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.”