“Suppose,” enticed the email message (back when email messages were still something of a novelty), “I could get you into a strip mall that has one music store and the rest of the spaces are FILLED WITH GUITARS?” Thus began a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure that involved packing up my photographic gear into jerry-rigged thrift shop suitcases, hopping onto an airplane to head west, joining Tom, a knife salesman I’d never met except on the internet and at the other end of a telephone line, and driving up to Bob’s House of Music in Wheat Ridge, CO, just north of Denver. Where I would encounter more vintage guitars—including this 1974 Carvin CM95—than anyone could ever conceive! The second Temple of Doom of my life (so far).
Imagine someone telling you about an old-time music store that had a huge stash of unsold guitars from the 1960s, plus some guitar effects from the ‘70s lying around in its upper floors in Newark, NJ. Well, you can bet it didn’t take long for me to beat a path to the door of Newark Music City (calm down; this was a long time ago and, while the company still exists, it’s long gone from Newark). Even though I was late in the game, there were still unmined treasures to be had. A real Temple of Doom!
Behind every guitar there’s some sort of story, but they usually aren’t as rich as the one behind the Kramer Gorky Park seen here! Not only was this guitar associated with one of the big flash-in-the-pan pop metal bands of the late 1980s, it symbolically and almost literally marked the end of Kramer, as the largest guitar company in the world was crumbling just like the Iron Curtain!
Well, well, well. What have we here? On the surface, of course, it’s a 1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5. A sight little seen in North America, but not uncommon in Japan, at least once upon a time. And if it makes you think of a little bit of a Mosrite on drugs, well then you’re not too far off the mark! Welcome to a bit about the Ventures and the early world of copy guitars!
What is it about the Japanese and the Ventures? I mean, I cut my teeth with the Ventures. They were the perfect band to learn guitar from. The Ventures took songs with often complex harmonic structures—like the wonderful Johnny Smith classic—and stripped them down to their basic melodies, gave them a simple rock groove, and played them clean. I had the sheet music to Smith’s song, but there was no way in you know where I was gong to play off that. But follow along with the Ventures’ single? You bet!
How often have you ever walked into a music store—an admittedly increasingly exotic experience in this internet age—and had the salesman practically beg you to buy a guitar at a bargain basement price? My guess is not often! Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened to me with this 1990 PBC GTS 200S!
Sometimes you take a look at a guitar and the warning bells start ringing: bogus. Like those early “missing links” proposed by inventive amateur anthropologists who put gorilla skulls on anthropoid skeletons. That’s what happened to me the first time a dealer hauled this out and showed it to me. It was a Danelectro alright, but those pickups? Then I looked again. Who would stencil “Dan Armstrong Modified Danelectro” on an aftermarket pickguard? Then there were the pickups. Epoxy potted. Trademark of who, or is it whom? Dan Armstrong. Think his Ampeg see-through guitars. No, on second thought, this had the air of a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a generous dash of authenticity. So it proved to be. And so it came my way and all I had to do was put the links back together again.
I’ve always had a bit of a taste for plastic on my guitars. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love flamed and quilted maple, rich ribbon mahogany, Brazilian rosewood, abalone pearl. But there’s something so wonderfully cheesy about the use of plastic on a guitar. I guess that’s one of the reason why I like this otherwise relatively humble Italian-made Gemelli 195/4/V from around 1965.