Scott Chinery is a true collector in every sense of the term. With a collection of over 600 instruments, he has certainly achieved "critical mass." However, his collection is distinguished by its quality, not the quantity of instruments. Chinery's collection of archtop acoustics and instruments by the Larson brothers of Chicago is one of the most extensive in the world, and it contains numerous examples of unsurpassed quality and importance. I know of no other guitar collection that I consider more comprehensive in its scope.
Chinery has paid record prices for some pieces such as the one-of-a-kind teardrop-shaped D'Angelico New Yorker and the Tom Van Hoose Super 400 Collection. He is an astute investor who is bold enough to set precedents and lead the market. The resources Scott has invested in guitars have turned out not only to be a good investment for him, but have promoted general interest in guitars and elevated the market as a whole.
Scott's devotion to guitars and furthering knowledge of the field is highly evident. His responses to our questions provide the best possible insight into the mind of one of the world's most foremost collectors.
What motivated you to become a collector?
When I was about 16, I came across my first vintage guitar, an Orpheum archtop. You've heard of love at first sight -- well I have to admit that ever since that day I have been passionate about these works of art. To me, merely holding an instrument in my hands made by C.F. Martin over 150 years ago is an honor and privilege that I am extremely grateful for. The guitar's genius, beauty, and magnificence never ceases to amaze me.
Does your collection have a theme or a focus?
I've endeavored to represent many facets of the guitar in my collection. A person viewing my collection can see the art develop from the 1830s, forward.
How many instruments do you have?
Do you view your collection as one large unit or as several independent collections?
I have many collections within the collection, from very specific subcollections like Stauffer Martins to a very complete representation of Larson Brothers instruments, including mando-type instruments. I felt that continuity is important in putting together a great collection.
Do you think your collection will ever be complete, or will it be an ongoing lifetime project?
I don't believe it's possible for me, either financially or logistically, to complete the collection. The next phase for me will be promoting and sharing the guitars, rather than making heavy purchases.
How did you acquire your knowledge of guitars?
When you love something, it's easy to learn. I've had the benefit of knowing some of the world's leading experts on vintage guitars such as George Gruhn, Tom Van Hoose, Jay Scott, Larry Acunto, Stan Jay, and Larry Wexler, to name a few. These people have been a huge help to me.
Have any individuals, dealers, collectors, or institutions been influential role models?
In terms of collectors, I greatly admire and respect Akira Tsumura. He has so much vision and has been so generous with his collection. Although I've never met him, he has been a great influence on me. Tom Van Hoose has also been an enormous influence as has Hank Risan, Jay Scott, and Mac Yasuda.
You, George, have probably done more to promote the vintage guitar scene than anyone else through your writing, lecturing, and aggressive promotional endeavors. Through your 20+ years in the field you've maintained an unequaled passion, love, and reverence for the guitar. When I was a teenager, I used to devour your articles, and I'm happy and proud to call you my friend. Tom Wheeler has also been a great ambassador of goodwill and knowledge, and I have a great respect and admiration for him.
I also respect Jimmy Wallace, Stan Jay, Larry Wexler, Mike Carey, Larry and Jim Acunto (20th Century Guitar), Al Greenwood (Vintage Guitar), Chris Gill (Vintage Gallery), John DiBlasi, Craig Brody, Norm Harris, Dave Crocker, Larry Briggs, Gary Burnette, John Sprung, Steve Howe, Jimmy Brown, Fred Oster, Scot Arch, Jay Levin, Scott Freleich, Mick Kempf, Dave Epstein, Mike Longworth, Rudy Pensa, Chris Trigg, Jim Reynolds, Gil Southworth, John Kinnemeyer, Elliot Mechanic, and Tony Bacon.
Repairman Mark Simon of Bridgewater, New Jersey, has been instrumental to the success of the Chinery Collection. In my opinion, he's the most gifted artisan in the genre. His work and talents are greatly appreciated, and he is the only person whom I will let work on my guitars.
Last, but not least, James L. D'Aquisto deserves special thanks. I think he's the greatest guitar maker that ever lived, and his instruments and genius have enriched the lives of everyone who has ever had the honor of meeting him or playing one of his masterpieces. I am in awe of this man's talents.
Are you engaged in any projects such as books or videos?
I've been working hard on a definitive book/video/CD that will feature my collection as well as some of the world's other great collections. I want to give everyone an opportunity to experience these instruments, and I am confident that this project will present vintage guitars in a way that has never been done before. Enthusiasts will see, hear, and "feel" these guitars as if they were playing each one themselves. I am quite excited about this project.
What are your musical tastes and who are your favorite artists?
My personal music tastes vary from one end of the spectrum to the other. Collecting different types of guitars has helped me nurture an appreciation of many different playing styles. I love Duane Allman's work and consider him to be one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived. His slide work on "Statesboro Blues" is the zenith of the art. I encourage all guitarists to listen to this guitar legend's work. In my opinion, he was to the guitar what Einstein was to physics!
I also enjoy Stefan Grossman, Christopher Parkening, Mark Knopfler, Steve Howe, and the late, great, Joe Pass. These people, as well as many others, have provided joy, inspiration, and passion with their talent and have helped elevate the guitar in our collective consciousness.
Do your musical tastes affect the type of instruments you collect?
It's natural that you'd focus more deeply on instruments for which you have an affinity. My personal playing tastes are more acoustic oriented than electric, so you will see that in my collection, although I have also endeavored to represent many fine electrics as well.
What type of music do you play?
I play a lot of different styles. I have classical training, and I enjoy listening to and playing classical music. I also enjoy playing blues, ragtime, and other finger styles. I play every day and can think of very few things in my life that compare to my love of guitar.
What are your favorite instruments to play?
I have many favorite playing instruments in my collection. These instruments are particularly special to me. I define them as favorites solely on their sound and playing merits, which, of course, approaches the essence of the art.
My 1994 D'Aquisto Centura Deluxe is an absolutely awe-inspiring instrument. Without a doubt, it's the loudest, clearest, most perfect guitar I have ever played, and I have played thousands and thousands of guitars! This guitar roars like nothing else when called upon or sings in a voice so sweet that listeners wonder whether they are listening to a guitar. This guitar is my favorite, without question.
I have an 1898 Orville Gibson that's a joy to play and listen to. Its small-body design is as innovative and unique today as it was almost 100 years ago. Orville's design utilizes a carved or arched top and a flat unbraced back that vibrates like a flat-top. With this guitar you get the roundness of a flat-top with the projection of an archtop.
My 1830s C.F. Martin Stauffer-style custom is an anomaly. It is deeper and wider than any other C.F. Martin guitar that I have ever seen from this period. It's totally original and has the most thunderous and impressive sound that I have ever heard from a gut-stringed instrument. It plays like silk and even beats the finest Hausers and Fletas. This guitar is truly incredible.
You called my 1920s Larson Brothers guitar "the big boy," and at 21" across its lower bout, it's a veritable giant! Just looking at it is intimidating, but playing it is a spectacular experience. This monster produces a sound that reminds me of a loud harpsichord and double bass cello in one instrument! I remember reading your "Rare Bird" column years ago, in which you said that you were keeping this guitar as your personal instrument. I don't know why you changed your mind, but I'm happy you did!
My 1957 D'Angelico Teardrop, which is the centerpiece of my collection, possesses everything that makes a guitar collectible, but few people realize that it possesses a magnificent sound. In terms of power and bass response, the teardrop puts everything else to shame! When sitting in front of it, even at a distance, you feel like you're getting punched in the chest every time the bass is attacked. Everyone who plays this guitar says that the teardrop is one of the world's greatest guitars.
These are only a few of my favorite playing instruments. I have 15 more that I play every day. These guitars include a 1920s Dyer Symphony harp guitar, a 1959 Les Paul sunburst, a 1940 Wilkonowski archtop violin guitar, a non-cutaway 1993 D'Aquisto Solo, a non-cutaway 1993 D'Aquisto Avant Garde, a 1930 Martin OM-45, a cutaway 1993 D'Aquisto Solo teardrop, a 1985 D'Aquisto Jazzmaster solidbody, a 1955 Stromberg master 400 cutaway, a 1949 D'Angelico 19" oval-hole, non-cutaway Excel, a 1930s Gibson Advanced Jumbo, a rosewood 1939 Gibson J-200, a 1910 Bohmman harp guitar, a 1956 Gretsch White Penguin, and a 1934 Gibson Super 400 prototype.
Is personal playing use a major factor in purchasing an instrument for your collection?
Sometimes, but not always. My foremost goal is to preserve these treasures for future generations and do my best to promote this wonderful genre. Many times I purchase a guitar because I like it--other times because it belongs in the collection.
What factors do you consider in judging whether an instrument merits inclusion in your collection?
Historical importance, condition, rarity, and value, as well as my personal feelings; and how it may fit into a slot or spot.
Do you collect celebrity-owned instruments?
No, I neither can relate to nor justify the value or excitement in these types of instruments, unless the piece itself is historically important in spite of the celebrity aspect. To me, the mere fact that an instrument passed through a celebrity's hands is not important, although I certainly do recognize that there are people to whom this is important.
Is monetary value or investment potential a major factor in selecting instruments for your collection?
It is relevant, but not at all encompassing. I collect out of love and passion, and any investment rewards are secondary to me. I do, however, believe that these instruments, because of their cultural significance as well as their broad-base appeal, are excellent investments, and I feel there are no better collectibles in terms of investment!
What are your future plans for the collection?
I plan to continue aggressively promoting, displaying, and sharing these wonderful instruments with everyone in every way I can. To me these fine guitars are works of art that rival a Picasso or Renoir. My goal is to assist in their care. I am not the owner of these instruments; I am merely their caretaker. They will be here long after I am gone, and it is my privilege and honor to take care of them so that our children and children's children may enjoy them.
Ultimately, I want these instruments housed in a museum where they can be viewed and even played by anyone and everyone who appreciates and loves the guitar as much as I do.
How is your collection housed?
About 250 pieces are on display in a special wing of my house, which was developed for the collection. The room contains display cases and has a state-of-the-art heat/humidification system so that the instruments are perfectly maintained. The balance of the instruments are stored in another area that also has a similar system. All of the guitars are constantly maintained and restrung at least twice a year. People come to see, play, and photograph the collection every day. The instruments are also loaned out for research, and portions of the collection are sent all over the country for display.
What future plans do you have for the collection's physical storage and display?
My goal always has been to create a museum that will house the collection and that will allow people to come and see and even play these masterpieces anytime and free of charge. These treasures do not belong to me, they belong to history, and I consider it an honor to care for and share these wonderful instruments. I hope I'll be able to do this within the next few years. This is a huge undertaking that takes much time and money.
In the meantime, I will continue to play my part in the development and promotion of this most noble genre. I passionately love these instruments and am happy to contribute in any way I can.
How do you view your role in the market?
I view myself as a small player in a large and important field. My focus going forward is to share my collection with others. As I said before, I'm merely the caretaker. I like to think that this is the best approach, and if I have attained any influence in this market, this is the philosophy I embrace. I hope that collectors, dealers, and enthusiasts can work together towards one common goal -- the preservation and promotion of the guitar.
Do you have any advice for a person interested in starting a guitar collection?
My advice is to learn as much as you can before jumping in too fast. Read, read, read! This is a field where there is an abundance of great literature available. Subscribe to 20th Century Guitar, Vintage Guitar, Guitar Player, and Vintage Gallery right away. These excellent publications will inform and inspire you. Then go to your local book store and purchase books like American Guitars by Tom Wheeler, Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Guitars, Acoustic Guitars And Other Fretted Instruments, and Electric Guitars and Basses by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, The Ultimate Guitar Book by Tony Bacon, Martin Guitars by Mike Longworth, Gibson Electrics by Andre Duchossoir, The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company by Jay Scott, and The Super 400 -- The Art Of The Fine Guitar by Tom Van Hoose, to name a few. If you cannot find one of these books at your bookstore there are some excellent mail order houses like J.K. Lutherie, who carries everything. I also encourage people to visit guitar shows. This is an exciting place for a guitar lover. Also, frequent reputable dealers like Gruhn Guitars and Mandolin Brothers. These dealers will help you learn the ropes and are honest. There are plenty of great dealers around the world. If you have a question about a dealer, I recommend you contact one of the magazines for a reference. Spend as much time as you can with knowledgeable people, and collect instruments that fulfill you. This is ultimately what matters.
What do you see as the future potential of the vintage guitar market?
I feel that this market is ready to skyrocket. The guitar is such an integral part of our culture. It has been at the foundation of social trends that have defined us. Auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's are becoming involved with vintage guitars for the first time, and to me this signals that vintage guitars are coming of age. I believe that a million dollar non-celebrity vintage guitar sale will occur within the next six years. As we pass into the next century, it is natural that we will become retrospective, and the cultural icons of the previous century will take on greater significance. Also, it will be a time when a new generation will come into wealth. This is the generation of the guitar. I have no doubt that the great guitars of the 19th and 20th centuries will transcend fine art in the 21st century. D'Aquistos and Martins will be the Picassos and Van Goghs to a new generation with wealth and a passion for the guitar.