Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hobos Guitars, Ochanomizu

Even from a seasoned walker-around and inveterate observer, Tokyo manages to hide things. For instance, through this little doorway and down the stairs must be one of the best acoustic guitar shops I've ever seen, and it's right around the corner from Woodman (which is possibly better, and includes banjers and mannolins and steel gitars an suchlike).

It's a one-room shop, and this shows perhaps 20% of the space. As you'd expect, there's a Martin wall, a Gibson wall, a vintage-other wall (plenty of Guilds) and 2 walls of assorted newer things.
As always when looking at acoustic guitars, my unit of reference is the Humming, the mid-70's steel string from an off-brand of Tokai that migrates between rooms of my apartment. Several years ago when I 'needed' an acoustic guitar, I spent a whole day in Ochanu hitting all the stores with cheap vintage Japanese acoustics (there were more back then), and finally settled on this OOO. The smaller body shape makes it more balanced than dreadnought guitars of similar quality. It has some difficulties, but these just make it a better training guitar, and the sound is surprisingly good.

Back to Hobo's.

This wacky and lovely thing is a Paul McGill reso; I thought you'd like to see it, Dad. Anyway, priced at 70 Hummings there wasn't much need to play it.

[4/15/11: I was in again today, and an old guy was playing Bossa Nova on this - which is when I noticed that it's a nylon-string reso. Then I noticed the paperwork, and realized that he was actually buying it. I got to play it for a second, but it was too delicate for me.]

Boy was I surprised to see a Grit Laskin guitar in person. If you zoom you can get some idea of the magnificence of detail that he's able to inlay and engrave into the headstock. But if you click that link, you'll see his own inlay gallery, and you'll be amazed. Another cool touch is the beveled lower bout - like the arm-friendly carving on a Strat, but on an acoustic. I would have loved to play this, and I usually feel none of the Japanese compunction about playing things I don't intend to buy. But even I feel like a joker sampling a guitar that's been marked down to 126 Hummings (which isn't a bad price, it seems). 

Geez, even the back of this guitar is beautiful.

I wasn't at all surprised to see this '96 Santa Cruz Tony Rice Professional in person - it was my recent Tony Rice fixation that got me up to Ochanu tonight. I was wondering if playing a guitar like his would make me sound more like him than the Humming does.

I'll tell you what, the shop guy tuned it up (Japanese stores keep the strings tuned all the way down on all their guitars; it's a hassle to try multiple things) and as soon as he hit a chord, it was amazing. The power and balance made this the best acoustic I've ever played. The really uncanny thing was the intonation, clarity and continued even-ness as you went up the neck; I've never experienced that from any acoustic that I can remember. If I could start breeding program and come up with 60 Hummings, I would buy this in a second (I've often wondered about the price gap between Japan and America, and I can find something in California very comparable to this for about 45 Hummings). It's definitely for big-handed people though - the strings are spaced wide at the top and bottom of the neck, which I got used to after 2 minutes. Then I just sat and played it until closing time.

Oh, but I did ask what might be comparable, especially from the Collings range, and he tuned up a D model for me to beat on. It was a huge difference; the Collings was like a very good Martin - more midrangey, more bluegrassy. The Santa Cruz was in a different world. It'll take a while to get over those memories.

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