I have a truly distinguished acoustic guitar, decades old. The depth of its face reminds me of the late afternoon sun on an autumn field of round bales, scraped and scarred here and there, like exclamations, the quality of look and tone deepened by scores of years of living life in God-knows-what sorts of places. Dingy, drunken bars. Backseats of ancient cars. Dim lights, thick smoke, and ashes of love at bluegrass festival campsites.
Several years ago a guitar-collecting friend rang my phone. He said, “I have the guitar with your tone.” He was right.
He brought this wood-gold chalice to my house and I checked it against my best. The old warhorse won hands-down, no contest. All my best guitars sounded two-dimensional and this one was running over with transcendent tone. I finally held in my hands an instrument that gave me sublime timbre, every time, for the price of a pick-stroke. It was a grand piano, especially dropping the sixth string down to D. It could play at a whisper, or thunder out bluegrass rhythm, and all the varied shades and nuances of tone were definitively within reach.
Six years have gone by and I still love the thing. I don’t mean “I like it.” I love the tone. I’ve stopped looking for guitars – acoustic guitars, anyway. This is the one for me in every way, and its marks, scratches, and finish cracks are part of its mystery and magnificence. The signs of its long life give it character, uniqueness, individuality. In a word, personality.
Some guitars are sluggish; they don’t obey immediately, and they can be frustrating to play. Others are responsive; the note pops out and feels right, with depth, clarity, meaning – immediately. Instant response is what I’ve looked for in a guitar all these years.
This piece of wood is just so responsive and…willing. It trusts me – and obeys. And because of that instantaneous, singing tone it gives me, I delight in using it for nearly everything. This guitar’s reward for being so sensitive to my touch is simply that it gets played all the time. The instrument is joyful in that honor, knowing that all the rough-and-tumble of spinning through fire, smoke, and songs, being bounced around on dirt roads in long-decayed cars, and even sitting uselessly under someone’s bed for years, was just preparation to become what it is now – a loved, cherished instrument, royally adorned with jeweled scars, perfectly fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.