News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi, everybody, I must confess, I have had the hardest time beginning this month's column. Then our illustrious publisher, Paul Moffett, helped me figure it out by reminding me that the topic itself is elusive. It's about the magic in old instruments, and what makes people want these old guitars. I really couldn't get started with this because there really isn't a definite answer here. And that, in itself, is appealing. But nevertheless, here we go.

This whole idea started with a couple of conversations. One was with a local journalist who was talking about music and the magic that can happen when certain bands or musicians come together. There can be an unexplained chemistry that creates something very special. Then my wife asked me to tell some stories about the efforts some of these talented music people have made to acquire the right guitar that may help inspire them to create that timeless piece of music. So, given all of that, I decided to write a short series on this, based on my own experience. For this month, we will begin with the allure of the instrument. Since this mystique has no real beginning or end, I will try and just scratch the surface. From there, I will go into the next few issues with some of the personal stories.

So, what makes an old guitar appealing? Is it the materials, the maker, its history? Maybe the stories it could tell? Is it the aging process that has affected its sound? My guess is it is all of these and more. An example is from my wife.

A few years ago, she decided to take up the guitar. Since we own a local guitar shop, she could pretty much pick out whatever she wanted. In the 90's, that's called a "job perk." New or used, vintage or not, shiny or weathered, whatever. Well, she went straight to a 1950's Fender Telecaster. Now, can we explain this? I believe the best we can do is make a stab at it. Why a forty-year-old instrument, and not a shiny new one?

The Telecaster was developed in or around 1950. It is a simple design that has remained relatively unchanged now for nearly 50 years. My wife liked it for its simplicity. But, again, why an old one? As a beginner, wouldn't a new one be just as good, if not better? I say 'yes' to that. Guitar manufacturers make excellent guitars today. So, it must be something else.

I asked my wife, Mary Jane, and she said it was the way this particular one looked. It had that faded milky white finish and subtle dull patina that held some special appeal. Its own personality, if you will. I really can't explain, but old guitars sort of have a life. Their own story to tell, their own personality to share with you. Is it the look, the feel, the sound? It's probably all this and more.

As I continue writing, I begin to sense that the answers to the questions are simply more questions. I suppose it is this unanswerable circle that helps create the elusiveness, and therefore a certain allure. We love mystery. And guitars can be so romantic, and provocative. And we love that, too.

I think back to being a kid in the mid '60's and gazing at the new '66 Fender and Gibson catalogues. Wow! Man, if I could only get one of those Stratocasters or SG Standards. They are so cool. In other words, today's new products will quickly become tomorrow's classics, with stories of their own to tell. They are used by people to help create sound, melody, harmony, rhythm, to bring out emotions from within the artist that carry over to the listener.

Then these instruments are passed on, and someone else creates something totally new, and that guitar is viewed as something else. Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix both played Fender Stratocasters. Buddy left us with beautiful and timeless pop songs, while Jimi blew our minds and took us to some new sonic stratosphere.

These guitars. They age, they wear, they resonate, they constantly change. They develop faults. They live and experience. Kinda like people. We romanticize and fantasize. We dream. We want this.