Dream Guitars: Part 2 of 2

 

Here's a picture of Pumpkin that I took the day we met. I wasn't able to get her that day. I had to wait a few days to come up with all of the cash that I needed. I was so worried that she would be gone when I came back. Fortunately, Tom, the shop owner, let me put her in the back of the store while I worked out my finances.

In last month’s article, Part 1 of this 2 part series, we discussed “Dream Guitars,” and how certain guitars tend to make it to the top of our own personal dream-list. Part 2 of this series will focus on two guitars that I recently acquired. One of them just sort-of showed up out of nowhere, and the other I had been trying to find for a very long time.

I’m sharing these guitars and their stories with all ye fellow gear heads in hopes of sparking your interest in the never-ending guitar game of cat and mouse. Besides, you’ll never really know what all is out there, and sometimes you end up finding something you weren’t even looking for. That in itself can prove to be a very rewarding experience. You’re about to find out exactly what I mean. But first...

The Back Story

Have you ever wondered what it was like the day you were born? Was it in the morning or late at night? Were you born under a full harvest moon? Was it fire red? What was the weather doing the day you joined the rest of us here on Earth? Have you ever wondered what was happening around the globe the year that you were born? Does any of this matter?

I was born November 16th, 1982. My mother had me early in the morning, under a new moon, at a small hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was a cold, damp, grey colored day, under considerable cloudy skies. The kind of late-fall day that you’d most definitely rather have stayed bundled up in bed instead of making a trip down to your local labor and delivery ward. Unfortunately for my mother, that’s the day that I decided to join the world after nine long months of developing fingers and toes. I proudly share the same birthday with W.C. Handy and Hubert Sumlin. The day that I was born may not hold much significance past any of these aforementioned facts, but the year that I’m from has turned out to be a significant one for me. If you’re not already familiar, please allow me to introduce you to the phrase, “birth-year guitar.”

Birth-Year Guitars

Like many manufactured things, you have a “born on date.” Your guitars, in most cases, (no pun intended) also have a date that they were made. You can usually find this date stamped somewhere inside of them. Sometimes that date can be located within the serial number, stamped on the heel of its neck, or on the top side of the potentiometers.

My birth year isn’t a particularly exciting year for American guitar building as a whole. There are however some unique historical details of American guitar history that date to 1982. I discovered all of these humdrum facts back in 2004, when for some reason or another I became interested in that time of my life. What was happening the year that I was being made? What else was being made? More specifically, what kind of guitars were being made? For me, those questions sparked an entirely new-found love and never-ending interest in the history of guitar.

Finding the One...Or Two

I wanted to find a birth-year guitar, aguitar that would always be the same age as me. I looked for the obvious. At the time I was pretty much exclusively a Fender guy, so that’s what I went for. I looked at what Fender had to offer from 1982 and soon discovered that during this time Fender was going through a major transition from their CBS years to what is now FMIC.

I managed to track down a couple of 1982 Strats and a Tele from 1983. The Strats sounded great, but I couldn’t get comfortable with the slim neck shapes and found them somewhat difficult to play. Oddly enough, the ‘83 Tele, which I know call “The Black One,” was a definite keeper. That guitar plays and sounds better than nearly any guitar that I’ve ever owned. It has become a “lifer guitar." Basically, that guitar will never be for sale if I have anything to do with it.

Ten Years Later

It’s been a little over a decade since purchasing those two Strats and the Tele back in 2004. You’ll remember from last months issue, that we talked about “Dream Guitars” and how we make our own list of guitars we dream of owning. Well, this is an example of how we find guitars that we can still afford, but aren’t as abundantly available as a newer guitar might be. The search can be much more difficult than one would think.

The problem at hand for me, was that most guitar manufacturers during the early 80s were either not making good quality guitars, or what they were making was just weird. Gibson for example, was still using three piece maple tops and three piece maple necks for their 1982 Les Paul Standard and Custom models. That doesn’t necessarily make them a “bad” guitar, it just wasn’t something that I desired. I wanted a more traditionally-crafted guitar, and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to find what I was truly searching for. Over the years I have really transitioned into a Gibson guy. I love Les Pauls, 335s, and SGs. I like the scale length, and the tone you can get from a great set of PAF style Humbucker pickups. Everyone knows that I love the Fender Telecaster, and I still use my ‘83 Tele, but I don’t go to her like I used to.

 

My 1983 Fender American Standard Telecaster that I've owned for over a decade now. She will always have my heart even though I don't play her as much as I used to. She's a Dream Guitar nonetheless. 

Nashville Has Guitars

I recently moved back to Nashville seven months ago to pursue a career in the “guitar tech” industry, and to continue playing guitar on a more full-time level. Home to some of the best guitar stores in the country, it shouldn’t be that surprising that I was able to finally track down a couple of “Dream Guitars" in what is one of the best guitar-towns in America.

A few months back, I started to get the itch again. I had come home from tour, had some spare scratch lying around, and a serious case of GAS. And then it happened. Out of nowhere, the opportunity to buy not one, but two guitars from 1982 arose. I was stoked to say the least.

2nd Gear Guitars and My Buddy Tom

There’s a shop in Nashville called 2nd Gear Guitars. It’s owned and operated by none other than Mr. Tom Bukovac. If you don’t know who that is, he’s totally worth a google. Outside of what Tom has done throughout his career as a guitar player, he’s possibly the nicest dude you’ll ever meet, and a guitar expert. Take a minute and check out some of Tom's incredible guitar playing, you won't be disappointed. His place isn’t big or extravagant, but it’s one of the best guitar shops in Nashville. Tom knows everyone, and because of this, he’s able to keep his store stocked with some of the finest guitars around. That’s how I ended up with “Pumpkin.”

When I found Pumpkin I didn’t even know that I was looking for her. It was a “Dream Guitar” that just sort-of showed up out of nowhere. Oh, and if you’re wondering about her name, well, an up close look at her top, which is supposed to be “Cherry Red Sunburst” as listed in a 1982 Greco Inventory Sheet, actually looks like a pumpkin orange color to me. It was the first thought that hit my mind the minute I laid eyes on her. I didn’t even notice that she wasn’t a real Gibson. The first thing that I noticed was her plain top, with only a faint amount of flame, and that beautiful, harvest moon, pumpkin orange hue. So, I named her Pumpkin.

Dream Guitar #1: 1982 Greco "Mint Collection" EG59-70

I honestly had no idea that this guitar even existed until the day that I walked into 2nd Gear and pulled her down off the wall. Tom looked up from the counter and says, “that’s one of the best guitars in the shop.” I looked at him with a slight grin and possibly a small amount of uncertainty and replied, “really?” He then explained to me the origin of the guitar and what makes them great. I looked at the price tag and asked, “who does it belong to?” (Tom sells a lot of guitars on consignment, many of these guitars are owned by session pros, famous producers, and rock stars. You never know whose guitar you’re holding.)

“It’s mine,” he says. “It’s a killer guitar. I don’t play her enough. She needs to be played. She’s too good to be sitting in a case at home.” Tom had come around the corner and flipped the switch on an original ‘65 Fender Princeton Reverb. He hands me a quarter-inch cable, I plug her in and take the amp off of standby. I am immediately blown away by the tone and the playability. This guitar has the magic.

The magic is that rarest of rare experiences: a guitar that makes you sound better than you actually are. Or maybe it's a guitar that truly inspires you, and because of that, you play completely from the heart. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I asked Tom what year she’s from. “82," he says in a very matter of fact tone. "That’s probably the best year for these. You should do some research. These are the real deal.” Tom knows guitars.

Tom is also in the business of selling guitars, no doubt, but what he really loves is to share guitars. To share the experience with other guitar players. And he’s honest. Tom will tell you if the guitar you’re holding is a good one, and he’ll just as quickly let you know if it isn't. You never feel like you’re being “sold” a guitar when dealing with Tom. He has this really unique way of making you feel like he’s “helping” you find a guitar that’s perfect for you. That’s how I felt the day I found “Pumpkin.” If you’d like to know more about the history of Greco guitars, take a minute to check out the back story.

 

1982 Greco EG59-70 "Les Paul" Copy with original Double Trick Humbucker pickups being played through a Peavey Delta Blues amp.

 

Dream Guitar #2: 1982 Gibson ES 335 Dot Reissue

This is the guitar that I had long been searching for. This guitar had been at the top of my own personal “Dream Guitar” list for a long time. Finding this guitar was definitely intentional. Regardless of what year the guitar was from, I wanted to find a good 335. Guitars can be very hit or miss. Just because a guitar is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s great, and just because a guitar is cheap, doesn’t always mean that it’s bad. I love the look and the sound of semi-hollow guitars, especially the ES 335. The problem that I find with most of them though is that the neck shape isn’t very comfortable. Most 335's come with the more common 60s slim profile neck, and although that may be a comfortable neck for most, I personally prefer a 50s style neck shape with a chunkier feel and more rounded shoulders. That neck shape can be rather difficult to find on a 335 from any year. I had really started to believe that I wasn't going to find a 335 that would work for me...

Then I Met Betty

I was home for a few days during the middle of a tour earlier this summer. I live right down the street from the Nashville Guitar Center, and I was needing to pick up some strings and picks, another guitar stand, and some batteries. Just the odds and ends that everyone needs out on the road.

Anyhow, while wandering around in the store–always take a look at any Guitar Center’s used room because sometimes you can find killer guitars hiding in plain sight–I decided to poke my head into the platinum room. (You should apparently always check in there as well.)

A row of vintage Gibson ES 335's graced the back wall. I decided to take a closer look. I’m not even kidding, something was pulling me towards them. A few of the price tags read 20k and up. Then, over to the far left, I saw her. At first I couldn’t tell if the tag said 23k or $2399. I came in closer. Squinting my eyes I could see that she was tagged as a 1981 Gibson ES 335. “Damn,” I thought to myself, "missed her by one year.” For whatever reason, I asked an employee to pull her down for a closer inspection. I immediately noticed the chunky neck shape, “that’s what I’m talking about,” I thought. I plugged her in. She sounded fantastic. I looked her over. She was beautiful. I took a look at the back of the headstock, “80 .. 91 .. 2 .. 512. Wait. This isn’t an ‘81, this guitar is from ‘82.” I literally said that out loud. They had made a mistake. But how? How do you mess that up? I took the guitar over to the tech bench and asked if we could slack the strings and lift one of the pickups off the body. I wanted to see if she had the Tim Shaw pickups I had heard so much about. I also knew that these would be dated. I took a picture of the label on the inside of the guitar, and made a mental note that the serial number matched the one on the back of the headstock.

The store was closing. I put her back up on the wall and went home for a hardcore google sesh. Everything that I could find online was pointing me in the right direction. I went back the next day and bought her. I rushed home to put her under the bed just in time for bus call. When I got back home a few weeks later I took her apart, replaced the original bridge and tailpiece with a TonePros Nashville Bridge and Tailpiece complete system and gave her a full set up. While taking pictures of the guitar I noticed that inside the bridge pickup cavity the name “Betty” had been penciled in with a date of April, 1982, right under her name. My best guess is that Betty worked in final assembly at the Gibson plant in ‘82. It only feels right to call this guitar "Betty," in her honor.

I love everything about this guitar. She plays great, she sounds amazing, and she was a “Dream Guitar” that I had been chasing for a long time. I finally found her. Or maybe, she finally found me.

 

1982 Gibson ES 335 Dot Reissue with original Tim Shaw Humbuckers being played through a Peavey Delta Blues amp.

 


Pictures. Everyone Loves Pictures.

Let’s take a look at both guitars up close. Be sure to read the captions under the photos for some finer details about each guitar.

1982 Greco Mint Collection EG59-70 AKA "PUMPKIN" just hanging with an Original Fuzz guitar strap in Tina Weymouth and a Fuzz Bag

 

Pumpkin has a "plain-top" meaning that there is little-to-no flame in the maple that was used. However, her cherry red sunburst finish looks amazing. The pumpkin orange color will always remind me of an early fall harvest moon. 

 

A vintage-style ABR bridge and tailpiece with beautifully-aged plastic pickup rings and pick guard. 

 

1982 Double Trick PAF style pickups were the stock option for the Greco EG59-70 and they sound great! Low output with a sweet top end, they are very articulate and sound great clean or pushing a great overdrive pedal.

 

The Greco headstock decal is very Gibson-y and that's no coincidence. These were the premiere "lawsuit" guitars of the early 80s. She has a bone nut,  and dark rosewood fretboard with expertly-done pearl inlays. 

 

The back of Pumpkin's headstock reveals Kluson deluxe vintage tulip "Gibson" style tuners and the serial number 2 1921 with the number 2 indicating that the guitar was made in 1982. The number 1921 is a production number of some kind. 

 

The Greco EG59-70 featured a solid one-piece Mahogany neck and a two-piece Mahogany body. Not even Gibson was offering a Les Paul with those features in 1982. 

 

1982 Gibson ES 335 DOT Reissue in Vintage Sunburst 

 

The Gibson ES 335 first became available in 1958, and has been a consistent part of the Gibson product line since its release. 

 

Here's an up-close look at "Betty." One of my favorite things about this guitar is that the darker outer area of the vintage sunburst finish is actually a really beautiful chocolate brown color. 

 

Here's an up-close look at "Betty." One of my favorite things about this guitar is that the darker outer area of the vintage sunburst finish is actually a really beautiful chocolate brown color. 

 

This "Double Stamped" Tim Shaw neck pickup also dates to April of 82. 

 

This "Double Stamped" Tim Shaw bridge pickup matches the neck pickup with an April of '82 date and production number of 330.

 

The weird and funky, somewhat mysterious, and highly-controversial "Top-Adjust Tune-O-Matic" bridge that was only featured on a small run of guitars in 1982. This bridge is often mistaken as an after market Schaller part. However, this is in fact an original Gibson-made bridge. It's often removed because it isn't very easy to adjust. 

 

These early 80s "Dot Reissues" came stock with Grover tuners. They have aged beautifully over the last 32 years. 

 

The back of Betty's headstock, serial number 80912512. You can read the first and fifth digit of the serial number, 8 and 2, to identify that she is in fact from 1982. The digits 091 means that she was made on the 91st day of the year, which would be April 1st. It has a production number of 512. A production number below 500 would indicate that the guitar was made in the Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. A production number of 500 or higher is an indication that this guitar was made at the Gibson Nashville Plant. 

 

A matching serial number hand-written on the inside label is also present. How did Guitar Center get this wrong? Remember, they had this guitar listed as a 1981 ES 335 Model. 

 

Here's the tag that was hanging on the guitar. I remember seeing that it was listed as a 1981 year model. I asked the employee to pull her down for me, even though I was really bummed that she wasn't an '82 year model. She looked and played great. I decided to check the serial number just to make sure. Good thing I did. Guitar Center had listed the guitar incorrectly. I scratched out "1981" after getting the guitar home and wrote the serial number and build date on the sales tag. I like to keep stuff like this with any original tags and parts that came with the guitar.  

 

The original owner's manual and warranty card were in the case along with the original case key. 

 

A close-up look at the original warranty card that came with the guitar in 1982. What type of music do you play? 

 

The back of Betty is a dark chocolate brown color. I love when 335's are finished this way. 

 

The original hardshell case is in really great condition. That's always a major plus! 

 

The 80s and 90s have proven to be a great era for Gibson guitars. I can't help but to wonder what in the hell is going on over at the factory now, and what the future holds for the Gibson company. 

 


Desmond Smith is a guitar tech and guitar player living in Nashville, TN. You can keep up with all of his guitar and music related adventures by following him on Instagram @desmachine.


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