Fret Ap­peal

Delve int o Jim Danz's col­lec­tion of rare guit ars.


Jim Danz's rare guitar col­lec­tion

IT ' S A BACK ROOM IN A KAKA‘AKO GUITAR SHOP WHERE JI M DANZ KEEPS THE MA­JOR­ITY OF HIS COL­LEC­TION. BL ACK GUITAR CASES ARE TUCKED TO­GETHER li ke an 8- track col­lec­tion . Danz pulls one, ex­am­ines the mark­ings on the case then pushes it back in place. “Hard to keep track where I put these,” he says, then pulls an­other case. It's the right one, and he un­latches the av­er­age- look­ing case to re­veal the beauty in­side. It's a vin­tage piece. “1940s Martin & Co. Model D18. This is a ma­hogany body with a spruce top,” he says li ke a true sales­man, but I see ma­jor blem­ishes. When he picks it up, I see it is a lit­tle faded and at the right an­gle, you can see scratches and nicks of

past pick son the glossy fin­ish. But then, he strums a chord. The sim­ple chord fills the room like a sym­phony .“You just can't beat that sound .” Danz says and is smil­ing at my re­ac­tion like a proud par­ent .“That's why I stick to de­signs from the ' 30s and ' 40s,” he says, and I ask why. “The sound, the de­sign and tech­nol­ogy from that era re­ally show through time.”

It shows through in his col­lec­tion as well. His col­lec­tion evolved like his ca­reer. He picked up a sec­ond- hand acous­tic guitar af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Kailua High School (Class of 1970) and de­cided he didn't want to pay other peo­ple to fix it up for him. He be­gan fix­ing up used gui­tars for re­sale then started spe­cial­iz­ing in con­ver­sion sand high-end, full rest ora­tions. Just like a car me­chanic, he learned which parts to use and what de­signs were pop­u­lar with col­lec­tors. He worked at a guitar shop or two over the decades, along with be­ing the first male YWCA ath­let­ics di­rec­tor. Now he is co-owner of Is­land Guitar, a shop that Honolulu mu­si­cians

call “the per­fect blend of se­lec­tion , ex­per­tise and chill vibe.”

Like you would ex­pect, the line be­tween his pri­vate col­lec­tion and the show­room i s blurred. In the (ocean­front) Is­land Guitar show­room, he se­lects the l at­est show­ing from a lo­cal builder, G. L. Pol­hamus & Co.

This builder has won a lo­cal wood­craft­ing award, and the spec­i­men Danz i s show­ing me i s made of mango and koa. It's not his, yet. “If no one picks this up in the next six months, I might have to add it to my col­lec­tion .”

Danz's col­lec­tion been pared down over the years. At one time he had 60, but now he holds about 20 gui­tars that re­ally earn their keep. The cor­ner­stones of his cur­rent col­lec­tion are the ones made of sought- af­ter woods. Some 200 species of rose­wood from around the world, are banned from im­port by the re­cent Lacey Act, so rose­wood gui­tars are highly prized in­side the U. S.

Dan pulls yet an­other case from his col­lec­tion and says, “G. J. Bari­tone Artinger Cus­tom from Martin.” He lifts it from the case, sets his f in­gers to the frets and strums. Again, the sound i s three dimensional, fill­ing the room with the sin­gle chord, but the bari­tone bass notes shake some­thing deep in my ch­est. “It's spruce, rose­wood from Mada­gas­car, and in­layed with abalone, maple and koa,” he says. “You can tell the dif fer­ent sound with rose­wood, huh?”

I 'm not much of an audiophile, but I get the sense he has a highly dis­cern­ing ear. I ask if he can tell what kind of wood a guitar i s made from just by hear­ing it. Dan nods and replies al­most sheep­ishly : “I can also hear the de­sign and maybe tell you who made it.”

With this l evel of dis­cern­ment, I have to ask, “what makes a guitar a keeper?”

“Well, half the fun is f in­d­ing these old things.” He tells me they have to look good and sound good, of course.” But when some­one shows in­ter­est, Dan has to be re­ally at­tached to it to de­cline an of fer. “I f ig­ure, why hold on to all of these? If some­one else wants it more than me, I re­ally need a rea­son not to sell .”

I can tell it's not all busi­ness for him. He brags about gui­tars long- gone li ke you would about kids that have grown and gone of f on their own. On cue, he pro­duces a fam­ily al­bum of sorts— a few binders of faded Po­laroid prints ( re­mem­ber those?) of prior mem­bers of his col­lec­tion .

So, I have to know, which piece out of this col­lec­tion takes the cake? I ask “which one would you not sell for any price?” Opening the li d of the guitar case for one l ast slow, proud re­veal , he says, “It's a Schoen­berg Koa Soloist. I still have the orig­i­nal re­ceipt. It i s one of f ive made. This one ain't go­ing any­where.”

photography by DAVID MURPHEY

Just by lis­ten­ing t o a guitar play, Danz (above) can iden­tif y what kind of wood it's made of, the de­sign and man­u­fac­turer.

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