“This guitar I like the most”, said Robert O’Bryant, showing me a thoroughly polished “3-color sunburst”
Fender Stratocaster. There was a bright collection of plucked string instruments just in front of me. It was a unique feeling to see the entire wall covered with various string instruments. I thought that this man had almost every type of string instrument. Certainly, guitars were the main part of the Rob’s collection. Acoustic and electric, they had various shapes and colors. Beside guitars some other plucked string instruments was presented there such as one twelve-string guitar, also called “dreadnought”, two ukuleles and one banjo.
I first met O’Bryant when I began my freshman’s year at Berkeley College in Midtown Manhattan. We went to the same computer class. In those days, I just moved from Russia and wasn’t acquainted with many people in America and precisely in New York. So, having a desire to find some friends, I swiftly took notice of a 27-year-old man, who sits next to me during the computer class. He had a brown hair, a little curved nose, fashionable glasses and permanent light smile on his face. We didn’t talk much. This was the real problem for me. It was difficult to find a topic which might interest him. Every our conversation went to the stalemate. Therefore, my efforts to know Robert better were greatly hampered by his indifference.
Nevertheless, I was totally surprised when one day during my way home I saw Robert playing the guitar in the park. This park was located near my college’s campus. Every day this place gathers live music lovers from the whole neighborhood. If you ask me, I frequently came there just to listen for buskers. Although, I couldn’t even imagine that one day I would study in the same class with one of these street musicians.
The moment I saw him there I got closer to him and then sat at the nearby bench, listening to his play. It’s not enough to say that he knew how to play. Certainly, he was a professional. The way he played was mesmerizing. After he finished, I got closer to him and said,
“Hey. You play well. I’ve never thought you are this kind of person”
“Man, this is amazing. Personally I’ve been playing for five years but in comparison my play sucks.”
“Show what you can”, he told me. I took his guitar and played the beginning of the “Staircase to Heaven.”
“Well. I see. On the whole it’s good but your left and right arm are put wrong. Who taught you?”
“I learned to play the guitar by myself.”
“Then, I am not surprised. Listen, you seem a good hardworking guy. So, if you wanna play better, come to my place this weekends and I’ll teach you some basic stuff.”
Robert O’Bryant lived in a small village Rockville Centre, a part of Long Island. His two-story house was not far from the train station. The place where he lived was a typical American suburb neighborhood. There were several rows of the same looking houses. Although, after I had entered his place, I realized that it was not as similar to another houses as I previously though standing outside. His string instruments collection made the house distinctive.
Robert O’Bryant was born in a small town called Port Washington, Long island. There he spent much of his childhood years. Not having many friends, he preferred spending a majority of his free time in his father’s room. He became hooked on guitar when he was a child. His father had an old acoustic guitar which he used to play in his youth. This guitar was a favorite Robert’s thing. “Although, its neck was crooked, I adore playing this guitar. Of course, in those days it was not serious. I merely played random chords and made some simple cacophony. Nevertheless, my father didn’t mind me to play his guitar”, he said.
In the age of eleven Robert started playing the guitar seriously. Once, when Robert was going back from school, his attention drew a group of buskers who played near the fountain in the park. Every time he went back from school he preferred to drop in the park to watch street musicians. Especially, he enjoyed watching how guitarists played. His attention took every move of their fingers across the neck. He wanted to play like they did. So, once he asked one familiar musician whether he could teach him how to play. The busker, who knew Rob for two years, was amazed by his aspiration to study and didn’t take much money for the lessons. Since then Robert spent virtually all of his pocket money on his new hobby.
After several years Rob became a professional guitar player. He began playing in public in the nearby park, even though his family was against it. They thought that such performances were not a good hobby for a teenager and that their son had to concentrate on his studies. To solve this problem Robert tried to persuade his parents that playing the guitar is just his hobby; he was not going to become a professional busker. His parents believed him but still were in a little doubt.
Once, after returning home from the park, he saw an acoustic guitar that lies near the fence. He couldn’t help passing by. So, he took the guitar to his place. There he rubbed it and changed strings. “When I took care of this guitar it turned to other appearance; it was shining. So, then, I thought why people just throwing out instruments that can still work well. I was disappointed and thought that it would be nice to collect these instruments.”
Since then Robert became fond of collecting string instruments. When he moved to his own apartment he received more space for his collection. In his free time he was walking through the town and distributing paper ads which said “if you have broken and/or old instruments – call…” On the whole, he didn’t receive many phone calls but there were some which he made use of. For example, once he received a call from one man who bought a new guitar and wanted to get rid of an old one because he was frequently moving from one place to another; therefore, this person wished to have as less things as possible. So, Robert helped this man by buying his old guitar. Even though the guitar was in the appropriate condition, after Robert took care of it, the guitar started to look as it was new.
Apart from obtaining and repairing old broken guitar he was also buying some rare and famous guitar. For example, by 19 years he had already had such guitars as Gibson’s “Les Paul”, “V-401FM” by ESP and Gibson’s double neck “EDS-1275”. Although, Robert has never forgotten his first instrument.
“I bought my first guitar when I was twelve. My parents raised me in very strict conditions. So, I had to save money by myself. I worked as a delivery courier during the whole July. I was really happy when I finally bought a used surf green electric guitar made by Squire”, said Robert while looking at the wall. After a while he caught sight of something, approached the wall and took one of his guitars from the stand. “Here it is, my first guitar. It is an important one in my collection”, said Robert. He sat down on a stool, strapped the guitar to his body and, for a while, was tuning his old guitar. When he finished tuning it he asked me whether I want to listen to his play. I said, “Sure. Why not?!” He held a breath for a second and then started moving his long bony fingers along the neck, playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and sometimes closing his eyes in the awe of bliss. I was motionlessly listening to his play. It was so beautiful that I can’t help applauding at the end, even though there were only two of us in the room.
Nowadays, Robert O’Bryant is obtaining an accounting degree in the Berkeley College. “We all live in a real world, man… So, I perfectly know that if I wanna treat my hobby seriously, I have to invest money in it. That’s why I need a decent job to raise money to support myself. Horses for courses”, said Robert. According to Robert, in the future he is planning to start working in the banking. He believes that this might be a good source of income, which will allow him to go on increasing his collection with expensive guitars.
Nevertheless, he perfectly understands that sometime he will have to stop increasing his collection. According to him, he won’t have enough space to fit all the instruments. I offered him that it’s possible to put some of the guitars in another room. However, he rejected my idea, asserting that “his home is not a museum”.
Regarding the future of the collection, Robert confessed to me that he has never thought what he will do with it then. “Man, I have no idea what I am gonna do with it. Maybe, I will keep it or I will donate it to a good person. Who know? … These instruments make me happy every day. So, I don’t mind if one day they will bring happiness to somebody else”, he said.
— Daniel Besedovsky
Clicks, Chicks. Dicks.