News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

One of my oldest and best friends was a fellow by the name of Bill Hawkins. Bill passed away a few years ago, but his memory and spirit live on. Bill was a guitar player and musical instrument enthusiast and we worked together off and on for about 25 years. Bill was very intelligent and witty. One of the things about him that I appreciated was the sage statements he made. I always figured that the best use of my own intelligence was to pay attention to those wiser than myself, so whenever Bill would reel off one of his quotes, I would log it into my memory, knowing someday it might come in handy. So, with this in mind, I will get on with the rest of the story.

About a month ago, I received an email at work in the morning. It seems this family had inherited a guitar and they wanted to find out what it was worth and also if I would be interested in buying it. They described the guitar as being a Fender Stratocaster, made in the 1950s. Well, that alone is enough to grab my attention. I replied, stating I would be interested in this guitar but would need to know more about it. I suggested they give me a call, for things like this are usually better off being discussed person-to-person. Much to my pleasant surprise, the phone rings right away and it's the owner of the Fender Strat. We discuss this instrument, they fill me in on the history and describe it as being in near flawless condition. Now, if you know much about vintage guitars, then you can appreciate the scarcity of finding an instrument that is approximately 50 years old and in near-mint, unplayed condition; particularly a Fender Stratocaster. By now, most vintage Strats are fairly well-played and are no longer in original condition.

I tried to keep myself cool, calm and collected while on the phone. We agree that what they have described is a very valuable guitar. We came to an agreement on what it would be worth and on a purchase price. Now, at this point, I do not know where they are calling from. In this modern-day world of electronic communications, they may have been in the next county over, or perhaps across the great divide, but as it turns out, they were within reasonable driving distance of Louisville and we agreed to meet half-way to make the transaction. So I simply drop what I am doing, get myself together and take off to meet them on that long, lonesome highway of guitar deals. If you have ever gone out on a trip to get something like this, then you know the combined feeling of excitement plus anxiety that travels the path with you.

A few hours later I am in the company of this family and their prized `50s Fender Stratocaster. Since I am used to looking at guitars primarily indoors, under artificial lighting, it takes a bit of getting used to, looking at this guitar in natural sunlight. I have to let my eyes adjust to this. I know they are probably wondering why I keep looking at it in the shade, in the direct sunlight and any combination in between. I'll get around to letting them know all this, but first, I will share with you readers what prompted this writing. Many years ago, Bill imparted on me these words of wisdom: "Jimmy," he said, "remember, no deal is better than a bad deal." Thankfully I have never forgotten this, because it's human nature to want to get something; to only see the good and block out the bad. Often, we act with our hearts and not our minds.

I am not saying that is always a bad thing, but in the world of vintage guitars, one had better be very careful. So there I was, out there on the highway of high hopes and big disappointment, where the heart meets the mind. There was something about this guitar that did not sit right with me. Was it the finish on the neck? The frets? I could not put my finger on it. Maybe the family was hiding something? Trying to pull a fast one? Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, something did not seem quite right, I didn't know what. And with these types of instruments, condition and originality reign supreme. The potential to make thousands was there, but the potential to lose thousands was there, also.

My heart wanted to convince the rest of me that everything was cool, that I was just being paranoid, but mind was telling me to check this out, look at that feature, etc. Since I did not want to keep these people waiting too long, I knew I had to either hold 'em, or fold 'em, as the song goes. Fortunately, I could hear Bill Hawkins reminding me that no deal was better than a bad deal, and with that simple idea, I politely passed on the guitar. I did not question their integrity or anything else about the situation. I just passed, thanked them for their willingness to meet me half-way and turned around and headed home.

Although I would have liked to have bought the guitar, I am glad I was able to overcome that emotion and save that money for another deal, another day.

So Bill, wherever you are, I say thanks for the advice.

I guess that's all for now.

Until next time,

Keep Rockin