Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul Made The Beatles The Beatles

A few years back someone posted a For Sale ad on Craigslist for a Gibson Les Paul studio guitar. At the time Gary was working full time for the Seattle Opera and in the middle of tech week for La Bohème I believe. Meaning there was no "after work" opportunity to drive up north to take a look at the instrument and be back in time. He'd get stuck in traffic for sure. So at lunchtime I stood waiting at the curb with our pick-up truck, the engine running. Pushing the pedal to the metal, we flew to Everett, past the Boeing factories, up a winding country road to an unassuming track house where the seller was waiting for us.

On the way there we'd discussed the situation.
Why would anyone want to sell his Gibson Les Paul? That was a question that needed to be answered. Don't go for the asking price, you need to bargain, I said. If he doesn't want to give it for the price you have in mind, ask him if he has a case and is willing to throw that in for what you're offering. Remember, don't give in too soon.

The man showed us in, he'd just returned from work and his honeymoon in Asia where he had met his bride. She, a stunning foreign beauty, was an exotic fresh flower landed in a musician's bachelor's pad. The living room was nothing more nor less than a rehearsal space; the furniture minor elements, just there to crash on between sets. I wondered how she'd add her touch, or whether she'd consent to live that way, or whether that perhaps was all beside the point.

The moment the man handed Gary the burgundy guitar, I knew he was sold on the instrument. No matter that she was beaten up, abused and in great need of loving care. I saw love in his eyes, recognized it in the sudden blush on his cheeks.
He mentioned the asked for price. The man nodded, and Gary nodded as well. He managed to ask why the owner would let go of the old guitar, with which he must have gone through a lot.
"I got it second hand myself, he said, "Got myself a new one."
He pointed at another Gibson, brand new, shiny and without a blemish.
"You want to hold it," without waiting for Gary's response he handed him the old girl.
Not that either man used the word "girl", it's what I thought. It was and still is so obvious. Hadn't Les Paul modeled his first electric guitar after the shape of a woman, breast waist and hips, just the way he liked her?

Gary held the old body, stroking the neck, strumming the strings. The way his fingers touched the missing chip, I knew our bargaining rehearsal was lost to the wind or rather to the strings.

"She needs some work," the seller said, "but other than that she's fine."
"Ehuh. Do you have a case included in the price?"
"No," the man said.
"Okay," Gary said. He leaned the guitar against the couch, pulled out his wallet and without looking at me, he handed over the cash.
"You're a pushover," I said as we drove off the lot.
"I know," he said, grinning all the way back to work.

He polished her and made her look beautiful for her agean elderly dame. Turns out he doesn't really like to play her that much, he's really become an acoustic guitar man and finds the weight of the solid body prohibitive. But, having her in his collection makes him feel good. Every once in a while he takes her off the wall and plays the songs he used to play when owning a Gibson Les Paul was still a dream.

As Paul McCartney himself told Les Paul the inventor of the electric guitar, he made The Beatles The Beatles. And of them, my Piedmont Blues picking PHD is still a great fan.
And that's that.

Thank you and R.I.P. Les Paul (1915-2009)


By the way, you don't want to miss the fantastic Last Word documentary by Matthew Orr.
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