There’s something for everyone at the Melbourne Guitar Show. Whether you’re a folk fingerpicker, blues crooner or metal shredder, chances are at least one guitar at this magnificent expo will ignite your love for the best instrument in the world (and probably your bank account). From the heavy-hitters of the guitar world to independent luthiers, every exhibitor pulled out all the stops for this year’s show. Here are a few highlights of my experience.
Amidst the cacophony of blues licks mixed with 1000-BPM shredding, I stumbled into a quieter section of the expo housing a few independent builders including Nick Carpenter, owner of Wildwood Instruments, and had the opportunity to check out his guitars. The fact that you can spend a weekend away in Daylesford, complete a guitar-making course with Nick and come home with one of these stunning guitars still blows my mind.
I stopped briefly at aPurla guitars—a Brisbane-based duo comprised of Layne and Mitchell Morris, who specialise in sustainable wood harvesting in order to craft their beautiful instruments. All their timbers are personally inspected and selected, and are made of problem trees that would have been turned to mulch, or reclaimed timbers that would have been disposed of. While I didn’t get the chance to demo these guitars, I did hear others playing them—and they sounded pretty good indeed.
While not being a guitar dealer or manufacturer per se, the Reverb booth was positively buzzing with people. Some of the most interesting and unique pieces were found at Reverb’s stall, including its centrepiece: an authentic 1961 Fender Jazzmaster, a custom order going for $20,000. Yikes. Something special that caught my eye was the Bondi Effects Sick As on display. It was one of ten units from a limited edition run made especially for the Melbourne Guitar Show, commissioned in Reverb’s signature sparkling orange.
Ah, Gibson. While they don’t have our wallets, they certainly have our hearts. Even considering the price tags on their new 2018 standard models, the company still commanded an army of loyal fans who collectively drooled at the guitars hung on display. There were two new Les Paul finishes on display—Blood Orange and Cobalt—and they looked rocking. I’d usually never consider blue to be a traditional Les Paul colour, but now that it exists, maybe I’ll reconsider.
In the opposite corner was Fender. With the revamp of almost their entire range, I was curious to try out some of their new Player Series offerings, which were extensively advertised over the past year. Like a moth to an open flame, I gravitated towards a SSH Strat finished in Sage Green Metallic, sporting a Pau Ferro fretboard. Fender have definitely stepped up their marketing game, but I left the booth searching for more, hungry to find a Strat that would quench my thirst.
And find it I did, at the Melbourne School of Guitar Making. I had no idea such an innocuous-looking lake placid blue Strat-style guitar would steal the day away from me. Built by David Searle and Rob Pryke, the two teachers at the school, this guitar featured a meticulously hand-shaved neck with a smooth matte finish, with custom hand-wound vintage-voiced pickups. Most noticeably, it included a six-position switch, the final position activating the neck and bridge pickup in series. I don’t know how I can look at my Strat in the same light after playing around with that extra position. An absolute game-changer.
And last but not least was old mate Albert Lee. At 74 years young, the legend set the roof on fire with his lightning-fast chops and was an absolute pleasure to witness live. I saw many a dreamy look on audience members’ faces as Lee made his way through his two-and-a-half hour set.
All in all, this year’s Melbourne Guitar Show was an absolute blast. Bad luck if you missed out this time—just don’t let it happen again next year.
Images via Eddy Lim.