When we first met up with Mike Slubowski in 1997, his guitar collection numbered 20 pieces. Among them were a series of custom-color quilted tops and a Slash Signature Les Paul from the Custom Division.
Today, 11 years later, Mike's collection has grown quite a lot. A health care administrator by day and guitarist/collector by night, Mike clearly has a special passion for Les Pauls. From the 169 instruments in his collection now, more than 140 guitars are Gibsons.
Mike, when did you start playing guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was 12 years old. As soon as I started taking lessons, I got my first guitar. My father purchased an old acoustic guitar from a co-worker for $10. We told the gentleman that it was worth much more, but he wouldn´t accept more for it. He just wanted me to play it. He purchased the guitar during the Great Depression for $50 including a year's lessons. I still have that guitar, and I will always cherish it.
What kind of guitars do you collect?
When I first started collecting, I was purchasing a lot of Gibson Les Pauls—various models, colors, limited editions, etc. By the late '90s I had moved almost exclusively into purchasing vintage guitars, and most are Gibsons. In addition to the Les Pauls, I own a lot of Gibson Hollowbodies and Thinlines, like the ES-225, ES-330, ES-335/345/355, Byrdland, ES-5 and the Switchmaster. The rarest guitars I own are my 1958, 1959, and 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standards, better know as “Bursts.”
Do you let guitars go from your collection if you're offered the right amount of money?
I am pretty attached to all of my guitars, and I remember exactly when I bought them, who I bought them from, etc. I've made some very careful decisions with most of my guitar purchases, so I'm very proud of the ones I own. I don´t actively market my guitars, but people do contact me about them periodically, and I have sold some of them for the right price. I always evaluate the buyer to make sure the guitars are going to a good home. I am delighted to see that someone who buys the guitar from me appreciates it as much as I do.
You're married and the proud father of twin adult daughters. Having such a guitar collection could provoke a big marriage crisis in other families, but your wife doesn't give you a hard time about it.
My wife is very supportive and even tolerant of my guitar playing. She is an artist, so she can really appreciate the beauty of these instruments. I taught my daughters to recognize various models since they were very young. They can identify a Les Paul or an ES-335 immediately. My wife actually gets upset when I sell them from time to time because she likes them so much.
Why do you collect mainly Gibsons?
They're just great guitars. When you think of quality, you think Gibson. They are well built instruments, with excellent fit and finish. Most have beautiful bound bodies and of course, set necks. The tone of Gibson guitars, whether they are solid- or hollow bodies, with P-90s or humbuckers, is superb. When the guitar has the “Gibson” logo on the headstock, you know it is a classic.You work as a healthcare administrator and don't actually find much time to play, right?
My “day job” does not allow me as much time as I would like to have to play, but I do manage to squeeze in as much time as possibly I can. I am a member of a “weekend warrior” band called “Fear of Commitment” that jams together regularly, and we gig at charity events during the summer months. Usually I use a '58 or '59 Reissue for gigging.
Your collection could easily be a wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but at the moment he has no plans to showcase his guitars in an exhibition.
It would be too much work to present all my guitars. It takes me two days just to catalog and photograph them. But I am generous with sharing photos of them and writing articles about them on the Les Paul Forum's Home Site–this is my “virtual exhibition.” Whenever people have questions about my guitars, I try to help them out as best as possible.
You've actually produced a high-quality poster, showcasing 114 of your more than 140 Gibson guitars.
When I wrote a few articles for Vintage Guitar, they needed professional quality photos. I located a great photographer, Steve Pitkin, who does a lot of guitar photos for other brands, through a friend at work. When Steve took photos for the articles, after learning about the size of my collection, he suggested that I do a poster. So I went ahead with the project. It was very costly, and I´ll never recover my investment, but it was a fun project nonetheless.
Do you have a start-up tip for becoming collectors? Which guitars will rise in value?
I don´t think anyone “becomes” a collector in a conscious, proactive way; it just “happens” to you slowly as you become more and more enamored with guitars. My advice would be (1) don´t rush into a purchase, (2) only collect guitars that you love to play, (3) learn as much as you can from books and experienced collectors so that you don´t get burned, and (4) don´t use money that you need to live on and cannot afford to lose to collect for investment purposes, because any commodity like a guitar is a volatile investment at best.
I cannot predict what guitar will rise in value any more than I can predict the weather from day to day. There are some classic models, such as '50s and early '60s Gibson models like the Les Paul or ES-335, which will likely be desirable instruments for future generations.
If you want to learn more about Mike's amazing Gibson collection or how to order his poster, visit the Les Paul Forum at http://www.lespaulforum.com.