Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fender Contempo Combo Organ

I’s not a guitar. But it is made by Fender and, like most of the things I write about, it’s no longer in my possession. Fender got into the combo organ business to complement their already popular Fender Rhodes business and produced the Contempo from 1967-1971. I won’t try to get into the history of these or describe the sound other than it fits right in there with Farfisas and Vox Continentals. There is plenty on the internet about these keyboards. The significance of this particular instrument is that it’s the very musical instrument that made me open an eBay account and basically begin my downfall as a guitar owner.

One Sunday I headed the 20 miles towards San Diego and paid my $1.75 and entered Kobey’s Swap Meet, held at the now antiquated San Diego Sports Arena. There are always a few guitars of at least some interest and a couple of pedals if you’re lucky, so it’s usually worth the trip.

Last time I went down there I missed a silverface Vibro Champ for $20 by about 26 seconds. Doh!

Anyway, I walked into the Swamp Meet and within 5 minutes came across this Fender Contempo combo organ. Hmmmmm. “Does it work?” The guy shrugs. “Have you tested it?” The guy shrugs. Shrugs? That’s not even a correct response. Oh, wait. He doesn’t speak English. Okay, how much? “Twenny dolers.” SOLD.

I’m not sure why, but the law of averages at a Swap Meet are that, if you are going to find something really cool, it’s going to be heavy and it’s going to be within the first 5 minutes of arriving so that you have to carry the damn thing around with you if you want to keep going. Otherwise it’s a trip all the way back to the car to put it away, and that wastes valuable swap meet time. Today I opt for taking it back to the car. I didn’t really find anything else of interest that day except for one guy who had a sign that read “Going out for business.” Shouldn’t everyone there be going out FOR business?

I get the Contempo home and plug it in, jack it into my amp and, voila!, it works. Amazing. Now, I’m a guitar player, and this was just slightly before I had some decent recording gear, so now what to do with it? It seemed really cool, but if I sold it for what it’s worth, maybe I could get another guitar! That’s the ticket.

At this point I had heard of eBay, but didn’t know much about it. I cautiously signed up for an account and went through the hoops and finally, a few days later, I’m all set up and ready to go. Of course, if you’ve sold much on eBay, you figure out all the tricks and best ways to title things to get the most views. I did my best, got it listed, and waited. It sold for a slightly disappointing $300, though I’m not sure how much I actually thought it would go for. I probably thought I had the rarest thing ever produced. But nevertheless, the thing sold and I was going to get something guitar related with the money. What I didn’t realize is that something that heavy and fragile was going to cost an arm and a leg to ship. It took about eight thousand feet of bubble wrap to make me feel comfortable and the most frankenstein of all cardboard boxing to hold it all together. When I finally got the UPS bill I realized that I had undercharged for shipping by about $80. Although I still made a tidy little profit on the thing, it didn’t get me nearly as much guitar money as I had envisioned. What it did do was get me going on eBay and basically heading me in the general direction of each and every one of these stories.

Of course, now that I’ve geared up with a nice digital 16-track at home and a small handful of cool gadgets to record with, I can look back at the Fender Contempo and say...”Man, I wish I had that one back.”


Anonymous said...

In the 80's the keyboard player in our band in San Diego played a Fender Contempo Organ......he moved and left it with me...I traded it for a transmission from a local guitar shop on El Cajon blvd...I believe the one you bought at the swamp meet is that had the same scrape mark on the was complete with legs...and pedal..we recorded with it and could get really cool horn sounds out of it.....(sax..trumpet ect.)Sometimes he pushed it too hard with the bass and we called it the 'Fog Horn'....but really cool none the less.

Anonymous said...