Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What's wrong with this guitar?

Sometimes guitars earn as much recognition as the musicians that play them. Lucille is forever linked with B.B. King, a Gibson ES-355. There is Angus Young and his inseparable red Gibson GS, Townshend’s numbered Les Pauls in the 70’s and Bruce’s battle-worn Esquire/Telecaster. And then there’s Blackie, Clapton’s legendary Strat. Here’s a brief history:

In 1970, Clapton bought six Strats for $100 each at the Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville, Tennessee. He took them back to England and gave one to George Harrison, one to Steve Winwood and one to Pete Townshend. From the remaining three, Eric took the best components and assembled Blackie. Blackie was Eric’s primary stage and studio guitar between 1970 and 1985, making her debut at the Rainbow Concert on January 13, 1973. Blackie was retired in 1985 after years of service. Not only had she been in the studio for every album recorded during that time, she was used at such famous events as the ARMS benefit tour in 1983 and Live Aid. Blackie ventured out of retirement on two occasions while still in Eric’s ownership. The first was for a television commercial for Honda Cars Japan in 1990 at the company’s request. The second instance was for one number at the Royal Albert Hall in 1991.

In 2004, the guitar was purchased by the Guitar Center at auction for a record price of $959,000. Proceeds went to Eric’s Crossroads Centre Antigua, an alcohol and drug treatment center.

All fine and good, and a remarkable story. Now comes the news that the Fender Custom Shop has ‘faithfully recreated’ Blackie in 275 new guitars, to become available to the general public this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday in the merchandising world). A portion of the proceeds benefit the Crossroads Centre and the whole thing is done with the blessing of Eric, but ethically, this raises some questions.

In my business, which is the restoration of old buildings, we respect what is called the ‘patina of use,’ the worn marble steps, weathered edges and character lines that define old from new. We would never dream of artificially aging new construction to give the appearance of old (leave that to the theme parks), nor would we replace those gracefully worn marble steps with crisp new stone. Art museums are careful to preserve this same patina in works of art, and I believe the same respect should be given to artifacts such as guitars. The new models will have artificially worn tuning knobs, cigarette burns, fake nicks and even a worn neck to replicate years of Slowhand's handiwork. This is the same technique that shady art dealers use to pass off reproductions as valuable antiques, and although I’m sure the fake Blackies will be properly dated and identified, but the lines are a little too blurry for me. I'm not quite sure why a guitarist would want to own a guitar like this. And anyway, the new Strats will never sound like Eric’s old patchwork 1970 beauty, even if the player’s got the chops.

Just my opinion. As always comments are welcome.

Badge- Rainbow Concert 1-13-73

Buy Clapton

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