Monday, February 2, 2009
1963 Gibson ES-335
Story submitted by Tim Birchard
The year was 1985 and I was a junior in high school in a small town in Texas. A dear friend of mine told me she had a guitar her father had given her when she was a child, and asked if I'd be interested in seeing it. Being a 17-year-old metalhead, I told her 'of course!' She went back into her bedroom and moments later emerged carrying a Gibson case. An old Gibson case. My curiousity was piqued. I opened the case, and there before me was a flawless 1963 ES-335, cherry red finish, with block inlays and a suspended bridge. The serial number was "130971." My mouth dropped open when she asked if I wanted to play it.
I sat there for probably thirty minutes playing it and refusing to put it down, when she asked me if I wanted it. I just looked at her as if she were speaking Martian. Her father, who had given it to her, agreed that it made more sense for it to be with someone who really appreciated it, and since no one in their family played guitar, and since it was obvious that I appreciated it, they offered it to me as a gift.
I said yes.
I took it home and tried to play heavy metal on it. I dragged it across the country, risking damage and loss in the luggage compartments of airline flights. I soon developed a cocky and cavalier attitude, as if I somehow truly understood the value and beauty of this guitar. And worse yet, that I somehow deserved such a guitar.
Fast forward three or four years and I'd moved to Austin, TX with only one semester left at the University of Texas, studying audio production. There was only one problem—I didn't have the $400 in tuition I needed for my final semester. The woman I was dating told me she wasn't going to date a "loser" and that if I wanted to keep going out with her, I had to finish college. While I'm grateful for that motivation now, I cringe to remember what I saw as 'the only way out.'
I drove down South Lamar to Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas Music, put the case on the counter and told Ray I was interested in selling my guitar. He opened it up and his eyes seemed to light up for just a second, then he said, "Well, I could sell it on consignment, but I can't give you anything for it now."
I looked out his storefront windows across Lamar and said, "Well maybe Music Makers will be interested in buying" and I started to close the case. He said, "Whoa! Hold on a minute there," and came around the counter to stand next to me. "How much do you need?" I told him (cringe) "Four hundred dollars."
He took a minute to call his brother in Waco, talking with him in low tones, and then hung up. He counted out four one-hundred dollar bills and I was out of there, with tears in my eyes. I went straight to the Registrar's office and paid my tuition before I could be tempted to blow the cash.
And in the past 19 years I've gone back into that store at least three different times asking about serial number 130971… and strangely there's "just no record of that guitar."
For what it's worth, Ray has been generous enough to give both of my nieces brand new acoustic guitars because he's friends with my sister-in-law. Maybe it's karma, since he has no idea who I am, and has never remembered me (why should he?) whenever I've gone back into his store. Actually, now it's mostly his grandson I see behind the counter… who used to be just a little whipper-snapper ripping off hot riffs on his guitar when I used to go in.
I guess that kindness to my nieces should take some of the sting out of it… I don't know. But I do know this: if I ever find 130971 again, you can bet I'll pay whatever it takes to make her mine again.
(If you know the whereabouts of 130971, please contact me by email here)