Thursday, 29 April 2021 17:05

COLUMN: My 20-year guitar-buying obsession

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The Fender family, all but one of which was bought at Fuller's Music in New Bern. The Fender family, all but one of which was bought at Fuller's Music in New Bern.

Some of my friends tell me that I have too many guitars.

I often retort that there’s no such thing.

However, in a moment of self-deprecation, I will admit that I have too many for my skill level — but, thanks to being friends with so many local musicians, especially Chuck Smith, I’m getting better.

While working at another publication in  April 2018, I wrote a column about my collection for International Guitar Month. Since my guitar bounty has just about doubled in the past three years, I figured it was time for an update.

The very first guitar I remember was a red plastic nylon-string toy guitar I had as a child. I received my first real guitar for Christmas some time in the late ‘80s, but not knowing what I was doing, snapped the neck from the body while tightening the strings.

A few years later, I was gifted a classical guitar that I messed around with for several years, but never really learned to play. In the time that I had it, a string had broken that I never replaced. One day, my brother — a toddler at the time — had pulled the guitar into the living room and my visually impaired mother tripped over and broke it. I decided to give it a Hendrix-style funeral by dousing it with lighter fluid and setting it ablaze.

I purchased my first two guitars on the same day in 2000 from competing music stores in downtown New Bern after taking a class at Craven Community College.

When we walked into Fuller’s Music, there was a display of four Fender Squier Stratocasters — three black, one burgundy (not sure whether to call it candy apple red or wine). Black was one of my favorite colors, but I let my brother decide and he reached up from the stroller for the beauty that would be named Scarlett.

The guy at the shop, who would go on to sell me several other guitars over 20 years, said it would take a day or two for a setup, so we went across the street to Jones-Potts, a music story that dealt mostly in pianos, but had a few guitars.

Since I had an electric, I was now looking for an acoustic. There I spied a blue Johnson dreadnought. I was poor and it was $100, so I took it — not caring much about the strings being fairly high off the fretboard — and named it, of course, Blue.

Because of the high action, Blue is currently set up for slide playing.

A few years later, we took a family vacation to eastern Kentucky and we didn’t have room for me to pack either of my guitars. After visiting Loretta Lynn’s birthplace, we stopped at a nearby music shop where I bought my third — a black Spencer acoustic which I called Ebony.

Are you noticing a pattern in the naming yet?

Ebony was my pride and joy for several years until a strip of binding chipped off from the neck and the frets starting cutting my hands.

I went to Fuller’s in 2012 to find out how much it would cost to repair and discovered it would be cheaper to buy a new one. Hanging on the rack were a few moderately priced Fender T-bucket acoustics. After polling friends on Facebook, I went with the one I named Sandy.

Around the same time, one of my cousins, who also played guitar, found a knock-off Spirit SG — a body style made famous by AC/DC’s axeman Angus Young. Turns out, Spirit was a partnership between Gibson and Baldwin to produce low-priced instruments in support for music in schools. So, with Crimson added to the mix, I now had five.

When I moved to Rockingham in 2014, I only brought Sandy with me, leaving the other behind. (I eventually brought them all here.)

I hadn’t really planned on buying any more, but in December 2015, I saw Amy Berry post a red acoustic-electric on Facebook for sale. It was a Spencer, like Ebony, so I decided I’d take Rose off her hands as a Christmas present to myself.

After that is when guitar buying started to become a bad habit.

In 2016, I wanted to buy myself a guitar for my 35th birthday. I was trying to decide which body style I wanted to go with next: a Les Paul or a Telecaster.

After browsing online, I settled with one of the most affordable signature editions on the market: the Epiphone AFD Slash Les Paul Special II. With Guns n’ Roses being one of my favorite bands, I was kinda stoked. I made the drive up to Fayetteville to buy Goldie from Guitar Center.

I’ve had the opportunity to play Goldie a few times on stage, sitting in on “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” with regional band Hardwired.

When my birthday rolled around the following year, I went to Casino Guitars in Southern Pines with the intent, this time, on getting a Tele.

Local musician Jonathan Robinson, who works at the store, showed me several models. Having an affinity for paisley print, I almost went with the Brad Paisley signature model. But after playing a few, decided on the honeyburst Modern Player telecaster, aptly named Honey.

Now, this about where my first column left off, with me asking: Should I get another? 

Well, I did.

At the end of April 2018, while on the way home following the death of my uncle, I stopped by Fuller’s to buy a pack of strings — and left with a Breedlove acoustic. I took her over to Hudson Brother’s Deli one night and Robin Roberts suggested a name: Blondie.

For many years, I’ve been a fan of slide playing and, even though I’m not very good at it, decided I needed a resonator — you know, to get more proficient.

So, when I went back home less than two months later, I stopped by Fuller’s once again and tried out a few they had in stock, walking out with a Fender Brown Derby resonator— Brownie —  as a Father’s Day gift to myself.

The next year, on the last day of the Epicenter music festival at Rockingham Dragway, there was a booth selling guitars autographed by some of the musicians who had played or made an appearance (in the case of Alice Cooper’s axe maiden Nita Strauss.) I hauled the white Ibanez GIO back to the media tent and managed to gain two more signatures from members of the band 311. I tried to get Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello to sign it, but he was whisked away by his handler.

Ivory doesn’t get handled much because I don’t want to wear off the signatures.

Without as much disposable income, I figured I was done buying guitars for a while.

I was wrong.

My mother, who is now completely blind, had a dream a year or so back about getting me a green acoustic guitar. We had been looking for one to no avail.

While Christmas shopping on Black Friday in 2019, we stopped by Fuller’s. I remembered seeing a green Fender Redondo hanging up in there before and, sure enough, it was still there.

Since I had bought two other guitars and other gear there over the past two years, I got a pretty good deal on Jade.

Around the same time, I also bought a cigar-box guitar kit from Books-A-Million — which I have yet to put together.

In late September of 2020, I got a random message from someone I’d met singing karaoke asking if I wanted to buy a guitar. He was the second person to ask me that day (can’t remember who the other was).

He said he’d had the Epiphone Les Paul Special II for three years, but needed spending money for an out-of-state job. So I bought Amber.

A few weeks later, a friend messaged me and said he was getting rid of some of his equipment. I told him I couldn’t really afford anything at the moment, but asked what he had just in case I might be willing to splurge.

He sent me the list — which included a Breedlove acoustic, Schecter bass, microphones and stands, a pedal board and a few amps and speakers — and told me the price for the lot.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I didn’t really need the bass since I don’t really play that instrument and already have one I bought from J.A. Bolton (which is still at Eric Whitfield’s house).

So I gained another acoustic, Autumn, and wound up trading the bass to another friend for an Abilene hollow body electric that I subsequently named Ruby.

In addition to Goldie, I’ve also played Honey, Jade and Autumn on stage, either for local open-mic nights or sitting in with friends.

I would like to say my guitar-buying days are over — but that would be a lie.

Aside from having the cash (and the room) the main question is: what’s next?

(P.S. If you see a paisley or purple guitar for a decent price, let me know.)

William R. Toler is managing editor of the Richmond Observer.



Last modified on Thursday, 29 April 2021 23:20