Thursday, May 19, 2011

Goodbye to an old friend...

Well, today I say goodbye to an old friend. She's a 1967 Gibson SG Special.

This guitar came into my life back in July 1972 in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Prior to us coming together, I was nuts over music. This was the time of Grand Funk Railroad, Jimi Hendrix, Mountain, Led Zeppelin and so many other rock and roll bands. I originally wanted to be a drummer and would beat out tunes like "Brown Sugar" or "Born to be Wild"on a cigar box. Unfortunately my parents wanted no part of a drum set (mostly since there were four sisters in the same household who raised a clamor about it!).

I decided on guitar when I heard my first Grand Funk record. It was the red album. I was blown away by Mark Farner's technique, I had to do this! I wasn't sure what guitar . What money I had was from mowing lawns. But I do remember when I was a senior in high school, I thumbed through a copy of Scholastic Magazine and found an article about Pete Townsend of the Who, but more importantly, there was a picture of him windmilling on a Gibson SG Special (circa mid-sixties).

I was fascinated by this guitar. The shape, color, pick ups and Gibson head stock. Oh, I had to have this! I decided to ask for one as a gift when I graduated. I started going to the local music shop in Ridgefield almost daily to check on whether they could get one. I couldn't afford a new one, but a decent used one would do. About a month after high school, I got a call from the music store owner. He said he had a Gibson come in on consignment and wondered if I would be interested. Uh, yeah, I think so!

I remember like it was yesterday as he opened up the black case with the Gibson logo on it. Laying on the yellow velvet was an SG Special, just like the one Townsend had in the picture. It was slightly modified from the factory guitar. For one thing the finish (cherry) was stripped off and a brown type of walnut was applied. It originally came with a tremolo bar which was taken off and a bar bridge was installed (It still had the three screw holes in the body from the tremolo mount). The original tuners were replaced with silver Grovers and the pick up covers were missing (this I discovered years later, I didn't realize the guitar came with them!). I wrote Gibson a letter and inquired what year the guitar was made. They wrote back and said 1962. Years later I discovered it was really 1967. It had a six digit serial number not five.

I signed up to take lessons there with their resident guitar teacher. Unfortunately I don't remember his name but he was a young guy with long flowing hair and a Honda 350 motorcycle. He played wicked acoustic and helped me along teaching me chords and licks. Most of the songs I learned were acoustic standards of the day from such artists as Jose Feliciano, Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina, The Beatles and the like. I wanted to play rock and roll! I took lessons for about a year and a half. At that time the guitar teacher moved on and I wasn't interested in starting with another. I struck out on my own and got a PA amp from my dad to amplify the guitar. I think I played it through record player speakers I had laying around. The one big trouble with that amp was it continually shocked me. But I did have a revelation one day as I was struggling to play some Alice Cooper tunes off of Love it to Death. The song was Hallowed by my name written by drummer Neil Smith. I've been having a difficult time trying to play songs by ear. You know, playing the song and playing the guitar with the song. I couldn't get the hang of it. But somehow as this song was playing, I figured out the chord pattern, A to D, A to D. That's when I realized I could actually do this! There was no stopping me now!

A year or two later I ditched the crappy PA amp for a 100 watt Univox stack. It had a 100 watt tube head and two 4x12 cabinets. Man was this thing loud! At the time I played in a number of bands that went nowhere, but at least I was playing songs I dug! I just kept at it, new records and bands and learned their songs by ear. Around mid 1974, the family moved to Pennsylvania. I stayed in Connecticut and kept learning. The problem here was I was working up to 72 hours per week at the wire mill here and hardly had any time for the instrument. I moved to Pennsylvania a couple years later, then on to Florida to go to school. Here's where I learned songs from groups such as Journey, Van Halen, Foreigner, Toto and Def Leppard. I played out as often as I could. It was a great time! During my stay, I was jonesing to change the original P-90 single coil pick ups on the SG. I first bought a DiMarzio humbucker for the lead position. It has two bars in place of the adjustable pole pieces. I had to take off the pick guard and cut a bigger opening. Luckily I didn't have to cut into the body. A little while later I got another DiMarzio for the neck. It was a standard humbucker with pole pieces. I reamed out the pick guard and replaced the bridge with one that had thumb tuners on it. Fortunately I saved the original pick ups and bridge and have them to this day.

I sold the Univox stack before I moved to Florida and bought a small Marlboro practice amp. I also had some kind of overdrive pedal I used with it. I went back to PA late 1980 and here's where I bought one of my current guitars. (I had bought a 1968 Messenger Stereo, like the one Mark Farner played, back in 1974, but I rarely used that guitar). A 1976 Fender Stratocaster that was puke yellow with a wavy neck. It's my main guitar now. The only thing original on it is the tuners, body and neck plate. It's fashioned like the one Hendrix used at Newport in 1969. White body with a Tele neck. I also added a Floyd Rose wang bar.

The SG started to take a back seat at this time. I would pull it out occasionally and play it. I changed the body color a number of times From walnut to red to its current 1985 Camaro blue (I had a can of touch-up paint). I even tried a do-it-yourself fret job. It came out lousy, didn't have the right tools. So after that, the SG pretty much became a closet queen, staying in its case most of the time.

Well, recently I have been getting rid of a lot of stuff on Craigslist and eBay. Just a lot of detritus that's been collecting over the years. I had every intention to whip the old SG back into its original shape. Replace the pick guard, install the P-90s and refret it professionally with a cherry finish, but alas, money is always the problem so I decided to sell her on eBay.

I look over at the guitar on its stand as I'm typing this and think back over the years. Wow, almost 39 years ago I walked into that music store in Ridgefield Connecticut and picked up my baby for 200 dollars. What good times we had! It's the one thing in my life that I actually stayed with. I've had millions of hobbies but this is the one thing that stuck. I think I'll pick her up and play a few tunes for old times sake.

She's off to another caretaker in Oregon. I hope he restores her to her former glory! Goodbye my love, and thanks for all the good times!!!


  1. Your SG will remain red forever in my memories. You'd crank up that stereo (onkyo?) you bought with your student loan, and fly into lead on "Rock and Roll Band" with unfettered joy.

  2. There's only one other person on the planet who would know what type of stereo I bought back in the day let alone know the one of the colors of the the man, Al! Love ya!

  3. I don't remember ever seeing this guitar... Where had it been all my life?!

  4. Wow man, your story is so sad... Why not keep it?

    It looks amazing, and I'm quite curious how it would sound...but from your descriptions, it must be amazing. Are the pickups the old, original ones still?

    My friend, Cate Von Smith-Bauder has a Standard Fender Strat but she's not very happy with how it sounds and I think it's the amp, not the guitar itself. I'm more of a Gibson fan.

    Too bad you can't keep this beauty... but glad to hear you'll jam with it one last time. Very poetic!