Friday, October 22, 2010

Unknown Vintage Lap Steel

This is a really cool vintage lap steel guitar that looks to be home every single aspect. Not only is every part of the body hand made, but even the pickup and pickup cover were probably put together from scratch in someone's garage a long time ago. Oh, and the case is also home made with some really nice hand painted flower motifs. Yep, this is one very cool instrument.

Much like the pedal steel guitar I most recently wrote about, I found this instrument in a pawn shop while I was driving across the country on vacation. My goal was to find a few instruments along the way that I could bring home and sell for a profit. I really thought this one was going to be more profitable than it turned out to be, but you can't win them all. I did turn a profit, but not a huge one.

I found this lap steel as I was driving down Main Street in Henryetta, Oklahoma...which also happens to be my parents' old hometown.

I was headed to the home of an old friend of my father's and missed the turn. Glad I did. As I was craning my neck, trying to read the street signs I passed the pawn shop. Looked almost empty to be honest. But right there in the window was this lap steel. Seven string lap steel to be exact. I went inside and inquired about the $175 price tag and the haggling began. We ended up at $120 and were both happy with that. I pulled out my credit card and was told "cash only." Luckily I had a few bucks on me and the deal was done. As we chatted about how unique this lap steel was we discovered that the owner of the shop knew my parents from way back when. How cool is that? He showed me another lap steel that was still in pawn that was really cool as well but just not for sale yet. Wish I could go back for that one.

So as far as I can tell, this lap steel is made of solid mahogany, has seven strings, all the parts are hand carved or cut, and the designs on the lap steel itself are old water decals. There is a 1/4" jack on the very end and no volume or tone knobs. I guess you just have to use a volume pedal. The case was also hand made and the artwork on the case was all hand painted. Very nice slice of Americana really. The old Stevens slide bar and metal fingerpicks were also included.

I put it up for sale on eBay and it sold for only $175. I have to admit I was a little disappointed...almost wish for that price I had kept it. But that's not why I bought it in the first place...I have learned my lesson about lap steels. I always think I want one and then, once I buy one, I realize I have no business trying to play it. I'm glad someone got such a cool instrument for their collection. I hope they enjoy it as much as I did in the short time I had it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beck Musical Instruments Pedal Steel Guitar

Hey, it's been awhile but I've got some new stuff to write about. This first one is actually still in my possession (but it's for sale...let me know if you are interested). I decided awhile back that I would love to just hop in the car and go on vacation and stop where I pleased, sleep wherever I ended up, and of course, look for stray guitars that need a new home. Somehow I talked my employer into letting me take two weeks off all together and I made arrangements for the kids with the ex and all that stuff. Finally the day came and off I headed in my mini-van...headed towards the midwest to meet up with old friends and have some fun along the way. I live in the San Diego area, so anywhere is a long drive. I played a breast cancer benefit show on Sunday afternoon and then hit the road on Sunday evening, driving until 3:00 AM. I pulled into a truck stop and climbed into the back of my van with a pillow and sleeping bag and got some sleep.

When I woke up it was around 8:00 AM and quickly got it together and hit the road again. The first town I came to was Las Cruces, NM. I drove around looking for a pawn shop or music store and finally came across a pawn shop on the corner. I went in and there wasn't much to look at. I asked the guy if there was another pawn shop in town and he pointed me in the right direction, saying that they owned the other too. I kind of figured that meant they wouldn't have much there either, but I was mistaken. As I walked through the door in pawn shop number two, the very first thing I spied was a dirty, dusty pedal steel guitar. They didn't have it put together correctly, but it appeared to all be there. I looked at the price sticker and it said, "Mexican Fender Telecaster $999."

Hmmmm. They didn't even really know what they had. I played dumb too.

"Hey, what's this thing with 10 strings?" The guy said it was a pedal steel and I sort of pretended to maybe kind of know what that was. I told him it looked interesting to mess around with but not for a thousand bucks. He asked how much I'd be interested in paying. "Oh, maybe more like $300." I figured he'd say no way and I'd be on my way. I only had about $500 to spend on fun stuff on this trip and $300 would take up a big chunk on day one. He hollered back, "Okay, we can do $300."

Oh shit. I asked if that could include tax and everything. $300 out the door? "Sure." Well, now I better figure out if this thing is worth it. I told him I needed to go outside and call my wife and see if I could spend that much. I don't have a wife by the way. I started frantically looking on my phone internet for Beck Musical Instruments. I'd never heard of that brand before. I found their website and sure enough, the cheapest instrument they make sells for $2875 and another $350 for the case. I'd say this thing is a bargain and although it's the first day of the trip, I should go ahead and get it.

I walked back in and said, "Well, the wife won't really go for $300 but I talked her into $250. Any chance we could do it for that?" Nope. He won't go that low. As I'm negotiating I look over and on the pawn shop TV is that show, American Pickers. Guys literally doing exactly what I'm doing right at that moment. I was inspired and I said I guess I'd just have to pass at $300. He told me to come back if I changed my mind. I told him I was on the road and wasn't planning to be back in Las Cruces in my lifetime. To my surprise he said, "Awww, okay. We'll do it for $250 plus tax." Sweet. We basically met in the middle once the tax was added up. I took the thing apart and put it in the case before he had time to actually look the thing up and figure out how much it's worth.

I headed out the door and struggled to get it in the back of the van. Damn, those things are heavy. If you play pedal steel I admire you my friend. Carrying a pedal steel AND an amp and whatever else you need to a gig has got to be puttin' muscles on you. After my trip was over I headed on over to the world famous Buffalo Brothers Guitars and had my friends take a look at it. We got it all put together and their resident pedal steel guru Rick put it through it's paces. Very nice! So these things are heavy and incredibly complicated to play. He gave me the scoop on it, telling me I had found a really nice single neck, 10-string pedal steel made by Beck Musical Instruments, which was originally founded by pedal steel Hall of Famer Zane Beck. Zane was the first to incorporate knee levers into his instruments and now they are pretty standard issue. This particular steel has 3 pedals and 4 knee levers. What we couldn't decide was whether it had started life as a double neck or a single neck. It has the padded arm rest where a second neck might be, but I believe this came from the factory this way. The pickup sounded great and was scratchiness...especially for how dusty it was when I found it.

So, it's currently sitting in my living room and I suppose I could hang on to it just to mess around with. But I think I am going to sell it for a fraction of what it's worth, but still a profit to me. Someone is going to want this nice pedal steel at a great price. It just might not be right away. San Diego isn't exactly a pedal steel capital. If you are interested let me know.