“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

Posted by Andrew Backover on

That happens to be one of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite songs, “Scarlet Begonias,” by the Grateful Dead.

I can’t explain why I love the Grateful Dead. I just connected with their music. My older brother introduced me to the Dead, giving me an early ‘80s bootleg that I listened to over and over during a long bus ride from Philly to Quebec for our eighth-grade French class trip. My brother introduced me to a lot of cool music – Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Naturally, given the songs in rotation on our turntable back then, I quickly developed a reverence for the guitar.


You need to start somewhere. My first guitar was an old Stella like this.

My mom took me for lessons at a little music store in suburban Philadelphia back in the late 1970s, my Stella Harmony sunburst acoustic in tow. While I never flourished as a guitar student, I was enamored with the gleaming guitar hanging on the shop wall. With a mesmerizing, fiery sunburst painted on its body, the guitar looked beautiful, inspiring and menacing all at once. That was my first view of a Gibson Les Paul.

The Stella would literally fall apart in our garage. I stopped playing guitar for 15 years before picking it up again after college. My interest grew over the next two decades – thanks to lessons, YouTube and strumming with friends. But, to this day, I am just a slightly-below-average player. When it comes to guitar, some people have "it" and I might not be one of them. But I love it all the same.

I play guitar for fun, mental health, stress relief and to meet and hang out with cool people. As I tell my wife, there are far worse mid-life crises I could pursue.

Of course, pursuit of quality gear can be affordable but I would not call it cheap. Therefore, I needed a professional career that could pay all the bills and hopefully leave a little left over for the occasional tube amp.

For the first half of my career, I was a journalist covering a wide range of news – from high school sports, to local government, economic development and financial news. For the second half of my career, I have designed and managed communications programs for large companies.

Through this website, https://smallaxemusic.com/, I hope to combine my personal passion for guitars with my professional passion for building relationships, communicating and storytelling. I have often read the saying: Do what you love, and love what you do. I am trying that.

I buy all sorts of stuff used. Cars, guitars, amps, pedals.


This is yet another one of my favorite lyrics from a song called St. Stephen by, you guessed it, the Grateful Dead.

I always say that my economic approach to life is simple: I buy used cars, and I play used guitars. I ride used motorcycles (and I even adopt pre-owned dogs). Some people need to drive a new car off the lot. That’s not me. I prefer to benefit from the depreciation and buy a quality, used car for a much lower price. I have the same approach when it comes to music gear.

Shameless dog photo alert. Perfectly good, used dogs. Bumper (back) and Chelsea (front), both adopted. Photo credit: Wendy Burton (she's an amazing photographer, family friend and dog lover).

Buying used allows me to play even better gear and still stay within my budget. It also allows me to sample gear spanning literally decades of technology, musical tastes and culture. Why pay $319 for a brand-new Vox AC4-TV when you can get a nearly new one for under $200? That’s my philosophy.

In addition, an unintended benefit for me has been the opportunity to meet many interesting and colorful owners of the equipment. Each piece has its own history, its own story. It usually starts with the with person who owned it.

Now, I am curating gear with a different audience in mind. All of you. I am really excited about it, and I hope I am up to the challenge.

I’d love to hear about your own personal journeys and pursuit of affordable tone. Feel free to comment below, and you can reach me at Andy@smallaxemusic.com.

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