This Must Be What It Feels Like To Rob A Bank
This must be what it feels like to rob a bank. I’m walking as slow and steady as possible muttering “Be cool” to myself as I make my way to my pickup. Have I been spotted? Is that guy looking at me? Man, these guitars are getting heavy.
Thirty minutes prior I was rummaging through a garage full of tools, somewhat organized on racks, in a so-so neighborhood of the East Bay. I came looking for tools. Not that I had a need for them, but more for the idea of them. Every man needs tools, so I came to get mine for cheap. I picked up a skill-saw and a belt sander when I noticed a toolbox sitting in the corner. I popped it open to find a collection of wrenches and screwdrivers along with a nice torque wrench. While I had no use for a torque wrench I knew they weren’t cheap, so I picked up the toolbox in addition to the other items figuring I could Craigslist it later and maybe make the entire trip an even wash.
I ring up at an even twenty and as I reach for my wallet out of the corner of my eye I spot a man walking out of the house with a guitar case. At this point I would like to deviate from the current tale to make privy the dream of nearly every guitar player to those of you who may not play guitar or be interested in such things. It is in fact every guitar players dream to stumble upon a vintage instrument in a dusty corner of a house or a garage long since forgotten by it’s owner. Your eye is always scanning a garage sale or better yet, an estate sale, looking for signs that this could be the day that your dream becomes a reality. As we head back to my story now, you can hopefully better understand my curiosity with this man and more importantly the guitar he was carrying.
If there was any excitement about the steal of a deal I got on the torque wrench it was quickly washed away as I dropped the tools in my truck and headed back to the house. I’m told that everything must go as I walk inside to what could easily pass as a music shop from the 70's. Milk crates filled with vinyl take up the entire living room and creep into the kitchen. I am in the home of a (now deceased) music lover, this is good. A quick scan of the room reveals nothing guitar related so I head down the hall to the bedrooms. The walls are lined with ATM receipts stacking two to three feet high. If that wasn’t odd enough there appeared to be what I can best describe as an obsessive compulsive collection of blank cassette tapes that rivaled the ATM receipts for floor space in the narrow hallway. I poke my head into what looks like a guest room. Besides the hope chest and a few quilts, nothing. The master bedroom yields similar results. I can’t help but find myself thinking what if that guitar that guy was carrying was the only one here? What if it was a pre-war Martin (Google it). I should have gone inside earlier!
I made my way to the last room with hope all but gone. The room was mostly empty aside from the floor to ceiling bookshelf. Accepting my defeat I start to browse the books hoping for some title to catch my eye. I see nothing titled “Guy who missed out on vintage guitar that turned out to be worth $100,000", so I casually opened the closet door to have a quick peek.
I found myself staring at a cache of musical gear that would make most pro’s proud. Amplifiers, reel-to-reel recorders, effects pedals and yes, guitars. Four to be exact. I grab the first one, set it on the ground and take a deep breath. Is this really happening? I open it to find a Rickenbacker. These guitars were popularized by The Beatles and this one in particular looked like it had some pretty good use. I scoot it aside and pull out the second one. A Hofner 500 bass guitar – these too were popularized by one Beatle in particular, Paul McCartney. I didn’t play bass at the time so I (foolishly) set it aside. I pull out the third guitar. The case is covered in vintage stickers telling a story of a touring musician in Florida in the late 60's. It opens to reveal a Fender Esquire. An Esquire is Bruce Springsteen’s main axe. Hell, he probably wrote ‘Born in the USA’ on his Esquire. This things is an icon. Oddly enough, at this point I snap back into reality. I can’t believe that no one has walked into the room yet and I start to become extremely nervous that someone will. I poke my head into the hallway. ATM receipts and blank cassette tapes. Coast is clear. I begin to move quicker in an effort to somehow fully explore this goldmine while keeping such a discovery a secret. I pull out the last guitar and set it on the ground.
This one is different than the others. It’s still in what looks like the cardboard box that shipped with it. It says Rickenbacker on the side and as I slide it out I couldn’t help but notice how pristine even the case was. A quick exhale and I find myself looking at an exquisite 12 string Rickenbacker that looks like it hasn’t been touched. Ever. Holy sh…
“Can I help you?”
My head snaps up quickly to reveal the face that I often find on my three year old son–that look that says guilty. “I… I found these in the closet”, I say trying my best to mimic my son caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Those aren’t for sale”, her words cut me down. I explain that I play guitar and would love to give these instruments a home. Reaching again into the bag of three year-old tricks, I blame the previous guy. “I just saw a guy walk out of here with a guitar, so I figured these were for sale too…”, talking more with my eyebrows than I ever have before. “Well, he said he would give me $200 for each guitar in here.” Looking back on it now, I probably didn’t even let her finish that sentence as I blurted out, “I’ll give you $200 for every guitar in here, will you take a check?”
There were probably only 15 steps from the front door of the house to my pickup truck but the three trips took what seemed like an eternity. I am sweating, literately. I’m paranoid that someone will call me out, “Hey, what are you doing with those guitars?!”. At the same time, in my mind I’m screaming and dancing like I had just gotten through to Hollywood, while on the outside I’m trying to look like I had just scored a sweet deal on a torque wrench. I fire the ignition and do my best not to speed through the quiet residential street. Be cool I kept saying to myself, be cool.
The final gear list consisted of:
– 1965 365 Rickenbacker
– 1966 370 Rickenbacker 12 String
– 1963 Fender Esquire
– 1969 Artiber Fuzz Face (1st production run)
– Original Tube Screamer
– Maestro Echoplex Tape Delay
Total cost, $660. Total value, somewhere north of $30k.