Here I Go again First Loves
Legendary UFO/WHITESNAKE guitarist Bernie Marsden begins a new column on his adventures in guitar collecting
Iam very happy to join the team here at Guitarist to pass on a few anecdotes and tales of guitar-related stories from my lengthy career. When I turned professional in 1972 with a band called UFO, there was no such thing as a ‘vintage guitar’. They were then referred to as ‘secondhand’, or worse still, ‘used instruments’. I started collecting guitar catalogues around 1963. Then, a brand-new Gibson ES-335 listed at around £170, a Stratocaster a little less.
I bought my first Fender Strat for £75, selling it some time later in 1970 for £100 – a £25 profit! With that cash, I went to Orange Music in London to purchase a Gibson SG Special. I had arranged to be there at 1pm, but arrived a little late at 1.30pm to find that store manager John ‘Master ’Bates had already sold the guitar! I had a gig that night and had just sold the Strat; I was in a mess, for sure! After a lot of talk, Bates said he had another SG in the back of the store: an original ’62 SG Standard with Les Paul on the truss rod cover. But it was £150, and the only money I had was the £130 for the Special. I borrowed a few pounds from a mate and emptied my pockets in the shop buying the Les Paul for £141, but the late John Bates had given me a real hard time before I left the shop for being late that day… The good news is that I still have that guitar today, and Gary Moore played it with Colosseum II after he had broken the Peter Green Les Paul Standard.
These were the days in London when several Les Paul Standards would be hanging on the wall, ranging from £250 in fair condition to almost £375 in excellent shape. I remember checking out Spencer Davis’s Sunburst in Pan Music for £275 with the brown Loften case included! The original Selmer Store in Charing Cross Road was the centre of new guitar sales. They imported Gibson and Fender guitars, but interestingly didn’t include Gibson or Fender cases – Selmer made its own cases for sale at considerably less than the USA versions. So if you have an old Fender or Gibson in a Selmer case, you are likely to own the original case!
Macari’s was open in those days as it still is today, and as the 60s reached their end, more and more guitar shops opened. Denmark Street became the Mecca for secondhand guitars as the 70s rolled in.Top Gear was the main store at the time, and the owners of the Bradley Brothers also had Guitar Village in Shaftesbury Avenue.Top Gear managers Sid Bishop and Ken Achard were always ready to take your money. Both were very knowledgeable; Sid was the author of two books on Gibson guitars and Ken produced a fine book on Fender guitars. Those books were very much thumbed as guitarist after guitarist, both young and old, arrived at the stores to sell or part-exchange their instruments.
I remember some great 1950s instruments in the stores, but they created very little interest. There were Gibson archtops, L-5, ES-300, ES-175s, but nobody really wanted that type of guitar at the time. Everybody wanted solidbody guitars, and so sellers took very low offers from the store if they had to sell. That’s funny to imagine now! Today, it’s virtually impossible to find a fully original and intact original ES-175.As the vintage market developed in the 70s, people became more informed about older guitars, which meant guitar components were being transferred
“These were the days when several Les Paul Standards would be hanging on the wall, for £250 to £375…” bernie marsden
from many original instruments. People were buying new Les Pauls and fitting old pickups and tuners; I was always saddened to see the original parts being robbed! God only knows how many Les Pauls there are in the world today that have 175, 350 or Byrdland electrics!
I played and learned a lot about old guitars from all of these shop owners and managers who always provided me with tales and cups of tea. They were genuine people, and always encouraging.As I progressed with my career, they would often loan guitars for gigs at The Marquee. I needed an ABR bridge and tailpiece for a guitar around 1974 to replace a Bigsby tremolo unit. I went to Top Gear and they gave me a choice of a new one for about £15 or a secondhand one for half the price, which had been taken from an original 50s guitar.The full story about this is in my autobiography, Where’s My Guitar?, and will amaze and amuse you as that guitar I changed, no longer in my possession, has now become quite legendary. Some you win, some you lose!
These were still the relatively early days of British bands extensively touring the USA. Brits had a field day; they’d take guitars from pawnshops and come back home to sell them. Top Gear were first to pick up on this and soon became the premier secondhand dealers, before Orange somewhat usurped their role.
As a young boy growing up in Buckingham, around 60 miles from London and 25 miles from Oxford, my local guitar dealers were of utmost importance. There was Osborne’s Music Shop in Banbury, Russell Acotts in Oxford, but my nearest shop was the Marshall Store in Bletchley. I bought a Grimshaw Les Paul replica in that shop from Jim Marshall himself. In the store hanging on that wall that very same day was a dot fret 1960 Gibson 335, but Peter Green didn’t play a 335 – he played a Les Paul Standard and so that was what I wanted! I took the Grimshaw with pride, and that memory has haunted me all these years.
It was fun time to be young and playing guitar. I have seen a great many wonderful guitars, bought a few and missed out on more than a few…See you next month.
The iconic Beast, Bernie’s ’59 Les Paul Standard, still never fails to impress
Bernie’s here to share his tales of over four decades in the biz in his brand-new column
Beauties such as this 1951 ES-5 would often be ignored in stores in favour of solidbodies