While perusing an old copy (circa 2000) of Guitar World the other day I ran into an editorial piece I’d completely forgotten about. It addressed a truly rare occurrence in the life of any guitarist, or musician in general, and reminded me of several close calls I’ve had when it comes to the vintage instrument market.
Like anything else considered “vintage” these days (cars, comic books, baseball cards, etc.), vintage guitars are highly prized and sell for thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. So when an employee at a small-town recycling facility (otherwise known as a dump) dug out a battered tweed guitar case, he figured his best bet would be to show it to his brother-in-law, a guitarist, before making any type of hasty decision. Good choice my lucky friend.
It turns out that mysterious (and probably quite smelly) guitar case contained a near-mint condition 1950s Fender Stratocaster. This is the part where my mouth drops open in disbelief and the drool starts to pool at my feet. Put it this way – a quick Internet search revealed to me a 1961 Strat, in similar condition, going for nearly $35,000.
It’s quite rare today to hear stories like this one but, believe it or not, it does happen. And it’s actually come close to happening to me a time or two.
I was twelve or thirteen years of age and just beginning to fiddle with the guitar when, one day, my father returned from a long day of carpet installation with one of those “mysterious cases” in hand. It turns out, the gentleman he’d been working for was an old fan of one of my dad’s bands back in the 1970s. He’d recently unearthed a guitar, purchased for his son in the early 50s, which was strummed a couple of times before being left underneath a bed in an out-of-the-way spare bedroom. Since his son obviously didn’t want the thing (it had been sitting there for over thirty years), this particular gentleman offered it to my father, who was well aware of my growing interest in the guitar (not to mention the fact that I didn’t own one yet). We were beyond surprised, however, when we opened up the case to reveal a mint condition 1950s Gretsch White Falcon, probably worth $40,000 to $50,000 even in those days.
Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to play this beautiful musical specimen, this little slice of guitar heaven, for about a week. The gracious gentleman’s son, when informed of his father’s generous gift, demanded the return of the guitar and that was that. I wasn’t too disappointed, but I still wish to this day we could’ve come up with some sort of excuse to get rid of the guy (aliens stole the guitar, we sold it on the black market, the dog ate it, I don’t know, something).
The sad part about it is, most people lucky enough to discover a hidden relic such as this probably begin looking for a buyer immediately. That kind of behavior, in my mind, is similar to my displeasure when someone purchases a ridiculously expensive guitar only to hang it on the wall as a piece of art. In my world that makes absolutely no sense. Guitars are meant to be played.
Obviously, chances are I’ll never find myself in a similar situation as the aforementioned recycling center (dump) employee, but then again, I could always put a want ad out there offering free attic cleaning services. My only stipulation – I get to keep any mysterious guitar cases I find, no questions asked.