Doc Stevens and Marilyn's Hawaii Memories Part 3 - Itty Bitty Guitars

Saturday, January 9, 2016 10:39 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: One thing that impressed Doc particularly was the "itty bitty guitars" for sale in Hawaii. When they went to the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, he and Marilyn were amazed at the various vendors selling these itty bitty guitars with only four strings. Here are some excerpts from our conversations about them:

Doc: So Tondy, me an' Marilyn was walkin' around the swap meet there in Hawaii and ran across this guy what had dozens of itty bitty guitars for sale. He had them hanging all around his booth and on shelves and tables - I never seen that many regular guitars in one place before let alone those little bitty ones! I'm thinkin' they're for little kids. But mostly it was Chinese grown ups playing them and buyin' them up. Some of them was buyin' two or three of 'em!

Marilyn:  Actually it was Japanese tourists, but Doc thinks they're all Chinese, of course. But he's right, they we're buying up all the little guitars. 

Doc: They was all little nylon string guitars. Some was cheap, like $10 and people was definitely buyin' 'em for their kids. But SOME of those little guitars, which they had a Hawaiian word for, and I forget right now, but the guy sellin' 'em said it meant "flea" and I would never try to sell somethin' called a flea, but he did and was sellin' them like half price tickets to  a NASCAR race -  Some of them was like $250, $300 even $400! For a tiny little guitar with only four strings! Over here, in regular America you can get a six string full size guitar for that!

The guy what was selling them saw me eyeing his merchandise and told me to go ahead and pick one up. He asked if I played them, the word he used what I can't remember and I told him "no." But it wasn't that hard. It was tuned like for blues, in open C I think.

Marilyn:  So of COURSE Doc starts playing Dust My Broom - that old Elmore James song... and he can't help but singing! And of course not under his breath because he doesn't know how. He had a deep half inch socket in his pocket that he had found on the ground behind a dumpster, and he used it for a slide! 

Doc was SO happy that he could play it! The guy that ran the booth got very round eyed when he heard the sounds Doc was getting out of it! So did the Japanese people. Some of them started videoing him on their phones, others were taking pictures and asking for more! Then they started buying those little guitars! And that kept Doc there singing one blues song after another, and the tour group bought I think 4 or 5 of those little guitars thanks to Doc's playing blues on them!

Doc: Well, the guy what was selling 'em was just strumming some sort of shuffle rhythm like all the other people who was selling them at their booths, and it really wasn't much to get excited about. Like if you remember Tiny Tim from when your mama was a little girl. But once you pick one up and start messing with it, you can bend the strings pretty good on those little suckers, Tondy, and they can put out some good blues!They do slide pretty well, too. And I only sang maybe three or four songs more maybe five.

I asked the guy what was selling them why such a bitty little guitar cost so much and he told me that it's really expensive to live in Hawaii - food, gas, rent and all that - so when he sits down and spends several days making one of them little guitars, he has to charge more for it than you would think. The ones he made started at about $275, which is more than I have ever paid for a full size guitar in my whole life!

Marilyn: He had cheaper ones, and so did the other people who sold them, but they weren't made in Hawaii by hand. They were made in China and or maybe Texas. That's the same way it is with buying regular guitars here at home. Cheap ones are made in China and better ones are made in USA and they cost more. Hand made ones are for rich people.

Tondeleo: Unless of course you're talking about one of Doc's hand made box guitars or tackle box guitars. They're not for rich people but they sound good and are impressive for as cheap as they look.

Doc: The only time I've played a four string guitar was a bass or a regular guitar where I'd broke a couple of strings. But it wasn't a 4 string on purpose. But I admit, I liked those teeny little guitars! But I couldn't afford one! So I stuck with my $20 guitar what I brought over with me! It's been with me a long time and is my old friend!