Collecting Guitars

I have an addictive personality. This has been the case for as long as I can remember.  I suppose if I think back far enough, it started with guitar playing.  It was empowering to be able to pick up an instrument and make noise. And in some cases noise that I felt confident enough to share with others.  But I always wanted more effects for my guitar and a bigger amp. And a better guitar. And another guitar.   And more equipment.  I was (and still am), to utilize a phrase common among musicians, a Gear Whore. 


When I started entertaining the idea of flight cases to better protect items in storage, it never really occurred to me at the time that I was basically spending more money to put the things away and never use them. To simply collect them. 


To what end?


One particular guitar seems to have become the focal point of my process of working through minimizing. To my knowledge it is the only guitar that I was ever given as a gift. Every other guitar I have owned, I came into by way of purchasing or trade. It is an acoustic guitar and it was my father's but in talking with my mother years later I found out that it was actually hers. He had somehow ended up with it after they got divorced. It is also the only guitar I have never consider modifying in anyway. It was built in 1975 and it is in fairly good shape. According to fair market value I could probably expect to get about $350 for the guitar if I were to sell.


It isn't the monetary value of the guitar, or the fact that it is a nice collection piece even though it is a nice guitar. The problem is that it was my first guitar that I was given way back when I was a kid and I was learning how to play. It was the guitar I used when I played at my sister's wedding and I have been entertaining the idea of giving it to my sister and brother-in-law as a gift. It is probably one of the oldest items I own - one of the items I've owned for longer than any other. I think if I could come to terms with parting with this guitar it might help me to get to the next level of being able to take action and work towards minimalization. 


Reasoning around the idea of minimalizing makes perfect sense but actually carrying through on plans to downsize or minimalize becomes very difficult. With this instrument in particular it is downright daunting. I almost feel like I need to ask for permission in order to let the guitar go. Even though it is mine I feel like by being given the guitar I have been bestowed the responsibility of seeing it through to the next generation. I have a duty to keep it in good repair and make sure that it stays in as good a condition as possible. I believe I was about 12 when I was given this guitar. Now I'm going to be 40 this year. That is 28 years that I have had this guitar and I have basically approached it with this thought for the entire time.  That it is a piece to be kept in vintage condition, and not played much for enjoyment or functionality but simply to be preserved. 


Guitars are beautiful things and are sometimes created because of striking visual appeal that luthiers are able to create when they built the instruments. But at the end of the day a guitar is a functional thing. If it is a beautiful instrument but does not play well it is a failure of conceptualization. A good instrument must first play well and sound good. Beauty is a secondary thing because a guitar is not a visual thing.  It creates sound. So if the functionality of a guitar is in the noise it makes why is it that it is not being used for that purpose? And if it's a thing is not being used for the purpose it was intended to be used for, doesn't that justify not needing to have that thing in one's life?


We can apply the same principles to other things in our lives and use it as a measurement of whether we need those things. It is interesting because a guitar is capable of producing output. It is capable of producing sound that can be recorded or enjoy by others. It is also a thing that is capable of creating experiences. In my case it was wonderful to be able to have the experience of playing the guitar at my sister's wedding. I can look back on that experience fondly but do I need the actual guitar in my life still in order to appreciate that experience?  The guitar is sitting in my bedroom leaning up against a wall covered in dust and largely forgotten. Whether or not I realize it I see that guitar every single day. Does it trigger that memory for me every single day? Do I need to have that memory triggered every single day?


Will my boys want that guitar after I am gone? Will that guitar help them to remember that particular memory? They were likely too young at that time to even remember what I played, how it sounded, or anything associated with that day other than the fact that the day occurred. There might be a video or some photos somewhere but that guitar will not preserve that memory for them. That guitar my preserve the memory of me because guitars has been an important part of my life. It might preserve the memory of their grandparents for them because that's where the guitar came from. But if they are not using it for purpose of it was made for it is a failure once again to conceive that simply owning the guitar is helping to fulfill his purpose


Recently there was an article about Eddie Van Halen donating a large number of guitars to a foundation that has been created to provide musical instruments for children. When we are done with clothes, if they are in good condition we often donate them.  The idea of simply donating an instrument is nothing that has never crossed my mind because to me it has value. Perhaps the current value of this instrument is it sentimental upstream to my sister. Perhaps she deserves to be the recipient of this instrument because for her it holds the most value. Who knows. She might even play it. My brother-in-law might play it. But I think when we transfer something to another individual and that individual becomes the new owner it is that new owners responsibility to decide what to do with that thing.


In the back of my mind I find myself thinking that if I were to give her the instrument I would ask that she return it to me if she did not want it anymore. But what if she knew of someone who could really use the instrument? Who would love to learn how to play but did not have a guitar to play with?  What if I think to the purpose of the foundation that Eddie Van Halen works with, and the mission of getting guitars and other instruments into the hands of children need them?  What good is one more guitar to anyone anyway? Five more guitars? 100 more guitars?  How many guitars does an individual need in order to be happy?  I've justified owning so many over the years because they are all different. They have different sounds. They play differently. They create different music. But I have also evolved as a musician. More importantly I have evolved as a person. Guitars and music to not hold the same focal aspect in my life that they once did. I still appreciate my instruments and I am thankful that I am able to pick up a guitar and make music. But for good or bad guitars aren't really part of my identity anymore. I don't know that my boys would even associate me with the guitar necessarily or that the guitar would hold memories of me for them. 


Letting go can be a difficult thing and the more we reason about it the more we try to talk ourselves out of it. The more reasonable the argument becomes to keep an instrument, or anything else in our lives for that matter, the more unreasonable we probably sound in trying to justify that. Do we all have the same keystone item in our collection? In our lives?  Minimalists talk about the idea anchors. This is one of my most deeply seated anchors. It is stuck fast and though I have tried over the years to pull this anchor up I have been unable to do so. The idea of not owning this instrument anymore makes me emotional to even think about. But the idea of keeping this instrument makes me realize that it is holding me back in so many ways at this point. It is keeping me from creating any sort of momentum in moving forward with simplifying my life and minimalizing my possessions. It is irreplaceable but perhaps that is ok. Perhaps pictures of this guitar would be enough. After all, it's not being played at this point so what's the sense in having it for any other reason than to look at it and have those memories triggered?


There comes a time in all of our lives where we need to ask these difficult questions and come to the realization that perhaps it is simply time to let these things go.  We have taken care of these things while we have had them and it is time to pass that responsibility along to someone else.


It is time. 



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