Here I Go again First Loves

Leg­endary UFO/WHITES­NAKE gui­tarist Bernie Mars­den be­gins a new col­umn on his ad­ven­tures in gui­tar col­lect­ing

Guitarist - - Opinion - bernie mars­den

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

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