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From Point A to Point B

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don't care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don’t care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

Good news and bad news. I set up a lot of 335’s (and 345’s and 355’s). The good news is that they are very consistent and setup is usually pretty easy. When you work with the same guitar over and over again you learn what causes the various problems that can plague these guitars. The other good news is that almost all of the problems are pretty easy to fix. There is no bad news.

Typically, ES-335’s and their brethren rarely have neck problems. Most need a minor truss rod adjustment-usually they have been adjusted too tight and the neck is dead flat or slightly back bowed. A quarter turn counter clockwise is usually all it needs. The exception is late 60 and 61’s. There is so little wood between the truss and the back of the neck that they can crack, often a hairline crack in the middle of the neck between the 5th and the 9th fret. It isn’t a structural issue but it’s something you should look for. I usually dial in a bit of relief-not a lot, just enough to keep the string buzz away. A dead flat neck doesn’t work so well on 335’s.

Another issue is inconsistent output between the neck and bridge pickup. Sometimes the bridge is louder than the neck and sometimes its the other way around. I don’t find that adjusting the individual pole screws does much of anything but raising or lowering the pickup does quite a lot. there is no reason not to raise up the bass side a bit if those strings aren’t punching through as much as the higher strings. I like to start by raising the pickups are close to the strings as I can and then adjusting downward as needed. I sometimes flip the pickup ring on the neck pickup if it isn’t sitting parallel to the strings. That usually flattens it out.

The biggest and most common problem in setting up a 335 is dead strings-usually the B or the G. In my opinion, the most important element contributing to the great tone of a 335 isn’t the pickups. It isn’t the construction either. It’s the nut and the saddles. I don’t care how great the pickups are and how wonderful the old wood is…if the saddles and nut aren’t just right, it’s going to sound like crap. Call the saddles point A and the nut point B. It seems like a really small thing but if the strings don’t vibrate freely, you get lousy tone and lousy sustain. These are the things everybody chases. Getting your strings to ring out and keep ringing out is the key. It all happens between point A and point B. So, if your guitar isn’t sounding the way you want it to, the first thing to do is figure out if the problem is the nut or the saddles.

If the strings are sounding dull and lifeless (and you’ve changed them recently) you probably have a problem with the saddles or the nut or both. First, if they sound dull open but not when fretting, then you know it is the nut. That usually means the slots are binding and not allowing the strings to vibrate freely. Widen the slots slightly and see if that helps. Gibson nuts were often to tight from the factory. If it sounds dull even when fretting, then its probably the saddles. More often than not they have notched and renotched and widened a few times and changed a few times. Too deep a notch will cause the string to vibrate less freely. Too narrow will do the same. Too wide a notch will often rattle but it won’t usually cause a dead string. I make the saddle notches as shallow as possible and still hold the string in place. If the string isn’t sticking out above the notch, it’s too deep. I try to have at least half of the wound string above the notch. The plain strings are also slightly above the notch. The B and G strings are usually the worst. If the saddle is not too deep and it still sounds terrible, try widening the slot slightly. If that doesn’t work, get a new saddle and start over. You can sometimes file the saddle down to make the slot less deep but there’s a limit to that because it will affect the string height.

If this is scary for you, have your luthier or tech do it. There is no reason for a 335 from the era to sound dull. I’ve gotten every single one I’ve owned to ring out and sustain (as long as the neck is straight and the frets are good).

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

Liberte´, Egalite´, Fraternite´

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

French flag

Best Buys

Friday, October 9th, 2015
Big neck 65's are always a good deal. Even better as Gibson keeps raising their prices. I've had a few that will hold their own again a 58-59 dot neck.

Big neck 65’s are always a good deal. Even better as Gibson keeps raising their prices. I’ve had a few that will hold their own against a 58-59 dot neck.

It has always surprised me you can pay $40,000 for a great old vintage 59 335 that plays great, sounds great and will probably hold its value for some time and, at the same time, you can pay under $10,000 for an early 65 that will hold its own in playability and in tone. And really, what’s the big difference? Mostly the tailpiece. The other changes are actually pretty minimal.

The construction of a 59 is a little different-the neck set is shallower and the body is a bit thinner. Do these changes make a difference? Maybe but not a significant difference. There are some who feel the shallower neck angle makes for better tone but the shallowest neck angle is a 58 and, while they are held in high regard, they don’t reach often the lofty prices of a 59. The thinner body is only marginally thinner and most folks don’t even notice it. Then theres the cutout under the bridge pickup that was supposed to make it easier to install the harness (which it does by a lot). Does that change the tone appreciably? It seems to change the acoustic properties slightly but it really doesn’t change much once its plugged in-at least not to my ears. It does knock off an ounce or two of weight if that’s any consolation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a 59 and I understand the great desire of most collectors to have one but if playing (and having some money in the bank to pay your mortgage) is more important than having the one everybody wants (complete with bragging rights), then an early 65 is a great deal. With Memphis 335’s rising in price north of $6000 (sticker price, anyway), the 65 starts looking like a smarter buy. The pickups in an early 65 (nickel covers) will be the same as PAF’s. later 65’s usually have the poly coated windings which are still good pickups.

There’s another guitar out there that should cost more than it does. Consider the early Epiphone Sheratons. The construction of the early ones is identical to a 355 and the electronics are always mono. Mono 355’s are not cheap. early Sheratons generally are. They are rare, for sure but I don’t think you could pay more than $12,000 for one unless it’s a blonde. I’ve had at least 4 or 5 early ones in sunburst-all in the $10K-$12K range with one of the best necks ever carved (big vee). The later ones with the mini hum buckers can be had for even less. The nut stayed wide well into 65 and some 66’s have at least 1 5/8″ nuts. The profile gets very thin-like the 355’s but the playability and tone are usually excellent. The Sheraton was a very expensive guitar in its day and was not very popular probably because of the price. There were only a few hundred made per year. That brings me to the blonde ones.

Recently, I acquired a 1964 Sheraton in factory blonde (only 400 numbers from Claptons 335!!!). Imagine a blonde 64 mono ES-355. That would probably be a $25000 guitar or close to it if it existed. They made 18 Sheratons in blonde in 64. That makes it rare. It has one PAF and one patent number mini hum bucker. The tone is quite wonderful-like a PAF with more mid and a little less bottom. The neck is a lot like a 61-62 ES-355-wide and thin. Why is this guitar so undervalued by collectors? Mini hums? Long, sort of ugly headstock? Fancy inlays? I dunno but it’s a deal.

Great deals don’t stay great deals forever. There was a time not long ago that a 68 gold top was a cheap compromise for the buyers who wanted a 50’s gold top. Now a 68 is a big collector guitar and the early 69’s are getting up there as well. The larger point is to judge a guitar on its merits, not on its price or the demand for it. Granted, the demand often has a lot to do with the quality but there are definitely quality guitars out there, at reasonable prices, that low demand has kept affordable. Play one and see for yourself.

Why don't these cost more. A 64 355 mono is a $12000 guitar in red. A blonde would be twice that if you could find one (none officially exist).  Rivieras can be a deal too but they are not easy to find with a wide nut.

Why don’t these cost more? A 64 355 mono is a $12000 guitar in red. A blonde would be twice that if you could find one (none officially exist). Sheratons are perhaps the best deal out there for a semi hollow 60’s guitar. Rivieras can be a deal too but they are not easy to find with a wide nut.

Rule Number One

Friday, September 25th, 2015
Up until this week, this was the prettiest girl on the block. I swore I'd never sell it but I had a rule that was designed to keep me from having too many guitars.  This 59 Sheraton was my favorite until I sold it.

Up until this week, this was the prettiest girl on the block. I swore I’d never sell it but I had a rule that was designed to keep me from having too many guitars. This 59 Sheraton was my favorite until I sold it.

I haven’t been a guitar dealer for very long. I started buying and selling ES model guitars (and some others) as a hobby in the early days of Ebay. That was probably 1998. The first vintage guitar I bought off Ebay wasn’t even a Gibson-it was a 62 Epiphone Crestwood-cost me $550. I sold it a few months later for $1000 and decided that this might be a fun way to supplement my income as a film editor and director. For the next ten years or so, I bought and sold a few guitars every year-no more than 7 or 8 a year and started concentrating on my favorites-the ES thinlines. The problem was, I was accumulating a lot of really nice guitars. Problem, you say? Well, yeah. If you’re trying to make a few bucks, keeping the guitars you love is a bad business model and that’s what I was doing. When I decided to take the guitar dealer thing seriously (and wind down my editing business), I had to make some rules.  Otherwise, I would end up with 100 guitars (and no money). So I made a rule.

Rule number one-and I don’t have a lot of rules-is DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH A GUITAR. That was me saying it very loud. And it applies to every guitar I get. And it’s not easy. There have been no less than a dozen guitars that I would love to have back but rules are rules. The blonde 59 Sheraton, the first red 59 ES-345, the red 59 Bigsby 335, the stop tail 59 355, the blonde 63 335, the 53 J-200 and at least one SG and a 69 gold top that sounded like no other guitar I’ve ever owned. Now there’s another in the house and it breaks my heart to think it’s going to go out the door. But, as I mentioned, rules are rules (keep telling yourself that). What does one do to cope with all the beauties that want to stay forever? Well, there are other vintage dealers who don’t have huge collections, but there are also plenty of dealers who do. I have no keepers. Not a one.

It’s pretty simple. I have loads of guitars in my collection and I play them all. The difference between my collection and most collections is that mine are all for sale. But I can play any guitar I want whenever I want.  I always have a dot neck or two, a 64 and usually a few 345’s if I’m in the stereo mood. And there are Strats and Teles and the occasional Jazzmaster, early Epis, SGs and Les Pauls. So, I can play just about whatever I want just like the guy with the great collection. The difference is that mine keeps changing.

So, what is this guitar that’s messing up rule number one? It’s a 335 that checks off all the boxes for Charlie’s perfect guitar. Big, but no too big, neck. Blonde, of course. Nice figure that doesn’t scream too loudly (no sluts here). Thin top and shallow neck angle (I believe the shallow angle necks sound better). Well balanced PAFs and stop tail. It is simply the prettiest girl on the block…no the prettiest girl in town…no more like a super model you don’t have a prayer of dating. And not just a pretty face-a killer player with spectacular tone. Please don’t buy this guitar.

They don't get better than this. Stunning, near mint very late 58 335TDN. Birdseye and blister figuring everywhere. All original. This is probably the cleanest, prettiest blonde 335 on the planet and I want to keep it. But I won't

They don’t get better than this. Stunning, near mint very late 58 335TDN. Birdseye and blister figuring everywhere. All original. This is probably the cleanest, prettiest blonde 335 on the planet and I want to keep it. But I won’t.

Arrested Development

Monday, September 21st, 2015
This came with my 64 Princeton amp that my Dad bought for me along with a 64 Fender DuoSonic. The amp is gone but the owners manual lives on.

This came with my 64 Princeton amp that my Dad bought for me along with a 64 Fender DuoSonic. The amp is gone but the owners manual lives on.

 

This has nothing to do with 335’s but everything to do with our shared guitar mentality.

When I was 13, I loved to play really loud. The louder the better. My amp back then was a 64 Princeton which, when cranked to 10 was fairly loud-loud enough to drive my father up the wall but not so great trying to cut through the rest of the band. Then I went and visited my friend Lex and he had just gotten a Vox Mark VI guitar and a Deluxe reverb. This was probably 1965. His Deluxe Reverb was loud and it was only on 3. “Can we crank it up to 10?” I asked. “No, I don’t want to blow the speaker and plus my Mom will kill me.”  So, I never heard Lex’s amp turned all the way up but I knew, to the core of my pimply faced adolescent being, that loud was good. Loud was closer to god. Loud was hot and loud was cool.

When I got the Princeton, the instruction manual showed all kinds of amps on the cover and so I knew that they made amps even bigger than the Deluxe Reverb and I couldn’t imagine how much louder an amp could be than Lex’s Deluxe but I sure wanted one. The instruction manual, which I still have, was titled “How to Enjoy Your New Fender Custom-Engineered Amplifier.” On the cover was a Deluxe Reverb, a Pro, a Twin Reverb and a blonde Dual Showman with a blonde reverb unit. There was also what was probably a Bandmaster or a Tremolux, also in blonde. They were all bigger than the Deluxe and, presumably, louder. I wanted the Dual Showman but not in blonde-the black, to a 13 year old was way more cool. And how loud was it? Fender didn’t publish their power ratings back then but it had to be really loud.

I would find out just how loud when I bought a used Showman 15 for $300 in 1967. It had a single JBL D-130F and I could blow the roof off the Scotia-Glenville High School gym with the volume set on “4”. But it went to “10”. In the rare instance when nobody was home (I had 8 brothers, 2 parents and 2 dogs), I would open ‘er up and see just how loud it was. 85 glorious watts of electric wonder audible across Collins Lake and probably all the way to the GE plant across the Mohawk River. If we wanted distortion, we tapped the fuzztone. We didn’t totally get the idea of driving the amp into saturation-probably because they were so powerful, we couldn’t get there without driving our audience out the door(which we often did and not just by being loud)

I owned a fair number of amps over the years but the visceral rush from that Showman, an amp so loud it scared you, never really went away.It was just sleeping, I guess. I’ve had plenty of 50 watters in the house-mostly tweed bassmans and the occasional Marshall but they never awoke the beast. Until this week. A guy walked in wanting to sell his deceased friend’s near mint, factory JBL 1965 Twin Reverb. “People don’t use these anymore,” I told him. “They use little amps and run them through the PA.” But I bought it anyway, it was, after all, nearly a museum piece. It hadn’t been turned on in 30 years, so I pulled out the Variac and brought it slowly up to full voltage. It popped and crackled and hissed but nothing caught fire or smelled, so I thought we were OK.  And there it was. That little voice in the back of your head that says “go ahead…crank it up…let’s see how loud this thing really is.”

And, for a few minutes, I was 13 again. And then the neighbor yelled …”turn that f..ing thing down.” Grownups.

They don't look loud. They look like a nice, tame 22 watter. Don't let appearances fool you. A Twin with those ultra efficient  JBL's will hold its own against a Marshall 100 watt full stack.

They don’t look loud. They look like a nice, tame 22 watter. Don’t let appearances fool you. A Twin with those ultra efficient JBL’s will hold its own against a Marshall 100 watt full stack.

 

Investment Grade 335

Monday, August 24th, 2015
Here's a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. Same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today's price of $104 a share as of 3 o'clock today.

Here’s a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. About the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today’s price of $104 a share as of 3 o’clock today.

With the Dow down 1100 points this morning, it might be time to take a closer look at your investment strategy. Today, you can buy a pretty nice dot neck 335 for the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock. That would be around $35000. That won’t get you a mint 59 but it will get you a near mint 58, 60 or 61 or a really nice (but not mint) 59. So, which would you rather have?

Note that I didn’t say “which is the better investment?” If I knew that, I’d be rich and I wouldn’t be selling vintage guitars I’d be collecting them. Certainly, Apple and a lot of other stocks have been really good investments for the past 7 years or so-pretty much since the market last tanked in 2008 thanks to a bunch of out of control and greedy banks and investors. These same investors took down your home and your vintage guitar collection too. The end of the vintage guitar bubble coincided with that unfortunate market turn. But what about now?

I’m going to use the dot neck market as my reference point. 59 dot necks hit $50,000 in 2008 and blondes were flirting with (and probably exceeded) $100,000. The 335 dot market got hit by 30-35% while the Dow took a 50% nosedive from it’s October 2007 high of 14,164 down to 6594 in March of 2009. If you hung in there with your stocks, you were rewarded with a 6 year bull market and your portfolio probably added another 30% from its 2007 high. If you stayed with your 59 335, you probably got back close to where you were in 2008 but if you bought before that, you are probably, once again, way ahead. The 335 market is still not at the level it was at the peak of the bubble but it is pretty close. Right now, it’s too early to know what the Dow is going to do next and it’s too soon to see if the current downturn is going to affect the vintage guitar market. But I have some thoughts on the matter.

The pundits are saying that the Chinese economy has taken a serious downturn and that has affected the US markets. When stocks go down, money leaves the market and goes elsewhere. It goes to cash, it goes to bonds, it used to go to real estate and maybe some of it goes to collectibles. It has to go somewhere. The downturn of the Chinese economy in and of itself, isn’t going to affect the vintage guitar market because the Chinese don’t buy American vintage guitars. They copy them but they don’t buy them. I haven’t sold a single guitar to anyone in China. Of course, the effects of the Chinese downturn as it applies to American investors may affect the vintage market to a degree.  After all, most buyers of vintage guitars are using disposable wealth-money that isn’t currently needed to live on. The same money that goes into stocks often goes into vintage guitars. I heard time and again that a buyer “needs a day for two to sell some stock” to fund a guitar purchase.

With the market tanking, you might be inclined to liquidate some holdings. You might be inclined to simply hang on. I’m not going to tell you that a 59 ES-335 is a better investment today than buying 335 shares of Apple. But it might be a safer one. People want Apple stock because they feel they can make some money from it. People want 59 dot necks because they really want to own a 59 dot neck. That doesn’t go away when the value dips. A 59 335 is going to be someone’s dream guitar until my generation is dead and buried. Whether subsequent generations will continue the love affair is yet to be seen. But I just don’t hear folks talking about how they can’t wait until their Apple stock arrives so they can – what, look at the stock certificate? Nobody even gets stock certificates any more. You can’t touch Apple stock. You can’t play Apple stock. You can make money and you can lose money. Apple could, conceivably, go to $12 a share. I know-I once owned it at that price. On that day 335 shares of Apple would be worth $4020. Your 59 ES-335 will never be worth $4020. And if it is, let me know. I’ll buy it from you. Oh, and you can’t play the blues on a stock certificate but you can certainly sing the blues if that’s where your money is today.

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at thetop. What's it gonna be--play the blues or sing them?

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at the top of this post. What’s it gonna be–play the blues or sing them?

Guitar Royalty

Sunday, August 9th, 2015
Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talking' and picking'. Yes, that's me in the background trying to figure out what chords he's playing.

Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talkin’ and pickin’. Yes, that’s me in the background trying to figure out what chords he’s playing.

There are a lot of perks to actually running a brick and mortar guitar shop. Yeah, there’s rent and insurance and security and all kinds of headaches that go hand in hand with retail shops. Not so fun stuff like the drunks from the local bar who show up to be entertained, marauding bands of 5 to 10 year olds who have somehow gotten away from their parents and dogs with giant wagging tails that put every guitar on a floor stand in great danger. Then there is the fun stuff. There are the instruments that walk in the door-a 63 335, a mint 70 Strat, a 1913 F-4 mandolin and quite a few others. And then, there are the guitarists who walk in the door.

Today I had a visit from the venerable Bucky Pizzarelli, a jazz legend at the age of 89. He played with everybody-Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band, Tal Farlow and tons of others in his 70 plus years of performing. He played for the Nixons, the Reagans and the Clintons. His children are well known musicians as well and he had his daughter, also a guitarist, with him. While generally associated with a seven string guitar, I asked him to make do with a couple of six strings.

He was drawn to a beat up black Gibson L-47 from the forties and played that for a while and then I brought out a big Gibson arch top from 1952 and he immediately said “Super 400” and he was right, of course. He enjoyed that one and commented on how big it is. “This thing is huge”, he said and proceeded to play chords that I, even after 50 years of playing, didn’t recognize. It was effortless. He talked about the guitars he had around the house. “I’ve got a six string Danelectro bass somewhere-I think it’s in the attic…I haven’t seen that one for a while.” He pointed to a 60 Tremolux and said “I had one of those too, way back. Single twelve inch, right?” Right again. Then he played an early 50’s J-45 commenting about how loud it was. “Don’t need an amp with this one”, he said with a big smile on his face.

Then he asked me to play something. Yikes. I’m kind of a hack player but I know what I know. Our mutual friend George Potts, who arranged for Bucky to come by, was at the shop and he and I sang and played a few Beatles tunes. My playing was adequate at best and George’s was better but Bucky commented (favorably) on our harmony and seemed to enjoy the impromptu (and totally unrehearsed) performance. All in all, he was a wonderful and gracious guest and I was thrilled to have him visit.

Yeah, there are a lot of little hassles that go along with having a shop but they are all overshadowed when someone like Bucky walks in the door. He reminds me that there is a lifetime joy in doing what you love. I hope to be playing when I hit 90. His pal and neighbor Les played until he died at 94. Maybe the guitar is the reason these guys live so long. and so well.

Bye Bye, BB

Saturday, May 16th, 2015
Don't matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

Don’t matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

A lot of folks with a lot more guitar cred than I have already weighed in on the loss of the great BB King. He certainly was the common denominator that links most blues players, would be blues players and wannabe blues players together. We all stole licks from him and we all tried to emulate his wonderful economic style. BB could play one note that said more than any 20, no, any 100 I could play.  But his skill and technique also points out something that vintage aficionados hate to admit. I was just listening to a clip from 1972 wherein BB was playing an early 70’s 355. It could have been custom but I doubt it. It looked like an off the rack walnut finished 355. And, in case that isn’t enough, he was playing through a solid state (non tube if you’re under 25 and never heard the term “solid state” before) amp-it looked like an Acoustic Control. Vintage guys like me don’t like 70’s Gibsons very much. The quality suffered under Norlin and, while there are still good ones, there seem to be more bad. Not for BB.

I think he proves better than almost anyone that the player transcends the instrument. For hack players like me, I can say that there are guitars that make me a better player and they are mostly old. But for a man like BB King, the guitar is merely the link between the player (and his experience) and the audience. His tone comes from within, not from that wooden box with the strings on it and all the little electronic bits inside. Those of us who play the blues because we know the notes aren’t doing the same thing as a bluesman.

What does a guy from suburban upstate NY from a middle class family know about the blues? Yes, we’ve all had some hard times but that doesn’t make me a bluesman. I don’t know what it takes but I know it when I hear it. Those British kids in the 60’s who co-opted American blues did us suburban white kids a favor. They introduced us to a genre that was right in our backyard that we barely knew existed. There was a time not that long ago when mainstream radio (it was AM back then) wouldn’t play black artists playing what was then called “race music”. They would have white guys (like Johnny Rivers) do covers and those were the songs that made the airwaves up here in the North. By the mid 60’s that was changing but I’m willing to bet that I couldn’t have found BB King on the radio in Schenectady, New York in 1963.

I saw BB King a few of times over the years and he was always entertaining and sometimes mesmerizing. I saw him in his 50’s, his 60’s and his 80’s and while he may have lost a note or two near the end, he still had great command of both his guitar and his audience. And he looked like he was having fun. The blues is rooted in misery but playing the blues is a joy. BB knew that and taught us more than just the notes. So, goodbye Mr. Riley B. King and thanks for the lessons.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60's ES-355. No whammy bar necessary.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60’s ES-355. No whammy bar necessary. He called the oft maligned Varitone the “magic switch”.

Mothers Day

Sunday, May 10th, 2015
Liz Gelber circa 1946. Bye, Mom. And thank you. I miss you already.

Liz Gelber circa 1946. Thanks Mom.

Did your Mom yell at you to turn that thing down? Did she tell you that there was no future in being a guitar player? That maybe you should be a doctor or a lawyer or maybe a nice accountant? Mine did not and that’s just the beginning.

My mother had nine children (all boys in case you think it was going to be easy). She’s been gone since 2011 but I think of her much more often than one day a year in May. She always encouraged her sons to play a musical instrument. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was mandatory. We had a spinet piano in the living room which she played often and competently. She could sight read like you read the newspaper but she wasn’t going to be mistaken for a musician. Still, there were show tunes coming from the living room. Each of my brothers played at least one instrument. None of us were good enough to make a living at it but most of us stuck with it. I took violin starting in the 4th grade. I wasn’t very good. My parents added an organ to the living room when I was around ten (not a chord organ either-a real dual manual, no fooling’ around pedal board pro Allen) and I took lessons on that too. I wasn’t very good. My oldest brother, Ben-who also played violin, took to it and then there was Bach coming from the living room.

The Beatles showed up in 64 and I bugged my father endlessly to get me a guitar and he came home with a flattop Kay that cost $15. I started guitar lessons and quit the organ. I still had to play the violin in the school orchestra (I switched to upright bass that same year). Mom made sure I practiced like she did with every other brother and every other instrument. The big surprise was that I was pretty good at it. They agreed to get me an electric guitar (Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp in 1964) and my younger brother, Brian, who already played the oboe, albeit not that well, took over the Kay. He would take over the DuoSonic when I got the Fender Jaguar in 65. I would often practice in the living room with the amp turned up to somewhere around 11. And then there were Beatles songs coming from the living room. My Dad would come home from work and yell at me to turn it down but Mom never did.

When she was in her 50’s, Mom decided it was time to learn another instrument. She asked me to help her find a cheap and playable guitar and we ended up with a German Framus flattop that had good action and she taught herself to play. I helped her with chord charts but she wouldn’t have it. She had to read music – not some chart. That was cheating. Just the notes please. She never got that far but she was never one to shrink from the task at hand. Mom had no fear. She learned to windsurf in her 60’s, built a path down to the lake behind our house, wallpapered the bathrooms, made a quilt out of my Dad’s old neckties and about a zillion other “projects”. She never excelled at any of them but showed a level of determination and ingenuity that has influenced me throughout my life. If someone says that something is so simple “…even your Mom could do it…”, they didn’t know my Mom.

So thanks Mom. Thanks for the encouragement, your example and your unwavering support. And thanks to my wife, too, for carrying on the tradition of superb mothering. Our son is a pretty good guitar player and can play the piano better than my Mom thanks to the support of his Mom. In our house, there was Chopin and Gershwin and Lennon and McCartney coming from the living room.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.

 

Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015
I've been waiting for this guitar for a week now. It's been to NYC, Memphis, Albany, Newark, NJ and god knows where else.

I’ve been waiting for this guitar for a week now. It’s been to NYC, Memphis, Albany, Newark, NJ and god knows where else.

Back when the New York Mets were brand new, the manager was the legendary Casey Stengel. The Mets were terrible and were mired in last place when Mr. Stengel famously commented “can’t anybody here play this game?” This statement applies to the shipping industry at least when it comes to vintage guitars. I’ll use Fedex as the example but UPS and the US Postal Service aren’t any better.

I had a 63 ES-335 shipped to me from the UK this week (on my account) and it cost over $300 to do so (and I get a good rate). First off, Fedex won’t insure vintage guitars for more than $1000. It’s the “declared value” line and you can put any number in there you want and they will charge an ever increasing fee for your “insurance”. I know, before I read the fine print, I was “insuring” them for as much as $25000 and paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege. Then they broke a mint 64 SG Standard and explained that I needed to read the “terms and conditions” which clearly state Fedex’s policy. This is a cut and paste from the Fedex website: Shipments (packages or freight) containing all or part of the following items are limited to a maximum declared value of US $1,000: Guitars and other musical instruments that are more than 20 years old, and customized or personalized musical instruments. It should add (but it doesn’t) that “we’ll take your money, however if you want to give it to us but we won’t increase our liability beyond $1000.” So, I put $1000 in the space provided and carry my own insurance through another carrier (the very well regarded Heritage Insurance in Pennsylvania). Caveat Emptor, shippers. Fedex has enough money without throwing more at them for no service.

But that isn’t the issue with the aforementioned 63 ES-335 (which is a very rare factory blonde). I was on vacation, so I had it shipped International Economy rather than the Priority service I usually use. In general, a well packed guitar doesn’t mind sitting for a few extra days. What it doesn’t like is being handled. Here’s where my guitar has been. Note that I live less than two hours from JFK Airport in Jamaica (Queens) NY where it landed five days ago. I could have walked from JFK to my house in that amount of time. Note the date and month are backwards – Euro style. Read from the bottom up.

Date/Time
Activity Location
10/03/2015 – Tuesday
21:21 Arrived at FedEx location NEWARK, NJ
16:41 In transit LATHAM, NY
09/03/2015 – Monday
05:23 Departed FedEx location MEMPHIS, TN
08/03/2015 – Sunday
18:18 In transit MEMPHIS, TN
13:33 International shipment release – Import MEMPHIS, TN
10:15 International shipment release – Import MEMPHIS, TN
07/03/2015 – Saturday
12:08 Arrived at FedEx location MEMPHIS, TN
10:39 In transit JAMAICA, NY
05/03/2015 – Thursday
16:17 In transit POYLE GB
14:29 International shipment release – Export POYLE GB
13:53 In transit POYLE GB
04/03/2015 – Wednesday
20:58 Picked up STOKE ON TRENT GB

So, here it is, eight days down the road and the guitar has been from the UK to JFK to Memphis, to Albany/Latham (also less than 2 hours away) and then to Newark (2 hours in the other direction). It is now Wednesday night and I have no idea if its still in Newark or on its way to Kuala Lumpur. I’m not sure where its going next but I hope it’s to CT where I live. The more a guitar gets handled, the more likely it is to get broken. That’s why I suggest that expensive guitars be sent next day or two day Fedex. I asked the folks at Fedex why this guitar has been routed this way and they didn’t know. They blamed the weather (which has been pretty nice since the guitar arrived in NY). They also kept going back to the fact that the guitar wasn’t due to be delivered until March 12th. I tried to explain that just because you have 8 days doesn’t mean you have to give the guitar a tour of the East Coast while you use up the allotted time. I suppose they could ship it to LA and back a few times given the timetable. I understand that shipping a lot of stuff is hard work and the logistics of containerized shipping must be a bitch but come on folks. You were so close (and yet so far). I think perhaps computers have been given too much power and human beings have been largely eliminated from the equation. The fact that four different Fedex agents gave me four different stories speaks volumes. Interestingly, all four kept going back to the scripted line “…delivery is on schedule…”

I would use a different shipper but I’ve used them all and while Fedex is pretty poor a lot of the time, they don’t lose stuff very often. That’s not true of some other shippers. I shipped a guitar to Australia using the Postal Service and it got lost. Twelve days later, they found it at a post office 8 miles away from where I dropped it off. I just wanted to make you aware that shipping sucks and nobody in the shipping business can play this game. I think the ’62 Mets would have figured out how to get the guitar from Queens to Connecticut.