Culture

Off The Wall Guitars Abounded at the 2016 Arlington Guitar Show

Guitar aficionados love to debate the fine points of some of the rarest of instruments. What makes an extremely rare 1958 Gibson Les Paul different from an extremely rare 1959 Les Paul? But such nitpicking and “cork sniffing” can seem rather intimidating if you’re not as equally obsessive. So in looking back at last week’s Arlington Guitar Show, I’ve decided to focus on some of the more off the wall instruments to be found for sale there — let’s get started.

When you enter the giant Arlington Convention Center, which sits in the shadows of the Texas Rangers’ and Dallas Cowboys’ stadiums, your first destination is likely to be the giant display by Fuller’s Guitars of Houston, TX, who invariably arrive at the annual Arlington and Dallas Guitar Shows, loaded for bear — if for bear, you mean hundreds of Gibson, Fender, and Gretsch guitars for sale. (And I do.)

Ever since I’ve been attending these shows, One of the people I’ve seen manning the Fuller display is Christian Kidd, the man with inarguably the most spectacular purple spiked Mohawk on the planet. As someone who is much more follicularly challenged, I finally introduced myself and complimented him on his mindblowing ‘do.

This being Texas, on display at the Fuller booth were a pair of cowboy guitars — Martin’s Cowboy Guitar with beautiful artwork of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco by artist William Matthews  and their replica of their handtooled leather-covered D-28 for The King.

Also at the Fuller booth was the Gibson Custom Shop trailer. (Can you call their display a “booth” when there’s space for a trailer this size?)

Among the various guitars inside the booth was Gibson’s next celebrity reissue, a replica of the ’59 Les Paul electric owned by Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson.

When things get so big, I don’t trust them at all. You want some control, you’ve got to keep it small. HEY! But wouldn’t Peter Gabriel have had much more fun if his DIY efforts involved a flower power blue Telecaster he had built himself? Such as this one from Houston’s Allparts Music, which specialize in producing all sorts of parts, from necks and bodies, all the way to knobs and tuners, for the do-it-yourself.

Speaking of DIY, the Tambo Toe, from Allen Texas is just what it sounds like — a toe-tapping self-accompaniment to your guitar playing. Hours of fun guaranteed for the acoustic guitarist who wants to keep all limbs in play.

 

For the guitarist who wants to fly light, the sawed-off Space Saver II could be just the ticket.

A much more luxurious-looking Fender Telecaster was on display at the Skinner Auctioneers booth — a Tele originally owned by Waylon Jennings, as seen each week on the opening credits of CBS’s The Dukes of Hazzard. Skinner plans to fetch at least $100 to $150 thousand for this famous guitar.

Skinner also had a much more affordable instrument played by another country and western (and television) superstar, one of Buck Owens’ red white and blue acoustic guitars, which they  expect to receive $1,200 to $1,600 for. I suspect it might go for a bit more than that, though.

If you score either of these guitars at auctions, you’ll need the appropriate duds as well. And also on display at Skinner’s were a few suits designed by legendary tailor to country stars Nudie Cohn.

Another ‘60s star was on display at the booth of Kenosha, Wisconsin’s Rockohualix — ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Trini Lopez! Trini was a pretty big deal back during that decade, scoring hit records and being part of the Dirty Dozen in the classic Lee Marvin film. To cash in on his popularity, Gibson designed a pair of now highly collectable guitars each with Trini’s signature diamond-shape soundholes.

Want more ‘60s and ‘70s stars? Also at the Rockohualix booth were the Stones, the Three Stooges and Kiss. Celebrities of this magnitude require serious protection, and fortunately, both James Bond and G.I. Joe were on duty as their bodyguards.

When Pete Townshend sang about “Goin’ Mobile” with The Who, I’m not sure if this Epiphone “Trailer Trash” electric airstream trailer guitar on display at the booth of Louisiana’s Cool Ass Guitars was what he had in mind. But it looks like somebody would have lots of fun playing this on stage.

The Arlington Guitar Show is so big, it takes up two large display rooms in the Arlington Convention Center. First seen entering the slightly smaller second room in the convention center is El Dorado Guitar Straps, which pioneered the high-end ultra-plush guitar strap market in the early 2000s. I own several, and their wider straps just the thing for making a heavy instrument such as my mid-‘80s Les Paul much more comfortable to play while standing.

On display at the Fretboard Explorer booth are several unusual designs, representing a merger of the past and future of the guitar. These include several updated versions of the harp guitar, which was a popular, if now forgotten variation on the acoustic guitar in the pre-war 20th century, allowing the guitarist to accompany himself with low bass notes plucked on the “harp” portion of the guitar.

Owner Rich Eberlin (pictured above) also displayed a guitar with a curved fretboard designed especially for advanced two-handed tapping techniques. Eddie Van Halen, give this man a call!

There were are always lots of cool guitars at the Arlington Guitar Show. But some like it hot. And Fort Worth’s Competition Music has those who do covered with the Minarik Inferno. Smokin’ — and Lemmy-approved!

All car dealers know that “the new car smell” is intoxicating to shoppers. But what turns many veteran guitarists on is that old case smell. Case Candy has them covered with an air freshener designed to replicate the smell of a 1950s Les Paul case. Is it authentic? Well, the scent emerging from the smoking bottle on their table certainly seemed that way to me.

Of course, some people like to smoke something even more exotic. And this 1967 Fender factory modified “Smuggler” Telecaster is for them! The story that the rep at Austin Vintage Guitars told me is that the owner of an early 1951 Telecaster sent his guitar in to the Fender factory in 1967 for repairs, and Fender “helpfully” reduced the weight of the guitar by a few ounces by removing big chunks of its innards, a strange modification that Fender was experimenting with that year on the new Telecasters it was selling, before creating the semi-hollow Thinline Telecaster variant the following year. The guitar below could certainly do some real smuggling if required, but fortunately, musicians are rarely known for transporting illicit substances…

Finally, we arrive full circle. After making jokes about collectors of vintage Les Pauls obsessing of the details that make up their instruments and how they’ve changed over the decades, it’s important to note that aficionados of that classic instrument do take those details seriously, and for good reason. For them (and I’m one, myself), the Les Paul Forum has been a treasure trove of information since 1999. They were represented at Arlington by veteran guitar dealer Tom Wittrock who has owned numerous vintage Les Pauls, and sells them via his Third Eye Music Store in Springfield, Missouri. Whitrock, who moderates the vintage section of the Les Paul Forum, brings a selection of instruments from the ‘50s with him to each show.

If asked nicely, Tom will allow electric guitarists to feel what it’s like to play one of his late ’50s Les Pauls, an instrument that sells in the mid-to-high six figure range. (Full confession: It’s quite a rush.)

Which is yet another reminder that there is something for everyone at these shows. If you have any interest in the guitar, come ‘on out! The water — and the picking — is just fine.