At six-string expo, there's nothing like a guitar, man

Michael Halloran looks over a Yamaha acoustic at the Great American Guitar Show in Oaks on Sunday.
Michael Halloran looks over a Yamaha acoustic at the Great American Guitar Show in Oaks on Sunday. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 24, 2014

Older is better than newer.

It's true for men, and it's true for guitars, according to the (older) guys who traipsed wide-eyed and happy through the Great American Guitar Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks on Sunday.

The fourth-largest guitar show in America, and the biggest in the East, the six-string conclave drew hundreds of men over 40 who first fell for the power, range, and panache of guitars as kids.

Wowing women had a lot to do with why a 15-year-old guy would choose a guitar over, say, a clarinet. Ardor for the instrument has only grown through the decades.

"Maybe they started playing to impress girls," said Eric Schaefer, a sharp-eyed millennial who offers guitar-building workshops in Reading, along with cogent observations of the guitar-show scene.

"Now that they've gotten older with a bit more money, though, guys are just into the beauty of the instruments," he said.

And what beauty there was:

Vintage $23,000 Fender Telecasters, scratched and worn by constant, loving use, yet sounding bright and rounded as a Bruce Springsteen lick. It's no wonder Fender is what the Boss plays. As did Jimi Hendrix.

Also on hand - but not for long - was a Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Standard, one of just 1,800 made. The asking price was $300,000. It went for just under that, according to Joe Menza, 59, the Manhattan guitar dealer who sold it.

In the rock world, Menza said, only two types of electric guitars rule - Fenders and Gibsons.

Gibson is more for heavier rock hounds - "powerful, hard, and with a crunch," he said. Led Zeppelin goes for that sound, along with various metal heads who love to thrash, Menza said.

But, said Gary Burnette, who runs Bee-3 Vintage, which put on the guitar show, electric guitars are "just a completely different kind of machine" from acoustic guitars.

A forest of brown and beckoning acoustics stood on stands throughout the expo center.

Coveted for their nuanced, folksy roots - think James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Joni Mitchell - the acoustics were being scooped up and held like old lovers by the beaming baby boomers and even younger guys, who remembered strumming chords in their bedrooms back in the day.

"I tell my wife I'm on a thrill hunt when I'm here," said Donnie Knaub, 40, a construction worker from Mechanicsburg, Pa. "I look at different instruments to hear their different sounds, the different things they give you.

"You can never have too many guitars."

That's a philosophy shared by Jim Tatko, 49, of Ambler, who runs a sales agency.

He got into guitars as a kid for the love of music. But now, with a little more green in his pocket, he's also a "gear junkie," into the various amplifiers, effects boxes, cables, and such that go along with guitars.

"My wife and I just renovated the house and we have no money," he said, looking near to being seduced by a Martin acoustic that sounded like the gods sighing when he strummed it.

"I told her I'd just come here today to have a look." At that point, he picked up the guitar and flat fell in love.

"Then again," he added, caressing the instrument, "you never know."


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