The Wrong Guitar

Randy: “2002 didn’t really have any guitars on our albums until Land of Forever. When we first began that album, a friend of ours at the record label suggested we add a guitar to our music. We discussed using a nylon string, classical style guitar, and I thought I might pluck it with a pick rather than the traditional fingers. I had been a guitar player from age 10, so it was not too much of a stretch to incorporate one of these into our sonic palette. But we didn’t have a nylon string guitar, so I went in search of a suitable one. As a professional musician, I knew that I might have to spend some significant money to get a quality instrument, it’s just expected. Flutes, harps, pianos, synthesizers… these instruments cost many thousands of dollars, so I expected the guitar to be no less hurtful to my wallet. 

I went to the local music shops around town and played several instruments, ranging from $800 to $3500. In those days, the shops had very liberal return policies, so I even purchased a few of them over several weeks to take home and try out in the studio. They all played, sounded and recorded just as they should- too much so actually, and that was my problem. I needed something different, an instrument that could challenge the limits created by my expectations. One by one they were tried out, and returned.

I had been to all the local music stores except one, which was in a town further away, about a 45 minute drive. It was pretty much my last hope, and at that point I’m not even sure if I knew exactly what I was looking for anymore. When I got there, I found that the store was in the process of being moved to a bigger building a few miles down the freeway. The floors were bare, and nearly all the instruments were gone to the new location, but still packed away. The owner suggested I come back the next week when he was up and running, but I had driven all that way, so I asked if he had anything left that I could look at. He said, “Well, I’ve got those three up on the wall still, but those are lower-end guitars, Korean knock-offs, etc. – doesn’t sound like what you’re looking for, but you’re welcome to try them.”

I realized right away that two of them were too hard to play, and of those, one may have been a dead instrument. But the last one was very easy to play so I took it into one of the now empty practice rooms, closed the door, sat on the floor and played. The guitar was a Sigma brand, which is a Korean built Martin (Martin traditionally makes very high quality guitars in America). The front of the body where the sound hole is, or “top” as it’s called, was composed of two sides of wood glued together instead of one solid piece, so that when you look at the guitar front-on standing up, the left side is a slightly different wood grain and color than the right side. Hmmm.,

Something strange happened the moment I started playing. The guitar immediately spoke to me in no subtle way, as if to say “I was created for you, you and I belong together.” And then, even more astonishing, it gently said “No, don’t play me that way, play me this way.” Usually when you create vibrato on a fretted instrument like the guitar, you do it by stretching the string with an up and down motion on the fingerboard, as opposed to the side to side “rocking” motion you would use on a non-fretted instrument, such as a cello. But this guitar wanted the latter method, and would sing whenever I did it that way. Whenever I tried plucking a note and then sliding down the neck for a drop-off effect, the guitar seemed to help me down, pulling my hand just the right way to get that strange, throaty, sweet sound that only it can produce- like the sound of a dove cooing. Up to that point, I had never played an acoustic instrument that was that expressive and unique. It literally played itself, and had its own soul.

Intellectually, I knew that most likely something was mechanically wrong with the instrument to make it play and sound this way- but is wrong the correct word? If I was able to make such a profound connection with it, and if it was able to inspire me to automatically play in a style I had never practiced or even contemplated before, could it be that there is something very right about this instrument?

When I came out of the practice room I asked the store owner how much. It was $200.

That guitar, recorded with a special tube microphone is the one heard on nearly all 2002 records. When we did some live performances a few years ago, I had to purchase an electrified nylon string costing much more than the Sigma, because I was not willing to have holes drilled to electrify it and have strap pins put in. The luthier repeatedly assured me that it wouldn’t change anything sonically- but I felt I couldn’t take the risk, since I don’t really know why it sounds the way it does in the first place.”

8 thoughts on “The Wrong Guitar”

  1. I love this story and find it incredibly fascinating. I’ve always loved the sound of guitar and when it’s married up with other instruments it truly is a lush soundscape. The guitar added to your CDs just added a rich, almost flavoursome, if you will, texture to your music and gave it an extra edge. I had noticed that the guitar didn’t sound the way most did, what predominantly came to mind whenever I listened to your CDs and heard it was how “celestial” it would sound. In fact, when I helped manage and run a new age shop, I had a pattern I invariably followed for dictating my music during the day. Since we were prone to get extremely busy on a Saturday at lunch time, I used to always aim to have a 2002 CD on at that peak time. Firstly, to help promote your music, secondly, to help keep me calm! But I used to relate to people that I would “program” the music for the day by “starting off with something earthy and grounding like Tony O’Connor and then move into the celestial like 2002 for the middle of the day before re-grounding again.” I still follow this pattern today where I work now, in a massage and aromatherapy practice. Your CDs always get the most comments from clients 🙂

  2. Wow, that really is something.

    I’m glad you did finally find something Mr. Copus, if you didn’t, we wouldn’t have 2002 as it is today!


  3. Thanks for the comments guys! Susan, we are actually aquatinted with Tony O’Connor and his music, we exchanged some CDs with him a few years back… great music. He’s one of those composers that make you think, “Wow, I wish I had written that!” Mars Lasar is like that for me too.

    As far as guitars go, lately I’ve been playing a Stratocaster (electric) with a special handheld magnetic device called an E-bow. It produces a beautiful sound, sustaining the notes forever like a violin being bowed. I’ll see if I can make a little video of it and post it in the next couple weeks, if you all are interested. 🙂

  4. I would really be interested in seeing it. I hope you can do that. If it isn’t a big deal, it would be neat to know how that WX-5 thingy works. I went to the page Pamela linked to about it, and I guess I still don’t understand it.


  5. Yes please to seeing that! Thanks! And you answered another question I had, that being that sometimes I heard what sounded like a violin in your tracks…ah ha, now I know what it is, your guitar??! I love learning all about your music. And so you know Tony O’Connor? Isn’t it amazing how you all find each other, I understand he and Medwyn Goodall just clicked too. You’ve each got different types of music but there is something for all of us to enjoy…you may joke that you wish you’d thought of something like that, and I know what you mean, but I would imagine that music is often a personal journey, and stamped with that as such. So…keep enjoying your journey, and love your music as it is now (and was then!)

  6. I was listening to my Sirius radio one day and I heard this incredible nylon string guitar playing. I looked at the dial on the radio and it said 2002. This was my first taste of your beautiful music and I have been a fan ever since. But, that is just the beginning of my story. I have played guitar for many years but never tried playing a nylon string instrument. After hearing your music I decided to give it a try. It has been my experience that in order to sound good you need to get high end instruments and pay a good price in the process. I did some research and tried out some expensive guitars all the way up to $3000.00. Guess what? I ended up buying a $199.00 Yamaha! I had exactly the same experience that you did Randy and I was just overwhelmed by the sound of this guitar. Many years ago a session guitarist named Tommy Tedesco told me that the best recording nylon string guitars were the cheaper ones. I think he knew what he was talking about. Thank you 2002 for your wonderful music. I am looking forward to hearing your upcoming CD!

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