So if you’ve read my previous rants, you’ll have gathered that I tend to avoid London’s Denmark Street like the plague unless I’m playing in the West End and need urgent accessories/strings etc.
But today I was passing one of the stores which has, shall we say, a rather ‘tarnished’ reputation for the ‘authenticity’ of the vintage gear it peddles. I noticed a doublecut TV junior in the glass cabinet reserved for ‘fine instruments’, so I went in and had a look. Big mistake.
The guitar’s finish was in reasonable shape, but had had its neck pickup cavity crudely routed to accommodate a mini-humbucker or Charlie Christian-type pickup at some point. It’s never a good idea to mess around near the neck joints on these guitars, which are already notoriously weak. As a result, the small black plate with two brass pins between the neck and pickup was missing and the P90 which had been reinstalled was slightly too close to the neck and didn’t leave enough space.
The headstock facing veneer was cracked on both sides and the crack extended most of the depth of the treble side of the headstock, suggesting a partial but not total fracture at some point. Again, something all too common on these guitars.
The silkscreen on the headstock showed “Les Paul TV Special: as was the case until mid-’59 and the serial number 9 274XX confirmed this. However, the knobs were the later reflectors used from mid-’60 while the bridge was screwed right into the body, suggesting the overly-shallow neck angle which sometimes dogged the earlier (i.e. ’58) examples of these and other guitars (eg 335’s). Even then, the action left something to be desired. On the upside, the neck profile was the pretty typical ’59 ‘D’ shape, really nice.
All in all, a mongrel. An outrageous £5995 asking price quickly retreated into a perhaps not too outrageous £4500, but boy, did it made me feel a whole lot better about my clean, mint, undamaged early ’60. And by contrast one of my pals has just picked up a very, very clean ’60 cherry doublecut Junior with a fat neck, lovely low action, great intonation and screaming P90 for only £3500….
When I challenged the ‘salesperson’ on some of these details, out came the crap, delivered in the tired drawl and patronising sneer which characterises many of the street’s denizens.
In the space of two minutes, he had managed to diss my instrument (“no demand for ’60’s” – the poor idiot had probably mistaken mine for an early SG Les Paul Special, also a pretty good guitar); talk serious bollocks (“nah the headstock’s only finish checking” – “nah, the neck angle’s fine, I’ve seen hundreds of these things” – “nah, they’re the right knobs for the period, started in ’54” – etc etc).
By now, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d described the finish not as TV Yellow but Fiesta Green. Who employs these people? How much bullshit can you fit in a single human frame? I wouldn’t have bought a box of matches from him, let alone a vintage guitar. No wonder serious collectors go to the ‘States with all its own attendant risks to do serious business. Now, out of town guitar stores, happily often a rather different story…