While writing a review for a guitar tuner, of all things, I was reminded of a story. It’s a somewhat sad story, but with an exceptional silver lining: it brought me to the guitar that changed my life as a musician. And it all started with me hitting up Craigslist.
“A BOSS TU-3, brand new, for half the price. BRAND NEW. There must be a catch!”, I thought to myself. Well, I decided not to question good fortune and visit the gentleman seller. A few email exchanges later, I was on my way.
An older Eastern European man and his startled guard dog welcomed me at the door. He takes me to the basement, past yesterday’s laundry, through the storage area, and to a room with a startlingly contrasted atmosphere. Dark wooden floors surrounded by freshly painted beige walls, and lighting perfectly dimmed for its purpose. It would appear I walked into the sanctuary of a guitar enthusiast. Guitars, carefully chosen and respected, adorned any free wall not supporting amps and cabs.
A golden Gibson stood radiant in front of me. My heart skipped a beat.
He proceeded to show me the tuner and assured me it was in great working order. Fair enough. “Why are you selling this so cheap? It’s practically new”, I inquired, against my better judgement. “It’s got to go. All of it”, he replied with arms open to the entire room.
“All of it?! But why?!”
It turns out this older gentleman was in the construction business, but had a passion for music deeply rooted in his childhood. When he moved to Canada to pursue better fortunes, he built this sanctuary as a tribute to his undying love for music and the friends he left behind. But why then must he see it all go?
A recent accident during work had robbed his left hand of the mobility he needed to play. There was very little chance of a full recovery. For him, the joy of playing music was gone. The gear he used to relive the joys of his youth now merely mocked him. My greatest fear in life now stood before me as a reality to this man. It was heart-breaking to hear him describe it. As a complete stranger, there was very little solace I could offer.
“I need to get rid of all of it. I don’t want to look at them anymore. They deserve to be played.”
“What about this one?” I immediately took the Golden Gibson into my hands. “It’s great, isn’t it? But look at these others!”, he said as he drew my attention towards the other guitars in his collection. I indulged the gentleman and tried some of the other fine specimens. As fine as they were, it did not matter. They only made me more stubborn in my initial choice — the Golden Gibson. The smell of the wood, the way my hands glided effortlessly across the frets, the inexplicable smile it put on my face; the guitar didn’t fight me, it befriended me.
The Right Guitar
Ladies and gentleman, finding the right guitar is akin to falling in love. You don’t see it coming, you can’t explain it, but you just know. When I held that guitar, I submerged into a body of warm water. Goosebumps covered my skin as the rich natural aroma intoxicated me. The notes became an extension of myself, not an external stimulus. I was no longer speaking through a megaphone to those who would listen, but having a conversation between two long lost friends. Reality only returned with a splash of cold water and sense of longing. If you don’t understand where I’m coming from, I don’t envy you.
He could see it. I can only imagine he felt the same way. The hesitation in his eyes was painfully evident. Clearing his throat, he proceeded to describe the technical qualities of the specimen, maintaining upmost professionalism. The Gibson Les Paul ’60s Studio Deluxe was a mahogany masterpiece with two uncovered humbucking pickups — the 490R and Burstbucker Pro, a bookmatched Grade-A Heritage Cherry Sunburst maple top, and a Bigsby Vibrato. Beautiful.
He took the guitar from me. And as he held it, he broke character.
“This guitar is a 50th birthday present from my wife,” he said, pointing to the gold truss-rod cover. On it was engraved, ‘To Vladimir, 1962’. “A lot of people have been interested in this one. But they all just want to take it and resell it for more money. I couldn’t do that. It deserves a good home.”
With a mixture of frustration and duty, Vladimir returned the guitar to me. “You won’t do that. You’ll give it a good home and play it like it deserves to be played”, he said sternly. He didn’t have to tell me; I had no other intention.
We settled on a price. He didn’t even put up a fight. Neither did I. I left his home with the Golden Gibson, an Ampeg combo + cab that complimented the Gibson perfectly, and the guitar tuner that started it all for far far less than their worth. Vladimir kept the engraved truss-rod cover; I wouldn’t of had it any other way.
Perhaps the importance of this story is not very evident to anyone but myself. But the way this guitar has changed the way I play, and the joy I get out of it, has made all the difference. What happened to Vladimir is terrifying. I couldn’t imagine how it feels to be in that situation. But one dream dying to give life to another. That’s something, isn’t it? I hope I never take it for granted.
Whenever I get a new instrument, I always give it a name. It’s just a little thing I do. My Godin is ‘Oscar’ and my Larrivée is ‘James’. ‘Vladimir’, the Golden Gibson, was the latest addition to the family.