I have too many guitars, and I have to thin the herd. But the trouble is, I like buying guitars … and I don’t like selling them.
In 2004, I had my home broken into, and they stole over thirty guitars that I had spent years collecting. Although the cops eventually caught the guys who did it, they never revealed what had happened to my guitars or where they went. Several were one-of-a-kind collectables that can’t be replaced. The picture to your left was my pride and joy.
In the 1970’s, John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame had a guitar custom made for him by a luthier named Rex Bogue. It was a double-neck—a twelve-string neck on top and six-string neck below. Hand-carved maple with over 180 pieces of inset abalone for decoration. There was a lot more to this guitar, but you get the idea. At some point, legend has it, McLaughlin dropped the guitar and it cracked. He believed that the gods who had inhabited the guitar had escaped, and it would never be the same again—so he burned it.
A few years later a luthier by the name of Bob Dullam built an almost exact replica of this historic guitar. The only real difference was that the headstock said “Dullam” instead of “Bogue.” I bought this guitar from Bob, and it truly was the showpiece of my collection. I also had Bob make me a singe-neck version with the same design. A very special guitar.
Anyway, they all went away, never to return, but I slowly started buying guitars again. Why do I do this? I’m not really sure, except that I play a lot of different styles of music, and no single guitar is really good for all styles. But now that I’m getting too old to be lugging amplifiers and stuff out of bars at 2:00 a.m., I’ve decided to start selling the ones I never play. I began this project by making a list and trying to figure out which ones I wouldn’t miss.
I started with an Ovation Applause acoustic/electric. This is not a good guitar. If I’m lucky I might be able to get someone to pay me $50 for it, but I felt I should at least clean it up before putting it on Craigslist. New strings, polish it up, clean the pickup, dress the frets, oil the fretboard, and give it a try. Damn, it doesn’t sound all that bad now. Certainly sounds a lot better than I thought it would. Okay, put that aside for now, what else?
A 1970s Ventura violin bass. This was an attempt to imitate Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass, and they did a pretty good job. It’s probably only worth $150 to $200, though. I go through the same process of cleaning it all up and plug it in to my Hartke bass rig. It’s a short-scale bass, which means that the neck is shorter than a regular bass, and thus easier to play. I’m grooving to “My Girl,” when I realize that this bass is pretty hot even if it is cheap. Let’s think about this one for a moment.
Now that I’m thinking about basses, I grab my Kent Smith bass. This is a very good bass, and worth around $1,500 or so. I plug it in and everything about it is wonderful. It plays well and has a deep resonant sound that I fall in love with all over again. Nope, gotta keep this one. You never know when someone will call and say they need a bass player to fill in for the night.
I’m not doing well with deciding which guitars to sell, so I switch to some of the other stuff clogging up my music area. Some years ago I saw a video of John Sebastian playing an autoharp. I just had to have one, and there it is sitting on the shelf. Hey, it’s still mostly in tune! I lose an hour playing around with it and decide it might still have some use if I get a call to play in a jug band.
Looking into the attic to see what else might be lying around, I spot this very large case in the corner. It’s heavy, but I drag it out anyway. I have no idea what’s in here, so let’s open it up and see. A hammer dulcimer? I don’t even remember buying this beast. It’s a beautiful instrument, and I love the sound. It’s a piano without all the piano; you strike the strings with small, hand-held, piano-type keys. I don’t have a prayer of ever learning how to play it, but it’s just too cool to let anyone else have it. Close the case and don’t tell Louise about it.
I have lots of electric guitars: Stratocasters, Telecasters, Les Pauls, a Gibson ES-135, and some that were custom made to my personal specifications. Of acoustics, I have a couple of Martins and a Gibson I could never part with. I find a ukulele, a mandolin, and a set of bongo drums, not to mention my Yamaha Motif 8 keyboard, which I’ve never learned to play.
Okay, so I haven’t found a lot of stuff I want to sell. What I did find is a bunch of instruments I haven’t seen in years, and I’m starting to play them again, and that’s a good thing. That’s why I have to keep all of this damn stuff. There’s still a chance I could become a rock star.