Here’s an extract from one of the interviews I did with Scott Chinery in 1996 while we were working on the book of his collection. A lot of our chats were to do with specific instruments, but I’ve chosen to show you this bit because he talks a bit more generally about why he collected – as well as his passion for the great American guitar makers, and here specifically Martin.
TB: Let’s look at some of your Martin dreadnoughts, Scott.
SC: The early Ditson model, of course, represents where the idea was born, so that’s a very important instrument. And the D-45 is the pinnacle of the whole idea.
TB: Why has the D-45 become so desired?
SC: There’s a lot of factors. The first and foremost is that it is an extraordinary instrument: the D-45s from that period – from 1933 to 1942 – are the highest-quality, best-sounding instruments ever made. Secondly, there were only 91 of them made, and I believe there are only 63 or 64 accounted for now. [Reader: note this interview was done in 1996.] So they’re ultra-rare. Thirdly, they are in such incredible demand. There was a Japanese collector who I believe owned 10 or 20 or something, so every time one of them is taken out of the equation, the value of the existing ones in the pool would increase. I paid I think $58,000 for mine, a few years back, and I understand now they’re going for between $125,000 and $135,000. So they really follow the supply and demand rules perfectly.
TB: Does that change the way you feel about an instrument when you play it?
SC: Yeah, I guess it does to some degree. There is an excitement that kind of attaches itself to an instrument when it becomes so valuable. I watch people when they come over and play the D’Aquisto Teardrop, and they realise they’re playing something that at this point is valued at half a million dollars, and just that fact alone kind of overwhelms them. They sit there – and they’re almost afraid to touch it! I think it’s a very positive thing, because these instruments are truly treasures, and at this point I think the best thing that could happen to them is that they be preserved for future generations. I’m happy that there are so many people who are interested in these instruments, and because of their value they’re naturally going to be taken care of. I think it’s a positive thing. I think that’s the most prudent philosophy regarding these instruments.
TB: Well, what would happen if people didn’t collect them?
SC: Right, they would slowly disappear.
TB: Is your Martin collection complete?
SC: The collection is never complete – it’s impossible. But, by the same token, I think it’s unproductive just to hoard guitars. I think there has to be a theme, and that’s what I’ve endeavoured to do. I think somebody walking in this room can start at the Martin case, pull out a guitar made by Johann Stauffer, made in Europe in the 1820s, and from that point they can watch Christian Martin senior bring the European idea to America and then start refining his own ideas. The dawning of the American guitar starts in this case, and you can watch its development right through to the modern guitar. That’s really what I’ve endeavoured to do with everything. The story is here, and you can see the art develop in sequence.
TB: How did Martin develop his own sound?
SC: He worked with Johann Stauffer, and his first guitars were very much similar to the Stauffer guitar. Then he started to refine and develop his own ideas. I think this one [a circa 1850s Martin] is the most important Martin I have, and possibly the most important Martin guitar anywhere – this is quite possibly the first X-braced steel-string guitar he made, in 1850. The styles of music and the cultural and social trends that would spawn from that guitar are significant. I often come in here and wonder, had he not conceived that idea at this point, music may have been totally different, and other social things might have been commensurably different. It’s also one of the most beautiful sounding guitars I’ve ever heard. It’s X-braced but very light, and the amazing thing about it is that it’s had steel strings for just about its whole life, but there’s not a crack in the top. Each size and model, each variation, that Martin produced … there was no gimmick in that, they produced distinctly different sounds and playing opportunities. There’s a real method to the Martin range of models. The smaller-body instruments lend themselves to more delicate finger-picking, and as the body of the guitar gets bigger it lends itself to a more raucous style of music. The Dreadnought is the ultimate for bluegrass: playing hard and accompanying vocals. All these guitars found their place in one niche or another.
From Tony Bacon’s interviews with Scott Chinery, January 25 and June 10 1996