News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi everybody.

It's summertime, a time for getting out and doing stuff. For me, the idea of taking a trip is appealing no matter what time of year it is. For many years, I would often find myself going on what I like to refer to as a "guitar safari." The hunt, so to speak. It really isn't that much different from doing the Saturday morning yard sale thing, except that it may entail quite a greater distance in travelling.

You may be asking, just where is this leading? Well, sometimes I don't really know myself. Our editor recently asked me if I could share some more stories on hunting out the old guitars, and at that time, I really couldn't come up with anything. Consequently, I missed last month's deadline, but since then have more than made up for it, at least when it comes to these crazy travels. In a short span, I found myself at the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma; just north of West Palm Beach, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland. Whew! I think it is time to put the car into park for awhile.

I will admit that the idea of hunting down the cool old guitars fuels some of my passion. Like I said, it is really a lot like doing the yard sale thing. But as time has gone on, I find myself more occupied with running a business. That, coupled with less opportunity to go after stuff, (primarily due to a drying up of good guitars out there) means that when the opportunity does come up, you want to take advantage of it. For this month, I will relate the adventure of going to a small town just southwest of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, on the Oklahoma border, to acquire a fairly large collection of vintage acoustic guitars. The main aspects of this are centered on the thrill of the hunt, the anticipation of what lies ahead, and the roles played by the seller and buyer. Last but not least - and probably most importantly - the instruments themselves take on such a varied part in all of this.

The family of .a gentleman who had done business with us in the past recently contacted us. He had recently passed away, leaving instructions for his wife and daughters to contact us when it came time to do something with his collection of vintage guitars. Now, the term "vintage guitar" is surely an overused term. But in this case it applied. What he had was about 20 or 25 Gibson and Martin flat top guitars, all made in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

This is just the kind of thing to get an old guitar enthusiast excited. So, we proceeded to correspond by the many and varied ways of modern technology, developed a good level of trust, and tried to hammer out a deal in advance. The widow went to great lengths to assure us that her husband's guitars were fabulous, that he took great pride in his instruments and would settle for nothing but the best. She also let us know that he had had good luck dealing with us once in the past, and that we were a safe bet to be fair and square. Given all of that, we wanted to do the best we could for her and her daughters, while still making a good deal for our shop.

We settled on a fair price for the whole package, with part of the deal being we would arrange to pick them up. Now, that part isn't a problem, especially if you have any safari hunter blood in you. Let's coordinate the meeting day and time, and get on with it. Getting out on the road is probably one of the more enjoyable aspects of my work. For me, there is something tranquil to it all. Also, it is exciting at the same time.

So, we have laid out the situation: buyer and seller have come together and struck a deal, there is the thrill of the hunt, and the anticipation associated with a one-way, 12-hour drive. Now comes the part that separates the men from the boys. Through the years and on a number of occasions, what was supposed to be, and what really was, were two different things. In other words, the aforementioned described instruments were misrepresented. Not intentionally, but way off the mark, nonetheless. So, what was I to do? I could get mad and yell and scream, accuse these ladies of trying to take advantage of my sense of fair play, among other things. But no, not in this case. For you see (and I have come to see this myself), what these ladies were passing on to me was not exactly a bunch of vintage guitars. To them, they represented far more than that: they represented the legacy left by this man's use of these instruments. All the wonderful music he had made with them. The bonds he had developed with his fellow musician friends. All the stuff that you really can't put a price on. And I understood that. Sure, they were still vintage guitars, even if many of them were now in a sad state of disrepair. But for this family, the condition of the instruments became very much clouded by the memory associated with them, and that I could understand.

That does not mean that I was not very disappointed. I had invested quite a bit of time in this and wished that the ladies had been more objective in their assessment. It would have saved us all a certain amount of trouble. But still, it was so easy to see. The pride they had was immense. And I couldn't help but respect that. Frankly, I wish all that could have remained the same, only that the guitars would have still been in great shape. Then everybody would have been happy.

As it turned out, the best I could do was help educate this family as to just what they had and what they were worth, at least in terms of a current selling price. It can be very fascinating how these old guitars come to play such a part in people's lives, and how that in turn may affect others. But so it goes.

If you are anything like me and have half an ounce of adventure in your blood, you wouldn't get too discouraged with this. Disappointed? Yes. But we live to carry on another day. It kind of reminds me of that Humphrey Bogart classic, "The Maltese Falcon." For the fat man, Sidney Greenstreet, it wasn't so much the acquisition of the great jeweled bird as it was the chase.

So I guess that's all for now. Until next time,

Keep Rockin,

Jimmy