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THE PORTAGE AND THE MANZANITA
A Tale of Two Guitars
Ethan Russo

I moved to Vashon Island in March 2007, and had the luck to be introduced to Bob Krinsky through a longtime mutual friend, who strongly suspected that we would hit it off well. It turned out that Bob not only loved guitars, but loved them so well, he decided he had to start his own line of guitars. My good fortune continued when after an invitation to Bobs house for brunch one weekend, he took the guests out to his converted garage to show us prototype models of Vashon Guitars. I must have played fifteen that day, everything from archtop electrics to jazz masters. Every one was lovely, with choice woods, marvelous craftsmanship--- and the sound! These electrics both ring and rock. Then I tried the acoustics, one after another. When we got to the Portage, I was sold, and told Bob I had to have it. Thus, I became the proud owner of Vashon Portage, serial number ********, unique cloud-shaped fret markers and all. Everyone who sees it is simply compelled to touch it, hold it, and play.

I had not been in the market for a guitar. Ive played for 44 years now, but our last house was not set up well for instruments and I had gotten out of the habit, told myself I was too busy and all the usual excuses. However, I retained a keen interest in fine instruments, and certainly know what sounds good to a trained ear. In all that time, I had never encountered a single acoustic steel string guitar that I thought had the right balance of sweet musicality, and fine workmanship that was worthy to join my classic electrics: a 1983 limited edition Fender STRAT, and 1990 Rickenbacker 360/12. After all, any dedicated guitar player will tell you that you need more than one axe. Certain genres and songs demand a special sound that no one instrument can produce.

The day I took the Portage home, I thought of Bryan Adams wonderful song, Summer of 69, and those memorable lines about getting his first real 6-string and playing til his fingers bled. While no actual corpuscles were lost playing that song and countless others, I did make my digits sore for many days on end, building up calluses long lost, and rediscovering forgotten folk songs and acoustic blues tunes. My mood improved notably every day. Sometimes I played the Portage straight, and sometimes I plugged in, but the results were always marvelous. It is a difficult thing to mike an acoustic guitar properly, but the built-in Fishman Prefix obviated the need. The reproduction is faultless and true, and the sustain is impressive. I love that lingering sound trailing off into endless harmonics. It is a veritable thing of beauty. I suspect that well be seeing a lot of these guitars onstage in future years if people are lucky enough to seek them out, and have the sense to buy one.

After having the Portage a few weeks, it made me ponder my other instruments and picking up where I left off with them. I had six years of classical guitar lessons as a teen, but had neglected the skill for some time. I asked Bob if he had considered adding a classical to his lineup, only to learn that there was already one, the Manzanita, a model I had missed on the first round. Another visit ensued, and another incredible guitar was sold. If there was one thing I learned from all those lessons with Mr. Simeone back in the 60s, it was what constituted a fine classical guitar. Each week, hed have me try another guitar from his collection, some played by Andres Segovia himself. I still had a fair one of my own, but had not been satisfied with its tone, projection or playability for some time. Surveying the market, it appeared that a quality classical would run $3000-6000 and that simply was not about to happen. This house still needs a lot of renovation, after all, and even an obsessive collector has to exercise priorities if he wants to maintain domestic harmony. Now I dont need to worry, as the Manzanita was surprisingly affordable, and is easily the equal of fine guitars at many times the price. It is solid, with perfect intonation, and a nice loud but sweet voice on an instrument that is easy and a pleasure to play. The renaissance lute pieces and Heitor Villa-Lobos Preludes came down off the shelf, and have not sounded so wonderful to me in years. I am challenged to try those old flamenco riffs once more, and look forward to many years of enjoyment while rediscovering old musical friends and meeting new ones. I just might need to have one of those Vashon archtop electrics someday, once the house is properly restored!


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