s brand new — to a good guitar shop and have them set it up for you according to your preferences. The difference is night and day.

  11. Jerome, when I read your comment (“That’s why I have eight of them”) I couldn’t help but picture eight “guitar zealots” chained up in your basement! But that’s just me, I’m sure.

    Mazel tov, John. Enjoy. F#ck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

  12. I pictured something similar, but I assumed they would be on display: sitting around the living room on guitar zealot stands or hanging from the wall on guitar zealot hooks where they can grump at each other about why everyone else is wrong.

    It’s probably not a room you’d go into very often.

  13. I like lower action guitars too. I’ve never heard of this one, but I haven’t played in years either. Thanks for the tip!

    Enjoy your new instrument!

  14. I join the chorus of those saying that looks like a nice instrument and hoping you enjoy it–indeed, [snark] given my opinion of “In the Year 2525,” I’m glad to see Mr. Zager has done something worthwhile [/snark].

    Dr. Bertram Levy is a retired urologist who, many years ago, wrote one of the best-regarded teach-yourself-to-play books for the Anglo concertina (that little hexagonal accordion-like instrument that straps to your hands) and more recently wrote a followup applying teaching methods used for the Argentinian bandoneon. He has concertinas made by Dipper and by Jeffries, two of the best makers of these instruments. His favorite, though, is his Stagi. Brand-new Stagis require a fair amount of work to make them reliably playable and many enthusiasts are inclined to look down their noses at them (while acknowledging that their much lower purchase price makes up for a multitude of sins), but Bertram really likes the sound.

  15. What a beauty! I miss being able to play the guitar (arthritis) – if I’d had money when I could, I’d have loved having a collection of types like you do.

    And very cool to hear about Zagar – what a blast from the past!

  16. It took me years to realize the wisdom in the old “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all”. Like, everyone has their own reasons to choose particular things? Why not accept that? (18 year old me was a total dick, I wish I could go back in time and…have some strong words with younger me).

  17. It’s a flippin’ tool. It’s designed for a purpose, and usually that purpose is to do something you want to do – in this case, make music you like or provide you with entertainment. For some things, “pleasing dorks” is one of their purposes, but generally it’s a secondary concern for after you’ve pleased yourself (directly rather than by pleasing dorks).

    This doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, and yet lots of things that don’t seem as if they should be that hard are (based on the people that can’t seem to do them). Not being a festering nutweasel is apparently one of those nonobvious hard things, I guess,

  18. @Jaime Muldoon

    My local music store (Milanos in Mesa, AZ) set up both of my mandolins and the results are amazing.

    I’m especially happy with my 1950s (ish), beat-nearly-to-death, Strad-o-lin. It was a $150 Ebay bargain. The seller was so convinced it wouldn’t play that they were advertising it as a decoration, not a musical instrument. With new tuners and a substantially lowered action (almost 1/4 inch lower!), it feels and sounds like a much classier instrument.

    Until I read John’s article, I didn’t realize that there are guitar makers who specialize in lower-action stringed instruments. But it makes a lot of sense. Lower actions are comfortable and they are a lot easier to play. Now I’m surprised I don’t see more companies like Zager.

  19. I find it totally appropriate that a science fiction author bought a guitar from one half of the duo that brought us “In the Year 2525”.

  20. The next thing for the zealots to go on about would be the strings. What brand do you use? It’s definitely the wrong brand. Or the wrong gauge. Most likely both.

    Anyway, as long as you are happy with your new guitar all is well. And barre chords are basically a matter of practice. It’s just like typing – it takes long hours of practice, but eventually you will get there.

  21. There are zealots for everything.

    I bought a inexpensive circular saw. I am not a carpenter by trade, the things I make for me are decks, flower boxes, a small dock shed. Nothing that will ever become “collectible”, but I use everyday. A friend sniffed at it and said you should have bought a (insert expensive brand here).

    I bit my tongue the day he borrowed my saw as his expensive saw had to be sent in for repair.

  22. Like another poster above, I haven’t been able to play in years because of arthritis, which is worst in my left index finger (ergo, I really feel you on the barre chords). However, I always admire a nice instrument, and yours looks like a good one. At the end of the day, it’s your enjoyment that matters, not that of anyone else.

  23. Pity is what we should feel for people whose first impulse is to defecate on other peoples happiness. Even more pity because they followed up on the impulse with action. Consider how many and what kinds of friends someone like this must have. Sounds like a shitty life to me.

  24. I have a Kay bass, and the thing I miss most is not being able to play it. No matter that it is probably the worst brand in the bass playing world, my parents bought it on time and I learned to be a pretty good player. A car crash and lack of back strength makes playing any bass, worst or best, practically impossible now, so enjoy, enjoy, enjoy while you can! The whole point of having an instrument is the joy playing it brings you. Oh, the person with the Baldwin-playing Mom? We inherited one from the great-grandparents and its sound is amazing.

  25. Bought yourself a Six Shooter, eh? Welcome to the club.

    Two questions: How do you like the tone? And does your model come with on board electronics?

  26. I can’t hep it – but as a mixed race person myself I nevertheless admit a fascination for “mammy” paraphernalia. It just astounds me that people made this stuff, and that people sell it in bric-a-brac and antique stores. I bought a piece in Florida on vacation, and I am still not sure what to do with it. It is a piece of history, a tangible reminder of a sordid past, and perhaps a still dubious present.

  27. For many years, and still today among some players, Baldwin grand pianos have had status equal to that of Steinways. The purchase made by Nightshade1972’s parents wasn’t necessarily any kind of a step down. Moreover, I’ve played on more than a few Steinways that I didn’t like at all, including ones that were prepared for sale (regulated, voiced, etc.). I prefer Mason & Hamlin myself.

    Having a good instrument makes all the difference in the world.

  28. In the year 2525, if our ears are still alive, if music has survived… We may find…
    Scalzi’s fevered fingers flying ‘cross the fret board. His searing vocals, burning out our brain cores. I just don’t know if Man can take any more. Whoa…

    Apologies to Zager & Evans…

  29. Barre chords are hard for a lot of people. It’s partly a question of strength and practice, but it’s also a question of technique. Here’s an adjustment that may help.

    Rotate your fretting hand ever so slightly, like you’re trying to raise your pinky an eighth of an inch off the fretboard. Then arch/bend your index finger.

    This has a couple of effects.

    First, rotating the hand slightly to the side presents a flatter surface to the string. Look at your index finger. See how the indentations on the underside of the joints are deepest on the inside of the finger? When a string lines up with one, you get a buzz. The indentations become shallower as you move to the outside of the finger, so this slight rotation means there’s less indentation for a string to catch.

    Second, bending/arching the finger slightly brings more muscles into play and you can apply more pressure.

    When I was teaching guitar many years ago, this helped many people who thought they’d never be able to play barre chords.

    You should also examine your hand position to make sure that you don’t have a string centered in a joint indentation, and to make sure that your index finger is the right distance from the fret. Too close and you have to press really hard, too far away and you’re more likely to have buzzes.

    It isn’t as hard as it sounds, honest. After a while this all becomes second nature.

  30. “Mine’s better than yours” – the battle cry of the insecure.

    Enjoy your new guitar. Play it loud and proud.

  31. Nice gitfiddle there. I appreciate that you researched it. I need something with lower action too but I can only play classical guitar. I need nylon strings.

    As for the dick, dicks will be dicks and say dickish things.

  32. Snobs gonna be snobs. I’m sure the guy felt great after firing off his devastating shot. So you could look at that as your good deed for the day. Or not.
    Anywho, enjoy the new guitar and good luck with the barre chords (whatever they are). I play the organ, sorry.

  33. I so wish this post had ended, “Be better than that, people. It’s not that hard to do. Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.”

  34. Fun (?) fact: ‘2525’was the number 1 record in the UK charts the week I was born. In the US it was ‘Honky Tonk Women’. Not a bad selection in either case!

    Enjoy the new axe. My playing is quite curtailed by work-related carpal tunnel, so when I retire, I’m jumping right back in!

  35. I own an inexpensive acoustic six string, but the action is way too high for me to progress past a certain level, something I didn’t consider when the sales person at Guitar Center caught me with my wallet out. I’m looking at ways to lower the action without ruining the instrument, but if worst comes to worst, I may need to upgrade. At least I’ll know what to look for.

    By the way, I noticed the following bit of sentence in your post: “if they’re happy, [than] be happy for them…” I’m sure it was unintentional!

  36. Wow, I checked out Zager’s page, and I can see why you picked them. Which model did you get? And are you thinking of using their lesson library? It looks like an awesome resource. Hopefully you’ll let us know how things are going with the guitar from time to time.

  37. “Be better than that, people. It’s not that hard to do.”
    You and The Doctor, trying to make us better than we are!

  38. Beautiful axe! However, If you’d like to feel REALLY inadequate, I’ll send you my 12 string Yamaha acoustic…talk about a handful! It spends a LOT of time sitting in its stand these days. A lot. Just too rough on the fingers!

  39. If, as a guitar expert, one really thinks that the other person has bought a terrible guitar, a better way to respond might be to ask politely why they bought that particular one. Maybe they had a reason, that runs across a different spectrum than your standards.

  40. Duane:
    “I own an inexpensive acoustic six string, but the action is way too high for me to progress past a certain level, something I didn’t consider when the sales person at Guitar Center caught me with my wallet out. ”

    Don’t look for a new guitar, take it somewhere that knows what they’re doing and have it set up properly. I’m not a guitar sniffer but I am for damn sure a guitar shop sniffer. WRT Guitar Center, they’re fantastic for strings, electronics, pro-audio, and other bits and pieces you might want some day, but never, ever buy a guitar there.

  41. Related: when someone excitedly shows you their fabulous find from Goodwill, don’t immediately chime in with “oh, I got a {blank/same thing} for {less} there!!!!11!eleven”. Just don’t do it. Just congratulate them on their great score.

    Contain thy dickery.

  42. Hey, congratulations on the guitar!

    I admit, with all humility, to being terrible at everything to do with music except for listening to it with enjoyment, but I really, really wish I could play an instrument. One day, maybe I’ll give it a try again! In the meantime, it gives me pleasure to see others enjoying it and getting excited about it.

    And, well, as for the guy giving you a hard time about it– I applaud your response to him. And I hope that the memory of him passes away quickly while your fun with the guitar endures for years to come! Have fun, and maybe share a recording with us some day when you’re comfortable doing so?

  43. I just got a newish trumpet for myself. I was using a old Olson student trumpet and got a used Holton, a nice step up. I won’t be playing with Chicago anytime soon but it was cool and that’s all what matters when you love playing something.

  44. Jada, if you want a Spanish classical guitar with nylon strings, look at Hofner. Yes, the same guys that made and make the famous Beatle bass that McCartney plays. I bought one of their really low-end guitars while on Guam on the 4th of July in 1969 and it still sounds good today.

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