Just Like Every Cowboy Sings A Sad, Sad Song
And hereby hangs the tale.
Back in the 80's, while I was still learing what there was to know about guitars, I found a pawnshop that had a large cache of (what I thought were) cheapo guitar strings. (They weren't cheap, they were just old, and from a company that had been manufacturing the strings in a small factory here in Charlotte, on Freedom Road, and had ceased production some years back.) I went to the owners, who knew me pretty good from my weekend gawking, and offered to re-string all their guitars, using said strings. They figured it couldn't hurt, so I zipped back home, grabbed a string-winder, and set to work.
It took about three days, but I did succeed in stringing all the guitars, some 20-odd of them. The cache turned out to have a pretty good variety of strings: electric and acoustic, light and medium gauge, they even had some LaBella folks strings that passed pretty good for classical strings. In addition to re-stringing the electrics, I tuned up their innards as well, repairing loose wires here, cleaning corroded contacts there, adjusting pickups. And then there was an old Kay arched-top 12-string, for which the cache had no match, so I took that one home, fit it with a set of cheapie GHS strings, and, as long as I happened to have it at home that evening, re-set an interior baffle, adjusted the truss rod, re-set the bridge, adjusted the harmonics, and did what I could to even out the string tensions. The next day I took it in to the pawn shop, gave it one last tuning and hung it back on the wall, saying "Well, that's about as good as that guitar is ever going to sound." The owners heard me say it and laughed out loud. (In retrospect, it wasn't the best thing to say about their shops' wares, but they were far more concerned with their collection of rare coins, which was the real bread-and-butter of the shop, and really was very, very impressive. They had a sign on the door that said I sleep here with a shotgun six nights a week. You pick the night. It wasn't the guitars that were being defended.)
So it became a habit, over the next six or eight months. I would go to various pawn shops, fix their guitars, sometimes for pay, sometimes for free, sometimes even paying for strings myself. (The owners of the first shop gave me 20 bucks for my labors, which wasn't too bad, as I was only out 7 bucks for the GHS strings.) And then one day, there on the wall, was the Gibson Marauder.
I didn't like Gibsons at the time, but this one caught my eye. I thought it was neat. I took it down off the wall, and immediatly knew, from the weight of the instrument alone, that the body was made of mahogany. (I was doing a fair amount of work with hardwoods at that time, since I thought I was going to be a luthier.) The strings were in fair condition; I plugged it up to an amp and fiddled with it. One of the pots seemed wonky, and the machine clearly had some less than solid connections inside. "OK if I work on this one?" I asked the owners. One of them nodded back, yeah, go ahead. I opened up the face-plate (that oversized pickguard is sometimes called a face plate) and went to work.
The first thing I noticed when I got the thing open was the back of the pick-ups: they were set in clear epoxy. Huh. Inneresting. I set to work with my soldering iron (had it with me, natch), and in about ten minutes I was satisfied that I had plugged all the leaks; he was seaworthy again. I put the faceplate back on. And then was the first sign I was falling in love with the thing: I decided that the corroding strings in the cache, which were starting to run out, were both too heavy and not slick enough for this guitar. I told the owners I would be right back, and slid over to Reliable Music (now defunct) to grab a set of D'Addario extra lights. ("I'm re-stringing a Gibson Marauder," I told my pal behind the counter. Handing me my change, he grimmaced "Why?") Back at the pawn shop, I applied the strings, got it in tune, stretched the strings a bit, and plugged it in.
And that guitar had a voice like a horny angel.
I played for maybe a half hour before the owners finally started giving me looks like enough was enough. It was just too cool. It would make a low growly jazzy sound, it would make a heavy metal scrunch, and it would do everything in between. Where other guitars have switches that select between the pickups, the Maurauder has a dial that fades the response between the two pickups. The back (neck) pickup was a fat humbucker; the front (bridge) was a single coil blade that refused to get tinny. It was just beautiful.
I put the thing back and resolved that I would buy it as soon as I could afford it. But I had just bought my Seagull 12-string in the same shop a month or two back, so I knew it would be a while. (And also that my Dad, who had helped me out on the Seagull, would probably not be helping me out with this one.) I came back two or three times and saw the thing before, about a month later, it was gone.
About a year later, I was working part-time in a local music shop, doing minor repair to cheap instruments as needed, when these two kids came in with a Gibson Marauder.
MY Gibson Marauder.
Turned out the one kid had gotten it for his brithday last year, tried to learn to play it, and then had shoved it under the bed for a while. Now he wanted to learn to play heavy metal style, and his friend had convinced him that he would be able to do so if he switched out the original pickups for hotter ones.
I tried to convince him that these pickups were as hot as he'd ever get. Nope; he wanted Seymour Duncans, a blade in the front and a hotrod humbucker in the back. I told him that he could do better cheaper using effects pedals. Nope; he wanted new pickups. I told him that, really, if he wanted that sound, what he wanted was to buy a new guitar. (I was angling towards buying it from him, mentally reckoning that I could scrape together a couple of hundred dollars if I had to.) No, he wanted this guitar with hotter pickups, and if I didn't do it, he'd take it over to this guy the other kid knew who worked on guitars and he'd do it. OK. I agreed. If he bought the new pickups, I'd do the installation. For the price of the old pickups.
So I did it. The pickups he picked didn't even remotely fit the thing, so I ended up rigging new supports out of plexiglass. (Kid wouldn't spring for new pickguard material.) And he wanted a selector swith instead of the knob, which luckily I had one in my salvage bin, so I had to cut a slot where the knob had been. (I got that faceplate off, and yep, sure enough, there was the serial number that I had unwittingly committed to memory.) It wasn't pretty, but it came together. It sounded exactly like the kid wanted it to sound. When I played it for him, he was ecstatic. He took a swipe at himself, and he seemed a little less impressed.
About two years, maybe two and a half years later, I walked into one of the newer pawn shops in the Wilkinson Boulevard area, one of the snobbier places in fact, and there it was: My Gibson Marauder. With it's bastard pickups and plexiglass supports and all. "Holy shit!"
The attendant looked up and said "Ugly, isn't it?"
I said "You don't understand: I did that to it."
The guy looked me in the eye and said "You should be shot!"
"Yes," I said, "yes I should."
I speculated about it for a moment, meandering out loud that they were only asking a hundred eighty bucks for it, and I still had the original pickups at home; maybe I should buy the thing and try to put it back together. The attendant then looked back up at the machine, and, suddenly realizing the full scope of the situation, looked at me with infinite sadness and shook his head. No, doctor, there is nothing more to do. The patient is dead. There was a crack in the headstock, the faceplate was chipped, and the kid had stuck skull-and-crossbones stickers all over the thing. Little bastard.
The example above I found at elderlyinstruments.com. They want $685 for it. The situation transcends my no-musical-instruments-over-the-internet taboo, but $685 is more disposable than I have available right now. And besides, I'm still doing penance for the one I ruined. I shoulda hit the kid over the head with the thing and run.