Early days and hard lessons

Guestblog by Russel Grooms

I am what you might consider a newcomer to the vintage guitar scene, but I’m a fast learner. In the time it has taken me to amass a collection of books and to strike up friendships with various dealers, different guitars have passed through my hands and back out again. Very few have stayed.

For those that do still have a home, I have some criteria that I can`t overlook. Out with anything with a crack in it, out with anything with non-original parts and out with anything built after 1969. This might seem harsh but I did not get into the vintage guitar world to own masses and masses of guitars.

I got into this world because I don’t trust banks and I don’t have a pension. What I do have at the ripe old age of 37 is the money to invest in something that brings me happiness, is of historical interest, has unsurpassed design quality and will hopefully never depreciate. Of course, all markets are fickle but with the rising interest in the sub-culture of anything “vintage”, I think it’s a safe bet to say that I won’t lose money in the long term.

I’m not fooled into thinking that I ‘own’ these guitars. I’m a caretaker, content to have them in my possession and play them, nurture them and keep them from harm until I can no longer do so, at which point they will be passed onto the next person. If this was not the way of the world then I would not have the guitars I have now and someone else would not be playing a great Banner L-48 or the ’73 D-28 I had heard a few weeks ago. They will be sitting on a porch somewhere playing their hearts out to the moonlight, not bothered by the cracks and living for the sound and the feeling that those old boxes bring. I may be fussy but I still miss them and hear their tones in my head but I console myself that I can always tune into the memory.

I am always on the hunt for something new, but as my ear develops and my eyes become keener to the finer points of cosmetic damage, I find it harder and harder to find something that ticks all the boxes. With prices rising fast, it’s no good for me to put my money in a ’58 Country and Western if it’s a bad player because I’ll never pick it up. It’s the same as buying a Ferrari and then putting it in the garage. You might as well wrap your cash in a brown envelope and bury it in the garden. Those guitars are out there but with each investment come higher price tags and a harder search.

The day I first played my 61’ Hummingbird was a jaw-dropping moment and I had to beg the dealer not to sell it until I could raise the money. In the end, it took 6 months to secure it and I know he held a lot of people back in that time but he saw the look on my face… love at first strum. The question is now can I be a master to more than one mistress? It’s going to take one hell of a guitar to even come close. I know now within seconds, much to the amusement of dealers as I plow through their collections like a locust through a cornfield.

Visits to vintage guitar shops are no longer for casual browsing and I have to be in the mood, focused, well fed and wide awake, like an athlete on the block. First and foremost it’s the tone and the playability I’m looking for, after that it’s the tick list. What happens when I find an awesome sounding guitar with cracks or non-original tuners, or changed bridge? I put it back. I remember the tone like a photograph and I put it back because no matter how good it sounds or plays, there will be a better one out there and I can’t risk the dread of knowing that I let the part of my brain that is ruled by sound over-ride the part that governs my strict rulings. It’s like walking a tightrope with myself and I don’t intend to trip at this stage. I’m off to view a collection of slope shoulders Gibsons tomorrow. Wish me luck and let’s hope the stars are aligned for that magic moment when time stops and I know I’m holding the Holy Grail.

By Russell Grooms

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