The One that Got Away
Have you ever had an instrument that you sold or somehow lost and still think about? Here are some stories from our musical friends about "The One(s) That Got Away."
Froggy Bottom Guitar - John Gorka
Singer-songwriter John Gorka has had a few. “There’s the guitar I learned to play on, my brother’s guitar, not very expensive but it was easy to play. It’s in good hands, I think my nephew has it. But there is a guitar that got away. My first good guitar was a Froggy Bottom guitar that I got in college and that’s the one that really broke my heart. Unfortunately, my car was stolen in New York City – I was visiting my girlfriend and went to go home and my car was gone. I had to take the bus back to Pennsylvania. Somewhere along the way, when I got off the bus to take the guitar from underneath, the guitar was gone. First my car was stolen, then my guitar. My girlfriend said ‘You still have me’, but in a few months she was gone too. That was for the best though.”
1960 Gibson Less Paul Custom Guitar “Black Beauty” - Jimmy Page
Guitar legend Jimmy Page had his prized "Black Beauty" 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom stolen in 1970. He loved the guitar so much he had a replica made. No one could find the guitar anywhere, so he turned to the pages of Rolling Stone magazine and ran a "missing guitar" ad in every issue for a year. Nothing ever turned up. Then in the early '90s, a guy walked into a vintage guitar shop claiming to have Page's missing guitar. He said he'd bought it from the widow of an airport employee who'd stolen the guitar when Page's band (Led Zeppelin) played in Minnesota. The store owner attempted to contact Page, but a miscommunication about the guitar's modified switches led the instrument to stay out of Page's hands until 2015! Learn the whole story and how the guitar eventually got back to Jimmy Page HERE.
Bob Dylan’s Guitars
Tool's Adam Jones' 13 Signature Guitars
In October of 2020, thieves stole 13 signature Gibson Adam Jones (best known as the guitarist for the band Tool) 1979 Les Paul Custom guitars valued at $95,000 from a Sweetwater Music truck at the Flying J Travel Center in Whiteland, Indiana.
Gibson and Adam Jones decided to re-manufacture each of the guitars for the buyers and sent each a letter informing them that they would be remaking the guitars with a "special notation on the headstock" - making it easier to identify the stolen guitars. They have also posted the serial numbers of the stolen guitars on the internet.
Tacoma Papoose - summer_and_eric_acoustic_duo (Friend of the Store)
I want my tiny Tacoma Papoose back. It was exactly what I wanted out of a 1/2-sized guitar, and for some reason I felt I had to let it go. Come back to me Papoose!
Gibson Hummingbird - Charlie Buddeke (Friend of the Store)
Doggone it! Had a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic. The neck was just the perfect fit. Don't know what happened to it.
Gibson SG and Paul Reed Smith McCarty - Jeff Rady (Friend of the Store)
I had a cool Gibson SG guitar from the ‘90s, an American guitar, it was the first guitar that was solid that I had. I traded it in for something else, but I wish I still had it. I had earned the money for it roofing all summer and it sounded pretty cool. It was special to me. And I had a Paul Reed Smith McCarty that I sold because I thought it was unfashionable, because all the new metal bands were making them popular. It was probably the best slide guitar I’d ever owned because I could get the best tone out of it. I regret that. (Photo source: reverb.com
1920’s Gibson Mandolin - Carolyn Faubel (Friend of the Store)
My husband was a re-entry college student, I had three kids and one on the way, and we lived in student family housing. Money was tight. Walking by a yard sale on our way to the farmers' market one day, I saw a 1920’s Gibson Mandolin for $70. It looked fine, but not strung up. I couldn’t justify buying it. But I know that if it had had strings on it, and I’d strummed it a little, I would have made a way to get it. I wondered for many years who might have ended up with it.
1974 Telecaster Deluxe and Yamaha FG-150 - Wes Schultz, The Lumineers
Hell yeah, there’s two guitars that got away. One guitar that I had to sell when I was broke was a ‘74 Telecaster Deluxe in a coffee brown color. I loved it. I had spent all the money I had on it. The other one – my mom had this guitar around the house – it was a Yamaha FG-150 it had a red label from Japan, Nippon-Gakki was the factory. If people don’t know they are these amazing guitars, they call them the “poor man’s Martin,” they are these parlour-sized guitars, the Denver Folklore Center used to fix mine all the time. I remember bringing it in and the tuner peg was stripped and the guy there took a toothpick and got some wood stuck in there on purpose and it had a grip again so it would work. I said “how much do I owe you” and he said “no, we’re good.” It was so sweet. That guitar got stolen in L.A. back in 2011 where someone stole almost all of our instruments in broad daylight. I really want that one back. There’s a lot of sentimental value with it being my mom’s.
Here is my sad story. This one breaks my heart every time I think of it. It was 1970 and I was recently married and going to school. It was a fine summer day and the wife and I decided to go to the flea market. At one booth a guy had a large aquarium and I stopped to talk to him. As I was leaving I noticed a guitar case underneath one table. I asked him if it was for sale and he said yes. It was a Gibson Les Paul. He said he had bought it ten or so years ago and just wasn’t playing anymore. I don’t remember the exact year of the guitar, but it must have been a '50’s vintage. He wanted $100 for it. Here I was not working and going to school. My wife, who was working, suggested I buy it. For the one time in my life I was practical and walked away. UGH!!
Gibson Les Paul Vintage 1950s - Al Blado (Friend of the Store)
Flamenco Guitar - John Kramer (Friend of the Store)
I borrowed a really nice flamenco guitar from my guitar instructor in college that I really loved. It’s a little lighter with a smaller body, but it had a really good feel to it and I loved playing it. I wish I would have bought it or one like it. I felt like every time I saw it I had to play it. I don’t know what happened to it.
Vega Cylinder Back Mandolin - Jeff Jaros, former manager of the DFC
I don’t have a story of an instrument that got away from me. But I have a few stories about instruments that I acquired that got away from someone else. Here’s one of them:
A lady came into the Denver Folklore Center (when Harry Tuft owned the store) with a beautiful mandolin – a Vega cylinder back. I’d never seen one before. It was quite ornate with inlay, etc. And my eyes just lit up! And sure enough she was in the market to sell it along with another more mundane mandolin. I was giving Harry the puppy-dog eyes – “Can I have it?! C’mon! Please?!” She wanted to sell them outright.
I told Harry I was very interested in the Vega, so we put our heads together and made her an offer. She was shopping it around town and said if it’s the winning offer she’d get back to us. We were the winning offer! The fun part was there was a very well-respected repair guy (who shall remain nameless) who worked just up the street and at the Olde Town Pickin’ Parlor. Two weeks after I got that mandolin, he mentioned to me that he met a lady who was selling a beautiful mandolin and that he really wanted it. The owner of the Pickin’ Parlor put in an offer but it wasn’t accepted. I was smiling while he was telling me and when he finished his story I said, “Well, if you ever want to play it some time, I’ll bring it over and you can play it for a few minutes.”
Harry was always so generous. That’s one reason I have a number of very nice instruments. He wanted his staff to have the joys of some of those classic instruments. I’ve always found that a wise kind of managerial style. You can do a little bit of paying it forward. I think the world of Harry for many reasons and that’s just one of them.
Harry Tuft's Guitars - founder of the Denver Folklore Center
Harry has so many instruments that got away he has his own page - read it HERE.
Gibson SJ - Anna Halaburda (Friend of the Store)
When I first moved to Colorado, I did so with the money I got from selling a Martin 12-string, a D12-20, that was beautiful. It was an early ‘60s model, but it got me moved to Colorado. When I moved into this place, I gave the guy my rent money. He took off and was never seen again. He was four months behind in rent and the landlord was like, “Who are you?” So, I had to sell another guitar to get a place to live. Guitars give life.
On the other hand, instruments have come to me. Michael Hornick from Shanti Guitars made me a guitar about five years ago that I just love so much. Michael makes the prize guitars for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and I’ve wanted one for years. I’ve never won any prizes and could never afford one. He was kind enough to give me an incredibly good deal on one and it’s my favorite guitar right now. So, although some go away, others come to you.
1966 Gibson RB250 Bowtie Banjo - Gena Britt, Sister Sadie
I had one that got away. It was stolen, but I got it back. It’s one that my dad had bought me. It was stolen out of my house and was gone for about nine months. It’s my 1966 Gibson RB250 Bowtie banjo that I still play today. That was pretty heart-wrenching, because I got it when I was 12 years old. I live in North Carolina and I had a cousin that was an FBI agent and he helped me do some tracking down. They finally found it - it went through the pawn shops in Fort Bragg. That was a happy day when I got it back. (photo source: genabritt.com)
1960's Les Paul - Deannie Richardson, Sister Sadie: I sold an instrument I wish I had back. My dad had a 1960’s Les Paul. I was going on the road with Holly Dunn and I needed an acoustic guitar. Not knowing any better I took that Les Paul in and traded it for a piece of shit guitar. The guy probably sold the thing for $60,000.
Martin D-18 - Jeff Hanna, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
When I was a kid living in Long Beach, there was a store called McCabe’s Guitar Shop, kind of like the Denver Folklore Center. It was essentially a guitar shop that had a picking room. You could pull something off the wall and play it. I was on the search for my first Martin dreadnought guitar. I really wanted a big-bodied Martin. That was like the holy grail, the dream. I found this guitar that was probably a war time or pre-war D-18 and I paid like $180. And I brought it to a guitar repairman in a different music store, not at McCabe’s, and he said this "guitar is ruined, it’s not worth the money to fix it". That’s the one that got away. I still don’t have a pre-war D-18 and I wish I did … me and hundreds of other guitar pickers.
Hilo Hawaiian Weissenborn Guitar - Sally Van Meter
There’s one and I sold it. And it’s the thing that caused me to vow to never sell anything again because it broke my heart to do it. I play another kind of slide guitar called a Weissenborn. They were built around 1918 until around 1934. They’re really beautiful, poorly-made, paper thin, all hollow-bodied, the precursor to dobros. They used to have orchestras of these guitars. They’re very expressive. Way back when, probably 30-some-odd years ago, I owned a specific model that I sold - a Hilo Hawaiian guitar. The person I sold it to, about 10 months later, offered it back to me for about three times the price. It insulted me and it broke my heart because I knew he didn’t care about the instrument. That was a tough one. I spent years being mad about that.
Squier Bullet Telecaster - B.E. (Brian) Farrow, Gangstagrass
When I was younger I was a shredder, so I played metal music a lot. And I had this Telecaster. It was a Bullet Squier, it was my brother's and he didn’t play it, so I picked it up and I hammered my friends’ names into it, carved a bunch of stuff into it. I used to think it sounded terrible, but eventually it sounded perfect - it was the perfect guitar. My house flooded when I was younger, and I lost it. It was in the pile of stuff that was thrown out and I regret not just picking it up from that pile and keeping it. I really regret not doing that. I miss that guitar a lot.
Martin D-18 1937 - Tom Corona, CoronaTone Music
Around 1982 I met Jelene, the owner of Arvada Music in Arvada, CO. She was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting me involved with the bluegrass music community in the Denver Metro area and we became good friends. I was a newly minted college professor and self-taught banjo player at the time with very little change to spare when I got a call from her to come to the store to see a guitar she had obtained. It was a 1937 Martin D-18.
The condition of the instrument was horrible. The peg head had been painted black covering the Martin decal. The first five fret wires were replaced with oversized brass ones. It had a cracked, curly, delaminating pick guard and a hole in the top, above the sound hole, exposing the bracing and all the other dings and dents from 40+ years of hard playing. There were a bunch of pickers (already Martin guitar owners) hanging around admiring the guitar when I showed up and got to strum it. Beautiful. Everything you wanted in a pre-war Martin guitar sound. The price was $700 with possibly another $200 in repairs.
I went home to think about it and decided I needed that guitar so later that same day I called Jelene to tell her, and she delivered the bad news - it had already sold. That would be my last chance to buy an affordable pre-war Martin. I was later told it was purchased by Nick Forster, so at least it went to a good home. The story doesn’t end there because much to my surprise at a later Hot Rize show, Red Knuckles strode on stage holding a D-18 all shiny with a painted black peghead except for where the paint had been removed over the decal and I
knew it was the one that got away.
1860’s Martin - Darrell Scott, Singer-Songwriter
The One that Got Away was a guitar I didn’t even own. I was in a music store and there was this guitar - a 1860’s Martin nylon-string. I was trying it out but didn’t buy it. When I realized I should have bought it, it had already been sold - I was too late. I mostly hang on to my guitars. I still have my guitar from when I was 14 years old. I hoard instruments and have over 100. (photos source: pinterest.com)
Yamaha Signature Model Guitar - Suzanne Vega
For a while I had a deal with Yamaha and I had their guitar. I’ve had finer instruments, but this one in particular was a deep dark green, and it was a signature model - it had my name. It was stolen from the front of my house. Someone just took it out of the car, probably in the ‘80s or ‘90s when I lived in a sketchy neighborhood on Canal Street and the West Side Highway (New York). I’ve always wondered if it would ever show up again because it had my name in mother of pearl inlay. So, if anybody knows where it is, I’d like it back.
1962 Epiphone Texan Guitar - Graham Nash
In 1962, I needed a guitar, so we went to a store called Barratts of Manchester and I bought an Epiphone Texan and sprayed it black. I put a huge double guitar pick plate on the front, just like the Everly Brothers. It’s the guitar I wrote “Teach Your Children”, “Simple Man”, “Marrakesh Express” and all those other songs on – and I can’t find it. It’s been missing for ten years. I’ve checked all my guitar storage, I’ve checked Stephen’s (Stills), I’ve checked Neil’s (Young) and David’s (Crosby), but I just can’t find it. And it really pisses me off.If anybody out there can find my 1962 Epiphone Texan guitar that’s black with a double pick guard, I would appreciate it.
1920's Stella 12-String Guitar - Peter Faris (Friend of the Store)
I am no kind of famous musician or anything, yet I have been picking the guitar for over 60 years. When I was an undergraduate at CSU, I made it a habit of putting classified ads in the local paper to buy old stringed instruments which I would fix up and resell. A lot of the farms around had an old guitar in the attic which I could get for $15 or $20. One prize I kept for myself, a 1920s Stella 12-string, pretty much like Leadbelly played, all Philippine Mahogany and with THE BEST neck of any guitar I have ever owned. I swear that neck just pulled my fingers into all the right positions - it was the easiest playing ever.
In 1965, facing the draft for Vietnam, I opted to enlist in the US Army. Enlisting meant three-year's service instead of two, but I could choose my field and not wait to be automatically assigned as cannon fodder. I chose US Army Intelligence and was eventually assigned to East Tennessee, where I had a number of very interesting musical experiences and married a wonderful young lady who is still with me after 56 years. After mustering out of the Army we returned to Colorado for me to go to graduate school at CU and I went to my parent's house in Fort Collins to pick up my beloved 12-string only to find it missing and neither my parents nor my three sisters could tell me what had happened to it. Mysteriously gone without a trace along with my old stack of SING OUT magazines. I still miss it almost daily.
1972 Stratocaster - Elio Schiavo, Ragged Union
I had a really cool 1972 Stratocaster with a hard tail, no whammy bar set up. I got it when I was living in Santa Cruz. I had a little studio there in a corrugated tin building with workshops on either side of us. This guy had a bike shop next door and his two teenagers came over with this guitar case. I think I was selling weed at the time to make extra money and these two kids said their dad wanted them to trade this guitar for some weed. I asked, “How much weed are you trying to trade this guitar for” and they wanted two ounces. I knew right away they had stolen the guitar from their dad or a friend - I knew their dad hadn’t sent them over. It was a super sick guitar and the kids had no idea what they were doing. I told them I’d give them a quarter ounce for the guitar and they took it. This guitar ended up being all original 1972 with a big headstock. I sold the Strat to a guy for $3,500 because I needed money when I moved to New York in 2002. I made money on the deal, but that's the one that got away for sure - I wish I’d never sold it.
Collings D2H Guitar - Rich Moore
Working at two great music stores I saw countless gems come and go. And when I think about how cheap they were back then … first thing that comes to mind … in the movie Get Back (about The Beatles), George Harrison is on a rooftop playing what appears to be a black guitar. It’s actually a solid rosewood Telecaster. There was one at Ferretta’s Music. It probably weighed about forty pounds and it was $1,200. I had $50 in my bank account. Various Martins and Gibsons came and went.
But the one that got away - that really gets me – was Mollie (O'Brien) and I were driving across Kansas and stopped in a guitar store, Mass Street Music, in Lawrence, KS. I walked in and went upstairs, where the good stuff was, and saw this nice Collings guitar, a D2H Brazilian rosewood. Just gorgeous to look at. I played it and people turned around and said “you should get that guitar”. It was love at first sight. Everything felt perfect. It was close to $9K. I went downstairs and told Mollie that I had found THE guitar. She said great, can you get it? And I told her how much it was and she was like “we’ll have to sell the car and walk home.” So, I didn’t get it. It was on their website for about three months then it went away. I was heartbroken. Then I thought Mollie bought it and it was going to show up under the tree for Christmas, but it didn’t. It’s out there somewhere. I hope it’s getting played and not sitting in a vault. I went searching for that model and I saw two or three of them. I thought mine might be one of them. Who knows, we might cross paths again.
1978 or 1979 Stratocaster - Lisa Loeb
My first electric guitar was stolen along the way - a white reissue 1978 or 1979 Strat with replaced volume knobs. I put Les Paul junior knobs in lucite and light pink on there and we rewired the pickups.
Martin Guitar - Zach Williams, The Lone Bellow
Later, I moved to Boston and I started playing louder and I got another guitar – a solid body electric. In 1978, I was moving to Belgium and I needed money. I was mainly playing the electric guitar and for some stupid reason I decided to sell Dale’s guitar. I moved to Belgium and soon thought “why did I do that”. I moved to New York in 1979 and went back to Boston. I thought maybe the Gibson might still be there - I had sold it in a music store in Harvard Square. Turns out the music store wasn’t there anymore. I asked around and thought there’s no way I’d ever find it.
Thirty-five years later I was living in Seattle and became friends with this guy that worked for the Gibson factory. I told him I used to have this really cool guitar, a one-of-a-kind thing that my guitar teacher had custom ordered. I asked him if maybe he could find out from the factory the history of it. I gave him the serial number, hoping that maybe they had records of the guitar. Then a year or so later I get a call from him and he said, “You’re not going to believe this, but I found your guitar for sale in a music store in Seattle.” I called the store and told them not to sell it! They had a photo and it looked exactly like when I had it. I actually got it back. I asked but they didn’t really know where it had been. They got it from another music store in Washington. I had left it in a music store in Boston and it ended up in Seattle.