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A Little Nostalgia

This might have been the coolest catalog of all. They made about a gazillion different guitars and even though they were never at the level of Gibson or Fender, they had the cool factor above everyone else.

This might have been the coolest catalog of all. Vox made about a gazillion different guitars and even though they were never at the level of Gibson or Fender, they had the cool factor above everyone else. I carried this around with me all through ’66.

Imagine a world with no internet. OK, if you had to imagine it, you’re too young to get this post. But if you remember how life was before everyone was connected-like it or not-this may speak to you.

Within the first minute or so of the Beatles first Ed Sullivan Show appearance, I decided I would be a guitar player. I share this moment with a few million kids around my age. I was 11 and a half at the time (February 9, 1964) and immediately started bugging my father for a guitar. He brought home a Kay flat top from Woolworths that cost him somewhere around 15 bucks. “Learn to play it and I’ll get you something better.” I think he figured he was safe since follow through was not my greatest strength as a child. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Hermie's in Schenectady where retail rules. Still there with the same sign out front. I'm pretty sure Hermie himself is no longer with us, however. I haven't set foot in the store since 1964 but it looks exactly the same- from the outside anyway..

Hermie’s in Schenectady where retail plus 10% rules. Still there with the same sign out front. I’m pretty sure Hermie himself is no longer with us, however. I was thrown out of Hermies at least 25 times.

What strikes me now is how hard it was to know just what guitars were out there and who made them and how much did they cost and what made this guitar better than that guitar. We had just a few ways to learn about them. There were two music stores in Schenectady, NY where I grew up. The oft maligned (by me) Hermie’s who sold Fenders and Martins and would charge full retail plus another 10% to set up the guitar and deliver it (who charges to set up a new guitar?) The other music store was Georges and they sold Gibsons and cheap Japanese junk with the name St. George. The Gibsons were mostly big jazz boxes that were lined up in a glass case. Nobody was allowed to play them and especially not little kids. Hermies was even worse. Hermie would literally toss us out of his store if we didn’t intend to buy anything. Later-in 66 or 67, he would throw you out if you had long hair. So, at least we could see some of the guitars that were available from the big manufacturers and find out how much they cost. I remember asking for a Gibson brochure at Georges and a Fender brochure at Hermie’s. They both said essentially the same thing…”these brochures cost money” (which they didn’t-they were always free to dealers)-and “come back with your parents if you want one.” So, no brochures or catalogs.  At least not from the local dealers. We would write a letter to the company and about 6 weeks later, get a catalog in the mail. I heard back from Fender, Gibson, Epiphone and Vox. I took them with me everywhere I went. They were in tatters from thumbing through them and drooling.

TV was a great way to get a good look at the guitars of the day. The first 335 I ever saw was in the hands of Johnny Rivers on the after school TV show “Shindig” or was it “Hullabaloo”. It was red but it was hard to tell on black and white TV. We didn’t get a color TV until around 67. Those two TV shows (and Bandstand) and a couple of others often gave us our first glimpse of a Jazzmaster or a Sheraton or a Vox Phantom. I remember seeing the Hollies on “Hullabaloo” and playing “Look Through Any Window” with Tony Hicks playing a Phantom 12. Coolest thing I ever saw. I went out and bought the single the next day and the Hollies were a personal favorite from that moment on. It was a pretty crappy 12 string once I got to play one years later but the coolness factor was off the charts. I remember getting the Vox brochure which was a big foldout affair that said “Vox: It’s What’s Happening.” A few years later, I would buy a Vox Royal Guardsman amp. Worst piece of crap I ever owned. Nice speakers though (Celestion Silvers) and a half decent built in fuzz. The thing was broken more often than it worked. Traded it for ’64 Showman 15. The Fender brochure always had lots of cool stuff but the one that caught my eye was the Bass VI. Cool design, three pickups and a whammy but it was a bass and I was a guitar player. Why couldn’t they use that cool half Strat/half Jazzmaster body for a guitar? I didn’t actually own a Bass VI until last Friday when one walked into my shop and I bought it. Still a really cool guitar (uh, bass).

Album covers were the other way to learn about guitars. I remember seeing my first Esquire on the Yardbirds “Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds” in Jeff Beck’s hands (half hidden behind Keith Relf). I thought it was the ugliest guitar I had ever seen. We were all familiar with John’s Rickenbacker 325 and George’s Country Gentleman and Paul’s Hofner from photos on the albums (“Something New” had the classic lineup). I recall Gene Cornish of “The Rascals” on the back on one of their albums with a black Barney Kessel. Haven’t seen one since. Then there was Brian Jones with the white teardrop Vox and also with a Firebird VII, Roger McGuinn with a Ricky 360-12 (I think he was still Jim) and David Crosby with a Gretsch Tennessean? Zal Yanovsky’s Guild Thunderbird still sticks in my mind as well. Those were the days…

First 335 I ever saw was played by Johnny Rivers (sitting down) on "Shindig"

First 335 I ever saw was played by Johnny Rivers (sitting down) on “Shindig”

 

8 Responses to “A Little Nostalgia”

  1. Chris says:

    Very nice post , Charlie !
    Got my first guitar $70 , a 63 blonde / maple neck tele in 1972 and a monster Traynor Studio on casters . Still have the amp..

    Thanks , Dad !!

  2. RAB says:

    Cool story. My first “electric” guitar was a POS imported acoustic with a cheap soundhole pickup. Action a mile high, ugh! After I blew the speakers in my dad’s stereo playing my guitar through it my folks took me to Leo’s Music in downtown Oakland. On a budget, we picked out a Fender Musicmaster and Deluxe Amp. The guitar was a 1959 or ’60 model in Desert Sand. The amp, a non-reverb ’64! Of course since the guitar had a few scratches and dings I refinished it in flat black paint and covered it with flame decals from my model car kits! Boss man!! (Good thing it wasn’t a nicer guitar, eh?) Interestingly the amp I most gig now, 50 years later is a 1964 Fender non-reverb Deluxe (with a Celestion Gold speaker)! Come full circle…

  3. RAB says:

    P.S. I also loved pouring over the catalogs back in the day. Roger Calkins Music had stacks of them by the door so we helped ourselves. Marshall, Gibson, Fender…the Kustom catalogs were particularly large and colorful with the “Nauga” cute animal mascot!

  4. RAB says:

    Let’s hear more first guitar stories! ’59 Burst and Plexi stack?! :>}

  5. James says:

    First guitar ever was a 1955 or 1956 Silvertone archtop with the OM body style, non-cutaway. It was unplayable from sitting in my neighbors attic for 40 years. First electric was an Epiphone LP with the bolt on neck! No carved top, just a slab body, probably basswood, painted black. Pickups in it probably cost less than the lunch I had that day. The guitar itself wasn’t anything to brag about, but it sparked a lifelong interest in guitars. I guess we all still drool over guitars, it just happens on the internet now.

  6. Keith says:

    It was frustrating being a kid and not being taken seriously by music stores. Your story about Hermies reminded my of something that happened to me in about 1967. Like you, I was inspired by the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show a few years earlier. I would go to a store in Toronto on a regular basis and look at this beautiful Country Gentleman, just like George’s, that was hanging on the wall behind the counter. I wanted it so badly. I saved and saved until I finally had enough money to buy it and went straight to the store with the cash in my pocket. I asked the mean man at the counter if I could play the Country Gent. He said no, it was too expensive for a kid. I was hurt and left the store in tears. Humiliated and disappointed, I walked to another music store and there was a gorgeous sunburst ES-335 hanging on the wall. I asked to see that one and the man there was very accommodating and let me play it. I fell in love with the guitar. I pulled out the cash that I had saved for the Country Gent and the guy said ok, I’ll let you have the 335. I bought it on the spot. The first guy taught me a lesson about customer service that I’ll never forget. Furthermore, he actually did me a favor because he helped me get my first Gibson.
    Keith

  7. chuckNC says:

    Lovely post, Charlie! I certainly can relate to the feelings of a curious (and broke) teenage guitarist, always pushing the envelope of some shopkeeper’s tolerance.

    Played the frets off my first guitar, a Kingston classical that came from Treasure Island (a local department store) with steel strings. It was the floor model so my mom saved $5 off the $30 price tag of a new one. Cheap for sure, but it played GREAT! The brass frets surrendered to years of string-bending. The neck was — and still is — my ideal prototype guitar neck. Not full classical width, it was more like a real chunky neck that retained the same dimensions all the way down. Flat radius board, which I still prefer immensely to the opposite 7-1/4″ Fender deal.

    First electric was a Univox Hi-Flier Phase 2, brand new in ’72 from Modern Music on 92nd and Beloit in West Allis WI. I should have kept it but traded it a year later for my “dream guitar,” a ’72 Fender strat that was more like a nightmare. 45 years later I still play, and dream…..

  8. okguitars says:

    And you got the better guitar by a mile. Even George dumped his Gent when he could afford any guitar he wanted.

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