Over the years I have become a genuine instrument collector and have spent many hours chatting to my good friend Martin Simpson about the joys of purchasing and playing great instruments. Many people will know me for my love of different types of ukuleles, but I have a really diverse collection of many stringed instruments, not just ukes.
I’m lucky in my other work to be able to travel around the world and Japan and the USA are wonderful places for seeking out new creative tools. My favorite stores across the globe include Ukulele Mania in Tokyo, The Ohana store outside Osaka, Poe Poe in Tokyo, Matt Umanov Guitars in NYC, Mandolin Brothers in NYC (no longer in existence) , Hill Country Guitars in Austin and Carters Guitars in Nashville. All these stores have a fantastic range of instruments and great customer service.
I also have a number of instruments that can’t be bought through retail stores including guitars and a mandola by Stefan Sobell. The Sobells came as recommendations from Martin Simpson and there’s usually a two year wait for these instruments. Similarly Takahiro Shimos instruments are also custom builds and of the highest quality and there’s a waiting list for them. In terms of instrument brands I’m a big fan of Collings and when I met Bill before he passed I mentioned that I had never played a Collings that was not excellent. The recent Waterloo guitars are more examples of the highest standards in building and an absolute joy to play.
I’m a big fan of instruments where the main focus is in using the best woods and the investment is in the woods rather than ornate decoration. I recently saw a ukulele advertised for thousands of pounds where the store commented that huge amounts of time had been spent on the inlay, so it looked really nice but I prefer a more simple well constructed instrument. Every instrument will spark different creative ideas and the best ones are always those that I may pick up in a store and find I’m still playing 30 – 40 minutes later. There are thousands of “ok” instruments, but few which really are keepers.
In terms of electric guitars I have some great instruments including two Parkers, a George Benson Ibanez, some custom Ransom strats and Telecasters from San Francisco and some Warmoth guitars as well as a brilliant Collings I35 Deluxe. This is a growing family that continue to provide countless hours of musical joy as well as being great investments. I always advise people to try out instruments for themselves rather than rely on online advice as production models which in theory should be the same often vary wildly. There are no “best instruments” only different ones. If you want to create great music, its a lot easier if you are playing an instrument you truly love.