Sunday, March 30, 2008

Guyatone Double-Neck Lap Steel


What's better than a lap steel? A double-neck lap steel, of course. Well, unless you can't play either one of them. But how cool is this thing? When it comes to adding interesting sounds to recordings, I love to monkey around on a lap steel. Throw a big reverb on there or a tremolo pedal and you've got some really interesting flavors. I can't tell you how many lap steels I've bought and sold. A few I've found at local swap meets...that's the best because you usually get it for super cheap and then you've truly got a cool little toy to play with. Once I found a really cool Dickerson lap steel and matching amp from the late '40s in sort of a dark greenish-gray pearloid in excellent condition at a thrift store in San Clemente, CA. I actually traded that in on the bigger chunk of the price of a Strat.

But a couple of times I've decided I really needed a lap steel and ended up paying regular price for one on eBay. One of those times was this time...the time I ended up with not one, but two necks of lap steel. I was combing through the ads on eBay and happened to come across this Guyatone. Guyatone made some really nice quality stuff...and they also made some marginal stuff. This one was one of the higher end items that copied some of the nicer USA made instruments from the '70s and earlier. I liked the fact that it had legs and could be set up in my little home studio to be ready at a moment's notice. Plus, I liked that it wasn't a pedal steel...I wouldn't know what the heck to do with that. But with two necks I could have it set up in a couple of different tunings and not have to goof around with it too much. What I failed to remember is that I can't really play slide guitar with any proficiency anyway, so what good is two different tunings going to do?

I bid pretty conservatively and ended up winning, to my surprise. Shipping was a hefty chunk and when it arrived I realized why. This thing weighed a ton.

It came with it's original case, which had seen better days...lots of better days.

But it worked. Like they say over at Redneckwordsofwisdom.com, if you can't fix it with duct tape, you ain't using enough duct tape. Everything worked perfectly and I immediately got busy goofing around and recording a few things. I came to the conclusion, however, that keeping it set up in my small studio took up a lot more room than I anticipated. I headed over to Home Depot and bought some little rubber bumpers and put on the 4 bottom corners. This allowed it to set comfortably and safely on my counter top while in use.

About a year after I bought this, I had to dismantle my little home studio space. I had enclosed an area in the garage with actual walls, and when the homeowner's association spied the space in the garage, they made me tear it out. Don't you just love meddling neighbors? So, I really had no space for the Guyatone and I put it back on eBay. It was a bear to pack back up and ship, but again, duct tape is my friend. That and about a quarter ton of bubble wrap. I'd love to have this one back given the space requirements. It was a really cool instrument, not to mention a great conversation starter amongst visiting musician friends.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fender '51 Precision Bass Reissue


I am a guitar player. I am a guitar player. I am a guitar player. What's going on you ask? Why does he keep repeating the same thing over and over again? It's because I have to keep reminding myself what it is that I do. For some reason I keep going out and buying mandolins and keyboards and basses and, lately, DRUMS. Why? I just sell them in the end. The truth is that I like to have this stuff around to record with. I can throw a quick, albeit sloppy, bass line down so I can hear remotely how it's going to sound. Keyboards? Well, it's fun to try to add strings and Hammond B-3 organ sounds to just about anything. Mandolin? If you've read previous entries here you already know how embarrassed I am about that. Drums? Don't get me started.

This was a very nice bass. It's definitely not a Squier picked up for cheap to pretend to play on recordings. This is the real deal. And you know what? That probably explains why I sold it. I do have this thing...this complex...about not being good enough for some of the equipment I end up with. And I feel guilty and I sell it to someone who "deserves it" more than I do.

There is no reason in the world for me to own a nice bass.

A $65 Memphis P-bass copy from the late '70s is bass enough for me. Currently I own a black Squier P-bass that I picked up at the Swap Meet for a mere $45. And it plays great and looks pretty good too...well, now that I sprung for the black pickguard to make it look a little less "Made in Korea."

So what about this '51 Reissue? Man, what a nice instrument. I've said it before (just yesterday) and I'll say it again...the Japanese Fenders are the best. They are my favorite. They always "feel" right. I'm no bass expert (but I play one on TV...yuck, yuck), but if I were to buy another good, quality bass, this is what I'd look for. First of all, I love the classic styling. How much more iconic does it get? There is this bass, a sunburst Strat, and a blonde Tele with a black pickguard. There are your three Fender icons. It features a single coil pickup, which probably scares some "real" bassists off. I know the bassist in my band looked a little skeptical when I first pulled it out of the case. But after a few minutes plugged in, he was converted. I know from reading on the internet that a lot of people replace the stock pickup with a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder (I think that's the one), but I left mine stock. The only thing I changed on mine was the cheap black plastic pickguard. I don't know if it was the same as the one from '51, but it just seemed flimsy and cheap to me and I couldn't get past it. I replaced it with a 3-ply BWB pickguard and was much happier. That 3-ply black pickguard always reminds me of Springsteen and his Tele, even on a bass.

This one was a casualty of the black Ehlers Jumbo mission I was on (see below a couple of posts) and I sold it to a dealer who was looking around on Craig's List. He was actually thinking about keeping it for himself, but that could have been a story...as if it mattered to me anyway. If I had the luxury of affording a nice bass I would definitely buy another one of these. If you are looking around yourself, see if you can find one. Maybe not as versatile as some basses, but when it comes down to it, you're just supposed to be back there holding the song together, making me sound good up front. Now do your job!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'72 Reissue Telecaster Thinline Daphne Blue


This is the guitar I thought I always wanted. Maybe I should end the story with just that one line. It says a lot, especially given the theme of this site. You already know I don't own it any longer. So, if it's the guitar I thought I always wanted, why is it a goner?

I should start with why it's the guitar I always wanted. First and foremost I'm a Tele guy. I've always loved Telecasters. My first decent electric was a Tele, bought in Tulsa, OK from Larry Briggs before he became the "Texas Guitar Shows" guy. He used to have a little dirty, musty smelling guitar store called Strings West that I used to go wander around in and just marvel at what was stacked up on top of each other and crammed into corners and hidden behind other weird stuff. There was actually a pawn shop next door that specialized in guitar gear too, but when it came time to buy a guitar, I went to see Larry. I picked out a MINT 1974 Telecaster that was see through yellowish blonde with a white pick guard. After handing me the guitar the phone rang. Larry sat on the phone with the customer the whole time I was deciding whether or not to pay $400 for the guitar. I finally nodded to him, indicating I'd take it. He turned back to the phone and said, "Well, he's going to buy it. I'll keep my eye out for another one. Thanks Billy." Turns out it was Billy Squier on the phone. Thus began my long love affair with Telecasters.

Somewhere along the line, once I moved to San Diego way back in 1987, I ended up in a little shop that was attached to a rehearsal studio complex.

The guy had some great guitars and many years later we found out that about 95% of them were stolen.

He was taking them in for repairs at another location and them selling them at this other shop. Anyway, one night he had an early '70s sunburst Telecaster Thinline with the white mother of pearl pickguard. I messed around with that guitar for a long time and ended up with a thing for Thinlines. I just love the F-hole and it kind of fit right in with a sort of western aesthetic that I like in guitars.

Over time I also became a big fan of the Fender custom color Sonic Blue. So, fast forward to about 2002, and Fender announces a limited edition of custom color '69 and '72 Reissue Thinlines to be made in Mexico. There was a Daphne Blue, Lake Placid Blue, Candy Apple Red, Surf Green and Shell Pink. Well, Daphne Blue is really close to Sonic Blue and I figured this was as close as I was going to get. Most people wouldn't know the difference anyway...I mean how many people you work with would know the difference between Sonic Blue and Daphne Blue or would even know what the hell you're talking about at all. You guitar weirdo freak.

So, I buy the guitar off a guy on eBay and it's supposedly new and mint. It arrived packed fairly well in the gig bag it's supposed to come with. I pull the guitar out and there are two large chips in the back of the guitar. Inside the gig bag are two large chips of paint. Like puzzle pieces. I emailed the guy and he had no explanation...and no offer of a refund. What I learned by examining those chips is how THICK the paint job was on this guitar. It also seemed really heavy for a Thinline. I've owned a few previously, including a '74 natural wood with two humbuckers and a '71 custom color black with standard single coils (MAN! I wish I had that one back). So, I know when a Thinline feels heavy. It was one of those guitars you just never connect with and you know is doomed from the start. It also really made me think twice (but not three times) about buying guitars on eBay...guitars you can't hold in your hands and play and fall in love with or know that they are heavy and thick painted and sound marginal at best.

I hung onto it for as long as I could. But eventually reality set in that ignoring this guitar was not going to make it sound or feel any better. I finally took the photos you see here and listed it back on eBay and sold it for about what I paid. It's not a guitar I wish I had back, but I do think it would be nice to have a good Sonic Blue Telecaster Thinline...made in the custom shop with maybe a light relic to it. Now that would be nice.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ehlers Jumbo Model 17


This is the guitar that I most recently sold and the guitar that made me think in different ways about how much is too much to spend on a guitar. I had owned some nice guitars in the past...a '71 Telecaster Thinline in custom color black, a Martin D-41, a Gibson Dove from the late 70's that I've written about. But when I bought those the price tag was still maybe only a little over $1000. And that was a NICE guitar. The first time I walked in Buffalo Brothers in Carlsbad, CA I didn't know what I was in for. As I've mentioned before, they have a way of convincing you that $3000 or much more is not all that much when it comes to an instrument that you are going to be intimate with.

They have a downstairs, which is filled with their more reasonably priced guitars, all of their cool electric guitars and a few other odds and ends. Resonators, 12-strings, and other stuff. But, upstairs is where it's at. Upstairs contains enough fine wood to get any true guitaraholic very excited. As it turns out, an old friend of mine runs the fine guitar department there and he was gracious enough to give me a tour of the place and trust me to pick up and play whatever I wanted. He pointed me in the direction of some nice Goodalls and some gorgeous Collings and some of the higher end Martins. There are also the Froggy Bottoms and Huss & Daltons. But the guitar that got my attention was a black jumbo hand crafted by a guy named Robert Ehlers. Most of the nice guitars they have would never be stained with black lacquer as that would cover up the beautiful wood. However, Rob is not afraid to make some interesting wood and detail choices.

I picked up this guitar and strummed it once and knew I would eventually be leaving with it.

It has the best bass of any acoustic I've ever played. I sat and played and played this guitar until my friend eventually came walking back around the corner and took one look and said, "Ah, you found an Ehlers."

I left the store that day figuring out how I was going to get $3000 together to buy that guitar. The thought had never struck me before that I would or could be willing to pay that much for one guitar. That guitar is responsible for many of the stories on this blog. The ones that say, "I sold it to pay for another guitar." It was probably this one. I sold a lot of guitars to finance this one.

As I was trying to figure out how to get it my dad happened to be in town. I needed to go by Buffalo Brothers to pick up some strings, so he came in with me and I gave him the tour. He's quite a music fan and is certainly interested enough in guitars at least as much as he can appreciate them and their stories and loves the fact that I'm into them. We walked through the store and I pointed out the various brazilian rosewoods and the spruce and the cedar and he finally said, "You know, the one I like the best is that black one hanging over there."

It was the Ehlers. It was a sign. We all need a sign sometimes. This was mine. It was meant to be. All the other guitars in my closet became unimportant right then and the mission was on. On the day that I actually went and paid the last of my three payments that I had arranged I walked out the door with the nicest guitar I had ever laid my eyes on. It was mine. I played that guitar for a couple of years and enjoyed it heck out of it. Got a lot of compliments on it. But then something happened. I got the opportunity to buy an even more special guitar. Something hand made especially for me to my very specs. But it was going to cost me. And you know what happened next. As tough as it was, the Ehlers Jumbo went on the chopping block.

When you try to sell something as specialized as an Ehlers...a guitar built by a guy who only makes about 36 guitars a year at most...you should be prepared to hang in there for awhile. It's kind of like the housing market these days. Someone is eventually going to come along that is going to love this guitar and want it as bad as you do. I listed it locally to begin with and actually had some serious interest. But nothing worked out. Finally I put it on eBay and sure enough someone back east fell just as in love with it as I did. I felt good that it was going to a good home and actually felt bad as I packed it up. It had been a new era of guitar buying for me.

So now it's gone and in a perfect world I wish I had that one back. But it was too much money to just sit on and not play. It had it's purpose and fate and I've moved on. Sniff. Sniff.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fender Contempo Combo Organ


I know...it’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.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Squier Venus 12-String


Probably the most interesting thing about this guitar is how it arrived. I had decided I wanted a 12-string electric guitar and didn’t want to spend the money to get a Ricky and didn’t want to take a chance on a Danelectro reissue. I came across this Squier Venus 12-string, which is also sometimes known as a Courtney Love model...reason enough to not own one! These were made in Japan as part of the higher end “Vista Series” Squiers.

It actually played really well, though a friend of mine later owned one and didn’t have the same good luck on playability. I liked the seafoam green classic Fender color, which was the rarer color combo on these, and it looked nice with the matching headstock. I believe it was also offered in black and sunburst. I found that I didn’t really have as much use for a 12-string as I thought...my original intent was to use it for recording to give a little different layered sound.

Now the frustrating/interesting/significant part of the story is how this guitar arrived. I had bought a "few" things on eBay and had mixed results with the packing jobs people provided. When I have sold guitars on eBay I have packed them so that if a nuclear (pronounced “nu-cue-lar”) bomb landed on the UPS store, my package would probably survive. Some people don’t have the same theory. They just throw fine musical instruments in the box with some newspapers and toilet paper and hope for the best. Oh, I would have been happy with that on this one.

After completing my purchase (within 5 minutes of the end of the auction), I sent the seller a polite email detailing the trouble I’d had in the past, and I practically begged him to pack the guitar very safely. I was assured that, although it had already been packed, it was done very well and I should have no worries. I felt relieved. Imagine my horror when, 5 days later, the package arrived and I could physically feel a large object bouncing around inside.

I opened the box and was somewhat shocked to see the guitar with no case or packing materials of any kind (or even toilet paper), freely banging around in the oversize box.

It had come from Michigan to San Diego this way and I can’t even imagine how many times it was tossed around from loading dock to truck to conveyor belt to large canvas bin and back to more trucks as it made it’s journey across this great land of ours. I pulled it out of the box fully expecting to also have to tip the box up and pour out the extra broken parts. Again, to my surprise, there were no broken parts. In fact, as I gave the guitar a strum it was pretty much in tune except for one string. As it turned out, the seller was right...it was packed safely.

I can’t really say I’d like to have this one back. I think I learned my lesson about 12-string electrics. I mean, I don’t think I’d turn down a free Rickenbacker (anyone, anyone, Bueller?), but I don’t think I’ll be seeking anything like this for a long time. But, the memory of useless guitars is a lot like childbirth. After awhile you forget about the pain and somehow you end up with another one.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Eastman MD-515 Mandolin


Like a lot of guitar players, I THINK I want to play mandolin. I’ve owned about 4 mandolins over time, and I always end up selling them when reality sets in that, if I’m going to take the time to learn to play the mando, I should just use that time to be a better guitar player.

Of the four mandolins I’ve owned, this is the one I wish I had back. I was looking at mandos at Buffalo Brothers one day and the guy who runs their mando department started telling me about Eastmans. I picked one up and the sound was amazing, and the price was very reasonable for what it was. Eastman is an instrument company from China that builds mandolins, violins, archtop and flat top guitars, and maybe something else...I don’t know. But the quality of all of their instruments is astounding.

Most people have some pretty negative feelings about most things made in China these days, and rightly so. However, Eastman is sort of the cream of the crop of instrument builders in that country, and the workers take great pride in their craftsmanship (No lead in this mando!). But, because it’s China, the prices are much lighter on the pocket book than something like a Gibson or a Collings.

The lowest end model they make is the 515, and it was the only one under $1000. That’s the one I picked up, knowing that if I got hooked, at least it would be the cheapest model. I picked it up, strummed a few chords, and I was hooked. As a comparison I played a few other $3000 mandolins on the wall and I have to say that the $899 Eastman blew them away. Not as fancy, but sound is what is important, right? I’m not always the best at following through on that theory, but in this case it was a no brainer. I owned this mando for about a year or so and came to that inevitable realization that I’m not a mando player and never will be (although I currently own one for some reason). It went on eBay to help finance whatever was next on the list, and I can truly say, man, I wish I had that one back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Electra Hollowbody Bass


I’ll just be honest up front...I’m not sure I can whole-heartedly say that I wish I had this one back. However, it was definitely a very cool bass. Some people love instruments based on the way they sound, and the way they sound only. Or just the way they feel when you play them. I fall into a slightly different category. I am definitely concerned with how an instrument sounds and plays (otherwise I would have never sold this one), but I’m also very into the way an instrument looks. I have a feeling that more guitar players base their decisions on the way a guitar looks as much as I do, but no one really wants to admit it. I know people will say, “Well, I prefer certain colors over others, but I would never let that be the final factor in buying a guitar.”

I would.

I would not buy a natural wood Stratocaster with a black pickguard. Oddly, I would definitely buy a Telecaster with a natural wood body and a black pickguard. In fact, I would prefer it. I wouldn’t want any color of Les Paul except a gold top. Even if you gave me one. I’d just sell it and put the money towards the gold top. Or an orange Gretsch Nashville with the cool western inlays on the neck. But not a red Gretsch or a white one.

So, I decided that it would “look” really cool to have a hollowbody bass. I couldn’t really afford a nice old Gretsch or a real Gibson, so I sat down at the computer, started searching eBay and came across this 70s Japanese copy made by Electra. It was an exact copy of an old Gibson and I figured it would probably sound pretty decent. A lot of the Japanese copies from that era sound as good or better than the American instruments they are copying. Unfortunately, this was not the case with this bass.

The story was good though and I got sucked in. A lady was selling this bass that her recently deceased husband had owned for many years. It had sat in the closet for the last ten and was “in mint condition” according to the description. Original case and everything. Sweet! Just what I was looking for.

So, if you’ve ever bought anything on eBay you know the feeling...you get all excited about buying something, you bid and wait, and then, if you’re lucky enough to win, you get all excited again because you won. Victory! And then you wait. Some people are great about sending stuff right out and some people send things out when it’s convenient. And they pack it in ways I would never consider packing an instrument. That’s a different subject.

Finally the day arrives and I get the bass and pull it out of the package and...hmmmm...one of the pickups doesn’t work. Hmmmm...the jack is funky. Hmmmmm...it’s not really mint condition at all. And it’s going to cost me more money just to get it up and running. Disappointment. Two weeks and a little over $100 later I have the bass back from the repair shop over at Buffalo Brothers and decide to use it to record with. Wow, that’s some lame tone. Not much at all to be happy with. Now (already) it’s decision time. It has been a very rare occasion that I’ve bought an instrument and lost money on it. In fact, I’ve been pretty good at finding things for bargains and turning them around for a profit. This one was destined to be different. I decided to bite the bullet, take some new photos, and list it back on eBay with a fair and honest description. And a much lower price tag than I’d prefer. So, this one didn’t work out and it made me stop and think about how much I base my decisions on visuals. I’ll never stop allowing aesthetics to influence my decisions, but I’ll never allow them to completely rule a decision either. I can honestly say, man, I don’t wish I had that one back.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Guest Story: 70's Telecaster by Tim Penn


I got an email from across the pond from someone named Tim Penn who has a blog called
The Knackered Hack. He had read The Ones That Got Away and wanted to share his story about wanting to get his early 70's Telecaster back. I have edited a little to fit my format. Here is his story:

I sold a blonde Fender Telecaster to fund my 1986 language trip to Leningrad. How sensible of me! I came back with a huge weight of Russian poetry (books and records), iconography reference works, and some opera records — the glue in those record sleeves emitting some of the worst smells I’ve ever owned. Oh, and I came back with lots of pictures of Viktor Tsoi, thanks to my Nikon FM and the fact that I’d loaded up with a decent amount of cheap, quality film courtesy of the geeks in the university Photography Society.

Well, there comes a time in every blog’s gestation that it attempts to monetize, and here is mine. In a lot of other blogs you’ll see the option to leave a tip, buy a coffee, a beer or a cocktail. I can take care of those on my own, thank you. But what I really need is to get my Fender Telecaster back.

This is more than a simple loss. The guitar I sold in 1985-6 for £190 was an early ’70s vintage maple-necked beauty, and quite possibly older, though definitely not pre-CBS (if you know what I mean). Where I live, there is a problem for the middle-aged man, and it is a shop called Vintage & Rare Guitars. I’m finding genes are switching on that I thought I either did not contain or that were well under the control of some higher moral fibre. But I know myself too well. I also know that ownership of a Fender Telecaster is probably going to mean not playing it much. So, yes, this is an entirely materialistic vanity project. Rather than keep it to myself, like a sensible mid-lifer should do, I thought I’d share it and engage you all, my small readership, in my quiet, hopeful quest.

Crowdsourcing is the new new thing. And while I’m not expecting you, my readers, to give me anything, by six degrees of separation I think some of you might know someone who might know someone who knows a Russian hedge fund millionaire. If we can just prevail on their guilt for long enough to get their wallet out, they might toss a small sop into my PayPal begging hat that.

It’s good to have an excuse to present an iconic image, and the Fender Telecaster is an iconic object. It was the first solid-bodied electric guitar. Launched in 1950-1 as the Broadcaster, it was the AK47 of the garage musician. When Chris Anderson talks in his book The Long Tail about the electric guitar democratizing music for the pop revolution, and in effect randomizing the path from musical obscurity to fame and success, I imagine it is the Telecaster more than any other guitar — even Fender’s possibly more iconic Stratocaster — that he is thinking about.

Now, mine originally cost me £210, on which I made a loss. If I wander into Vintage & Rare Guitars today I can find one similar, although in rougher condition, for just short of £4,000. Ouch. If I indulge in a little fantasy and think mine was really a late ’60s model (possible, though less likely) I’m out of pocket more than £6k; the one below sold recently from an advertised price of £6,850.

What’s more, I made the mistake (due to lack of funds and too much homework) of not buying a real amp for the thing, which is why I never really got round to playing it much. Of course, if you bought a Fender Telecaster in 1985-6 in Kettering for around £210 — blonde, white scratch plate with a slightly loose G-string — I’ll give you £210 for it. Do the right thing, won’t you? I’m feeling rather guilty about this conspicuous begging, even though it happens to be my birthday today. And you can’t blame a guy for not wanting another set of G-clamps. -- Tim Penn

Anyone Reading This Thing?

Hey, if you are reading this blog leave me a message. Let me know. Love ya. Peace out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fender MIJ Telecaster

The second I saw this one pop up on eBay I knew it would be mine. I have a thing for Japanese Telecasters, especially the 50’s reissues made in 1996. This was the third I have owned, the other two both being Sonic Blue, my favorite Fender custom color of all time. The 1996 models are Fender 50th anniversary models and have a little gold sticker on the back of the headstock letting you know. I don’t think they are really any different than any other year in that vicinity, but for some reason I know I can count on them feeling EXACTLY how I like a Telecaster to feel.

As I searched one night through the Telecasters online, I came across this one, and as I’ve explained before, I have no problem falling in love with the way a guitar looks as much as the way it plays. I figure you can always replace the pickups or tweak the neck or whatever, but you just can’t fabricate vibe. The instant I saw this one, with the original 50s Italian water decal pin-up girl and the little metal Saks 5th Avenue plate on the back of the neck, I knew I would be bidding and bidding more than I should. Sure enough, I got into a bit of a bidding war at the end, but prevailed with a last second bid that was way more from the heart than the brain...or the bank. It was pretty beat up for a guitar that was only about 6 years old, but why pay an extra $1500 for a Fender Custom Shop Relic when you can have this for $500?

The guitar played great and sounded like a Tele should. The stock pickups and hardware on the Japanese Teles always seem to work just fine for me. I admit I’m not as discerning as Brad Paisley or Eric Johnson when it comes to these things, but I know when it sounds like crap, and these never do. This one would be a great one to have back because it’s not expensive in the scheme of things and it’s a darn serviceable guitar. In fact, I might just have to keep on the lookout for another one of these when I can afford it. Maybe back to Sonic Blue. But I never should have let this one out the door...man, I wish I had that one back!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yairi Alvarez DY58 Nine String


Uh, yes, that DOES say nine string. Kind of like half a 12-string. Sort of.

When I first moved to California in 1987 I didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t have much for guitars. I did have a 1984 Ovation Collector’s Series guitar which, at the time, I was pretty proud of. I didn’t know too much about the guitar stores in my area, so one day on my day off I decided to drive around and see what was within driving distance. I ended up in Escondido, which is about 20 minutes from where I lived. There was an okay looking music store on the corner downtown and I parked and walked in. I quickly spied something I had never seen before and then didn’t see again for about 17 years. A nine-string guitar. WHAT YOU SAY? It looked like a normal dreadnought at first glance, then I saw the extra tuners. I thought, “Oh, a 12-string. I’ll check it out.”

When I picked it up I realized that the top 3 bass side strings were single, like a six-string, but the bottom three treble side strings were doubled, like a 12-string. What a great idea! Why wasn’t this more popular? For a rhythm player like myself it makes perfect sense...you can get that nice ringing strum on the highs, but can still dig in a bit on the low end without the doubled effect.

That guitar was always in the back of my mind, but I never saw one again. Then one day I decided to Google for “9-string” and came across a posting in a forum from 3 or 4 years previous. I decided to email the address on the post and see if anyone answered. Believe it or not, the guy wrote back and said he had JUST decided to consider selling it so he could buy a nice Martin. He said he’d take $500 for it, which was what he had paid years ago. Deal. When I got it, the pickguard was about to fall off, and the top was banged up a lot more than his description indicated, but all in all it was in fine condition. And it sounded really nice. I have only played a few Yairis in my time, but they all have sounded very nice and probably deserve more attention than they get. I added a pickup to the guitar so I could use it live and I always got asked after a gig what the deal is with the 9-string. Plus I had added a vintage water decal from the Oklahoma Flying Farmers association...not sure what it was, but I THINK it was a group of farmers who enjoyed parachuting. Really.

Despite it’s uniqueness, I ended up selling it to buy something else...it seemed to be most expendable at the time. But I have always kept the thought of a nine-string in my head and have thought that it would be fun to commission a nine-string from my trusted personal luthier Mike Franks some day. Of course I’d have to ask real nice for such an oddity. In the meantime, I have to admit, man, I wish I had that one back!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Heritage H-120 (with sound clip)


One day I walked into work and one of my co-workers...we’ll call him “Jared”...comes over to my desk and says, “Hey, you’re really into old guitars and stuff, right? I’ve got a guitar that’s been sitting in my closet for years and I was thinking about dropping it off at a thrift store. You wanna check it out first?”
“OF COURSE I DO.”
He went out to his car and came back in with a pretty rickety case and opened it up and there was this really cool Heritage H-120 that Jared says his grandfather gave him. NOT thrift store material at all. It was really dirty and fairly banged up and looked like it had seen better days for sure. I asked Jared if I could take it home and check it out.
I got it home, spent a couple of hours cleaning it, restringing it, and just giving it some general love. It was all original and the only thing that seemed weird was the Fender-style amp knob that it had for a volume knob. It has just one pickup and one knob...a truly uncomplicated guitar. I had heard the story of Heritage before, but didn’t know that much. If you don’t know the story, back in the 70s Gibson was bought and, in the infinite wisdom of the new management, the company decided to move the entire production of their instruments away from Kalamazoo, MI where they had always been made, and head down the road a couple of miles to Nashville. A large group of the employees banded together, stayed in Kalamazoo, bought the old Gibson factory and equipment, and started Heritage Guitars. Most of their guitars were (and still are) based very closely on old Gibson models, and many guitar people believe that the Heritage instruments are superior to their Gibson counterparts.
This particular model, the H-120, was their most basic model, probably aimed at students. But the quality and set-up were all pro. This thing felt GOOD. I emailed with a longtime Heritage employee and prominent figure in the Gibson/Heritage history books, Rendal Wall. He informed me that there were probably only between 200-300 of these produced, and mine was from 1985--the first year of the company.
I had to have it. I got back to work the next morning and struck a deal based on the two other H-120’s we could find info on. Jared was happy and I was happy, and hopefully the H-120 was happy. For awhile it was the only electric guitar I owned, and not being in a band at the time, I really had little need for one. Eventually, as I always end up doing, I took some photos, listed it on eBay, and seven days later I was shipping it out to a VERY happy Heritage collector. But, what a cool guitar! Amazing neck, beautiful attention to detail, great sound, and a really cool story to boot. Man, I wish I had that one back!
P.S. Check out the sound clip of this guitar my good friend Dave Quillen recorded for me when I sold it!

UPDATE JULY 18, 2012: So, it's been close to four years since I posted this story and today this exact guitar is up for sale on Ebay. I'm really tempted to buy it, but not sure I can afford it at the moment. Has a Buy It Now price of $495, which is a good price.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Gibson Les Paul Jr. Special


This is actually a detailed copy of a Les Paul Special with Junior styling, handmade by Charleston, SC guitar maker Joe Wilson. Or is it?

I have always been a Tele guy, but now and then I get it in my head that something else is what I really need...like a Junior. I’ve always thought that maybe a Junior would be cool. Ever since I saw Paul Westerberg playing one through a Vox AC 30 head with seperate cab I have envisioned owning one. But I also like the two pick-up configuration of the Special. So, one day while perusing eBay I came across this handmade guitar, owned by a guy who had the same thoughts I did. The pickguard on a Special is not as cool as a Junior, but two pickups are better than one. So, according to the auction, he enlisted the skill of Joe Wilson, who has built guitars for members of Alabama, and has a great reputation for working on high-end instruments (just click here to read about him). Evidently Joe built this guitar and even included real Gibson logos and parts. Not sure if you’re supposed to do that kind of thing really...I know Bill Nash had some legal troubles with Fender...but they’re there. You’d never know it wasn’t authentic if you aren’t one of those experts that get nitpicky about the details. Now, I say it was “evidently” built by Joe because some time later I decided to sell it...it just didn’t turn out to be my thing.

I called Joe Wilson at Shem Creek Vintage Guitars and let him know I was the owner of this guitar he had made. He was actually very gruff and short with me and claimed he never built the guitar. I emailed the original owner of the guitar and asked him what the deal was and he assured me that Joe built the guitar and perhaps he was a little hesitant to admit it to a stranger because of the overt Gibson copyright infractions.

It was a great playing guitar and really did capture that Junior sound. I think it was the feel of the instrument that didn’t click with me. I sold it for what I paid for it and I was happy with that. Again, this is a rare instance of not really being able to honestly say "I wish I had that one back." And that’s okay.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hohner Gruhn Design Acoustic


Sometimes you get what you pay for. And sometimes you get even luckier. I saw this guitar advertised on Craig’s List for $100. I had heard that George Gruhn, quite possibly the leading expert on guitars in the world, had done a few deals over the years to design guitars for various companies including Guild and Hohner. Hohner is known for their lower end guitars and I was a little skeptical upon seeing the ad for this one. However, at the time I had decided I needed a “campfire guitar” as I had been lucky enough to acquire some really nice acoustics, but that left me with the dilemma of what to take over to someone’s house for a cookout or to the beach or camping. Not gonna take the brazilian Franks to the Indian Princesses camp out.

I emailed the person selling the guitar and then never heard anything back. My theory about Craig’s List is that the flakiest people on the planet sell their stuff on there. They don’t answer emails, they flake on appointments with no warning. It’s usually a disaster. Literally about a month later I got an email from a girl saying she had just checked her email and wanted to know if I still wanted the guitar. Really? You listed something on Craig’s List for sale and then didn’t check email for a month? I was wary but I made an appointment to go check out the guitar. It was quite a hike to get there and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went up to the door and rang the doorbell. I was expecting a girl and what I hear next sounded like a drunk old dude. “WHOOIZIT?” Uh, the guy who is here to see the guitar? “The guitar?” Yep, the guitar. “Yer here to see the guitar? YES, THE GUITAR. “okaycomeonin.”

He points me in the direction of the guitar and explains that his 16-year old daughter owns it, but she went to dinner. Of course she did. She made an appointment and then she went to dinner. I check out the guitar while step-dad explains that he works on a boat and is gone for months at a time. He looks like he’s been drinking for months at a time. The guitar seems nice...very simple but nicely made. And it’s in PERFECT condition. I comment on this and he said that she bought the guitar four years ago and then put it in the closet and never played it. An actual closet classic. I tell him I’ll take it and he says, “Okay, that’s $200!” I said no, it was only $100. He busts out with a huge “I’M JUST FUCKIN’ WITH YA!!! AHAHAHAHAHAHA.” Holy shit, just get me out of here.

I give him the $100 and hope to just get out the door. He continues to ramble about what a good deal I just got as I politely close the screen door behind myself. I get home and realize that I did just get a smokin’ deal. I hung on to the guitar for a couple of months and kept pulling it out and playing it a little. A really nice guitar, especially for a C-note. In fact, it was such a sweet little guitar that I couldn’t bring myself to take it to a campfire! I made the decision that someone else should own this guitar that will appreciate it and take care of it. I post it back on Craig’s List for $200, which is still a good deal, but also makes me a little profit. A guy (and his girlfriend) answers my ad, comes to my office to pick it up, and we started talking. His girlfriend looks REALLY familiar, but she’s 20 and I’m 47 and they live 50 miles away...surely I don’t know her. He asks what kind of music I play and, when I mention my band’s name, his girlfriend’s eyes light up. She says “I’ve seen you play before...more than once!” Turns out she works with one of our singers, and to make a long story short, ended up singing in her wedding a couple of months later accompanied by her boyfriend on the Gruhn Hohner guitar. At the wedding he told me that he actually prefers the Gruhn to his $2000 Taylor.

So, there are many reasons to say I wish I had that one back. But given the circumstances I’m glad that it found a good home with someone who appreciates it.