Each week I set out in a new direction to combine my knowledge with that of the many whom I find usually know significantly more than I do. The guitar world seems to be ever-expanding, almost limitless, and around each corner there appears to be another opinion, a different style and an entirely new perspective. Through my research of guitar bodies, tone woods, sound holes and tension rods, I’ve quickly become aware that I’m nowhere close to deserving of the title of ‘expert.’ Article after article, video after video, I spend a lot of time skimming through a ton of information. I’ve learned, however, there’s a few articles worth reading start to finish and videos worth watching beginning to end. The man I’d like to highlight today is a man who has seemed to master his craft and contributes more than he likely intends to my work. I’d like to tell you about Tony Polecastro.
Tony’s first addiction was Hockey, letting it become an obsession throughout his entire childhood. As a teenager, he hit a wall, burning out on the sport, and like most adolescents he sought out a new hobby. His Father first taught him how to handle a guitar and Castro quickly found his new fix. After watching countless videos and reading about Tony’s experiences, it’s become clear why I’m so drawn to his content.
Castro explains in an interview how he’s reached this point in his career, and his response is not what you’d hear from a famous musician, a seasoned luthier or an avid collector. Tony is a teacher at heart, and it’s what drives him to do what he does. The only thing that matches his desire to teach his students is his desire to learn more about his craft. With his estimated 500 or so students, his hope is that each walks out the door with the same knowledge and ambition that he has for the acoustic guitar, from bracing to reverb and everything in between, and the same drive to give back what's been given to them.
Tony’s first experience with teaching was more of an accident. When a substitute teacher didn’t show up for a beginner's bluegrass flat picking class, Tony was asked if he could teach the class, and he nervously accepted. The response he got from students gave him his first taste of what many teachers yearn for. Seeing his students excited to share what they’ve learned was all Tony needed to make teaching a part of his life indefinitely.
Along with his drive to teach, Tony wanted to learn. His first exposure to what goes into the making of a guitar and the importance of it’s construction was during his time working at Weber Mandolins. Being one of the most informative and educational times of his career, Tony quickly became addicted to the detail and attention put into the making of an instrument long before it ever finds the hands of a new or experienced musician. Like it does for many of us, learning about tone woods, the difference between maple and spuce, how humidity effects wood, acoustics, what have you, Tony jumped head first into the world of the acoustic guitar and has yet to so signs of slowing.
Polecastro’s first musical interests and inspirations were in heavy metal. As his new passion matured, so did his appreciation for a wide variety of genres. His focus broadened to include nearly all categories with a special fondness for bluegrass with their established tribute to the use of instruments in their raw, unplugged form. While Tony spent years admiring The Beatles, The Doors and the like, he seemingly has his ears listening for musicians who instead of changing an instrument to match their style, seek out instruments that naturally fit with their music. Tony names John Fahey and Kelly Joe Phelps as just a couple that impress him with their ability to handle of a guitar.
Perhaps what pushes a natural teacher to choose the guitar as his obsession, both privately and publicly, is his belief that music is both perpetual and inside each and every one of us. “...Music is within us all,” Tony says. “We just have to tap into it.”
Being previously completely submerged in the guitar world, Tony Polecastro decided to make a change to his busy guitar world and narrow his focus. His project now is Acoustic Life, a YouTube production that features all things guitars for his swelling audience while leaving an ample amount of time for his family and students. Topics range from interviews with Andy Powers of Taylor Guitars to finger picking techniques for beginners and everything in between. If you've got a curiosity about anything involving the acoustic guitar, there's a good chance it's been touched on by Tony and his team at Acoustic Life.
As a beard wearer, my initial views may be partial, but I would understand if the average first impression of Tony’s appearance is less than accepting. With a bit of patience and a minute or two of his legitimate diction, however, it’s easy to see why he has the following he does. In a time when content is key, there’s nothing lacking in that department. As I type, I’m making a conscious effort not to create an advertisement for the man, but I’m not sure I have a choice in the matter. I love the acoustic guitar and found a guy who’s passion is to share his knowledge with me and to push me to do the same, so advertise I will.
I’ve spent a good deal of time sitting in music stores, some I’m more proud to have been in than others, and I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear that not every trip is a great one. While I don’t expect everyone to share my opinions, I do expect people, musicians especially, beginners and acclaimed alike, to give respect where it’s due. The specific situation I’ve painted in this picture is the handling of a high end guitar. Seeing an individual trying to finger out their first chord on a five thousand dollar guitar makes me grit my teeth as much as watching someone grab the most expensive guitar they can reach and not appreciate half of what makes that guitar what it is. When I watch Polecastro’s videos, both Tony and his guests have a consistent level of acknowledgement and civility when handling the instruments they’re presenting. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s aspects like this that keep me tuned in from intro to closing screen.
So, you might ask why I’m writing about this man today, and the answer for me is simple. It’s both an effort to share a resource of this great combination of knowledge and passion with my readers, who likely share at least one interest with me, but also to thank Mr. Polecastro for his continuing hard work, as it’s making an impact world-wide. Even with my projects for Heartbreaker Guitars in Las Vegas, nearly all of the guitars and topics I choose to feature have been talked about briefly or reviewed in full by Tony. Our paths cross more often than not in my work and I hope they continue to. Thanks for sharing your passion, Tony.