Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maybe The Best $5.00 I Ever Spent

Back in 1980, I was starting my second year of college, gasoline was about a dollar a gallon, and neither eBay nor Craigslist yet existed.  In those days, if you wanted to buy and sell used items ("junk", we called it), you either had a yardsale, advertised in the paper, consigned stuff to an auction, or went to the junk store.

Everything was a little cheaper, back then, of course.  I already mentioned gasoline, for instance.  Prices go up, generally, as time goes by.  A twenty five cent Coke costs a dollar, now...it's a normal thing.

But, some things are abnormally more, or less, expensive now than they were 32 years ago.  Many vintage bikes and parts, for instance, have taken drastic hits in value, since that time.  But this is not about bikes.  It's about inexpensive, imported guitars from Japan.

Back in the 70s and 80s, Japanese guitars were considered cheap.  Used Teiscos and Deccas and all of the other weird-shaped, rocker-switch bedazzled brands were easy to find, for very little money, on the used market.  Sears, Montgomery Ward, Western Auto and many other chain stores had imported them with their own store brands for years, and music stores had stocked them as beginner instruments at the same time.

I walked into the junk store on Main Street, in Martin, Tennessee, a day or two after school had started and saw exactly what I was looking for.  I had spent the previous year playing a Yamaha acoustic guitar, learning chords and building up my callouses.  Now, I was ready to make some noise.  I was looking for  cheap electric guitar.

There, in the dusty little shop on Main, was the perfect ax.  It was a Teisco-made Kingston, with a straight neck and good string action.  Someone had sawed the upper point of the solid body off, and then painted it white with a brush dipped in house paint, but it played nicely.  It came with a case and a small solid-state amp. 

The price?  Five dollars.

I took the guitar back to the dorm and disassembled it.  I scraped and scrubbed the white paint off, and exposed the original red and black sunburst.  But, unfortunately, I couldn't get the finish back to what I wanted it to look like.

So, I cut photos and blocks of text out of CREEM Magazine back issues, and glued them all over the body.  This was back when Lester Bangs was Editor in Chief of the magazine which proclaimed itself "America's Only Rock and Roll Magazine", so some of the text blocks and photo captions were pretty funny.  Once the glue had dried, I sprayed clear poly-coat over the pictures and reassembled the guitar.

It was the perfect Punk guitar, and I loved it.  I eventually bought a Vox Box, which was a fuzz box that plugged directly into the guitar, and started making some real noise at that point.

Nowadays, that same set-up of beater guitar, case and amp would probably cost you $200.  Why?  Because of eBay and Craigslist and blogs which talk up the "vintage tone" of those old crappy guitars.  I wish I could have seen that coming.  Maybe I wouldn't have sold 15 guitars for a total of $200 at a yard sale before moving out of Memphis, if I had realized I could get ten or fifteen times that much if I just held onto them for 20 years.

That guitar is gone, now.  I used the neck to bring a gold-flake Norma electric guitar back to life (it is one of the guitars I sold in Memphis), and the body disappeared during all of the moving around during and after my divorce.  The pickups and controls went onto another guitar which I sold.

Maybe that's another reason that the cheapie old Japanese guitars are selling for a premium:  Lots of guys have fond memories of that first electric guitar, and I suppose they will pay big to get the same model.  Whatever the reason, the prices on those old axes far outran the general inflation of prices over the last three deades.

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