New, New-ish, Broken, and Vintage Guitars

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…



Filed under guitar

10 responses to “New, New-ish, Broken, and Vintage Guitars

  1. Finally, I can have a crush on you again. THANK GOD.

  2. Next time I go to guitar store I’m going to check out some Alvarez guitars.

  3. chiefmuser

    Well, Alvarez was never the level of a Martin or Taylor or Guild. And I think their reputation has slid over the last 3 decades.

    But if you find anything interesting when you check them out, come back here and let me know.

  4. chiefmuser

    Mr Lady,
    Yeah, I’ve got to post some more non-political stuff for my sanity’s sake.

  5. Pingback: Websites tagged "vintageguitars" on Postsaver

  6. lee


  7. Pat

    well i have got that same guitar 1977 Alvarez 5047 and it is in pretty bad shape but i was wondering if you would know any more about it.

  8. Marvin player

    chiefmiester, this is addressing your statement regarding Alvarez never being at a Martin or Taylor level. It’s not meant to be contentious just a true story. I was living out in South Cal and had run into a great deal on a 1949 Martin 0017. Loved it, we were all at the boardwalk one night and a guy was playing a guitar I had never seen ( an Alvarez ) & I’ll tell you that guitar stood up well to my 0017. Now Taylor had not even been conceived yet. Remember that the main luhthier at ALvarez was Kazuo Yairi ( spelling?). MY ALvarez early Professional beat up on many a USA high ender. Weall know how ALvarez Yair hurt the Martin company in loss of sales in the 1970′ /80’s & ealry 90’s. I’ve found that I take one guitar at a time without any prejudice & let each guitar speak for itself. I msut admit for myself regarding acoustic guitars I prefer 1) USA luthier non porduction & they are no more pricer than big name high enders 2) USa established Martin / Guild / GIbson ( all picke thru for quality control)3. Mase in Japna late 1970’s thru ealry 1990 ‘s. that ‘s how I roll with acoustics. But I’m not ashamed to say I have an early 1970’s USA Harmony that j knocks me out to play & hear it. Play on whatever works for you as a player is the best guitar for you . One thing I do know MO money don’t always mean mo better guitar!

    • chiefmuser

      But as I understand it, Alvarez-Yairi is much higher quality than Alvarez, and may well be as good as Martin or Taylor…

  9. binky,duh...rick actually

    i have a black on black hamer scarab 2,kahler trem,hard shell caseset neck,blah,blah,blah.what price range have you encounterd in your hunt for the next guitar?

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