News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

The question: What is the furthest you have traveled to buy or sell a vintage guitar?

Gee, what a road map we could draw up concerning this subject. Excluding scheduled trips such as the NAMM Show in California, vintage guitar shows and trips to Europe, I had to stop and think for a moment about those singular, more spontaneous adventures.

The first one that really came back to me may not be the farthest, but it stands out in my mind. So Sherman, let's set the wayback machine to 1973; or was it 1974? I was about to or had just graduated from high school. Bands from England were touring the United States all the time, and they were really looking to buy good guitars.

At that time, it's fair to say, older, used guitars were of a better quality than what was being produced new at the time. Given the limited availability in England, these groups - The Who, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and others - would try to take advantage of their time in America to buy some good guitars. Fifties- and Sixties-era Gibson and Fender electric guitars, in particular, were highly sought after.

It just so happens that I had become one of the few people around the country who could be counted on to try to find the instruments that these groups were looking for. These groups were strangers in a strange land, unable to drive on the "right" side of the road, which did pose a problem for them. Therefore, someone such as myself might be called upon to deliver the goods, so to speak.

In this one particular instance, the band Uriah Heep, which was very popular at the time, what with platinum records and sold-out concerts, called and asked if I could find a particular guitar for them - an early Fifties Fender Precision Bass, the one that resembled a Fender Telecaster. I found one - I don't remember exactly where or how - but they had called me from Miami, Florida, where they were to kick off a U.S. tour.

Since this wasn't the first time we had done business and we had developed a pretty good friendship over the previous couple of years, they decided to just fly me down to Miami, rather than wait until they happened to come through Louisville.

I had never flown before. They bought my ticket for me and the next thing you know, it was off I went!

The only thing I really remember about the flight was spilling my salad, complete with salad dressing, on the well-dressed businessman sitting next to me. As I recall, he took it pretty well.

The next thing you know, it was "Welcome to the Sunshine State." Of course I took more than one guitar with me, although I don't remember what the others were. They got me a room in the Holiday Inn where they were staying, which was right on the beach, and for three days I was able to lie on the beach and soak up the sun.

Uriah Heep always took very good care of me, and though I was just a teenager, treated me with respect. It was all somewhat surreal and dreamlike. There I was, a high school teenager, being flown around and given the made-to-feel-important treatment. But to the band, I was providing a needed service, and this was just how they normally conducted their affairs.

That '51 Precision Bass, it was sooo clean. I haven't seen a nicer one since. They paid me $600 for it - maybe double what a new one would have cost at the time.

Still, to me, it was quite unreal. After three days, I flew back home.

Then I went back to catching up on all those neighborhood yards I was supposed to be cutting for my spending money.

Well, I guess that's all for now. Until next time, keep rockin'.