Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Mark Ginsberg playing guitar
Mark Ginsberg on stage at Molly darcy's at Seven Gables, Clayton, MO
CUSTOM MADE
Some collect cars. St. Louis native, Mark Ginsberg collects guitars to bring back the sound of his youth.
By Robert Gad for The National Business Post
May 15, 2020
Music can change your life. Proof positive: for more than five decades, Mark Ginsberg has loved collecting and playing guitars. What started for him as a “loose hobby” evolved into an avocation.
When he was ten years old growing up in suburban St. Louis, MO, he asked his parents for guitar lessons. It was 1962. Elvis was still the King, and the four lads from Liverpool had yet to land on U.S. soil. When they did, in 1964, a guitar eruption took place. Ginsberg was just one of America’s boys who wanted to play like Paul, John, George and Ringo.
Ginsberg’s first guitar was a Gibson. He was introduced to guitar watching his instructors play at camp and religious school. Soon, he was bringing along his Gibson. Folk songs were the main dish on the music menu, and he learned the lyrics to be able to sing along.
The Beatles quickly changed the music scene. Everyone wanted to be a Beatle. For Ginsberg, with the musical landscape changing, that meant moving over to an electric guitar: a Fender Jaguar. Ginsberg’s parents lent a hand, and presented him with a new one as a gift for his Bar Mitzvah.
Then it was on to forming a high school band, and learning The Beatles and Rolling Stones songs.
“I was in a band at thirteen,” he remembers. “I’d find some buddies in school who played the guitar and maybe they added a piano tune and then looked for a guy with a drum kit.”
By the time he was a high school freshman, many of his friends were now really into taking guitar lessons.
“My best friend became our lead guitarist, and he introduced me to a girl who later became my wife. When you played the guitar…girls looked at you.”
The band was hired to play at frat parties at the local colleges and many of the local high school weekly events and dances.
As a junior, influenced by Peter, Paul and Mary, Ginsberg added another element to his guitar playing. He returned to his acoustic, putting together a folk group with another guy and two girls. That paid off for them a year later.
”My senior year of high school, we spent the entire summer playing at The Tan-Tar-A Resort.” Located in the picturesque Lake of the Ozarks, a two-and-a half hour drive from St. Louis. We stayed the whole summer. They gave us free room and board, we could use the resort, hang out at the lake, and play at night”
The group disbanded after the summer and everyone headed off to college. Ginsberg stayed in touch with one of the guys who moved to Denver and over Spring Break, drove out and decided to collaborate, forming his first duo. Ginsberg sold his electric guitar and amplifier and upgraded to a Martin acoustic to play folk music.
“That was really the first good guitar I had,” he recalled. “The two of us sat down, and created a song list of 50 songs so that we could play a three-hour set.”
He sent the tape to the General Manager of The Leather Bottle, a very hip bar and restaurant in fashionable Clayton, Missouri. It was Ginsberg’s recording that paved the way for the two to work at the restaurant a couple of summers – between their junior and senior years of college.
Soon after, things changed for Ginsberg, along with the many other college guitarists, who had earned their wage and tips during school.
“You eventually graduate college, settle down, go to work and get married. Music gets put on the back burner.”
Ginsberg did just that. After college he joined his father Frank in the family business, Closeouts With Class, and eventually took over the reins. That same year, he married the cute girl – Jane – he was introduced to playing in his high school band and they raised two sons, Steven, now 41 and Scott, 40. But, he continued playing his Martin 1970 D-28 – the original acoustic he had played in college – a guitar which Ginsberg states was one of the best on the market when he bought it.
Then in 2007, at the age of 55, things began to change for Ginsberg and his guitars.
“I owned one guitar up until 2007. I had just turned 55. I spent most of my adult life running a company. I hadn’t been dependent on my income from music gigs. I now had enough disposable income to appreciate, afford and purchase different makers of high end guitars. It resulted in me ending up with quite a collection.”
Over the next 12 years, Ginsberg amassed 34 hand-crafted guitars, purchased from different artisan luthiers across the country.
Dana Bourgeois was one such master of the craft. Called a luthier, Dana had been designing and building acoustic guitars for 30 years in Lewiston Maine, starting at
Mark Ginsberg's Wall of Guitars at his house in Ladue, MO
Martin Guitars before he heading out on his own. Ginsberg says he now owns several of Bourgeouis’ custom pieces.
Ginsberg also purchased a custom piece from James Olson, the luthier who had designed three hand-crafted guitars for James Taylor’s 1989 tour. Custom acoustic guitars from Olson start at $12,000.
“I’m a big fan of James Taylor, and his Olson guitars made in Minnesota.”
Ginsberg says he enjoys the process of working with a luthier to custom design his own guitars. It can take from three to 12 months for a custom guitar to be made as many luthiers across the U.S. have waiting lists. Ginsberg’s most recent purchase was from Santa Cruz Guitars, run by Richard Hoover. Ordered last year, it only arrived two months ago, just in time for the Covid-19 quarantine.
“Several I have built to my own specifications, down to the smallest details and components of the tone woods and inlay detail,” he said. Ginsberg says he has a real appreciation for the workmanship, the materials, and the tone woods. Twelve of his favorite pieces are hung on the wall of his home studio.
“It’s all about the wood. These are the things that make a guitar sound different. However, I like my guitars a little more glamorous,” he says. “I prefer more inlay work, but use different woods for the top or back and sides to get a different tonal quality. I sometimes vary the width of the neck for variations in playability.”
Ginsberg has enough experience now to recognize the subtle nuances of the instrument.
“Some guitars are made for heavy strumming and others are made for finger style picking…like the way James Taylor plays,” he explains. “Smaller body guitars are made for finger style and larger body guitars are more for strumming like Steven Stills.”
While it had been years since he last was paid to play for his college tuition, 11 years ago he found some inspiration. His friends and family encouraged him to reach out to some of local eateries and ask if they would hire him to entertain their patrons.
“I had only been playing for fun and as a hobby since my college days.”
So while still running the family business in 2009, Ginsberg began playing a couple shows a month, which continued through 2015. In 2016, Ginsberg closed the family business and it freed him up to expand his playing dates. Today, Ginsberg has created an impressive following that show up regularly to watch him play.
“I play at my leisure. It does not come off to me as a job, and was never a job. It’s never a struggle …always pleasurable. I only play at places I think my fans will enjoy being, for the food drink and atmosphere.”
Now armed with several choices of quality guitars he knows which ones to bring along. “I usually bring two along for a job, so I can play different styles of music depending the song”
At 68, he has no thoughts of slowing down, although he was shelved for a bit in 2019 due to carpal tunnel surgery. “It was on my left wrist which is my fingering hand so, yes, probably due to a little wear and tear.”
Like so many musicians, Ginsberg is presently feeling the effects of the pandemic. Covid-19 has forced the closing of all of restaurants and bars in St Louis. Anxious to get back to playing a gig, he has been staying loose strumming late nights in his home studio, playing his favorite tunes, waiting out the quarantine.
With lots of time to think and be creative, Ginsberg recognizes it was always the music and the appreciation of the instrument that kept him coming back. What began at the tender age of ten, continues to transform his spirit. Per playing again, he’ll just have to wait it out and see where his instrument and music will take him next.
Copyright © 2020. The National Business Post. All rights reserved.
Robert Gad is the publisher of Alton Press and The National Business Post. After a career in broadcast sales and management, Bob has returned to his roots as a sports journalist as he covered the BIG 10 Conference in his glory days. It appears Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can come home again. A true St. Louis Cardinals fan, he loves all things baseball, and lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his three dogs and beautiful wife, Annie.