Tuesday, August 21, 2007

CHRONICLES OF THE ANNOYING: Greedy nuisances profiled, page 1

Part of the Los Angeles Times' new contemporary coverage of America is its glorification of conspicuous consumption. Weekly, features writers find the most annoying examples of Grotesquus Americanus. Then it proceeds to portray whatever herd of manipulators it has found as something swell. The point of it is to make you feel stupid or envious while marveling at the business acumen and immense good fortune of others.

Today's example were men who hoard late-Fifties/early Sixties Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars painted in sunburst finishes.

An example of the ridiculous prices the instrument fetches is here at Gruhn Guitars, run by reseller/guitar collector/speculator, George Gruhn. If you read guitar magazines regularly you know Gruhn owns 98 or maybe even 110 percent of all the guitars worth having in the world. No one is allowed to say anything about the worth of electric guitars without first checking if it's all right to do so with Gruhn.

This is a good gig. In Allentown, Pennsyltucky, at the Morning Call newspaper, antiques collector Harry Rinker had the practice nailed down. Rinker wrote a syndicated column on antiques and kept a warehouse full of the crap he wrote about.

If you got it into your head that the old glass and ceramic insulators used on power poles by railroad tracks were worth money, of course they weren't.

You fool.

They were junk that fell to the ground and were disposed of.

When Rinker wrote about how great such old glass and ceramic insulators were, it went nationwide and there was a run of scavenging on old abandoned power poles.

If you could not sell the two cases of flat and spoiled Moxie soda in your basement, the palletful of cases of flat and spoiled Moxie soda in Rinker's warehouse was worth millions. As soon as he said so.

At one point my neighbor, a man who read Harry Rinker assiduously, became convinced that the two hundred really old fungo bats he had in his garage had to be worth something. Now these were old fungo bats that were in very good condition.

He knew that if he could get Harry Rinker to write about vintage fungo bats, they'd instantly be worth money. And I worked at the newspaper that ran Rinker's column.

"Could you put in a word?" he asked plaintively.

See how this works?

In case you didn't click through the link, the guitar on display at George Gruhn's costs a good deal more than your house.

For you to accept the idea of used guitars which sell for a quarter-of-a-million dollars, you have to buy into all the conceits trotted out about them for the last thirty years. As conceits handed down for decades and pounded into the bedrock of electric guitar lore, they've created a warped reality.

In other words, "We said nonsense, but it was important nonsense."

"It's the Holy Grail of guitars," says someone named Dan YaBlonka to the newspaper. ""They sound like they are being played by the finger of God."

Now at one point, many remember Eric Clapton was actually called God but felt it untrue and something of an albatross. DD knows this is a non sequitur. But what does the finger of God sound like?

"Even spare parts [of the guitar] are revered like gemstones," intones the newspaper, at which point readers might be fighting the desire to see the reporter hit hard over the head with something heavy, just out of spite.

The photo for the feature is one of a portly man, "collector Joe Ganzler," surrounded by his stash of quarter-or-half-million dollar Gibson guitars, presumably shot in a fortress at an undisclosed location.

"The 1950s proved to be the golden era of electric guitars," continues the newspaper, not entirely truthfully. "Golden era" is usually known to mean as "if you have a guitar you can prove was made then, not a counterfeit, it's worth more -- usually a lot more, than what you originally paid for it."

Semi-famous guitarist Ed King, who started out in the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and more famously wound up in Lynyrd Skynyrd before being kicked out over a personality clash, opines the quarter million dollar guitar "[has] a sound that can't be duplicated."

If you have one, and King does -- in a vault -- it must be true. The sound of a mile high pile of cash must be unique.

While anyone applying the leaden yardstick of sound equals value instinctively knows this to be true, the rest of us can insist that the sound of such a guitar is a matter of taste and that many other instruments must, by sheer luck of the draw plus variety, sound as good or better.

Jimmy Page, known to play a vintage Les Paul, became known as a guitarist/studio magician who could make one guitar sound like an utterly different model. The first Led Zeppelin album was made with a Telecaster, a fuzztone, a tiny guitar amplifier called a Supro, and judicious knob twiddling in the studio, producing a sound that many directly associated with his Les Pauls and Marshall stacks onstage.

For the LA Times, the guitar hoarder/collector straps on his Les Paul at the end of the story. "He closed the bedroom door so he wouldn't disturb the neighbors, plugged [the guitar] into a Marshall amp and launched into Bad Company's "Good Livin' Gone Bad" [from Straight Shooter]."

The riff was played by Mick Ralphs. Now that he's very old, Ralphs is more frequently seen with a Fender Stratocaster. Oof.

Hold your hate mail. It'll never get published.

$25,000 Eddie van Halen guitar. Cheap, also loved by the annoying.


Anonymous Dunc said...

Reminds me of the secret motto of an old "antique" dealer I used to know - "I buy junk and sell antiques."

3:55 AM  
Blogger bendy said...

re: old Les Pauls. What I don't get about people who claim there's some special tone on a 50-year-old guitar is that, when their favorite recordings were made on said guitars, said guitars were 15 years old. So wouldn't a 15-year-old painstaking reproduction of a Les Paul sound more accurately "classic rock" than the real thing? Assuming it's the patina of age which gives it the quality. Then, I don't know exactly what these guys are assuming.

12:16 PM  

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