Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Les Paul Special and Fender Strat

Submitted by Wade Tam

I’ve got a story about my first two real electric guitars whose stories are intertwined, so here goes it. A few years ago, I was living and teaching in New York City and, during one of my free summers, I was hit by the music bug to join a band and start playing guitar. I had always toiled a bit with an old acoustic that my godmother had given to me as a gift, but, being a piano player, I never truly mastered the instrument. Well, this time around I walked into the famed Manny’s Music on 48th Street and was simply amazed by the stunning array of guitars adorning their walls.

There were hundreds of shiny, beautiful Fenders, Gibsons, Ibanezes, Rickenbackers, and everything else that just shouted, “BUY ME, NOW!” to an unassuming young teacher like me. I had come in a few days before and had purchased a Squier Affinity Strat, but, dissatisfied with my choice, I came back to find a better guitar. With a friend in tow (who I had dragged out with me . . . and he was on vacation), I finally decided on a MIM Fender Satin Stratocaster. It was an absolutely stunning guitar—gunmetal blue satin finish, rosewood fretboard, black pickguard, and the reassuring “Fender” logo on the headstock. The guitar looked mean, but played like a dream . . . even my impatient friend commented, “That guitar is just bad-ass.” Well, I took that guitar home proudly and played it every night through a Fender 85 and BOSS DS-1 pedal (with a few complaints from my neighbors . . . they would return the favor with God-awful gangsta rap).

A year after I purchased my Fender, I was venturing downtown when I stumbled into 30th Street Guitars, a little hole in the wall that is stocked with an awesome collection of vintage guitars and gear (if you’re ever in New York, check this place out . . . the owner is pretty damn cool and has the best prices around) [ed.note: WILL DO!]. I didn’t mean to buy anything that day until a 1996 Gibson Les Paul Special in cherry red stared straight at me and begged me to be played.

Well, I took it off the wall, plugged in, and lo and behold, we had a winner.

The guitar played amazingly, had a fantastic punch for rock and a glassy tone for jazz from its P-100s (wannabe P-90s that are configured like humbuckers), and looked like Bob Marley’s Les Paul Special. I was hooked and the price was right . . . $600. I put a down payment on the guitar and did some research at home; many people disliked the P-100s, but I found an endearing, warm, and diverse quality about them . . . you could play almost anything with that guitar.

A few days later, I made the decision to buy the guitar, but unfortunately at the sacrifice of my beloved Fender Satin Strat. I walked into the store with my Strat in one hand and my tax refund in the other and bought the Les Paul. I would play that Les Paul until I moved back to the Bay Area and JetBlue (damn those guys) refused to allow me to take my Les Paul as a carry-on and checked it into baggage claim. You can guess what happened . . . they snapped the headstock clean off the guitar. I eventually had it repaired, but the guitar never played or sounded the same, and I sold it some country picker in Berkeley for $350.

Man, those were two fantastic guitars I wish I had back . . . . I guess we live and learn as now I have a nice 2008 Tele, a Gibson Advanced Jumbo, and a Seagull S6 that I won’t give up.

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