Jimmy Brown

This Old Guitar

By Jimmy Brown

In the last column, I paid tribute to the late, great Beatle, George Harrison. His guitar playing and participation in what is arguably the greatest rock group ever, continues to influence countless guitarists. I focused on the instruments he played, and how those instruments influenced later guitar players. I had taken time out to pick up a copy of the book Beatles Gear, by Andy Babiuk, while writing the last issue. Since then, I have been unable to put it down. For those of you who, like me, are for some reason fascinated with old guitars and stuff, I highly recommend this book. It is filled with great info and lots of behind the scenes photos, particularly those associated with the Beatles gear.

The one aspect of the book which I found to be very interesting is the author's effort to document what the guitars cost back then, and how it relates in dollars and cents to today. Since the book was written in England and the author's info comes from the U.K., some of the dollar amounts are slightly off, due to changes in exchange rates and customs values, etc. It is not perfect science, but close enough. Basically, it substantiated what I have always believed, and that is that guitars today are no more expensive then they ever have been. In fact, they are for the most part less expensive today. Quite often, I have a customer remark on how expensive these guitars cost today: who do we think we are to ask such prices?

First off, when it comes to new guitars, it is the manufacturers who establish the retail prices of their instruments. We, as music store owners, just work within the parameters of the free enterprise system. So, in keeping with the last column, I thought this time I would carry on with the George Harrison and whole Beatle theme, and show how the guitars of yesterday were just as tough to acquire as they seem to be today.

In the beginning, the Beatles were no different than any of the rest of us: young kids trying to get it together to be in a band. Getting the girls was, and still is, part of the incentive behind all this. For most of us working class people (the Fab Four included), nice guitars are not real affordable, at least not at the outset. We have to gradually work our way up. And this was true with John, Paul, and George. They, like so many other gifted artists, proved that talent, desire and commitment can overcome such obstacles as lousy gear. They started off with the cheap mail order and thrift store stuff and gradually worked their way up.

Since time and space limit the length of this column, I will try and focus on just a few examples of the Beatle gear, the stuff they used once they became famous. By the early Sixties, Beatlemania was taking shape in England; Brian Epstein had done his work well. Still, the Fab Four had to scratch and claw for their gear for the most part. Back then in England, mainland Europe and here in the States, people did business the old fashioned way: they paid cash. You went to the local shop and made your purchase. People built relationships between merchant and customer. The tendency was not to discount so much back then but to allow the customer to make regular payments over time. (Wow, what a concept.) Seems like a whole `nother place in time and yet, it really wasn't that long ago. Nowadays, no one pays the retail price, and you most likely put the purchase on your credit card. So, with that said, here are some examples of yesterday and today, compliments of The Beatles:

'58 Rickenbacker 325: 1960 price $270 - year 2000 dollars: $1600

'63 Rickenbacker 325: 1963 price $399 - year 2000 dollars $2150

'63 Gretsch Country Gentleman: 1963 price $740 - year 200 dollars $4600

'62 Gibson J-160E: 1962 price $450 - year 2000 dollars $2050

'64 Rickenbacker 360/12 1964 price $550 - year 2000 dollars $3120

'64 Rickenbacker 330/12: 1964 price $400 - year 2000 dollars $2400

'64 Rickenbacker 4001 bass: 1964 price $515 - year 2000 dollars $2470

'65 Fender Stratocaster: 1965 price $400 - year 2000 dollars $2400

So there you have it. It is difficult to list what all of these instruments would cost right now, since a number of them are no longer made, or if they are, they are part of a limited edition, collector item series which tends to skew the price unfavorably. A couple of examples we can use, however, are the Rickenbacker 330/12, the Rickenbacker 4001 bass and the Fender Stratocaster. The Rickenbacker 330/12 has a list price of $1529. The Rickenbacker 4001 is now the 4003, with a list price of $1529. The Fender Stratocaster, in all its many varieties, would have a median price of about $1000, I suppose. Considering you can buy a new guitar for somewhere between 20 and 40 percent off the list price, you can do the math and figure out what this stuff would actually cost you today. A quick rundown of other similar guitars to the previous list would also show that we really don't have it so bad today. Good guitars can be had, and they are not any more expensive now they ever have been.

The basics still apply. If you want to be in a successful band, you will probably have to scratch and dig and save to afford some nice gear. And then - but just as importantly - you're gonna have to learn how to play that darn thing! And then, get in a band, and practice and try to get along with each other and get some gigs, and try and make some money and then upgrade your gear and get a manager, and audition and try and get a record deal, and record and tour, and breakdown on the road, and try not to fight and get married and explain to your spouse why you really need all those guitars, and, and, and, well, you get the picture.

Well I guess that's all for now.

Until next time,

Keep Rockin'