News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

I believe that everyone at one time or another has experienced writer's block. You know the feeling. It is eleven o'clock at night and your book report is due the next morning. (Maybe that's actually procrastination, not writer's block!) So I was experiencing that complete dilemma this morning over this . The story I had thought I was going to write was one I had done as a Christmas story a year or two ago, so, nix that.

As I was lamenting my case to one of my co-workers, Bill Barney, he said, "Well, maybe there just aren't enough old guitars." At that point, I guess I could have rested my case. Touche'. Fini. That's all, folks. And so on. But this conversation we had about there not being as many old guitars popping up to give me something to write about all the time is a story in itself.

Since I have over thirty years in the "old guitar" business, I am confident I could share (and have shared) more than the roughly 800 words this offers, concerning the brief history and impact of old guitars in our music culture. To that end, let me sum up some of what's been going on and how it relates to a recent concert I attended.

Decades ago, people wanted used guitars because they were often better than what was being produced new, plus they were cheaper to buy. Many popular Gibson and Fender guitars and basses produced in the late `50s and early `60s were far superior to the models being made ten to twenty years later. After a while, many of these vintage guitars were bought up and taken out of circulation, creating less supply and subsequently, higher prices. In addition, guitar manufacturers got wise and began producing better quality guitars once again. This leads me to the rest of the story.

I was recently invited to be a guest at a recent Bruce Springsteen concert. A friend of mine is part of the touring company and another friend did all of the pre-tour set up on all of the guitars used on their tour. I was happy to get out to see a show, even though I was uncertain as to whether or not I would even have a seat. As luck would have it, not only was I given a choice seat, but I also got the opportunity to cruise the stage, check out all the gear and play some of the guitars. It was a fun experience all around. (By the way, the show was great.) Everybody who plays in a band should see a Bruce Springsteen show at least once, just to see how much he gives to his audience.

One thing I noticed while checking out the gear before the show, was that it was practically all new guitars and amps. The point of this is this: First, the new stuff is really good. Secondly, the vintage stuff is so valuable and hard to replace, you just don't want to risk something happening to it while on the road. For a long time, everybody went out with their prized possessions. They were the best. It was what you counted on. Plus, for a long time, as I said, they sounded better than most new guitars. Now, with Springsteen's band, all of their stuff was tweaked before hitting the road. This is true with most guitars.

A guitarist's personal preference for how their instrument feels is a very individual thing. Sometimes straight out of the box won't cut it. Plus, imagine performing in front of 20,000 fans night after night. You want to know you can count on your guitar to do you right. So all of this makes sense to me, particularly with a bona fide rock star. He can afford it. He travels with spares and the whole bit.

But about that concert: toward the end of the night, after at least two plus hours of rockin' it out, Bruce ran back and grabbed his vintage `50s Fender Esquire, the same one he has played for decades, the guitar he has made so much music with. That guitar is to Bruce Springsteen what the Beatle bass is to Paul McCartney: A true American icon in our pop music culture. It warmed my heart to see him run back and grab his trusty, beat-up Esquire and proceed to tear the house down. Maybe it is just the sentimental fool in me. I don't know. But it did make me think about how much I love my old guitar, too.

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

Keep Rockin;