I’ve always been a collector. When I was very young, I collected coins. My parents owned a corner store and I would go through the coins at the end of the days sales and pick out any foreign or unusual coins and add them to my collection.
As I got a bit older, I would buy rarer coins and collect those. Eventually I lost interest in numismatics and my collecting had a decade or so break. I got married and started collecting kids, six of them, each quite rare and valuable.
Then I started collecting antique picture frames, restoring them and putting old Indian posters and pictures of Krishna in them. They still adorn our walls today.
About 15 years ago I also began collecting vintage ‘parlor’ guitars. They weren’t expensive, I’d buy damaged ones and restore them to great playing condition. I liked the woods and they sounded like they had so much more character than modern guitars.
I have an architectural background, so initially I was attracted to some of the graphics on these vintage guitars, but more and more I started to gravitate towards the better makers.
I’m not a good player but the rest of my family is, so the guitars were also useful when we would sit around as a family and sing and have ‘musical meditations’ i.e. kirtan – the singing and chanting of sacred yoga sounds and bhajans.
Whenever I bought an old parlor guitar, I’d try to find as much about it as I could. Information about these vintage guitars often took some digging. I bought a Bay State guitar and was surprised that even though that label occupied an important role in the development of guitars in America, and each one was stamped with its own serial number, no one could date these guitars.
So I set up a page which was a research partnership with the current owner of the Bay State Guitars, Sylvan Wells:
Success followed: Bay State owners wrote in, sharing and wanting to find out more about their vintage Bay State guitars. The registry for those Bay State guitars now numbers over 200 instruments, and so much information has come in about them and the maker.
Collecting is also about the display, and the guitars looked good en masse on my ‘guitar wall’, although my wife was concerned that I was collecting dust and not vintage guitars. Anyway, before I knew it, I had 32 guitars on my wall, different makes like Regal, Harmony, Kay, Imperial, vintage Washburn, Osborn, etc. Then I bought a Weymann guitar. This was an elusive maker! I could not help myself and much of what my research uncovered will be presented in this blog over time.
I was concerned however, that the restored guitars weren’t being played enough. Guitars are meant to be played, and I’d restored them or had them restored, and I believe they now played better than they had ever done before.
As time moves on, death inevitably gets closer. On my death bed I certainly don’t want to be thinking of vintage guitars! I want to be thinking of my Lord, my Lord who always resides within my heart. I want to be able to go within and rest with my sweet Lord, with my Dear Most Friend who never leaves me.
“Whoever, at the time of death, quits their body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” Bhagavad-gita 8:5
So much in our lives can distract us from this goal of establishing a relationship with the Supersoul. Every attachment we have in this material world, whether it’s our home, our car, even our family, can distract us from the goal of this human existence – the re-establishment of our attraction and relationship with the Supreme as Lord Jesus said in his first and second commandments:
“Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind.” Then, “Care about your neighbour as much as you care about yourself.” Mark 12:30-31
In the end my body will die but I will still exist. I will leave all my material possessions behind. I know that this life is nearing its end and it is time now to declutter some aspects of my life. It’s time to simplify things. I’m very clear that facing death is not as some people think: “the person with the most toys wins”. Far from it.
This thought, combined with wanting to make is so the guitars I have are played and appreciated, has led me to find homes for my collected guitars. Thankfully I have 6 children and 9 grandchildren, most of whom appreciate music and play guitar, or are learning. It was not hard to decide on making birthday and Christmas gifts of many of my instruments.
I’ve now also sold a few, some to friends, some to fund travel to visit family and friends. It has been so much fun, not only collecting and restoring these instruments and then finding great homes for them but making friends across the globe in the community of vintage guitar enthusiasts. It has been truly a privilege getting to know people who are also passionate about these instruments.
I’m now left with just a handful of guitars, ones my wife and I play. The guitar hangers have been removed from the wall, holes plastered over, the wall repainted, framed pictures now replace the guitars. My wife is happier 😊.
However, I need to remember change comes from within, it is not about changing my external environment. It is not about joining a religion and pledging my allegiance to someone or some organization. It is a personal journey, a journey of developing a relationship with the Supreme Soul. This is foremost in my mind.
I feel fortunate that this cancer I have has given me time to gradually become more and more aware of the opportunity to focus on relating with God, both in the present and going forward, come what may.
Namaste and with much love, Chaitanya das/Charles Robinson