Some people like to have several guitars at once. Some don’t. I do. I have just resigned myself to it. There are different reasons for owning several (or many) guitars. I choose to own a few because A) I like having different options for my playing shows and leading worship; and B) I love having different “sounds” for the large amount of recording I do.
So - I’ve been developing a system of thinking about owning several guitars, for a while, and I thought I’d share it.
I figure there are 6 basic types of guitars for what I do (mostly pop/rock and praise & worship). 1) S-Type; 2) T-Type; 3) JM-Type; 4) Gretsch-y semi-hollowbody; 5) Gibson-Scale solidbody; 6) Gibson-Scale semi-hollowbody. A 7th could be Gibson-Style p90s.
Now obviously there are many other kinds of guitars, and even within these 6-7 types, there are TONS of variations. I’ve owned S-types with HSS, HSH, HH, SSS and SSH variations of pickups. T-types can come with just as many variations: SSS, SH, HH, SS. They all go on and on.
For the sake of clarity, I think it’s important to define what I think makes each guitar distinctive for usage. There are obviously no rules for use of guitars, so this is not a comprehensive, “all the ways it can be used” list, but instead the major distinctives. As a side note, I’ll also tell you the guitars I have landed on for my personal use.
DISTINCTIVES: he chime of a single coil neck pickup; the funkiness of the 2nd position. I think it doesn’t really matter if there’s an H or S in the Bridge… but I prefer a single coil, specifically for the balance of the 2nd position.
My current and forever S-Type is a 1982 Tokai Silver Star. It has an SSS combination, and the (original) pickups are beefy, warm and higher output than a normal S-type, and these pickups are my personal favorite of any Strat I’ve ever played, despite its relatively low price tag (these can be picked up for $5-700)
DISTINCTIVES: the bright spank of the bridge pickup; the chime of the middle position. I personally prefer a H in the neck.
My current T-Type is a Sublime Guitar Company J-Hawk with an SH combination (the H being a mini-tron). This is my favorite T-Type I’ve owned specifically for the pickups. The bridge is bright and spanky but has incredibly well-defined bottom end, while the neck pickup is warm but clear. This is another budget guitar (new they run $399) that may end up a “forever” guitar for me.
DISTINCTIVE: JM-Type guitars are bright and clear and have what is called the Rhythm Circuit to roll off some of the high end. Sound-wise I personally am not a fan of the traditional JM-Style guitars. The Jazzmaster pickups – single coils of a different variety than either Strat or Tele (or even p90s) and they have a ping at 2k that just bugs my ear. So – though I’ve owned a handful of these – I have decided not to own a true JM-Type.
I do have a JM body type – which I enjoy the feel of – with TV Jones Classic pickups in it, handcrafted by Logan Custom Guitars here in the USA. These are well-priced “boutique” guitars that I think are worth looking into (a true Custom guitar can be had for under $1500).
DISTINCTIVE: in order to be “Gretsch-y” in my mind, is to use Tron pickups (i.e., “filtertrons”; I prefer TV Jones Classics over actual Gretsch filtertrons). Some Gretsches use dynasonic-style single coil pickups, but the “sound” your ear hears on your favorite worship recordings, or from the Edge, is nearly always Trons of some sort. The filtertron sound is its own thing, and when put into a semi-hollowbody guitar, it gives warm, chimey, very special results.
This is one of my favorite sounds, and I own a Gretsch 6136-T LTV White Falcon.
DISTINCTIVE: Think Les Paul. Obviously there are TONS of variations of Les Pauls’ pickups… but what we most think of is Jimmy Page or Slash pounding out rock and roll on PAF-style humbuckers. Typically my favorite humbuckers are bright and airy (but ballsy) in the bridge and warm and chimey in the neck.
I have a 1997 Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro with a Bigsby and it is the chimiest Les Paul-type I’ve ever played.
DISTINCTIVE: Think ES-335. There are TONS of options today for this style of guitar, some expensive, some not as expensive. The main thing I think you look for is PAF-style humbuckers, which – in the semi-hollowbody – give you a warmth and rolls off the mid-honk of typical humbuckers.
I played through dozens of this style of guitar back when I was trying to buy one of these and I ended up settling on a 1980 Gibson ES-347, which is a 335 on steroids: gold hardware, mircotuning system in the bridge, and (my favorite addition) split coil switch for the humbuckers. I typically run the split coils and the sounds ends up very much like a warm, thinline telecaster.
A final type of guitar that I personally enjoy is the Gibson-Style p90s, preferably in a solid body. There’s a clarity and spankiness to Gibson-Style p90s, especially in a Les Paul-type body. I own another Sublime Guitar Company model called the Tux-J – it’s a single p90, in a Les Paul, Jr. type body (another budget guitar WELL worth the cost at $399).
So – if you’re interested in owning several guitars here’s some guidelines I have landed on for myself and perhaps it can give you ideas for yourself.
1) Figure Out Your Jam. Spend Your Money there.
Of the 6, there are 2 I love (Gretsch, 335), 1 I really like (Les Paul), 2 that I don’t necessarily love but are necessary (T & S), and 1 whose “normal” sound I just don’t care for (JM-type) (+ the Gibson-style p90 which I like, but not enough to spend the xtra cash for a more expensive one). If you look at where I’ve spent my money, it’s 65% in the top 2, and 75-80% on the top 3. Figure out what you love and spend the most money on that guitar or those guitars.
In my opinion, having the major food groups (i.e., the 6-7 sounds) in some way or another is really important (if it’s possible) if you are going to record and play at a higher level in church. Believe me, having 1 guitar is GREAT and gets the job done (and there is NO shame in getting the job done), but when a song calls for a Les Paul and you’re playing a tele, or the song calls for a Strat and you have a Gretsch, it ends up not working as well as it could. Again – there is NO shame in having only 1 (or 2) of the major sounds… but if you can, diversify.
3) Be Willing to Go Cheap.
Finally, don’t be scared of budget guitars. I’ve been collecting guitars for 15 years. At my height, I owned 37 electric guitars. I’ve owned expensive guitars and I’ve owned cheap guitars. If you invest in the guitars that are your favorites or your main guitars, I really truly believe there are viable options out there – especially in the Fender-Style guitars (S-Type, T-Type and JM-Type) – in the budget range for your secondary guitars.
There are vintage (now) 80s Lawsuit guitars MIJ or American companies like Sublime and Michael Kelly that you can find in the $4-700 range. There are GREAT Les Paul-type guitars from companies like Sublime, Michael Kelly and others in the $5-700 range. There are really good 335-style guitars that can be had for $700. And the lower-range 5-series Gretsches (from $6-800) are actually really decent quality (I started with a 5622 and it still is one of my favorite guitars I’ve owned). My point is this: if you have the money, spend it on the guitars you know are going to get a workout. If you have the money for 10 top of the line guitars (or 35), do it. But most of us don’t. So don’t be scared to find great guitars for cheap. A price tag does not define quality.
Anyway, I hope this helps at some level. There are so many great guitars out there! Find the ones that work for you.