13. Cherry Red Gibson Les Paul Special double-cutaway
OH for the days when a pound bought you almost two US dollars! We’re not talking all that long ago even – the late 90s, in fact, when I made several visits to Austin, Texas, in search of good music, great food and, yes, guitars!
I’ve not visited Austin since 2004 and by then, the town was visibly changing – becoming rather less funky and much more corporate. But the first time I went to Austin, in 1996, it still had a decent amount of the funky old hippyish ramshackleness for which it had been famous since the early 70s, when Willie Nelson was a regular at the Armadillo World Headquarters and Kinky Friedman was nowhere near respectable enough to run for mayor. Texas, as a whole, was pretty much Redneck Central, but Austin remained a liberal oasis in the middle the state. This was borne out by any number of conversations with the various (usually gun-toting) travelling salesmen staying at my Rodeway Inn, near the University of Texas, right by the side of the roaring twin-deck Interstate 35.
But I digress…yes, guitars. Austin had (hopefully still has) some wonderful guitar stores, from numerous pawnshops, to famous South Austin institutions such as Ray Henning’s Heart Of Texas Music (SRV bought one of his Strats from Ray), to big, national chains like Mars Music. The small shops were fun – South Austin Music, next to the Saxon Pub on South Lamar – was my favourite because it carried a lot of interesting secondhand stock. It was there I found and tried one of only two super-rare Fender 30 combos I’ve ever seen. (I bought the other one on eBay a few years ago, but that’s a whole other story!) It was also where I played and nearly bought a used Houston-built Robin Ranger, a stunning Strat/Tele hybrid pre-dating my beloved Squier 51 by a good few years.
But it was Mars Music I kept going back to – the guitars there were SO cheap! Big chains have big buying power, I guess, though Mars went bust many years ago. Combine that with the way musical gear, like cars, always seems to cost less, in the States and the fact I was getting something like $1.82 to the pound at that stage and it made the prospect of a brand-new, made in the USA Gibson Les Paul for $499 pretty damned irresistible!
OK, it was a double-cutaway Les Paul Special, not one of those pricey furniture-grade common-or-garden Lesters, but even so, it was a colossal bargain – and I’d thought them impossibly cool ever since I first saw Mick Jones wielding a yellow one with The Clash.
It came home with me in one of those nice, heavily-padded triangular Gibson gig bags. It was a lovely guitar, but at that stage of my stumbling guitar journey, I still struggled with anything that wasn’t a Strat or a Tele (too many control knobs apart from anything), and it never quite felt, well, me! I had it about six months and barely gigged it before selling it on (for a decent profit, too.) Should’ve hung on to it, of course…
My abiding memory of that, my very first Gibson, is one that still brings a smile to my face, in a sort of I’ll-laugh-about-this-one-day way. The January after bringing it back from Austin, I took the Special with me when hosted some all-night jams for Monica Madgwick’s Boogaloo organisation at Littlecote House, a Tudor stately home near Hungerford. At about 3.30am, those wonderful West Country rockers, the Nightporters showed up from a gig somewhere in the vicinity. They were due to play at Littlecote the following day and it was easier than driving all the way home to Plymouth. The band’s frontman had clearly imbibed fairly freely at the evening’s gig and was as cheerful as a small, green amphibian. Pressed to get up and play, he agreed, if he could borrow a guitar. Foolishly, I offered him the Special, rather than one of my Strats. He was barely able to stand and only managed one song, swinging with my precious new guitar’s fragile headstock perilously close to various amps and bits of furniture. Then he fell over and spent the rest of the song playing on his back! Never have I been more relieved to get a guitar back!
Sadly, I was unable to find any pics of that Les Paul. The image here is one I found on Google…it was being advertised on Reverb for about five times what I paid for mine!
14. Aztec Gold (or Inca Silver) USA Standard Strat
NOT very much to say about this rather pretty guitar – one of two gold Strats I’ve owned over the years. I’ve long had a bit of a thing about gold Strats, but neither of the Strats I bought ended up staying for long. I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I don’t actually remember buying this guitar, playing it or selling it. I found the pictures on my hard drive, but only have a vague recollection. That’s it. What was I thinking?
Hugely successful and popular they have been, I’ve never really liked Fender’s workmanlike US Standard guitars, with their clunky tuners, flat fingerboards and horrible, modern bridges. Their only redeeming features in my eyes, were the pickups – the ones many players quickly replaced with expensive aftermarket sets. They are actually excellent-sounding pickups. You used to be able to buy for next to nothing on eBay and I’ve used several sets over the years.
15. Red Mexican 60s Tele
AN impulse buy, no doubt about it.. You may remember me telling you how Owen requisitioned my Mexican Tele and took it off to LA after using it at his sister’s wedding in 2009…
Afterwards, I’d suffering such terrible cold Tele turkey that I found myself in John Priest’s old Peach guitar shop, just outside Braintree, my mind set on getting another one.
I tried a few and rather took a shine to one from the Mexican “Roadworn” series. Far better than the US Teles of the day, though it was a shame about the supposedly “relic” finishes – not so much roadworn, as crudely belt-sanded!
Eventually, my eyes alighted on a rather fetching Candy Apple Red rosewood-board “60s” Tele at the back of young Mr Priest’s forest of Fenders. It had been knocking around the shop a couple of years and John was very happy to see it waltz out of the shop and past the peacocks in the yard in exchange for what I considered a very reasonable sum.