gunthergreen posted a pic of his Les Paul today in honor of the 96th anniversary of his birth. (Les’ birth, not Matt’s…he looks much younger.) You guys all played with the google doodle today, right?
Mine is about a ‘74 or ‘75. I took it in to get it appraised and dated once, and they couldn’t be sure since a lot of the original hardware had been replaced. The guy there was just heartbroken for me, muttering something about how the value was shot because there were non-original parts.
Funny, I thought the “value” came from making music with it. (Note: there is no lamer posse of assbags than the guitar collecting scene. Another rant for another time.)
Anyway, I got this guitar in the summer of ‘88. The Recliners were playing a gig at this little cinder block corner dump somewhere down in Bridgeport, the kind of place where we had to move the pool table up against the wall so we had room to play. We did (do) a lot of those places.
This older guy, maybe 50, looked like a vet, is sitting at the end of the bar, alone, really enjoying the show. During one of the breaks, he comes up to me and says he has a guitar he’s looking to sell, and was I interested? I said sure, I’ll take a look. I was flat-ass broke at the time, but it never hurts to window shop. He said he lived around the corner. He goes to get it and comes back ten minutes later. I open up the case: whoa. It’s a bit of a mess, poorly cared for, and obviously someone had played the hell out of this thing for 15ish years. But it’s gorgeous, weighs a million pounds like a 2” slab of mahogany should, and just kind of has that epic Les Paul rock and roll look.
I picked it up, strummed it a bit. Neck was warped, strings were rusty, action was about an inch high. All fixable. He said, “I can’t play anymore since the arthritis got so bad.” He showed me his hands, which were kind of curled up in these partial fists. I’d noticed earlier he was having a hard time with his beer—I thought he was drunk, but he just couldn’t grip it.
I said, “It’s a beauty. What do you want for it?” kind of expecting him to say something outrageous, and thinking that’d be the end of this little daydream.
"How about $200?"
"Stay right here for a minute," I said.
I had $5 in my wallet. We were going to get paid about $100 total for the gig. I told the rest of the guys in the band about what was about to be the deal of the century. They agreed to let me take the money for the show. They also lent me a few bucks each, and so did some of my friends who came to see us that night. I had the $200 and we had a deal.
"Thanks," he said to me. "You’re doing me a favor getting this out of my house. I don’t need the reminder." I couldn’t believe it…I was getting a beautiful if beat up guitar for about 10-15% of its value and he was thanking me.
I guess looking back it was a win/win transaction, but I can’t help feeling to this day I got the better end of the deal.
Happy birthday, Les. And thanks, anonymous arthritic south side dude.