The D-45, for those not acquainted with premium-quality guitars, is C. F. Martin’s flagship model, complete with abalone inlays, fancy purfling, East Indian rosewood sides and back and a sound that stands up and speaks with both sweetness and authority.
The pretender in that guitar shop didn’t even come close, although it did have some attractive inlay work. Apparently, a previous shop owner (now deceased) had a bunch of guitars made up in Korea to look like the best of the best American instruments and had his name put on them. The guitar on display was one of the few would-be Martins or Gibsons or Fenders that hadn’t been sold over the years.
Guitars, like pianos, invite you to play them – or not. It’s either a match made in heaven or a block of wood with strings on it (a guitar-shaped object, as the derision goes). This particular guitar felt heavy, played thick and did not sing. It was more of a decoration than a serious musical instrument – something you’d hang on the wall of a Nashville-themed restaurant.
Brands are a lot like that. The best ones sing. They wrap you into an experience that you look forward to – whether you buy a product for pleasure, utility or both (like the Black & Decker rechargeable lawnmower I finally bought last year). I never have been much of a guitarist, but I always looked forward to playing my Martin. I liked its song. And it made me feel more accomplished than I actually was.
I paid $300 for that guitar in 1970. Today, it would bring around $3,000, maybe more. A big D-45 from the same era could fetch upwards of twice that (the first one was custom made for Gene Autry in 1933). These days, MSRP on a D-45 fresh from Nazareth is close to $11,000 -- and worth every dime.
I once had an acquaintance with a D-45 for sale. He advertised it in the classifieds (in the part of North Carolina where a D-45 could be considered a six-string holy grail). No takers. So he doubled the price.
It sold lickety-split! That guitar was the real thing – and (finally) priced accordingly.
It’s tempting to suggest that in order to sell something lickety-split it needs to sing like a Martin D-45 and be as costly, but ain't necessarily so. A satisfying experience (like I used to get from my old Martin 00018 and still get from my lawnmower) can occur in all product categories and at all price levels. With guitars, that ranges from collector instruments on down through a student’s first guitar, which should NOT be a block of wood but have a sound that draws the ear in and strings that play with enough ease to encourage. Too many parents make the mistake of buying a “bargain” instrument for their child to learn on and then wonder why the thing ends up stuck back in the closet after a couple of months.
Quality, of course, can be maddeningly difficult to get a grip on. One of my least favorite definitions is the industrial-bland “conformance to requirements.”
True quality should delight and amaze. It should make you want what it’s got, whether resident in a fine guitar, a beautiful set of gears for a transmission or something as simple as a flashlight that feels good and works every time, a tool that you can use with confidence while searching for that old guitar you know must be back there in the closet somewhere …
TakeAway: Be the real thing, the brand or product that people look forward to using (or building into the things they make) – no matter what you’re selling.
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner