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Vintage Guitars: Sometimes The "Hunt" Is The Best Part!

10.17.2012

Arlen RothEver since some of the earlier days of the vintage guitar “boom”, around 1967, I’ve been seeking these rare beauties in some of the most unlikely of places, and in the most unlikely ways! There are as many “misses” as there are “hits” when it comes to these finds, and of course, it’s the “big ones that got away” that hurt the most.

Like the biggest of all…..when I lived in a loft in lower Manhattan, almost directly beneath the World Trade Center towers, I was four flights up from a rather low-end music store. It used to be the fabled Silver & Horland music shop, where many a great instrument was sold back in the day, but by the time I moved there, Silver and Horland had moved uptown to 48th St., and there was nothing but this “shell” of a music store left in its place. It was a nice place though, but many of the guys, in fact all of the guys who worked there had no idea about vintage guitars and what they might be worth! I was already deeply into collecting by this point (around 1979 or so) and was always ready to “pounce” on what may just “happen” to come through their doors! When this story happened, I had already gotten a 1964 VOX Ac-30 amp for next to nothing there, and also a ’58 Fender Strat that they first let go, but that happened to come into the store again!

This was the real heartbreaker though, because this time it involved a 1958 all-original, and barely played Gibson Flying V! They told me that a cop had walked in with it, and that he wanted $800 for it. So I simply said “and, so, you got his number, right?!” No, they just felt that that was a ridiculous amount of money to ask for such a guitar! This sent me into a tirade against them and what they had done, but it also made me start a mad search for whoever this “cop” might be, and if he could be reached. Needless to say, my searched turned up no one, but suddenly, about 5 months later, a friend said to me “hey Arlen, didja hear about the cop with the original Flying V who’s at $9000 and rising?! Well, needless to say, if they had only gotten the right info that day, I would’ve gotten an amzing guitar, and of course, he had the chance to really learn about what it was he really owned! I think that guitar eventually went for about $85,000 a couple of years later, and it sure broke my heart!

I can also recall in my truly earliest days of collecting, just after getting my 1952 Les Paul had really whet my appetite for vintage instruments, I had found an entire store full of rare vintage guitars (mostly Les Pauls) and parts on Webster Ave. in the Bronx, where I had grown up. I needed my Mom to help me to pay for the stuff, so she said she’d have to think about it. I knew we had to act fast, and the following day she agreed to pay! We went to the store that next day, and everything was already gone! A few months later, I was at Dan Armstrong’s shop in NYC, and when I told him the story, he knew right away what I was talking about, because he said he was the one who bought everything from that store!

So it’s ironic how when you “put yourself out there” when it comes to collecting, not only do the instruments come your way, but more stories about them seem to surface when you don’t get them! I learned to take the triumphs with the losses when it comes to them, and also, it just never ceases to amaze me just how much these great “finds” can still surface! Remember it’s having that special knowledge about what you are seeing and finding that really makes all the difference in the world between triumph and tragedy! Happy hunting, and good luck!

Arlen Roth

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