The book of Acts recounts a particularly tumultuous mission trip Paul and Silas took to the Roman colony Philippi. Arrested for disturbing the peace, they were severely beaten, shackled, and thrown in prison. At midnight, as they sang hymns, an earthquake opened the jail and loosened their bonds. Instead of escaping, Paul and Silas converted their jailer.
Some 18 centuries later, an itinerant preacher named Washington Phillips recorded his song
“Paul and Silas in Prison” for a Columbia Records field agent in a makeshift Dallas studio. While it caused no earthquake, his haunting and delicate performance seems to reverberate like an aftershock in those who hear it.
What makes Phillips’ recording so powerful is his conviction. Like Paul and Silas, he sang to praise God, obeying a command that appears almost 50 times in the Bible. It’s a potent reminder that music is more than just a commodity, today made cheap and plentiful by technology. It’s our birthright as men and one of the most intimate expressions of the human soul. As such, it is far too vital a part of who we are to cede it entirely to the professionals.
You don’t need to languish in prison to experience the benefits of a making your own music. Knowing a few songs by heart can enliven any number of tedious situations, such as waiting at the DMV or hauling a sail on a Merchant Marine clipper ship. And anyone can learn to sing, despite what you may have heard. Add a guitar and you’ve got yourself a party. We’ve seen modestly skilled players turn a room of sedate wine-sipping moms into a raucous Guns N’ Roses tribute act.
Guitars are just nice to have around, and America still manufactures some good ones. Family-owned and -operated for six generations,
C.F. Martin and Co. have been making their exquisitely crafted instruments in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, since 1833. A Martin guitar doesn’t come cheap, but its sound is inimitable and it will last several lifetimes.
Gibson is another storied guitar-maker that has kept production in the USA. After an ill-fated expansion into consumer electronics drove it into bankruptcy in 2018, Gibson returned to its roots. It makes electric guitars, including the iconic Les Paul, in Nashville, and acoustics in Bozeman, Montana.
Those looking for something more affordable than the offerings of these two American legends might investigate
CMG guitars of Statesboro, Georgia, founded by accomplished local musician Chris Mitchell. What started as a small guitar teaching studio in 1999 has evolved into a 7,500-square-foot factory making both guitars and amplifiers.
While American guitar manufacturing isn’t as robust as it used to be, affordable acoustics from once popular brands like Stella, Kay, and Harmony abound on the
vintage market. Some have survived the years more or less intact, passed from player to player; others are found in garages and barns and restored by enterprising craftsmen like Vermont-based Steve Chipman. His online shop, VintageParlorGuitars.com, offers an array of handsome, highly playable instruments for under $1,000.
The preferred course of study for the aspiring axman remains an apprenticeship plunking out pentatonic scales for an aging metalhead in the musty back room of the local music shop. That said, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the educational opportunities available online. For example,
JustinGuitar is an exhaustive and extremely well-organized site and offers much of its content for free (although donations are encouraged).
The internet can also improve your understanding of music. Rick Beato is a veteran multi-instrumentalist, session musician, producer, engineer, and educator who started a YouTube channel on a whim in 2017. Now his videos on ear training, music theory, audio engineering, and other topics get millions of views. Particularly popular is his series “What Makes This Song Great?” in which he breaks down the appeal of pop hits like 1978 Cars classic
“Just What I Needed.”