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Guitar collector Jim Danz prefers guitars from the 1930s and 1940s because of the eras’ sound, design and technology.

It’s a back room in a kaka‘ako guitar shop where Jim Danz keeps the majority of his collection. black guitar cases are tucked together like an 8-track collection. Danz pulls one, examines the markings on the case then pushes it back in place. “Hard to keep track where I put these,” he says, then pulls another case. It’s the right one, and he unlatches the average-looking case to reveal the beauty inside. It’s a vintage piece. “1940s Martin & Co. Model D18. This is a mahogany body with a spruce top,” he says like a true salesman, but I see major blemishes. When he picks it up, I see it is a little faded and at the right angle, you can see scratches and nicks of past picks on the glossy finish. But then, he strums a chord. The simple chord fills the room like a symphony. “You just can’t beat that sound.” Danz says and is smiling at my reaction like a proud parent. “That’s why I stick to designs from the ’30s and ’40s,” he says, and I ask why. “The sound, the design and technology from that era really show through time.”

It shows through in his collection as well. His collection evolved like his career. He picked up a second-hand acoustic guitar after graduating from Kailua High School (Class of 1970) and decided he didn’t want to pay other people to fix it up for him. He began fixing up used guitars for resale then started specializing in conversions and high-end, full restorations. Just like a car mechanic, he learned which parts to use and what designs were popular with collectors. He worked at a guitar shop or two over the decades, along with being the first male YWCA athletics director. Now he is co-owner of Island Guitar, a shop that Honolulu musicians call “the perfect blend of selection, expertise and chill vibe.”

Like you would expect, the line between his private collection and the showroom is blurred. In the (oceanfront) Island Guitar showroom, he selects the latest showing from a local builder, G.L. Polhamus & Co.

This builder has won a local woodcrafting award, and the specimen Danz is showing me is made of mango and koa. It’s not his, yet. “If no one picks this up in the next six months, I might have to add it to my collection.”

Danz’s collection been pared down over the years. At one time he had 60, but now he holds about 20 guitars that really earn their keep. The cornerstones of his current collection are the ones made of sought-after woods. Some 200 species of rosewood from around the world, are banned from import by the recent Lacey Act, so rosewood guitars are highly prized inside the U.S.

Dan pulls yet another case from his collection and says, “G.J. Baritone Artinger Custom from Martin.” He lifts it from the case, sets his fingers to the frets and strums. Again, the sound is three dimensional, filling the room with the single chord, but the baritone bass notes shake something deep in my chest. “It’s spruce, rosewood from Madagascar, and inlayed with abalone, maple and koa,” he says. “You can tell the different sound with rosewood, huh?”

I’m not much of an audiophile, but I get the sense he has a highly discerning ear. I ask if he can tell what kind of wood a guitar is made from just by hearing it. Dan nods and replies almost sheepishly: “I can also hear the design and maybe tell you who made it.”

With this level of discernment, I have to ask, “what makes a guitar a keeper?”

“Well, half the fun is finding these old things.” He tells me they have to look good and sound good, of course.” But when someone shows interest, Dan has to be really attached to it to decline an offer. “I figure, why hold on to all of these? If someone else wants it more than me, I really need a reason not to sell.”

I can tell it’s not all business for him. He brags about guitars long-gone like you would about kids that have grown and gone off on their own. On cue, he produces a family album of sorts—a few binders of faded Polaroid prints (remember those?) of prior members of his collection.

So, I have to know, which piece out of this collection takes the cake? I ask “which one would you not sell for any price?” Opening the lid of the guitar case for one last slow, proud reveal, he says, “It’s a Schoenberg Koa Soloist. I still have the original receipt. It is one of five made. This one ain’t going anywhere.”