I spent last weekend in Santa Rosa, California with my friends Beth and Pam. We were there to attend the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, a biennial showcase of all your boutique-type luthiers, names the general public probably wouldn’t recognize but those of us with subscriptions to Guitar Porn Monthly (aka, Acoustic Guitar Magazine) utter with amazement, respect, and disappointment in our checking account balances.
Beth, an aspiring luthier, was looking forward to picking the brains of all the guitar makers who were packed wall-to-wall. I was there to drool and to meet my inlay idol, Larry Robinson of Robinson Custom Inlays, whose book and videos I devoured prior to embarking on this little adventure. Pam was there just for fun and antiquing.
Lucky for me, Larry Robinson’s booth was one of the first ones in the joint, and I got to meet him and see his stunning work up close pretty much first thing. I’d need to live two lifetimes at this point to ever hope to achieve what he does with inlay, if I even have it in me. He’s a masterful artist. Anything I could say about his work is an inadequate understatement.
I had told Scott that I wasn’t shopping for a guitar specifically, but that I could make no promises that I wouldn’t come home with one. He understood, and jokingly commented that he’d be sure to cancel my credit cards before I got there. (Sadly for him, the accounts are all in my name, so it was an idle threat at best.) And while it was true that I was surrounded by gorgeous guitars everywhere I turned, in the end I only played one, and only because it was thrust into my hands by a friend of ours from guitar camp that we ran into there.
I found myself reluctant to play any of the guitars there because I was afraid I might find one I loved and not be able to have it because I couldn’t afford it. And because I was afraid I might drop it, because I am prone to dropping things, and I couldn’t afford to do that, either. Because the least expensive guitars in the place ran around $6K; most of them weren’t marked and you had to ask (and you know the old saw about if you have to ask the price), but I saw one marked $17K and change. That’s just way too much pressure for this guitarist. If I’m paying that kind of money for it, I’d better be able to a) drive it to work, or b) be making my money with it. As neither of those two things were true, I finally reconciled myself with the truth that I just wasn’t prepared to spend that kind of money on a guitar. I like the guitars I have, and the most expensive among them still wasn’t 1/10th as expensive as the least expensive at the guitar festival. But I still enjoyed looking at them, hearing other people play, and listening to and learning from all the luthiers and other folks we talked to.
One highlight was getting to talk to Erick Coleman, whom you may not know from Adam, but he was a big deal to Beth and me, because we get his Trade Secrets newsletters from Stew-Mac, a luthier supply company that I primarily buy superglues and the occasional tool from. He was a nice guy. Pretty much everyone we talked to was a nice guy, very generous with their time and knowledge.
We finished our guitar extravaganza Sunday at the Luthier’s Mercantile open house. The Luthier’s Mercantile is the main sponsor of the festival, and they’re the other big luthier supply company. By the time we got there, they had marked down their tent sale stuff to a buck a pound. I ended up buying 3 fretboards, a few pieces of ebony, and a prefab rosette for the whopping total of $2. Beth ended up spending slightly more.
We made a side trip out to Bodega Bay so that we could see the water before heading back to the desert. As it turns out, Bodega Bay is not really the tourist paradise on the ocean that one might hope. One should probably do a little more research before one suggests to her girlfriends that that’s where they should attempt to access the Pacific. But the drive out was fun, and we stopped for Gravenstein apples fresh from the trees at a roadside stand on the way, and to gawk at the world’s widest goats at a gift shop where we stopped primarily to use their restroom. But I am pleased to report that there was no barfing on my part during any portion of the transportation this trip, a major accomplishment for yours truly when flying out of Tucson or driving through wine country. I have frequently not fared as well on other trips to this neck of the woods.
The weather was beautiful, and I didn’t sweat for a whole 3 days. As the monsoon in Tucson drags on unproductively and miserably, I have to say, it was glorious to be somewhere cool. It’s also the first time I’ve been in northern California at this time of year, and I was delighted to experience the legendary summer fogs of San Francisco. I saw it gripping the coast as we landed, and blanketing The City as we approached it on the way out of town. It really is amazing, like a living thing.
It was good to get away, and good to get home to Scott and the dogs. After 3 plane trips since April, I find myself looking forward to staying put for awhile; my patience for the security theatre that plagues air travel these days is nigh on depleted.
Vacation photos here, if you’re interested. Click the “Show Info” link in the top right corner for captions.