Every guitarist has that one special guitar that they wished they had back. It might be because it was a sentimental gift, maybe it was sold to pay the bills, or maybe you just didn't realize how much you loved that guitar until it was gone. These are the stories of the ones that got away. Most of them are my own stories, but send me your stories as well and they just might get published here.
I am a big fan of T.K. Smith's work. I had seen him play guitar years ago with Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys and thought he was a great player...but I didn't know who he was. Years later, through the miracle of technology and chance, I now follow him and his fine work on Instagram (@tksmithguitar). He does some cool custom work, mods and other cool things to Telecasters and pickguards and whatnot. I just went to his website to check out more of his work and discovered this story that he posted about wanting to know whatever happened to his 1956 Gretsch 6128. Here is his story:
1956 Gretsch 6128
by T.K. Smith
Lately I’ve been wondering where my ’56 Gretsch 6128 ended up. It was in
my possession for about six years from ’89 until ’95. During that time,
I used it on Big Sandy’s ‘’On the Go’’ LP, and a few other Fly Rite
Trio recordings. Of all the guitars I’ve bought and sold over the
years, I wish I ‘d hung on to this one. Throughout the eighties I owned a
couple of Duo Jets and a Jet Firebird, you could find them for around
$600 to $1200. The one I ended up keeping I found at a place on Sunset
Blvd called ‘’Guitars R Us’’. I think I paid $1100 for it. It was a ’56,
the neck had been reset and the back was refinished. This guitar was
nice because unlike the other beat up old Gretsch guitars that I had
owned, I could use 13’s on it and not worry about the neck coming
unglued. Of the few details I can remember about it, one is that the
headstock had been drilled out for 3/8’’ tuners, so I stuck an old set
of PMMH-015 Grovers on it. The guitar also had a push-pull pot on the
tone control to put it in and out of phase. I used to have the S/N
written down on a little piece of paper in my toolbox but it’s long gone
now. When I left the band in ’92 I didn’t play it much and thought it was a
shame to have such a nice guitar just sit in a case under the bed. So
around ’95 or ’96 I put it on consignment at a music store called Music
Music down in El Cajon, Ca. I think it sat there for about a year before
it sold. I know it’s a long shot, but if anyone has a clue as to where
my Gretsch is now, I’d love to know.
(Here is a video of T.K. on this very guitar with Big Sandy...)
This past month I was honored to work with Taylor Guitars to design five custom Tony Hawk guitars to be auctioned off to benefit the Tony Hawk Foundation. The idea was to take some of Tony's classic skateboard designs and adapt them to the top of the guitar. Then each guitar would be matched up with it's corresponding skateboard, and all would be signed by the skateboarding legend, Tony Hawk himself and auctioned to the highest bidders.
We did four different one-of-a-kind designs that were based on the Taylor 214CE model guitar. This is a beauty of a cutaway instrument with nice sounding electronics built in. These guitars were beautifully executed by the Taylor Custom Shop team, and the finish and detail on these was just gorgeous. Then, additionally, we did one more design that was adapted to the Taylor GS Mini model, and there were nine of those guitars produced. This design came out really well also. It's a more budget model instrument, so it didn't have the full gloss finish as the others, but it came out looking really cool. Maybe the best of the designs really.
The guitars were auctioned off at the Tony Hawk Foundation's Stand Up for Skateparks charity event, held each year in Beverly Hills, CA on Oct. 7th, 2012 and the proceeds went to help build skateparks in underprivileged areas here in the U.S. I couldn't have been more pleased with the way they came out, and the way they sound is just an added bonus...what great guitars! Thanks so much to everyone at Taylor Guitars for making this project happen. We may be making a couple of additional guitars, and if so, I am going to go film them being made and will share here with you.
Here's one that I had high hopes for, but it just didn't pan out...mostly because of my lack of technical and woodworking skills. I have always thought that a sonic blue or daphne blue Telecaster Thinline would be my dream guitar. I actually have a previous story on here about a daphne blue Thinline that I bought a number of years ago that had two humbuckers in it that just didn't really float my boat. But I still had it in the back of my mind that that guitar was very close to what I wanted, but I just still like the standard single coil pickups. So the years have gone by.
Then, last year, I was at the NAMM tradeshow, which is the big music equipment industry tradeshow where they show off all of their latest products for retailers. The show is not open to the public, so to get a pass you have to know someone really connected, someone who owns a store with an extra pass, or a famous musician who is connected to a company. I got very lucky and got passes from a friend of mine who is endorsed by Taylor Guitars. If you are a music gear junky, going to this tradeshow is like letting little kids loose in a candy store. It's amazing...all the newest effects pedals and accessories and new amps and guitar models and on and on. Down at the basement level of the show are a ton of companies who make parts and bodies and necks and components and much more. They are the suppliers to the industry. I was walking along and passed a booth with a long table full of guitar bodies. Mostly Fender-style bodies...Strats and Telecasters and basses...in every color combo you could think of. The one that caught my attention was the daphne blue Telecaster Thinline body with cream binding.
Holy moly...it was the body to my dream guitar!
It was the last day of the tradeshow and everyone was tired and dreading having to pack up all of their products for the trip home. Especially if they were from overseas like many of the parts suppliers. I stopped and looked at the guitar body and asked if, just by chance, it was for sale. They owner of the company said that since the show was almost over, he would sell it to me for $60. I couldn't believe it. I pulled three new $20 bills out of my pocket before he could change his mind and the deal was done. After I made the long drive home, I went to the Warmouth website and priced how much it would cost to custom order this exact body, with paint and binding. A whopping $514! Man, I was feeling good about this. I decided that I just didn't have a huge budget to custom order a neck and pickups and parts and strap buttons and everything else, so I decided to keep an eye on Craigslist for a donor Tele. A nice Fender MIM Telecaster that would provide the neck, pickups, switches, knobs and everything. I also realized that this body had the Thinline F-hole, but had the standard layout for the controls. Usually on a Thinline the controls are mounted on an extended pickguard. But I was actually happy about this because I really prefer the standard Tele control layout. So, I went back to the Warmouth website and custom ordered a pickguard to accomodate the F-hole and also the standard controls. I got in a beautiful cream color that matched the binding very well. This guitar was going to be a beauty.
After finding a really nice Lake Placid Blue Telecaster on Craigslist for super cheap, I got ready to put together my new guitar. When I got ready to take the donor Tele apart I actually had second thoughts. The Lake Placid Blue was a beautiful color in person, not at all cheap looking like the photos on Craigslist had convinced me of. I was a little torn, but finally got busy taking it apart. I sold the body and pickguard on Ebay the very next day and got more than half my money back from my purchase price. This was going well! I got the rest apart and removed the pickups and had my buddy do all the wiring for me. I put the rest together and bolted the neck on and strung it up. When I had bought the body from the manufacturer, he specifically said it would perfectly fit a Fender neck. Sadly, once I got it all together, I discovered that the neck pocket was just slightly not deep enough. This caused the action on the guitar to be a little too high. Adjusting the bridge was just not going to work. The neck pocket was going to need to be precisely routed.
Unfortunately, I don't have those skills or equipment. So, the guitar sat here, month after month, staring at me. Taunting me. Begging me to do something. I finally gave in. I realized that I was just not going to ever fix it. I unstrung the guitar, got my screwdrivers out and carefully took it apart. Same as it ever was. I listed the neck on Ebay and then later the body with the custom pickguard included. It would be a shame to separate them and make someone have to order another one. Hey, I'm a reasonable guy. So, that was the end of dream guitar, attempt number two. I think what I'm going to have to do is win the lottery so that I can order guitars from the Fender Custom Shop. I see their guitars for sale and I drool. I know that they can make whatever I want and actually get it perfectly right and sounding amazing and then, maybe, just maybe, I'll finally be happy. With guitars anyway.
Here's another recent one that got away with a good story. Over the last nearly 20 years I have had the good fortune to play music with a really talented drummer whom we'll call Rob. Why? Because that's his name. So Rob is seriously an amazing drummer and his brother Dave (also his real name) is an amazing guitarist...music just seems to run in their family. A few years ago Rob decided he wanted to learn to play guitar and within about a year he was already better than me. That's enough to really piss you off. The good thing about this is that he finally understood my obsession with guitars and buying them and looking at them and wanting new ones and selling something in order to get something else. Along the way he picked up a really nice, dark tobacco sunburst Epiphone Dot hollowbody. You've probably seen these...they are actually really nice copies of the Gibson 335 at a fraction of the cost. Rob really liked this guitar a lot, but hit a stretch where he needed to sell a guitar or two.
I have a buddy named Jesse (again, that's really his name) and at the time he was in a band that was getting some notoriety. They were recording their second album and for one particular guitar part needed that 335 sound. I told him that Rob was selling his Dot and, long story short, Jesse bought Rob's guitar. At least it was sort of in the family.
So, a couple of years go by and Rob mentions that he'd love to have that Dot back. Jesse came into my office not long after that and I asked him how the Dot was doing and wondered if he'd be interested in selling it. He kind of gave it a big "hmmmm" and said maybe, just maybe, he'd consider selling it. So he thought about it for a few days and came back in and said he'd sell it if I bought it right then on the spot. I didn't hesitate...I got out my checkbook and paid him exactly what he'd originally paid Rob for it back then.
The next thing I did was get out my phone, snap a photo of it and sent it to Rob with the message, "Look what I just bought."
Rob couldn't believe it and said he was coming over the next day to check it out. But then something came up and a couple of weeks went by. During those couple of weeks I played the Dot quite a bit and really ended up liking it quite a bit. I was now having thoughts of keeping it for myself, even if Rob wanted it. Of course I knew what I was going to have to do. Sure enough, two weeks later Rob finally makes it to my house and we plug the Dot into my amp and he gives it a strum. "You HAVE to sell this back to me!" Of course! He gets out his checkbook and it's now finally back in his possession.
Now you'd think that was the end of the story, but no. The following weekend Rob's brother Dave comes to visit and brings his Epiphone Les Paul for a little jam session. He picks up Rob's newly reacquired Dot and falls in love. He offers to trade Rob the Dot for the Les Paul. For some reason, Rob makes the trade and now the Dot is in the very capable hands of brother Dave. Still all in the family, but definitely not what we all thought was going to happen. The end. --
Hey, it's time to catch up on some new stories. I think I'll start off with the one that is least flattering to my skills as a trader...might as well get it off my chest. Every year, on the day before New Years, I walk into a pawn shop near my house and see what guitars they might be looking to clear off the books before the end of the year. The last couple of years I've found some great guitars to make a little extra cash on, including a Tom Delonge Strat I chronicled here previously. This time I walked in and asked if they had the big "half off" sale going on and they let me know they weren't doing that this year...they were just selling everything for great prices. They didn't have any of my beloved Telecasters this year, but they did have a few Strats and they were all marked down to $199. I figured I could make a few bucks on that and so I started checking out which was the best of the bunch.
I finally settled in on a pretty decent black Made in Mexico model Stratocaster that had a white pickguard and enough smudges and dirt and crap to make it not that appealing on first inspection. I even asked the guy working there why they don't at least wipe down the guitars before they put them up for sale. If you were a store and got in used merchandise, wouldn't you at the very least clean all the grimy hand prints off of it and make it look presentable? I'll never understand the lazy mentality sometimes. But I suppose that's beside the point. I figured it couldn't hurt to ask if they'd come down on the price a little more, but no such luck. I figured that it probably wouldn't have a case either. For some reason guitars at pawn shops mysteriously never seem to have a case. I mention this to the guy and he says, "hey, you're in luck...this one has a nice Fender hard shell case!"
Shocking to say the least. I got ready to pay for the guitar and the guy asked if I'd ever been a customer there before. I told him it was the third year in a row I'd bought something on December 31st. He thought that was funny, so he didn't charge me tax. So to sum things up so far, I've now purchased a black, Made in Mexico Fender Stratocaster from 1991 with a nice Fender hard shell case for $199 out the door. Sweet. I figured there was money to be made.
I headed to Guitar Center and bought a brand new black pickguard and black pickup covers and back plate and knobs and switch tip for the guitar. The white pickguard just looked cheap-ass and was in crappy condition. This cost me right around $46 total. So now I've got $245 into the guitar. I figured I could sell it with the case for $350 and make an extra hundred. Not a huge profit by any means, but a fun little project. I changed out all the new parts while I watched the football games on New Years and when it was all done it looked sweet. I don't care for Strats all that much, but I thought maybe I should keep this one. A couple of days later I found out my son got picked to play on an expensive competitive league soccer team, so the idea of keeping the guitar went right out the window. I listed it on Craigslist and sat back to see how quickly someone would jump on it.
And I waited. And waited. And no one ever emailed. I lowered the price. Nothing. Lowered it again. Nothing. Relisted again with a different description just to switch things up. Finally got an email with an offer that was embarrassingly low. Then I figured maybe someone would want to trade for a Tele and I could then sell the Tele. Nothing. Relisted it for sale and got an email from a guy asking if I wanted to trade for a 1994 MIM Fender Telecaster. Huh? Uh, I mean, yes, that would be great.
If you've read any of my other rants about Craigslist idiots you know where I stand. Rude, forgetful, insulting...the list goes on. But it does serve it's purpose and I've had pretty good luck for the most part when it comes right down to it. I made an arrangement to meet the guy near my work at lunch time. He would bring his Tele, I would bring my Strat. I asked quite a few questions and discovered that they Tele had a Roland Synth pickup installed on it in addition to the regular Tele stuff. The synth pickup is a little sort of thin blade that fits under the strings behind the bridge pickup and then has a wire that comes out to an external unit that attaches to the guitar. I was unfamiliar with these things to be honest, so I asked how it attached and would it come off easily? I'm not going to want to leave it on there. They guy said it had one small pressure screw that didn't affect the guitar. Cool. Sounds easy.
I should mention at this point that I got lucky and found a brand new padded Gibson gig bag for $10 at Guitar Center and decided to include that with the Strat instead of the hard shell case, which I now am using with another guitar. Okay. So the guy shows up and the appointed time and we begin inspecting guitars. He complains about the pickguard on the Strat not being on quite right...something I had not noticed but was about a two second fix. He seemed to inspect the guitar very thoroughly, so I realized I should be doing the same. I start checking out the Tele and notice a scraped area on the headstock, down at the end. I ask if maybe that was a small Squier decal that had been removed. "Oh no, definitely not." Okay. I look at the synth pickup and I see more than one screw and they don't look harmless. He says, "No those come right off and don't leave any mark." He then says everything else works perfectly. It's got the right kind of serial number and stuff and I do know a little about that, so the rest looks fine. Kind of dirty and the strings looked to be about as old as the guitar, but that stuff is easy. So we make the trade.
I get home and start to immediately remove the synth pickup and lo and behold, this now leaves three permanent holes in the guitar. Yep, even after asking point blank, the guy swore there would be no screw holes. There is one down on the body by the bottom and another up by the bridge and another that actually required screwing a hole through the metal of the bridge and down into the body! No...that won't leave a mark at all! God I'm an idiot sometimes. Whatever, the neck felt great and I figured maybe I could relic the guitar a bit or just take a little less for it when I sell it. Next I head in and list the Roland Synth pickup on eBay for $90 and it sells right away. Cool. Now I'm starting to get my money back at least a little bit. Of course now I'm stuck with the guitar too. Can't ask the guy for a trade-back without the synth pickup.
Next day I finally have a little more time and go plug the guitar into my sweet little Vox AC15 amp and holy crap the scratchiness of the knobs and pickup selector switch is so loud it sounded like nails on a chalkboard. The jack was fine at least. Then I realize the neck pickup is super microphonic and the bridge pickup is really weak. This just keeps getting better, doesn't it?
I got curious at this point about the headstock and why it was scraped up a little. I did a few Google searches and find a forum over at the Telecaster forum (which is fantastic by the way...not just for Teles...really knowledgeable guys) that basically informs me that my guitar used to have a little bitty decal on the end that said "Squier Series." What is interesting, but hard to explain when you are trying to sell something, is that this guitar is basically a regular Fender that was made in the Mexico factory back 1994...the first year of Tele production there. From what I understand, and feel free to correct me as you always do, Fender wasn't completely sure how the quality was going to turn out and they didn't want to go ahead and put just the Fender name on these guitars in case they sucked. So they added a little "Squier Series" decal on the end of the headstock. Once they figured out that the quality was great, they changed it for the following year and made them straight up Fenders. So my guitar is basically a Made in Mexico Fender guitar...but technically...and really only technically...it's a Squier. Ah crap. Try explaining that to a potential buyer...he's going to shake his head and say "oh sure, it's a Fender...wink, wink." [NOTE: I have since found this to be incorrect. These guitars are definitely Fenders, not Squiers. I apologize for the original error.]
Okay, so I should wrap this story up. The truth is that the guitar is a great guitar. Neck feels fantastic and it plays really well. It's set up perfectly. So I think I'm just going to keep it and upgrade the pickups and clean out the pots and switches and get everything working perfectly. And it's going to be a great guitar. Heck, maybe I'll put a Bigsby on it! I didn't mention that these mid-'90s Telecasters from Mexico have a toploader bridge on them...some people are not fans and others are big fans. I like them just fine, but since there are no string holes through the body, I think that makes this a great candidate for a Bigsby. Genius! I'll keep you posted on the progress of this guitar. I think all in all it's a keeper!