How Many Guitars Do You Really Need?

GP columnist Scott Mathews challenges your guitar lust.
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A friend of mine has a private equity firm that owns a couple of the world’s largest guitar brands, and he told me that any given player actually owns an average of between seven and eight guitars. I was taken aback, as that is a lot of guitars!

Now, I understand the professional-musician realm quite well. We sometimes tend to amass a large variety of guitars, ostensively to offer more choices of sound, mood, and texture to our work. We simply need to have the right tool for the job—at least that’s what I tell my accountant when she gives me “that look.”

But when I visited my summer place just this past weekend, I discovered I had some fine guitars there that I hadn’t missed—or even thought of—for an entire year. This made me think a bit differently about my collection.

The fact is I don’t need a ton of guitars. I simply enjoy the thrill of getting and playing them for a while before moving on to others. That’s not fair to these wonderful instruments, and it reminds me of the Neil Young song “This Old Guitar” about his Martin that once belonged to Hank Williams: “This old guitar ain’t mine to keep. It’s only mine to play for a while.”

About the same time, I had just finished a book about Jimmy Page where he discusses using less than five or six guitars in the studio during his entire career in Led Zeppelin. But just listen to all the textures and sounds he got out of that small collection! His go-to acoustic was a low-grade Harmony, and one of his favorite electrics was a cheap Silver-tone. On top of that, he used even less amplifiers throughout his Zep days. Mercy.

I’m sure we all have friends who might score a C+ grade on their guitar-playing skills, but get an A+ for their guitar collections. I know I do. Some of these people are essentially collectors who buy and sell lots of guitars, or they have the money needed to be hobbyists with a lot of instruments. Of course, owning 1,000 guitars doesn’t make you a talented—or a terrible—player. It typically means that, whatever your skill level, you just have a lot of guitars that you don’t play.

And then there are those sincere and devoted types who can only wish that they had one guitar.

I am fortunate to sit on the board of a non-profit group called Little Kids Rock. Our objective is to get guitars into the hands of low-income kids, and help them unlock the magic of music in their lives. We have a program whereby a $50 donation gets a brand new Fender acoustic into the hungry hands of a kid in need. The experience has been nothing short of overwhelming. In fact, not only are their lives immediately enriched by this gift of music, but their grade-point averages typically go up in other school subjects, as well. A true sense of joy, accomplishment, and purpose is brought into their world.

And, believe me, none of them ask for more guitars!

As a result of these recent experiences, I am thinning the herd of my guitar arsenal down to what is truly essential for my professional work in the recording studio. It’s a win/win for all, and, c’mon, some of us have more guitars than we will ever really need.

Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units, and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues and dance genres.