News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Happy New Year, everyone. So here it is: the last entry to "This Old Guitar" for the year 1999. In last month's story, we seized upon the spirit of the holiday season with a "ghost of old guitars yet to come" approach. Since it was a story still unfolding, this month is the follow-up.

As you may remember, the story concerned a lady ("Mrs. Johnson") in west Texas and her deceased husband's 1950 Fender Esquire. As of last month's publication, I was about to leave to go visit her, check out her guitar and find out just what was what. Now it is the end of December [as I write], and I have been there, done that and am back to fill you readers in on the rest of the story.

I caught an early morning flight to DFW (that is Dallas/Ft Worth) and then had to take one of those propeller-driven commuter planes to my final destination of Odessa, Texas. The older I get, the less excited I am about flying, especially in a small prop plane. But I cast my fate with the plane and pilot and all went well.

Now, West Texas is anything but scenic, and Odessa in particular also showed the signs of what once was but now is long gone. This was a place that was fueled (no pun intended) by the oil well business. Since that had long since dried up, the place gave me the impression of having been passed by. Flat, desolate and without much of a spark.

So I got my rental car, made my way to Mrs. Johnson's house and found her waiting for me, with guitar and amp plugged in, turned on and ready to rock. She was a nice, considerate, elderly lady in her '70s, living with her daughter and son-in-law, and I could sense that it was with some hesitation that she was realizing it was time to part with her husbands' guitar and amp. She was with him when he bought it brand new, and they had played much music together in the many years they had.

Having been involved in the music business myself for quite some time, I have experienced and learned quite a bit. I, too, have played a lot of music, have my favorite guitar and can relate somewhat to this woman and her feelings. The one thing I have learned the most, especially form the point of view of being in the vintage guitar business, is that I don't know everything, and I will constantly be learning something new. This applies both to the instruments themselves and to aspects of human nature. Often when dealing with someone and their guitar (or any other prized possession for that matter), it takes on far greater significance to that person. It is part of their heritage, legacy and so on. In order to maintain a positive relation with someone like this, I have found it requires compassion, a level head and a certain amount of psychology.

Now back to the guitar and perhaps I can tie this all together. When Mrs. Johnson had called me initially, she told me she had a 1950 Fender Esquire. The year 1950 is very significant. Since she said she was with her husband when they bought it new, right there in Odessa, and the year was 1950, I had no reason not to believe her. So when I arrived and saw the guitar, it was in good but very well worn condition. It definitely had the look of many miles, but solid, none the less.

I was a little uptight about taking the guitar apart, what with her watching and all, but it was necessary in order to validate the year of manufacture. She was fairly okay with this, and so I began to turn the screws to disassemble the guitar. I am sure this was the first time in nearly 50 years this had been done.

So, slowly but surely, it came apart, and there were the original pencil dates and initials of the final inspector. Both the neck and body were dated TG 2-51, and TG 3-51. This was most revealing, for you see, Leo Fender made very few guitars in 1950. Maybe as few as fifty. This makes any 1950 Fender very rare, valuable and historically significant.

You should have seen me try and talk to Mrs. Johnson and try to get her to jog her memory about just when they bought this guitar. She would not budge from the notion that they bought this guitar in December of 1950, even though it was not dated and therefore probably not assembled until early 1951. It simply was and is not the nature of manufacturers to date something with a future date. The reverse could easily be true; they could have bought the guitar in 1951, and it could have been dated 1950, but not hardly could they have bought a guitar in 1950 that was dated into the next year.

All of this may sound trivial and elementary, and to some extent, it really is. But when you are dealing with something worth many thousands of dollars, and the dollar value is somewhat affected by such facts, then it cannot be overlooked. As far as the guitar goes, whether it was a 1950 or 1951, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. It would still sound and play the same.

So, there I was, having invested my time and money, and now I was faced with a decision. Since I had gone there with the intent of buying her 1950 Esquire and having pretty much agreed upon what price we would settle on, I found it best to just let it be. I explained this all to her. I was not really comfortable trying to renegotiate the price down, especially since it was not going to be easy to change her mind about when the guitar was probably made. So I had already chalked it up in my mind as yet another learning experience when she told me that she really wanted me to buy the guitar and the amp, and just be fair with her.

So after all that, I was able to re-think it through, come up with what I believe to be fair, and we made a deal. For me, that is pretty much what it is. It is a business transaction. In order to stay in business, I cannot lose track of that. However, in many instances, my heart wants to over rule my mind. In this case, we were both able to put our hearts and minds together, and both came away feeling satisfied, although I know that for her, these things were difficult. It is hard for most of us to let go of stuff, but she had come to realize that there was no one in her family who was going to appreciate the guitar. So it was best to sell it.

And I will say that even though her husband's '51 Esquire is sure beat-up, it is still one heck of a guitar, with lots of good vibes and music yet to come from it.

So after having made it safely back home, I will look forward to sharing more stories on into the new millenium.

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

Keep Rockin'