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Archive for December, 2012

The Expendables

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Nothing more useless than rusted guitar strings. Hey, these are NOS. I think I can get the whole lot pretty cheap.

No, not the action movie, which, by the way, I didn’t see. Expendables, in my other business, are items that get used once and thrown away-lighting gels, gaffers tape, diffusion material, dulling spray and the like. But guitars have expendables too and 335s are no exception. OK, they get used more than once but you get the idea. When you’re considering a vintage piece, there are certain elements that simply wear out over time. If you’re a collector, your tolerance for worn out elements is pretty limited. Most collectors don’t care if the strings aren’t original-probably because they rarely are and because 50 year old strings won’t sound very good. But there are other parts that wear out over time that may affect the value but not the playability. Frets are the obvious one. In general, a pro refret doesn’t affect the value of a guitar very much unless it’s an otherwise mint example. Then you can ask yourself why would anyone refret a mint guitar? A couple reasons, actually. There are guitars that get played extensively but are so well cared for that they remain in extraordinary condition. But that’s pretty unusual. There are refrets that occur because someone along the way wanted larger or smaller frets and there are refrets that are done to try to correct a backbow in the neck or other problems. I’m always wary of newer frets on a mint guitar but, unless there is a noticeable neck problem, it is rarely, if ever,  a dealbreaker. If I’m buying a non mint vintage guitar, I always prefer the original frets but I don’t exactly fret (pun intended) if they are properly redone. Another element that I would consider an expendable are the tuner tips. They don’t so much wear out but often deteriorate due to age. When

You've seen these before. Mummified Kluson tuner buttons. This would never stop me from buying a great old guitar. Put repro tips on or just stick 'em in the case. People expect this and it won't hurt the resale unless the guitar is otherwise mint-then maybe a little.

Gibson built these guitars they weren’t looking 50 years into the future. They probably weren’t looking more than a few years ahead and probably only “fixed” durability problems when someone complained about them. Oddly, tuner tips from the years up to 58 seem to hold up just fine but 59-60 don’t. It seems that 61-65 are better but still shrink and mummify while the later ones seem fine. Plastic. Go figure. And speaking of plastic, there’s another plastic part that seems to be a real problem and that’s the block inlays on 62-65 ES-335’s. It’s funny, the dot inlays of 58-62 don’t seem to shrink or curl up, although they do occasionally fall out but that’s usually a glue issue. The inlays on a 345, which are made of the same celluloid based plastic shrink a lot but they usually don’t curl up. And 355 inlays almost always stay put and are totally stable because they aren’t plastic at all-they are mother of pearl. But early 335 block markers can be a real problem. Gibson knew this and changed the material in the mid 60’s. This was, as is usual at Gibson, a long transition but it seems that by 67, they were the lighter colored material that was more shrink and discolor resistant. But 62-65 blocks can be a nightmare. They shrink, they turn brown, they curl up at the edges and they fall out. If you replace them, they always look too white, although they can be darkened using the tricks that the guys who age these things use-like soaking them in coffee, tea, coke or dye. In terms of lost value to a vintage guitar, changed tuners and changed block markers are going to make a difference-not a huge difference but as always, the more original, the bigger the price. My attitude on tuners is, essentially, I don’t care as long as the tuner itself is original. With the markers, I have a stronger opinion. My preference will always be for original markers. A little curl won’t affect playability much and a good luthier can remove them, scrape out the old glue and reglue any of them that are causing trouble as long as they aren’t too thin. If they are unusually thin, you might want to take a closer look at the fingerboard to see if perhaps it was planed at some point-plane the board and the markers get planed too. If they are thin, falling out or otherwise causing you concern, one or two changed markers, if well matched to the ones you can save, aren’t going to significantly affect the vintage value of your guitar. I’d rather play a guitar with smooth new markers than one with markers that continually annoy me. There are more “expendables” that while perhaps a bit more durable, have a finite lifespan as well. Saddles, bridges and nuts. We’ll cover those another time.

Sometimes, things just wear out. It just doesn't make sense to keep a guitar original if the original parts are no longer functional. ES 335 block markers are often so badly deteriorated that they have to go.

OK Needs Guitars

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Unbound '58 335 Case Queen. This is what I'm after. Just got this unbound beauty and I want more, more, more....

Where’d all the guitars go? Have I sold them all to happy owners who will part with them only when I pry them from their cold dead hands? Seriously, the demand for great old ES’s is pretty strong but the supply is pretty slim. That is, unless you count the overpriced “wishful thinking” pie in the sky, don’t hold your breath guitars that are all over Gbase and Ebay. I mean real guitars that I can buy at prices that allow me to sell them to you for what they’re worth. You know what happens when supply goes down and demand stays the same…prices go up and none of us want to see that happen, do we?  I’d rather sell guitars to you than have you overpay some other dealer who’s trying to recoup his 2008 costs with 2013 dollars.  Bottom line? I need 58-65 ES-335s and I’ll pay you a real world price. You still might do better on the open market but at least with me there’s no BS and no waiting to get paid. Got one under the bed you don’t play anymore? I’ll take it. Saving it for you 10 year old who thinks guitars are dorky? Give it up. Been playing that 335 for the past 20 years and you think that maybe its time for a Firebird or a Les Paul?  I’ll set you up.  What do I have to do? Take to the streets with a wheelbarrow and exhort you to “bring out your ES!!!” If Uncle Fred still has that old red 355 mono in the hall closet, maybe it’s time to let him know that his playing days ended in 1978 and that now would be a good time to take Aunt Sophie on a vacation. Maybe a cruise. I’m sure there are still a few thousand ES 335s, 345’s and 355’s out there that aren’t in the hands of collectors or current players. They’re lurking in closets and attics and, of course, under beds and they aren’t doing a bit of good there. Let’s get ‘em out and get ‘em back into circulation. Tell Grandma that it’s time to let Grandpa’s old 62 go to a younger player who will cherish it just as much as he did -when he was sober. And that old Fender tweed amp that’s been rusting out in the barn since cousin Lem’s unfortunate accident? I’ll take that too and poor old Lem can make a few bucks all these years later. If you have a guitar that I sold you and you aren’t playing it much, let me know and I’ll buy it back or trade you for something you will play. C’mon, it’s fun.

Hey, Del...You're not using that old double guard 64 anymore, are you? So, it's got a coupla extra holes-I'll still take it off your hands. Hey, I'm a walkin' in the rain...just to get your 335.

 

The Guitar Dick

Monday, December 24th, 2012

This close to mint 61 dot neck had been refretted but everything else was a 9.5. Why would someone refret a near mint guitar? This calls for a dick.

No, it isn’t the guy who sold you a fake Chinese Les Paul (although he is a dick) and it isn’t Gary Dick, well known owner Gary’s Classic Guitars, it’s me. Or you, when it’s time to buy a vintage guitar. It’s this definition, not the other one: dick [dik] noun, Slang. 1. a detective. Detective work requires mostly common sense and a sometimes a little lateral thinking and creativity. In all vintage guitars we look for originality (and playability and tone but you don’t need a dick for that). Common sense tells you to look at the overall appearance. If the finish is worn, the parts are going to be worn. If the bridge looks shiny and new but the tailpiece has the plating worn right off of it, you might guess that the bridge has either been replated (doubtful) or replaced. Simple stuff, right? The problem with any vintage guitar is that there are so many parts that can be swapped in that are date correct but perhaps not “condition” correct. Do parts always wear evenly? No, they don’t but it’s pretty unusual when its glaring, especially during the 58-65 period when the metal parts were nickel plated. Nickel, unlike chrome, tarnishes and if the pickup covers look shiny and new and the bridge and tailpiece are tarnished, something might have been changed. So look at the solder on the back of the pickups. Have the covers been off? It’s not a slam dunk-there are folks who can reattach a cover with a solder blob that looks mighty convincing. How about a guitar that appears to be mint but clearly shows a refret? Ask yourself why a guitar that appears to have been rarely played would have a refret? If the wire is different-wider or narrower than stock, that could mean the player didn’t like the frets. A refret on an otherwise mint guitar can also mean that the guitar had a neck problem (usually a backbow) that was compensated for by a “compression” refret.  I’ve seen this more than once. It could also mean that the guitar was refinished and the parts replated and it isn’t a mint guitar at all. Ask yourself, “does this make sense?” The seller insists the case is original but the wear marks don’t line up. “uh…there was a different guitar in it for a few years…” Maybe but  probably not. How many cases get swapped out and then swapped back? Knobs are an interesting anomaly that can defy common sense. Since I’m no longer a gigging player, I rarely use the tone knobs. I dime ‘em and leave ‘em. So, when I see that the word “volume” is gone from the volume knobs and the word “tone” is bright and shiny on the tone knob, I don’t immediately think -replacement. Lots of people don’t mess with the tone knobs. You want to know if they’re of a set? Take them off and turn them over-the oxidation and crud under there should be pretty close to the same. Just ‘cuz you don’t use them doesn’t mean they don’t get sweat and polish and dust and other gunk under there over the course of 50 years or so. Fingerboard wear is another thing to look at. Does it make sense that the board under first three frets are heavily rutted but the owner says the frets are original (and show no wear)? Is the headstock beat to hell but there’s no wear on the body of the guitar? Is the case clean but the guitar is beat up? The reverse of that is deceiving, however. I’ve seen a whole lot of guitars that are in excellent shape with terrible cases. Gigging musicians who take good care of their guitars don’t always take good care of the case. Finally, consider that a swapped part that is vintage correct is not that big of a deal. Even if the bridge looks wrong, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that looks right. If it’s too worn and you want one that is cleaner, they are out there. If it’s too shiny and you want it a bit more aged, there are those as well (or you can just play the crap out of it until it’s worn). Swapped parts that are wrong for the guitar will hurt the value but swapped parts that are right really don’t in most cases. It is too easy to change parts to know for absolute certain that they left the factory attached to that guitar but if you’re dick, you can lower the odds.

OK, it's not a 335 but it makes the point. This 68 should have a chrome bridge and tailpiece but these are nickel-learn to tell the difference. I pointed it out to the seller who recalled wanting the guitar to look more like a 50's LP. So he swapped them out. With any luck, he still has the originals somewhere. Fortunately I had a chrome set from a different 68.

2012 ES Year in Review

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Hot ticket item? Red big neck stoptail 63's and 64's. These don't ever last a week in my hands. Get 'em while they're hot.

I never buy and generally never consult the Vintage Guitar Price Guide or the Blue Book. I think the last one I bought was in 2009. It is my belief that they are trying to do the impossible which is to put some kind of market value on virtually every guitar made in the past 100 years. I know from my little teeny segment of the vintage guitar market that prices change a lot more than every year. A particular model/configuration can be hot in July and dead in August. The supply and demand is just too small to make the kind of generalizations that these publications make. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. How about the other dealers or Gbase, in general? Well, there are a few differing philosophies about how to sell a vintage piece. By far the most common is to put a big fat “sucker” price on it and wait to see if one takes the bait. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t. The dealers and individuals who use this method either don’t need to sell them, don’t want to sell them or are extremely negotiable. You know who you are. I think. Ultimately, it’s great for me that most dealers and individuals ask way too much for their guitars. While it makes it tough when I’m buying, they make it very easy for me when I have something to sell. It’s pretty easy to see why my guitars go on hold before I even get them and sell within a few weeks (or less). I’m not waiting for a sucker. I’m waiting for you-the serious buyer who does his home work and knows what he wants and how much he wants to spend. I sold around 100 guitars in 2012-the vast majority were ES-335s. How’s the market? Pretty good, actually. Stoptail block necks go the quickest and have been very strong this year breaking out of the mid-teens and pushing toward $20K for the first time since 2008. 64’s and big neck 63’s are leading the charge but more and more folks have come to appreciate the thinner 62’s and early 63’s. The best deal out there is an early 65 (big neck, trap tail). While the stops are getting up there, the early 65’s are still well under $10,000. Look for a big neck with a 17 degree headstock. There aren’t a lot of them but the later 14 degree headstock with the big neck is also a great choice. Don’t worry too much about nickel or chrome-it’s pretty random and easy and cheap to swap. While the stoptails have added 10-20% this year, the Bigsby-Custom made blocks have stood still. At $12K-$13K, they are a lot of guitar for the money. Dot necks held strong again, especially 58, 59 and early 60. These will likely stay strong-especially stops-and will continue to be in the mid to high 20’s and into the low $30K’s. Later 60’s and 61’s have softened a bit, IMO, dipping well below $20K even for really nice examples. What didn’t do so well this year from an investment standpoint? ES-345’s and stereo 355’s. Stoptail 345’s from 59 (and perhaps 60) are still doing OK but everything else has been in the doldrums. Stops in average condition from 60 to 64 have dipped below $10K which makes them a great bargain. ES-355 stereos are simply in the dumper. They were a very tough sell in 2012. Grab one in the $8K range if you can talk a delusional seller out of the $18K he thinks its worth. Mono 355’s, on the other hand, are pretty hot. I sold about ten of them this year and they were some of the best guitars I had. Average prices from 59-64 were over $10K and up into the low teens. What else is hot? Anything mint or close to it. Really high quality pieces are getting hard to come by and are starting to command some pretty serious premiums. The old “find another” cliche is alive and well. I’ll add a disclaimer-the variation in condition, originality and configuration makes my generalizations just that. Generalizations. If you come across a 335/345 or 355 that you’re interested in from another dealer, feel free to send me an email. I’ll be happy to guide you to a fair price-doesn’t mean you’ll get it but you won’t get played for a sucker either.

 

Toughest sell? ES-355 stereo. I don't think I sold a single one this year. The sellers want too much for them and the buyers know it. Nice guitars too but not worth the average $16-$18K the sellers want for an early one. Monos are the bomb, however.

Never Too Old to Rock and Roll

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Sir Paul looked great, sounded great and brought down the house. Note the guitar that Rusty Anderson is playing. Only 335 to make it to the stage (OK, Grohl's "new" Trini, too)

Last night’s 121212 Concert was a master class for aging (and aged) rockers. How do you get up there in front of a few billion people and try to be the guy you were 40 or more years ago? There is no right answer but the musicians who made it to the stage each had their own way of getting it done. The age range is pretty small for the over 60 set with Springsteen and Billy Joel coming in a 63 and Charlie Watts at 71. I don’t count Jon Bon Jovi because, first of all, he made a pact with the devil to stay that young looking and second, he’s only 50. I still looked pretty good at 50 but not my hair. My hair didn’t look that good at 19. What seemed consistent is that all of them could still perform although some were a bit more spry than others. Keith and Mick (both born in 1943) were a study in contrasts. Mick could still jump around like he did at 30 and was amazingly fit-looking for a 69 year old but his face gave away the years. It was a little scary, actually. Keith simply looked embalmed but then he’s looked like that for years. Last night he seemed even more worse for wear, if that’s possible. The quiet dignity of Charlie Watts is the same quiet dignity he showed 50 years ago and it still works.

OK, not exactly a sixpack but for 69 years old, still a pretty good bod. I look better with my shirt off but he has 9 years on me. No photo available of me, however.

Roger and Pete were another example of how aging isn’t fair. Even though Roger’s hair makes him look like your Aunt Bertie, he’s still able to unbutton his shirt without totally  embarrassing himself. Pete, wisely, kept his on. Roger’s voice improved dramatically as the show went on showing us he can still share the stage with a much younger (and much deader) Keith Moon. Pete was still Pete but the energy seemed a bit forced and possibly a bit painful. You try windmills when you’re 67. I get bursitis just watching him. Roger Waters (69) looked positively ancient (when are rockers going to abandon the black t-shirt?) but the set was great and the addition of Eddie Vedder was a real treat. I was ready to bet on whether Roger Waters would break a hip by the last number. The younger guys (in the old guy category) were Springsteen (and Little Steven) and Billy Joel. At 63, they showed that they can still perform at a very high level but Billy Joel, who never really looked the part of a rocker, looks a lot like my tailor. He looked like he could be Springsteen’s uncle. Steven Van Zandt, at 62, barely older than I am, looked like Steven Van Zandt playing Sylvio Dante, imitating Steven Van Zandt. Clapton was simply marvelous. He’s never been a big showman, preferring to let his guitar do the talking. At 67, he looks fit and healthy. Considering his somewhat dissolute history, it just goes to show that you can come back from bad rock star behavior and thrive. No histrionics necessary-the man just went out there and put his talent on display. Nice. We’ll not talk about Kanye West wearing a skirt-we’re talking about age here and not fashion. Finally Sir Paul, at 70 showed us how its done. If anybody proved that age is just a number, it was Paul. I don’t know how he manages to still appear boyish after all he has been through. Yeah, he’s a little jowly and I’m sure his hair is “enhanced” but still, the man can put on a show and not look like like a geezer doing it. His set, while no “better” than Clapton’s certainly had the edge in energy and showmanship. And he looked like he was having fun-something shared by most of the acts.  I suppose it’s no surprise that these guys can get pretty jaded over so many years of performing (and adulation and yes men and other perks of rock stardom) but not last night. Whether it was the cause or sharing the stage with other legends that did it, they all came out to play and play they did. It seems that our generation-rockers who got their start in the 60’s-don’t know when to quit and, happily, neither do we.

Is it me or is this more than a little scary? Keith bears a more than passing resemblance to Queen Elizabeth when she first gets up in the morning or so I would imagine.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Know.

Monday, December 10th, 2012

I really wanted this one. It didn't turn out to be all it was supposed to be. Sometimes, when you want something badly enough, you don't ask all the questions that need to be asked.

I’m guessing most everyone who has bought a guitar since the beginning of the internet has bought one that they have never seen, heard nor played. Buying stuff online has become the norm, especially buying things that are relatively rare and aren’t likely to be stocked on the shelves of your local Guitar Center. So, you ask a lot of questions. Has it been broken or repaired? Are the parts all original? How does it play? Is the neck straight? Is the finish original?  And so on. How specific do you get? How many questions do you ask?  You get real specific and you ask 100 questions if you need to. The problem is that doing that makes you more of a pest than a buyer especially when you’re buying from someone who doesn’t know a PAF from an ABR. I buy dozens of guitars every year from folks who neither play nor have any knowledge of guitars and they are almost always extremely helpful and will answer as best they can but I can’t expect these folks (some of whom are elderly) to start removing the pickups. And, not surprisingly, plenty of the guitars I buy from non players have undisclosed issues. It’s mostly changed parts but a lot of those can be seen in photos. That’s why I keep a big stash of vintage parts. But there are other issues that are harder to see-even for someone who really knows their stuff. Renecks and refinishes can be very hard to discern. So can misdating. I recently bought a guitar that I saw on Ebay that I wrote a post about. It was as rare as rare gets and I asked a zillion questions. I was mostly concerned with the originality of the finish-after all, how many blonde 65 ES-355s come along in a lifetime. This was the first I’d seen and only the third I knew of. So, I concentrated on the finish aspect. I honestly didn’t care if the bridge had been changed or the tuners were wrong-I’ve got all that stuff. I had a dozen photos and saw nothing that set off any alarms and yet, in less than 30 seconds after lifting the guitar from its case, I knew something was wrong. You see, I had no closeup of the headstock front. I had the back so I knew it wasn’t broken. I had a few good photos of the body which showed the correct pointy ear 65 body shape and an unambiguous serial number (unless it was a ’70 which seemed impossible with that body shape). So, I was pretty confident that this guitar was what the seller said it was. He had also bought it from a dealer whom he indicated was reputable. The seller clearly was confident that he had exactly what he said he had and I was not terribly concerned. Did I ask every possible question? Well I didn’t ask him to describe the Gibson logo. There was no dot over the “i”. Now, anything is possible at Gibson during the 60’s. While no dot was the norm starting in 1969, I can’t say that its impossible for someone to have cut a corner one Friday afternoon after a couple of highballs at lunch. So, it required more investigation. They reused the serial 175xxx in ’70 but  the body looked nothing like a 70. I went to check the pot codes. Hmmm-no shielding cans-bad sign. I could read only one and it was 1974. So, the harness had been messed with. No help. I’ve never seen a pointy ear 70’s ES-355. Reneck? Well, the clear coat was broken at the neck join but that isn’t unusual at all. Probably 30% of vintage 3×5’s have that. So, I went into the neck pickup rout to see what I could see. What I saw were shims, too much glue and clamp marks. That ‘s kind of the reneck trifecta. Any two of those things would be less than conclusive. Clamp marks are rare. Shims a little less so and tons of glue is pretty common. All three plus a broken clear coat (and a neck configuration that doesn’t match the era)? Reneck. What a disappointment. The dealer sold it to the owner as a 65 which it is. The dealer didn’t question (or disclose) the anomalous logo. I cannot, in any way, fault the seller. I suppose I can fault me for not asking to see a closeup of the front of the headstock or not asking: “Is there a dot over the “i” in Gibson? Next time I’ll ask. The bottom line here is that even if you think you know everything, you can still end up with a guitar that isn’t exactly what you thought it was. If you don’t ask the question, you never get the answer.

Pretty clean work-almost certainly factory but too many factors tell me it isn't the first neck to grace this beauty.

Ground Beef

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

That solid wire wrapped around the braid is the ground. If you're going to start pulling the harness or messing with any of the wiring, disconnect the ground from the braid or be extremely careful that you don't break that wire. If you break it at the other end, you'll be bummed big time.

 

I’m not an electrical engineer. I can sort of read a schematic and can muddle my way through a wiring diagram. One thing that has always escaped me is the finer points of grounding. I get that electrical circuits need to be grounded but beyond that, it gets a little sketchy. Let’s take a look into the grounds on a 335. The stoptail 335 has a kind of rigid, uninsulated wire that goes from the ground (braided wire) of the bridge pickup to the stud bushing on the treble side of the stoptail. So, in theory, as long as you are touching something that is touching the stop (like the strings), you complete the ground. The braided wire of the harness is the ground and it makes a circuit from the pickup braid to the bridge volume pot to the bridge tone pot AND to the three way which in turn goes to the neck volume pot and the neck tone pot and then to the jack. If the guitar has a Bigsby or a trapeze, the ground wire goes all the way to a hole drilled near the strap button at the butt end of the guitar and is connected (by being butted up against) to the Bigsby or trapeze. Most factory guitars with both a Bigsby and stoptail studs have both ground wires.  Simple, right? You would think. The problem is that there are 20 different ways to screw it up. The worst is if you break the very fragile ground wire that goes to the stud. There is no way to replace it without jumping through some serious hoops. Trust me, you do NOT want to do this, so be really careful with that wire. If you’re removing a pickup or the harness for any reason, unsolder the ground wire from the pickup braid first or be really careful to avoid any strain on it. If you break that wire and it will break a lot more easily than you think, take the guitar to someone with skill and experience with 335s. The likelihood is that a new hole will have to be drilled in the center block to rout the new ground wire. You can’t use the old hole because the old ground wire is broken off and is stuck in it. If the wire broke with some of the wire sticking out, then you have a shot a removing it or soldering an extension on to it. To do it right, you have to pull out the bushing (not an easy task either), stick the new wire through the new (or old) hole and reinstall the bushing so it contacts the end of the wire and holds it in place. Yikes. The good news is that if you have a trap tail or a Bigsby, you aren’t likely to break the wire, nor is it that big a deal to replace it. There is an alternative that worked for me. I had purchased a stoptail 345 and it had a terrible hum, so I naturally assumed the ground wire was off. Well, it wasn’t off, it was gone. I don’t have the skills (or the confidence) to start drilling holes in the centerblock with any hope of it actually coming out in the little hole that the stoptail stud goes into. So I ran a very thin wire from the bridge pickup braid out under the pickup ring and wrapped it around the treble side bridge post. Because it was a long guard 345, the wire was pretty well hidden. It worked fine. I had a 65 ES-335 that was originally a stoptail and then had a Bigsby added but someone neglected (or were too lazy) to install a ground wire in the stud hole. So they did almost the same thing I did but they put a small lug on the end and just threaded it to the bridge post. It worked fine but you could see it. Best solution? Don’t break it in the first place.

This is another, less elegant solution. Instead of going to the stud bushing, the ground goes to the bridge post. The trouble is that it's visible. It didn't bother me very much but it is somewhat out of the ordinary. This was a 65 with studs and a Bigsby. There was no ground wire to the Bigsby, so we can only assume that it was added and somebody broke the original ground wire.

 

Travelin’ Man

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

I flew to Florida to pick this beauty up over the weekend. It borders on mint and has all the features you want. It is unusual in that it has the big neck of a late 63 and the Mickey Mouse ears of an early 63. One PAF, One patent. I didn't want this riding in the baggage compartment for three hours.

I actually like to get on airplanes and go places. I  don’t mind airports and airport food and even airport modes of transport-monorails, moving sidewalks, shuttle buses, you know. The crowds don’t bother me much nor do the long lines at the security gate. But traveling with a guitar, especially a valuable one, can be a little nerve wracking. Yesterday I flew to Tallahassee, Florida to pick up a very nice ’63 ES-335. I didn’t know it was going to be nice-that’s why I went in person to get it. This is typical when I buy from someone who doesn’t play and isn’t used to taking a guitar apart to tell me about pickup stickers and pot codes. So, I go myself knowing that I may be turning around and going home empty handed and a few hundred bucks poorer. Call it the cost of doing business. Fortunately, the seller (and his son) met me at the airport with the guitar and it turned out to be everything I had hoped. They were very nice folks and I enjoyed meeting them and was happy to be able to purchase the guitar from them. They even invited me to lunch which I had to turn down since I was flying right back to Connecticut. Here’s where it gets tricky. Now I have to go home with a very expensive guitar on an airline with a set of corporate rules about baggage.  Every flight is different because each airline has  a different set if rules and different levels of enforcement. On some,  apparently, it’s up to the flight crew whether your guitar gets on board or rides in the cargo hold. Some airlines are really good about allowing you on the plane with your guitar, some will allow it only if there is room (after everybody else has gotten on with their oversized luggage) and some require nothing less than threats and intimidation-“you want your gorillas in baggage to handle a $15000 guitar?” or “Are you willing to take responsibility for my livelihood?” or worse. The last time I flew with a guitar, I was on United and I called ahead to make sure the guitar got on the plane. they assured me it would be fine and then they refused. Yesterday it was Delta. The flight was in four parts-the first 2 legs weren’t a problem because I didn’t have a guitar with me yet. The return flight didn’t begin well. The flight attendant told me that if it didn’t fit in the overhead, then it couldn’t go on the plane. “Are you sure? I do this all the time…” “Those are the rules, he said, there’s nothing I can do.” “Is that a Delta policy?” “Yes, it is.” I started to go into my pitch about gorillas and insurance and responsibility when another crew member (I think it was the co-pilot) said that he would personally put it in the cargo hold himself and secure it. He assured me that it wouldn’t be too cold or get knocked around. He told me he was a player and he understood my concern. It was only a half hour flight and the guitar was bubble wrapped in the case, so I wasn’t that worried. I pointed out that there were empty seats and that other airlines just let me strap it in. “Sorry, sir, said the flight attendant, that’s against regulations.” So, my newest acquisition went into the hold. So, I got to Atlanta and the guitar was fine but the next leg was almost 3 hours and I really wasn’t comfortable with it going with the cargo. This flight was also Delta and the woman at the gate said the flight crew will decide whether it goes on the plane. I figured, “great—regulations again.” I got on the plane first and brought the guitar with me. The flight attendant in charge couldn’t have been nicer (or prettier). She told me that they take care of musicians and their instruments all the time and one way or another, we’d get the guitar on the plane. So much for regulations. The flight wasn’t full and the guitar got its own seat-right next to me (it was an ideal seat mate-it didn’t strike up a conversation, nor did it snore). So, the next time you’re flying with your guitar and you don’t want to check it, don’t let the petty bureaucrat who’s exercising his little teeny bit of power in his little teeny fiefdom tell you what the “regulations” are. Look them up in advance and print them out. Don’t ask if you can bring the guitar on at the check in desk. They will tell you that you can’t. Bring it through security and to the gate. Get on the plane with it (and get on early) and see if you can fit it in the overhead bin. If it doesn’t fit, ask the flight attendant for help. Be nice. If that doesn’t work, be nice again. If that doesn’t work, then being nice isn’t going to do it. You may have to gate check it which is better than letting the baggage handlers at it. When you gate check, the guitar is put in the cargo hold but doesn’t go to the baggage carousel at the end of the flight (usually-find out for sure before you give it up at the gate). Finally, if they let you put the guitar on the plane, even if it’s n the regulations, be grateful. Thank them profusely. Being a flight attendant seems like a pretty tough job. Let them know you appreciate their help.