OVER ONE YEAR HAS PASSED since our seminal article on Acoustic Vibes Music of Tempe AZ. What has Jeff Looker been up to? “I need to order more mandolins”, says he, standing in front of the largest selection of high-end mandolins in North American. Right next to the new Gibson display. His agenda, to the layman, seems to be Buy Buy! BUY!
Direct from manufacturers, Jeff Looker continues to purchase the finest acoustic instruments made in America. Supporting smaller shops by giving their product exposure. A steady turnover of production from the larger players. First name basis with all the owners. Familiarity with his competition, which they are not. Not competitors, but friends, mentors, peers, proteges, fellow enthusiasts in the tradition and innovation of American guitarmaking.
Where else could one find three custom Collings MT2 mandolins? SIX Martin 000 guitars may be uncommon to stock. Except FIVE of these are from the Martin Custom Shop, special-ordered by Jeff himself. Everything is ordered by Jeff. He’s running the train. It keeps pulling into the station with more and more inventory from American manufacturers.
A goal without a plan is a dream. Jeff’s goal is to have the finest acoustic instrument shop in America. What started as an order for six Santa Cruz guitars almost a decade ago has become the best-stocked high-end acoustic guitar shop in the Western Hemisphere. Add in mandolins ∆ and banjos, and you’ve got the premier Destination Music Shop of The Americas.
SATURDAY AFTERNOONS IN SUMMER we meet within the Arc Of Delaware at The Creamery. High octane triple-digit milk fat ice cream, fresh from their cows. A huge oak tree, where generations of bluegrass musicians have come to flat-pick their favorite guitars. When lucky, there might be a bass, Dobro, fiddle, & mandolin. If Doc is there, leave your music stand in your vehicle; a sight of one in a “Bluegrass Circle” can drive him to sputtering apoplexy.
Hugh had been dissatisfied with mandolin pickers in attendance. Unaccountably, he preferred my scratching noises on an occasionally borrowed mandolin. For the last couple of years, he has suggested I buy a mandolin and make it my preferred instrument.
Whether through generosity or impatience, this summer on a Sunday afternoon he invited me over to pick a few tunes. His home? A 1920s farmhouse deep in woods, filled with cats, surrounded by semi-tame woodland creatures who ate from Hugh’s bounty. His mandolin? A Collings MT2. His offer? Hugh would loan me his mandolin for six months; give me a chance to know a high end – $3800 – instrument.
It looked like his MT-2 had sat in a corner for years. Layers of dirt, dust, cat hair carefully impacted between its double strings. Nitrocellulose finish, originally gloss, now a hazy matte. I was surprised the District Attorney had not yet preferred criminal charges. It was, at minimum, reckless endangerment of an acoustic instrument. Hugh got lucky. This would have gone Federal, with EPA in hazmat suits. Ugg! The deluxe hardshell case by TKL may have been manger and nursery for kittens.
Decontamination began almost immediately. Strings, bridge, truss rod cover, and tailpiece were all removed. Warm soapy water prepared, a soft cloth, dipped then thoroughly wrung, was gently applied to all surfaces. The fingerboard was grimiest; my cleaning solution was replaced twice. Next, deep cleaning of its nitrocellulose finish. Acetone? TOO STRONG! Naphtha (lighter fluid)? Humm . . . to a point. But hazing and fine scratches remained.
An email to Collings customer service was promptly answered! “We use Novus 2 to remove years of dulling and build-up on our nitro finishes.” A quick hobby store purchase, and in no time, that milky haze buffed right out! Wow, the red maple sides and back shine like new! Next time the strings are off, I’ll do its select Adirondack spruce top and ebony peghead overlay. Can’t wait!