Over the last 10 days, I went out and bought a few guitars.
Well, um, four, to be exact.
The story is below the fold:
1) I was bored and on the way back to the base and my hotel (I’m on temporary duty at a school right now), and the pawn shop near the base was open, so I stopped in.
There was a nice Ibanez, but the tremolo didn’t return to in-tune after even moderate use of the whammy bar. There were a few other guitars, nothing special. I don’t buy or even look at Stratocaster copies, because I hate the vintage tremolo system. It isn’t that useful, and pretty much can’t stay in tune, and ruins unison bends. Pretty much the same as any licensed Floyd Rose on a Super Strat, but without even the humbucker in the bridge position to attract me.
I also don’t usually look at Gibson/Epiphone-style models, like copies of the Les Paul or SG. They just don’t excite me. But with the recent realization that I’m pretty much destined to be a fixed bridge player, I thought, “What the heck?” and took a look at a few. One of the guitars was a Les Paul copy by the company “Austin”, which is what “Westone” turned into. The workmanship was there, but not the tremolo that I’ve learned to dislike (and which has turned me off from Westone, if you are keeping score). So I pulled it down and noodled around. The tuning machines seemed solid, the neck was straight and action low without any buzz. So I asked to try it out with an amp, and it didn’t work!
It was priced at $130, so I asked him how low he could go. He said “$50”. I hesitated. I asked if it came with a case. He went and looked, and said it came with a soft gig bag. I told him that I thought I could repair it, but I was taking a risk, and I’d really like a case to take it back home with me to Texas. So he dug around and gave me the case for the Ibanez. It didn’t fit, but I wasn’t complaining, because, hey: free case!
He went ahead and threw in the gig bag. When I got back, I found that the gig back had a guitar strap and a new set of strings inside it.
Strings: $8. Strap: $5. Gig bag: $15. Case: $35 (at least). So I spent $50 on a guitar, and he threw in $63 of extra merchandise with it. I can sell it ‘as is’ on eBay as a project guitar and probably get $50 for it. But I expect the problem is merely a loose wire, and maybe have to replace a pot or two. The guitar is nice and heavy, it sounds pretty good unplugged, and the Austin au786 (which is what it is) gets pretty good reviews as one of the best budget Les Pauls you can buy. So after I fix it, maybe I’ll keep it. I don’t have any other mahogany-body guitars, and those have a much darker sound…it might be worth keeping around for that.
2) So the next Saturday, I made a list of all the pawn shops I could find on Google Maps and hit all of them. I didn’t find anything worthwhile. But then my car started overheating, and so at the last pawn shop, I had the manager call his mechanic, got directions, and headed over. On the way, I saw a pawn shop that wasn’t on my list, and stopped. It was in a pretty bad part of town, and when I went in and said I was looking for guitars, he said that no one ever came in his store looking for guitars. It was all about game systems, stereos, amplifiers, rims, etc.
I looked around, and there were some very nice guitars, but all more than I wanted to spend. I saw a very nice looking Hamer Stellar 1 (although I didn’t know the name of it at that time, just that it was a Hamer). It had a beautiful flamed oak top, and Duncan-designed pickups, 24 frets, neck-through-body (or set neck…not sure) and a fixed bridge. It looked like pretty good quality, and I thought I remembered that Hamer had a good line of higher-end guitars. I played it, and it sounded pretty good, and felt good, too. The price on it was $350, and I told him I’d pay $150. He said he couldn’t go below $200. I asked for a case to go with it, and he said he couldn’t. So I told him I’d go think about it. He begged me to buy it at $200, but I told him I did need to think about it, but I wasn’t blowing smoke. I did my research on the guitar, and found that Hamer was once a very upscale line, almost like Paul Reed Smith before Paul Reed Smith started. This guitar wasn’t their top of the line, it was perhapsa medium-quality guitar, but still beautiful, comfortable to play, and great sound. I could probably get at least $300 for it on eBay. There is also a guy online who says he will buy any Hamer (although I don’t know what price he’d give). It seemed safe to assume that at the very worst, I won’t lose money. That was Saturday. I came back and bought it today.
3) Still back on Saturday, after I got my car repaired (actually, the only problem is the guy who repaired the cooling system the previous week had failed to let the engine cycle enough to fill it completely full), I went out to look for something to eat. I drove the back way to a Chinese buffet, because I remembered there was one that didn’t show up on my Google Maps search. I found it, but it was looking like it had fallen on hard times since the last time I’d eaten there 6 years previously, so I passed. But on the way there, I passed another pawn shop that hadn’t shown up on my search. I stopped there, and there was an Ibanez Gio GRG121EXSV. It was brand new, 2 humbucking pickups, 24 frets, fixed bridge, and flawless silver-fleck paint. The action was low and smooth. The price was $130, and the lowest they would go was $130 out the door, basically paying the tax for me. The guitar was easily worth more than $130 in quality, sound, and playability (although sound was the weakest). So I bought it, too. After I got back, I found some similar guitars that were just $130, so maybeI didn’t make such a great deal. I’ll have to see what I can get for it on Craig’s list, because I think I should be able to get at least $150. But that’s if I want to sell it, which isn’t a sure thing. It’s sound is decent, but it truly is a fast and comfortable playing guitar. So I might just replace the pickups and see if that improves the sound to even better levels. But to be honest, it is probably going to end up competing with the Hamer for a place in my guitar line-up, because they are identical in function: 2 humbucker pickups, fixed bridge, 24 frets. To tell the truth, unless the Hamer is just not fun to play, this will probably be the one sold. Why, you ask, when the Hamer could net a profit of up to $100, whereas the Ibanez is unlikely to net a profit of more than $20? Because the Hamer is more likely to become a true vintage guitar. It has better quality wood, and is quite simply a more beautiful guitar. You can just look at it and see the quality, whereas the Ibanez Gio looks nice mainly because it is simple, and new.
4) I actually decided to buy the Hamer on Saturday, but they were closed when I went back. I saw at that time they were closed on Sunday, but open Monday. But Monday was a holiday, so would they really be open? I went to see, and sure enough: closed. After eating lunch, I drove a different way back to the base, and drove past a thrift shop on the way. I decided to stop…what if they had a guitar? But thrift shops never have guitars, right?
Well, this one had an Alvarez acoustic. It was only missing 2 strings, so I was able to tune it up and get a good idea of the neck straightness and tone. It was dirty, and had some white paint spatters (very tiny drops), but otherwise was in undamaged condition. Alvarez was the first name that St. Louis Music used for electric guitars after retiring the Westone name back around 1991, but before they were used on electrics, Alvarez had actually made a good reputation for themselves making good acoustic guitars for many years.
So this guitar is a 1977 Alvarez 5047. It apparently cost about $300 back then…but that was more than 30 years ago, so it would apparently cost $935. That’s a good guitar, these days…