With origins in Spain in the 16th century, the guitar has evolved in design up until the present day as an idyllic instrument for both vocal accompaniment and solo performance.

Primary guitar forms in our present era are classical (nylon string), acoustic (steel string), and electric. This six or sometimes twelve-stringed instrument has become so popular that most people, when asked, will remark upon their connection to it- even if it’s: “Yeah, I played a little when I was a kid, but it was too difficult, so I put it away”.

For myself, the journey began at 13 when, after several years of playing clarinet in the school orchestra, I picked up my mother’s Silvertone guitar. Being left-handed, I instinctively attributed my initial awkwardness at playing to an obvious need for shifting direction- thus in short time I had the strings undone and reattached in the opposite order.

When my mother returned home and looked at her guitar, she realized what had happened. Nevertheless, she allowed me to continue playing the instrument ‘backwards’, and once humorously reminisced: “That day was the beginning of his guitar career and the end of mine”.

I immediately recognized guitar as a wonderful instrument for vocal accompaniment- something I hadn’t experienced while playing the clarinet (which as you know, preoccupies one’s mouth, making singing unlikely). I began to learn songs from folk, rock and pop traditions. Chords and melodies from Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield captivated my attention. It wasn’t long before my own original songs began to emerge, often giving expression to spiritual yearnings. A thirst to improve my playing skill led me to teachers where I began developing jazz and classical guitar styles.

In addition to singing with a folk instrument, I was fascinated with playing ever-faster electric lead guitar. Equipped with a Fender Stratocaster and a powerful amp, I mimicked Jimmy Page, Erik Clapton and Neil Young for endless hours in a noisy basement rock band. Jamming with Seth Justman (prior to being keyboardist for the J. Giles Band), a few lessons with rock legend Nils Lofgren- wherever I could learn, I would go.

While still attending high school I announced my choice to totally focus on guitar studies, departing school for a ‘guitar sabbatical’ year, only to continue in a progressive experimental school where I was invited to offer guitar lessons to interested students.

For a time, teaching guitar became a profession- but the joy of singing with others eventually led to a full-time career. I focused on songwriting and songleading, immersing audiences in the rich harmonies of our collective voice. To support this style of music, nylon string (or classical/folk style guitar) was my preferred instrument.

For 30 years the rich, warm sound of the classical guitar gave voice to my heart. My fingers didn’t have to press so hard- at least this is what I believed, until discovering the gorgeous shimmering strum of my first Taylor steel-string/acoustic, and finding that light-gauge strings together with a low neck adjustment made for easy playing down the neck.

So for the next 25 years my songs were accompanied by acoustic guitars, reveling in their transportive sound. And once set on this path, I had no reason to think it would ever change again. During all this time, many recordings of my songs were produced, always featuring guitar- first with classical, then with acoustic- as the central accompanying instrument for the voices.

Thus it came as a surprise for me to reawaken to the haunting memory of the sound of a classical guitar. I couldn’t shake it, and began seeking for an instrument which could mirror the sound in my heart. Living in Europe, it was a German guitar maker whom I set my sights on.

Born into a three-hundred year tradition of German violin makers, Dieter Hopf began experimenting with new guitar design fifty years ago. Ever seeking to develop customized instrumental solutions to the nuances of guitarists' individual sound and playing-style requirements, Hopf instruments are now legendary amongst an elite echelon of guitarists, cherished by performers worldwide.

While in Dieter Hopf’s Aterlier (studio) to select my new guitar, I interviewed the maker. The Master Craft of Dieter Hopf gives you a personal experience of the famous luthier of Taunusstein.

The Master Craft of Dieter Hopf from Michael Stillwater on Vimeo.

After fifty years of guitar love, I now return to teaching the instrument. Last year in Germany I began offering SongLife Training for those interested in furthering their expression through songwriting, intuitive songmaking, songleading and guitar artistry. It is a joy to be sharing some of the satisfaction which I have gained, providing skill-building practices and opportunities for musical interaction.

If you are someone who once played guitar and then decided to put it away, that it wasn’t meant for you, I encourage you to reconsider this decision. Whether practicing on your own, with lessons found online, in community classes or with a private teacher, it doesn’t matter. There may still be hidden treasures waiting for you, buried under dusty memories and early frustrations, requiring only a small portion of your precious time to turn a forgotten instrument into a source of present-day magic.