According to author and music historian Ralph Denyer in 1982’s The Guitar Handbook, Eric Clapton’s 1975 solo album There’s One in Every Crowd, until his record company worried that not everyone would get the joke, was originally going to be titled “The Best Guitarist in the World…There’s One in Every Crowd.” And sometimes there’s a lot of them, when it comes to the crowd that gathers every May at the annual Dallas International Guitar Festival.
As co-founder Jimmy Wallace explained to me in our 2015 podcast interview, the Dallas International Guitar Festival pioneered the modern concept of the weekend guitar show when it debuted in 1978. It’s a combination swap meet, flea market, manufacturers’ showcase, and a place for members of various Internet guitar forums to meet and mingle. This video, produced by an attendee, gives a sense of the size of the Dallas Market Hall which housed the bulk of the festival:
Wallace’s own guitar store had a prominent display at the show, not surprisingly:
Tom Wittrock of Missouri’s Third Eye Music and a part-owner of the Les Paul Guitar Forum, is a regular at both the annual Dallas and Arlington guitar shows. He frequently brings rare and expensive Les Pauls from the 1950s, and will allow attendees to (carefully!) play them, if asked nicely (QED), and this year was no exception. But this year, he also had a gorgeous sunburst 1959 Gibson Switchmaster on display. A skilled jazz guitarist of the 1950s would have gotten great satisfaction dialing in the perfect warm, fat tones from the instrument’s three “PAF” (short for “Patent Applied For”) humbucking pick-ups:
While guitar shows are primarily dominated by those selling used guitars of vintages ranging from the 1950s to the present day (mostly electric, but plenty of acoustic guitars as well), they are also a place for the custom luthier to display his wares. Among the custom-built guitars at the Dallas Guitar Festival this year were the works of Stephen McSwain of McSwain Guitars of Portland, Oregon. These bespoke steampunk-esque instruments have many unique and off-the-wall features such as complex metal textures and even light-up fake gauges, and require several weeks to build:
And since we’re in the Great State of Texas, here’s McSwain holding a custom-built lone star-embossed guitar:
Of course, instruments such as the above take exceptional skill to build. In comparison, building a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster-style guitar is much less daunting; 60 years ago, they were designed by Leo Fender to be built on an assembly line, right down to their modular bolt-on necks. Today, kits are available for those with a modest level of woodworking skills to “roll their own,” or start from scratch with these Telecaster-style bodies made out of exotic woods from Clearfork Designs of Ohio:
In addition to all those beautiful guitars, the men made famous by playing them were at the show as well. Hard rockers Kiss attended the show, at least in plushie form, along with their buddy Alf, at the booth of Houston’s Edge of Forever Guitars:
But in the flesh this year at the Dallas International Guitar Festival was the Nuge himself — Ted Nugent, who on Saturday signed autographs from a long line of fans:
Nugent was protected by two members of the Dallas PD gang squad(!), astonishingly enough, while signing autographs and meeting fans:
Nugent played a few hits while at his booth, and discussed his collection of vintage Gibsons. But the Sunday climax of the guitar show was Nugent hopping on stage, strapping on a Gibson hollowbody and roaring away:
The Nuge was also happy to proffer lifestyle advice to anyone who asked:
Of course, if you buy a guitar or two at the show, you may need help getting them home. This vintage Firebird, on display at the show alongside a bitchin’ looking hunter green late 1969 Stingray convertible, both courtesy of attendees Elite Collision Repair of Rockwell, Texas, would certainly transport them in style.
As always, for both the serious player and the hobbyist and even for the curious non-musician, there was something for everyone at this year’s Dallas International Guitar Festival. If you missed it this year, make your plans early for next year.