I Laughed, I Cried: Gear Stories To Write Home About
Over the course of our lives as guitarists we tend to collect a good number of gear-related stories. Some inspiring, some devastating, some just plain stupid.
Over the course of our lives as guitarists we tend to collect a good number of gear-related stories. Some inspiring, some devastating, some just plain stupid. I’ll share a few of mine this month, and I hope you will do the same. I know you’ve got a good one! Don’t worry, we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you…
Elliot Easton and the MuTron Octave Divider
When I first started out my professional career, after having a false start in the record biz, my gig was in computer-based sound. It was the early-mid ‘90s and the vintage stompbox market hadn’t gotten rolling quite yet. To cure the blues of sitting in a tech-support cubical all day long I had found a sure-fire way of killing time and adding to my gear collection. Every Wednesday I would call my phone pal, Stan Chang, at E-Wurlizer Music in Boston. Back then, Stan was getting pedals in all the time and I had just come from a 3-year recording studio stint where we had every pedal imaginable. We’d get on the phone and have a great time talking about music and gear-related topics, which would inevitably lead to what he had taken in that week and what might be a cool buy for me. Here’s a short list of a few of those items and their prices:
- Mutron Flanger (with manual pedal control) - $35
- EH Bassballs - $25
- Maestro Fuzztone - $20
- Gizmotron for bass - $15
- Gizmotron for guitar - $20
- Italian Wah (can’t remember what year, but '60s) - $35
- Mutron Octave Divider - $35
I bought all of these pedals over the course of a summer. Funny thing about the Mutron pedals is they had numbers on them (2 on the Octave Divider, 1 on the Flanger), and a little name scratched out on the underside of the pedal. They both read “The Cars.” Yep, Elliot Easton had owned these pedals and Stan had told me he bought them from Elliot. Being a huge Cars fan, that was just the icing on the cake for two already incredibly cool pedals. Sadly, the only one I still own out of the list is the Octave Divider and it has remained my number one favorite pedal of all time. The lineage is uber-cool, but the tone is by far the meanest and most badass of all octave pedals ever built, bar none.
The other pedals (and Gizmotrons) all went way up in value, and some I made a great profit on, while others (like the flanger) I sure wish I’d have kept! Either way it would be nice to turn the clock back and have the kind of pick of the litter I had back then. Can’t even begin to think about the pedals I turned down cause I didn’t need a fuzz, phaser, delay, etc. Thanks Stan, I appreciate it!
My First Plexi
Back in 1990 we still read the classifieds, and, while I was a Marshall lover, I still didn’t know that much about Plexis vs. metal panels, except that Plexis were older and cost more money. After doing a lot of recording with a 1980 2203 model (100-watt master volume) I knew I wanted another Marshall. After reading in the paper that a guy was selling a “Plexi 50 watt” I called him. He seemed adamant about the $350 price tag, but because it had been modded I didn’t think it was worth that much. “$300 is the best I can do,” I recall saying. I ended up driving out to his place in San Jose and checking it out. It looked kind of beat and the back panel had a part cut out of it. The iron was still intact but a crude master volume had been installed by some hack. He had taken the original logo off because it didn’t look cool, but said he’d throw it in if I cared. I did, and paid him $300 and went on my way.
Not knowing any affordable local techs at that time I just used it as-is but grew tired of its sound because it was kind of mushy and didn’t have the fire of the 2203. So, I went down to Black Market Music (stay tuned) and sold it for a 100 percent profit. Suckers! $600 for a 1967 50-watt beater. I put the money into a JCM 900—heck, the 900 only cost me another $300 more than what I sold the Plexi for. I heard that Slash bought it from Black Market just a few days after I sold it to them. He’s clearly a sucker too, because they no doubt marked it up even higher than the $6000—maybe even $1000! Some people never learn.
Black Market Music
The store that stands out in my mind more than any other was a place in San Francisco (and Los Angeles, from what I understand) called Black Market Music. In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s it was Mecca for me. When Marshalls were considered boat anchors and everyone was loading their refrigerator racks up with low-quality digital effects, it was hard to give away those amps. Stepping into the store, I kid you not, you could see rows of Marshall heads stacked four or five high all the way across the floor. This was a big place too, I’d say the aisles were an easy 40 feet long if not longer. There were hundreds of Marshall Superleads, Superbasses, P.A. s, you name it. Prices were fixed: $300 for a metal panel, $600 for a Plexi. We’d go into the store and look down the rows and check out the serial numbers. If they were an E or earlier we knew the amps were point-to-point wired and we could work on them (I’ll explain in a minute). Plexi’s were too expensive at double the price (I know, I know!) so we just paid attention to the metal panels. The only tricky deal was if they were an “E” serial number they might end up being a PCB version because half way through 1973 Marshall switched over to PCBs, except for the P.A. heads.
The reason we were buying them is to have extras to mod. Back then I’d read about the “mod kings” in magazines and wanted to learn how they LA guys got that great tone—Soldano, Jose, Lee Jackson, Harry Kolbe, Rivera. I’d seen one amp with Soldano’s mods so we tried to copy that with cheap parts from Radio Shack and failed miserably. It didn’t matter though, we bought the amps and had fun with them, although I don’t own a single one of them today. Again, facepalm!
Anyone have a time machine? $600 doesn’t sound too bad for a Plexi at this point.
I could go on and on. Selling a ’73 Marshall Superlead for another JCM 900. Selling a 1980 Gibson SG for a pointy Infinity guitar. Selling off all my old, first issue MXR pedals for a multi-fx unit. I’m starting to cry now. Look, we all have had cool things happen to us and some of us hold onto everything we’ve bought, but part of the journey is learning the lessons along the way while having a good time. At least I never traded a ’59 Les Paul for a Gorilla Amp (with TubeStack) and an Ibanez Destroyer. That’s a story for another time. What’s your story? Good or bad I’d love to hear about it!