Date of writing : 10/06/2014
I’m both surprised and delighted to be able to tell you that I now have a guitar. I had begun to be concerned that the Wing Governor’s imminent retirement might render worthless my months of attrition. However, it seems he was true to his word, and almost as a parting shot he personally placed the order form into the hands of the relevant administrative officer, issuing orders that I was to be allowed it on his direct authority. The way he phrased it to me was that “his reputation was at stake” in ensuring he delivered on a final promise before he left. He’ll be sadly missed, as he was actually a very reasonable man – although many officers said he was too soft. It’s probably an indication of the incumbent’s contrasting style that after three weeks I’ve still not seen him on the wing, nor do I even know his name.
But so it was that not long after the Governor’s departure, I was called to reception. This is something that happens erratically and without notice, usually at the weekend. As I’d ordered a second lot of five CDs some weeks earlier, I assumed it was to collect these; after so much administerial prevarication in the preceding months, it didn’t even cross my mind it would be the guitar. So when the large and approximately triangular box was handed to me, instead of being immediately overcome with happiness, I simply expressed my discontent that it wasn’t a pile of CDs! – such is the confusion of unfulfilled expectation. “CDs?” said the officer “It says here they came through the post, so they’re Not For Issue”. Pausing a moment, I took a deep breath, and with a feeling of déjà vu – noting at this point that I was essentially dealing with a character from a Kafka novel – I turned and walked away, knowing this was not an argument I could win.
Thankfully, the growing realisation of long-awaited guitar ownership quickly overcame my CD-related disappointment. I didn’t even wait to get back to the wing before extracting it from the packaging. I quickly had it tuned up and was playing it in the surprisingly enhancing acoustic environment of the holding box (where I had to wait while I waited for others to be processed). I have to say, I’m impressed. Having paid only £80 for it, I was expecting something pretty basic and uninspiring, but I’ve been unexpectedly pleased. It’s a Martin Smith (of whom I’ve never previously heard) Chinese-made electro-acoustic with a high-fret cutaway. The pickup is a basic under-bridge piezo type and is unlikely to see much use in here, but is good to have nonetheless. It has a rosewood fret board with inlaid mother-of-pearl swallows on the key frets, each with its wings in a different flight position. This could be tacky, but it’s nicely done and I think the effect is aesthetically quite good. The front of the body is pale natural wood with a gloss lacquer, and an inlaid pearlescent trim around the edge. Around the sound hole there’s a similar pattern but close inspection reveals this is a decal rather than an inlay. There is no scratchplate, but I’m more of a picker than a strummer, and what strumming I do is well-targeted so I like the neatness of its absence. The back and sides are glossy black, as is the neck and headstock.
More important than all of this is of course the sound. I am pleasantly surprised at how well balanced it is. The guitar I’d been playing around town before I came in has seen better days. I’ve had it well over twenty years and it’s been around a lot of campfires and damp tents in that time, and fallen off at least one table. The sound has become, well, muddy – even with new strings. Now that I’ve adjusted the truss rod (with the help of a convenient guitar-building inmate) the action on the Martin Smith is consistent and easy-playing. It produces a sound that’s bright without being too harsh, and holds enough of the mellow bass notes to be warm without any excessive booming resonance. In summary, I’m delighted! Much entertainment has already been had – by me and indeed others – and my fingertips are regaining their distinctive calluses. Sadly, I’ve already broken two strings, but in so doing have been amazed to find it possible to repair them using paperclips – something I’d not previously considered would even be worthy trying. As with many things here though, it seems necessity really is the mother of invention.