Sunday, October 18, 2009

As Different As Chalk And Cheese

1. Indonesian Rock Star: Eross Candar of superband Shelia On 7 with me and my Gibson ES-335

2. 2009 Peerless New York. Street value US$ 1300

3. 1972 Gibson ES-175D: Street value US$4000

At last, after years of looking for an old Gibson ES-175D with the 'Mojo' , I am now the proud owner of a 1972 ES-175D. I must have tried out scores of ES-175D's but they either had no Mojo, or had the Mojo but were too expensive, especially those from the 50's and 60's. How this particular guitar ended up in Indonesia is a mystery since there were no Gibson dealers in Indonesia back then. Eventually it ended up in the hands of of Indonesian rock super-star Eross Candar, who used it for many years before selling it to well-known Indonesian guitar collector Hardianto Thenario also known as 'Ah Lok', the supplier of many beautiful guitars to top Indonesian musicians. On hearing of my quest for a ES175, and having heard me play jazz at a Surabaya club, Ah Lok graciously offered to exchange three of his guitars [including this ES175] for three of mine. And so, together with Eross, they took a flight to Singapore to do the exchange. And thats how I got my ES175D. This guitar's tone has an almost magical quality to it. I can't quite put my finger on it. It's mellow but not too mellow as to border on muddiness. In fact the mellowness is crystal clear. Even without plugging in to an amplifier, it plays louder and clearer than some pure acoustic guitars, with a sustain that is unmatched. But best of all, is the sweetness of its 'voice', making it incomparable for the jazz standards and bossa nova songs that I usually play. A ES175 is the workhorse of many jazz guitarists because of its rugged construction, powerful pickups and relative affordability. A new Gibson L5 like the Wes Montgomery or Citation may cost US$8000-$12000, but its carved Spruce top is prone to feedback and makes it only suitable for studio work and gigs that are 'controlled'; i.e. each musician plays in a responsible way, not to drown out the others in volume. And would you spend 10K on a guitar at this not so very best of times?
The other guitar now in my possession is an almost new Korean-made Peerless new York. See http://www.peerlessguitars.com/ This up and coming manufacturer makes guitars of such good quality and selling at such unbelievable prices that I think it's their marketing strategy to sell at low prices and build up the brand before dramatically increasing their prices. This was the same strategy that Eastman guitars of China used [see http://www.eastmanguitars.com/ ] . Initially selling their hand-crafted archtop guitars for less than US$1500, Eastman guitars soon became the favorite of professionals in the USA. With extensive promotion at NAMM, and endorsement by many artistes, the Eastman brand was established, and today, their guitars sell for twice the price they originally sold. Peerless guitars now has a booth at the annual NAMM and Frankfurt's Music Fair, and a strong following of those who are not prepared to pay US$5000 and more for a Gibson. It's a good idea to buy a Peerless before they go the way of Eastman. One indication of Peerless' potential is that savvy guitar dealer Lou Rosso of GuitarsNJazz in Summit, NJ ( http://www.guitarsnjazz.com/ )has got the dealership for Peerless. Lou only represents the best, and was one of the first to sell Eastmans in the USA. He knows the market for jazz archtops best, and GuitarsNJazz sells only jazz archtops-Getting an archtop from Lou is like going to the tailor's [or the doctor]. You have to make an appointment and he'll look at the size of your hands and ask many questions about your style of playing, then let you spend many hours trying out dozens of archtop and amplifier permutations and combinations. Before finally shortlisting to a few that you like for your final decision.
My blonde Peerless is as light as a feather, and has a totally different sound from the ES175D. While an ES175D sounds like what an electric jazz guitar should, the Peerless is very acoustic, and woody in its tone even when amplified. It's "bigger than the ES175D 17" body" sees to that. The single floating mini-humbucker is 90 % as powerful as a full humbucker. The electronics of Korean guitar manufacturers have definitely improved and they have shown that they are capable of moving up the value chain. Frankly, the Peerless is good enough for any professional musician. But of course, the Peerless' tone lacks the sweetness that only a guitar that has aged, the wood has dried, and the wood molecules have been bombarded with millions of vibrations that playing a guitar entails.
Which brings me to my last thought: While the iconic American guitar brands will always be able to sell at a premium price, if this premium price gets to be too much, droves of guitar players will seek out brands like Peerless and Eastman. For professional musicians, while there is still the lust to own a vintage Gibson archtop Les Paul, a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster, practicality soon dictates that if something as good can be had for one third the price, then follow the head and not the heart.

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