"Frankensteins are a big part of my business," Lange says. "That's the cool thing about Fenders: It's all interchangeable. Leo Fender was the Henry Ford of guitars." He's right. A lot of professional players will buy Fender Stratocasters made in Mexico and soup up the electronics by customizing them. In fact, Fender has also jumped on the Frankenstein bandwagon with the release of its Pawn Shop Series, a line of guitars that replicate the mid-'60s and mid-'70s yet still deliver a modern sound; it's an assortment of "guitars that never were but should have been."

"What kind of guitar are you looking for?" asks Lange, laying down the Fender's guts. His dreadlocks are stuffed into his Rastafarian hat, and he slowly moves around the shop like someone who just enjoys being in the moment. He's spent so much time with guitars that he knows what the different brands of guitar necks should feel like, and understands just what it takes to find that perfect guitar.

"One that's beat all to hell," I answer.

McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
Christian McPhate
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
Photos by Christian McPhate
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.

As an acoustic instrument, when you play it, vibrating the wood actually changes the cellular structure of the wood over the course of many years. So an older guitar will have a richer tone. "Now they sell these electronic devises that you attach to your acoustic guitar," Lange explains. "When you turn it on, it vibrates the guitar and advances the aging process to improve the tone." ToneRite is one of those devices. It retails for about $150.

Lange shows me an Ibanez and Yamaha, which is a little older, a little more beat up. His best option is a 1986 Guild with a $600 price tag. It's a beautiful guitar with a light wood color that's darkened with age, but it's just not the one I want. It's lacking that perfection.

"Do you have that one guitar that's just, you know, that one guitar?" I ask.

"One's never enough." Lange laughs. "But my favorite guitar is an old '40s Gibson LG2."

When he was working for Savino, they did most of the repairs for the two music pawn shops in Denton — McBride's and Glen's. It was while they were repairing these guitars that Savino traded an old '65 Belair to Larry McBride, one of the pawnshop owners, for a pile of guitars located in the pawnshop's inner sanctum (basement). Lange first noticed the '40s-era Gibson because "it was the worst of the bunch." It had holes in its sides and cracks. It was all gouged up, and somebody had done a bridge replacement with the wrong style of bridge. Lange, though, saw the value in it — he understood it was Trigger. His legendary boss later agreed and told him so when he repaired the guitar: "You were the only one who liked this guitar, and it's going to need continued work."

And maybe that's what I should do. Maybe I should hit the pawnshops to find my Trigger. When I was younger, I found an old Fender Resonator at a pawnshop. It was a beautiful instrument with chipped black paint and a chrome face that sang the blues. Yet by going the vintage route, I'm in danger of falling into a sea of debt. I've seen some '60s-era Martin D-21s as high as $5,000 and classic Fenders sometimes higher.

Pawnshop Purgatory

McBride Music & Pawn is part of a series of shops just off the town square in Denton. Its red and yellow sign with the shop's name in large, bold white letters dominates its side of Oak Street. It's been a family-owned business since 1968. Bars cover the windows, similar to other pawn shops. Guitars and rifles line this historic shop's walls, while, in the center of the room, several low-end acoustic guitars wait to be played again. It smells musky inside the shop, as if a half-a-dozen old guitars were allowed to sweat at one time or another. A customer sits on a stool, playing a Taylor acoustic. It sounds crisp and clean. He plays through bits of several country rock tunes while several other customers walk around the room, searching for that perfect guitar (or rifle or handgun).

Strumming a few acoustic imports is awkward. Their necks are thicker than I'm used to, and my right arm starts to ache after several minutes of playing. Disgruntled, I put down the instrument and approach the counter. "Which one is your best acoustic guitar?"

The store clerk takes a sunburst-colored Simon & Patrick acoustic guitar off the rack above him. "This one," he says. "The look, the feel, the non-cutaway acoustics." He plays a few root notes, allowing each one to sound before moving to the next one. "And obviously the sound, but I really like its smaller body too. Bigger bodies are cool for a certain feel." He plays through a few chords. "For me, though, I like the little bit smaller ones."

Simon & Patrick acoustic guitars are handcrafted by master luthiers in the backwoods of Quebec. The company's website claims that their guitar artists come from a long lineage of guitar makers, and not only do its guitars feature an integrated neck system but also a custom polished finish that allows the wood to breathe and vibrate, which improves the "aging" process.

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2 comments
TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I've been looking for my "Trigger" for 20+ years now, and in the meantime the cheap, old, Korean-built, flat-top Hohner acoustic that was 10+ years old when it was given to me has just been getting better and better sounding - sloppy glue joints and all. I thought it was just me, but nearly everyone that plays it remarks on the rich tone it produces.

It is also worn in just the right way. Prior to living with me, she lead a pretty uneventful life in the back of my cousin's closet in a cardboard case with only a few trips to guitar lessons to speak of. When I received her, there wasn't even a scuff on the fretboard or pickguard. Now, I can look her over and almost every nick or ding has a story attached.

Every fret buzz is a reminder of some drunk banging her against the edge of a table or speaker cab. A hundred hands have played her as she was passed around the campfire or basement jam session. She's even been in the spotlight on stage a time or two helping carry a tune to anyone willing to listen. Nearly every bit of guitar, hell, musical knowledge I possess has come to me interpreted in some fashion through that guitar. 

Anyway, I hadn't really even considered it until I read your piece, here, but maybe it's time to give the old girl a name. 

There's really no better way to spend a rainy afternoon than just sitting around a whole bunch of guitars. So I won't stop spending rainy afternoons looking at guitars, but maybe I just won't be looking for guitars, anymore.

Good luck on your quest. Nice article.

jsullivan2112
jsullivan2112

A great read, sorry to hear about the accident that spelled your guitar playing doom. As an acoustic fingerstyle player I would be absolutely heartbroken and I'm not sure if I'd even have the will to live if it ever happened to me. I do feel compelled to point out the following: there's a distinct difference between a luthier and a guitar repairman. A luthier BUILDS guitars, and can build the entire thing from start to finish which includes selecting, drying and cutting the wood, carving the neck, cutting fret slots, etc. etc. all entirely by hand. Most shop guitar repairmen don't have the knowledge and experience to be able to call themselves luthiers, and technically it does require a certification, usually an apprenticeship.

 
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