I was twelve years old the first time I picked up a guitar. I was at summer camp and the boy in my cabin had an acoustic guitar and a Beatles songbook. I knew immediately the instrument would become my lifelong friend. Within six months, I got my own guitar as a Christmas present. My Gibson Melody Maker was a solid-bodied electric that cost my folks just over $200. It was a sleek, sexy, rock n' roll music machine. It was years before anyone imagined YouTube or digital recorders and even a decade before the VCR, so I taught myself by mimicking my vinyl records. I played them over and over, often until I wore them out. I was practicing, fumbling and learning riffs from my guitar heroes of the day: Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Like most teenagers of the time, I dreamed of being a rock star. I suppose a shortage of raw talent, luck and perhaps a lack of recklessness prevented that from happening, but my love of the instrument never waned.
Well into my forties, I still had two guitars from my boyhood and I had added a couple more when "IT" came along and transformed my love into an addiction. "IT" was eBay. Suddenly, my passion for guitars connected me to like-minded people all over the world. Hard-to-find instruments I'd seen in magazines, music stores and pawn shops were now just a keystroke away. Over the next ten years I bought and sold more than 300 guitars. I knew the UPS delivery man by name (David) as he was picking up or dropping off a massive box at least once a week.
I learned the answer to the question (often asked by the wives of those so afflicted), "How many guitars do you need?" Answer: "Just one more." At its height, my modest collection swelled to 50 instruments. Fortunately, my wife was both understanding and supportive of my mania. She believed, as I did, that guitars were playable art, suitable for displaying. So that's what I did. Eventually, nearly all my instruments were hanging like interactive paintings throughout our house: nine in the den, five in the living room, three in our bedroom and in each of our kid's rooms and another dozen in the studio I which had converted from our garage. Most of my friends probably found it odd, if not amusing. Through the Internet, I connected to other addicts, each with varying degrees of success at keeping their "problem" in check. One connection, which I made through eBay no less, became my dearest friend. I had sold this perfect stranger a guitar which he complained about immediately upon receipt. I refunded his money before asking that he return the guitar. He was so taken with my trust or foolishness that we started a pen-pal relationship that blossomed into a friendship and evolved into a brotherly love. I am now godfather to his only child. Like me, he is a fellow addict.
After my initial (sizable) investment, I decided to keep my collection as a zero-sum game, meaning that whenever a guitar came in, one or more equaling the same value would go out. My collection is now at a manageable 20 instruments (not including amplifiers, effects etc.) My friend, meanwhile, (name withheld) is up to a staggering 172. Making matters worse, most are stored in closets as he lives in space-starved Manhattan. I feel like his counselor in our personal twelve-step program, often talking him down from the contact high he gets from hitting that "buy" button. I have discovered lots of us are out there. Most of us have "respectable" careers as bankers, lawyers, doctors and business professionals, all harboring a childhood fantasy and a dark secret. Those of us with this malady call it "Guitar Acquisition Syndrome" (GAS). So, the next time you hear a middle-aged man complain of having gas, it may not be what you're thinking. He may simply be a frustrated musician who wants just one more guitar.