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The SMILES Are More Important Than The SPEC...



This has the potential to be one of the most obvious Blogs I've written, and all you guitarists are going to read the following and think "Well....der!"


But it's my hope that people who are maybe just starting out on their guitar playing journey and are heading to the store to make that all-important guitar purchase, may take this advice on board when deciding which one to buy.


In a nutshell, it's the idea that - when buying a guitar - it's important to choose the guitar that "speaks" to you rather than the one that might SEEM like the better choice...


It was summarised to me recently by a guitar store worker in the phrase "the smiles are more important than the spec...." Brilliant. And instantly stolen!


I've always known this of course: I'm no stranger to the world of guitar purchasing after all! But in the last year, I've had two separate events that have really brought it home to me how much it matters to choose the guitar that gives you butterflies.


For the first event, I'm going to have to use myself as an example: this is MY blog after all! So I'm sure you'll forgive me for talking about myself for a few paragraphs!


I've always been a "Fender Man". Over the years I've owned six Fender Stratocasters (I currently own two) and two Telecasters. I do love me a Fender.


But I wanted to buy a LES PAUL. One day. They're a beautiful guitar and completely chalk to Fender's cheese. In my youth I may have partaken in the odd "Fender vs Gibson" debate but, with the wisdom of years I find that argument totally pointless as a) they're both absolutely fabulous and b) they're both completely different. It's like arguing between a Crocodile and a Buffalo!


In 2020 I turned the big 4.0. and I'd decided that this was the moment that I was going to treat myself and take the plunge in buying the fabled Les Paul. But, as a lifelong Fender man, I had NO IDEA which Les Paul I wanted. Steps would have to be taken.


And so I set off on a monumental journey to discover exactly which LP I wanted. The available range is enormous of course but I deliberately didn't spend too much time looking online at different specs. I went a much simpler route... Put them on my knee and see which one spoke to me.


I tried second-hand, new, low end, high end, vintage...you name it. It was a lovely voyage of discovery and it took about three years of searching. A lot of footfall in a lot of guitar shops. Bliss.


The first one I found that I loved was completely by accident. I just happened upon a tiny, hole in the wall, guitar shop that I wasn't even looking for. It was also quite possibly the most random guitar shop I've ever entered: selling e-cigarettes and vapes on the side!! And inside there was a particularly lovely Caramel Burst Les Paul Standard. It wasn't actually a 'stock' guitar for the shop, they were selling it on behalf of a friend. It wasn't a high spec, special, or otherwise impressive Les Paul. The only thing unique about it was the colour, which they don't 'do' anymore. We actually went quite far down the road to purchasing this axe - we did the dance of the haggle for a few days - but eventually, I decided to let it go. The fact that it was a 'private sale' put me off as I always like a bit of a warranty and the ability to walk into a shop and speak to someone in the event of any problems.

The wonderful search went on.


The model I finally settled on was an R8. This is the model name of the Gibson Custom Shop replica of a 1958 model. And I love it. Now, the obvious choice when heading to the Custom Shop level was the 1959 model. The 1959 Gibson Les Paul is widely regarded as the moment when Gibson attained perfection with the Les Paul. And I tried them....a lot. I went through a big period of really trying to convince myself that I should get an R9. It's the "best one"..... isn't it??


No. Not for me.


Every time I went back to the R8 it was like a bell went off in my brain. The guitar just felt right. Each one I tried, I loved. It may sound really silly to say it but it just "slotted" into me! And there it was... choice made.


Now you may be tempted to think: 'Of course the Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul feels awesome....' And you'd be right. It is, after all, the high end of the Gibson range. But don't forget it was only about a year or so previously that I was equally enamored with a "Standard".


Here is my R8 - "RUDIGER". I love him.


I love him so much to the point where I sometimes wonder (and I say this in hushed tones) if I haven't been wrong all these years about my "Fender-Man" identity?!


The second event happened even more recently. One of my lovely students asked me if I'd mind accompanying them to the local music shop: they were in the market for their first electric guitar and, by their own admission, were "clueless" about what they wanted.


A budget was discussed, broken, and discussed again. Such is the way.


When we arrived at the shop the was quite a range of guitars to try. These included a Telecaster (which actually never left the stand!), Tokai Les Paul, Epiphone DC Pro, Epiphone Les Paul, and a PRS SE Standard.


Several guitar changes later we'd got it down to a choice of the Epiphone Les Paul and the PRS SE Standard. Budget wise there wasn't much between them and I caught myself entering "full guitar store clerk" mode and really giving the "sell" on the PRS. On paper the PRS is the higher-spec choice: it will do everything that the Epiphone will do and yet also has a tremolo system, a coil tap for changing those humbuckers to single coils, 24 frets, a much more contoured body, and so on...


The pupil put down the PRS and picked up the Epiphone and uttered the immortal words "I do like this one more." All I could then say was: "That's that then. That's the one you should buy." And that's the one they did buy.


It was 100% the right decision. The PRS may have won the "specs race" but the Epiphone won the "smiles race". And that is what is more important.


You're going to have to live with that guitar purchase for a long time. Choose the one that speaks to you...every time.


For the reasons outlined above, I've always been incredibly hesitant of recommending buying guitars unplayed either off the internet or from non-guitar shops, you know the kind of shops I mean? The kind that brings your goods to you on a conveyor belt or straight to your doorstep from a van. Actually, thinking about it, I contradict this rule fairly frequently as I regularly recommend buying cheaper end 'beginners' guitars from these stores. The reasons for this are because 99 times out of 100 it is a parent buying a guitar for an eager child and so they don't want to spend a massive amount of money because at that stage they don't know if their little darling is going to carry on playing or not. What is needed in this instance is something fairly cheap but equally well put together for those precious beginner months.


But when you've clawed your way through the beginner's stage and are looking to buy the guitar that will potentially become "your" guitar then it's a different kettle of fish. In that instance, you should always take that extra time to find the guitar that sets all your bells and whistles ringing.


Happy shopping!



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