Guitar Aficionado

Collector's Soul: Josh Charles

Actor Josh Charles has had many highlights in his career: as Jake, the emotionally explosive husband struggling to save his marriage in HBO’s lauded In Treatment

Photograph by Rayon Richards

Originally published in Guitar Afficionado, Winter 2011 Issue

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Actor Josh Charles has had many highlights in his career: as Jake, the emotionally explosive husband struggling to save his marriage in HBO’s lauded In Treatment; as love-struck Knox Overstreet in the iconic, Academy Award–winning film Dead Poets Society; and most recently as the pragmatic Will Gardner in the CBS hit drama The Good Wife. When he’s not in front of the camera or onstage (where he’s performed in productions for the acclaimed Manhattan Theatre Club and Steppenwolf Theatre Company, among others), Charles—a lefty—indulges his love for the blues and vintage acoustic and steel guitars.

How did you get started collecting guitars?
It started as I began to play more seriously when I lived in L.A. I took lessons with an incredible teacher named Fran Banish. He has many amazing guitars, is truly an aficionado, and really gave me the bug. My real passion is the blues, and the more I practiced, the more I wanted to play on the vintage guitars that the music was actually created on.

How do guitars fit in with the design aesthetics of your home? Do you have them out or keep them locked away?
When you walk into my living room, one of the first pieces you see is my National steel guitar, with its “frosted Duco” finish. It sits prominently out on a stand in the living room all year round. It’s both a work of art and a classic piece of blues history.

What do you look for in a guitar?
That vibe—that feel—that special something that isn’t always easy to articulate. I am particularly partial to the tone of vintage instruments, especially the Gibsons.

What was the first major purchase you made for your collection?
The factory-lefty 1938 Gibson L-00. I was dead set on that model being my first guitar and also determined to find one that was originally left-handed. I had no idea how impossible my search would prove to be, but at the time I was truly determined. I searched every day online, and after well over a year I found one at a vintage guitar shop near Osaka, Japan. I called them immediately, and, thankfully, one of the guys there spoke a little English, so we were able to make it happen. The search, the wait— it makes owning it that much sweeter.

What guitars are in your collection?
I have the 1938 Gibson L-00, a 1930 National Duolian steel guitar, and a factory-lefty 1957 Gibson Southern Jumbo.

Which is your favorite, and why?
I don’t really have a favorite. I love the V neck on the L-00, the raw nastiness of the Duolian, and the overall range of the SJ, but none more than the others. I will say, though, that the Southern Jumbo is the newest addition to the fold, so I’ve been playing it more than the others of late.

What guitar would be your dream purchase?
I really want a vintage parlor guitar with a decent-size scale. I’ve been talking to Tom Crandall over at Matt Umanov Guitars about which is the right one so I can commit the time and resources to fixing it up. But as with my very first purchase, waiting just kind of makes me appreciate owning all the more.