Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Finding the Holy Grail

Tales of rare finds

Left:Me with Tim McGraw's beautiful 1953 goldtop Les Paul,

purchased for $500.

Fifteen years ago, in a pawnshop in Billings,

Montana, I bought a '59 Les Paul Special—yellowed, battered, and beautiful—for $500.

A month later, in the same shop, I picked up

a '61 Les Paul in perfect shape with the original

PAFs for $600. Sadly, both the Gibsons

were sold shortly after I bought them to

cover diapers, rent, and put food on the

table. However, four years ago I lucked out

again and bought a 1946 Martin D-18 at City

National Pawn in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for

$1000. It had a DeArmond pickup nailed to

the soundhole, an input jack screwed to the

side, and a split bridge that left the guitar

unplayable. After some intensive (and expensive)

surgery, it's the best-sounding Martin

I've ever heard. It now makes it to every session

I do.

Finding a Holy Grail guitar, even if you don't

manage to keep it, is an incredible thrill.

When you hold that neglected treasure in

your hands, you can't help but feel something

almost ineffable—it is like you're touching the

actual mojo, grit, jubilation, and heartache that

the instrument made. Here are a few amazing,

jealousy-inspiring stories of some Nashville

players finding their Holy Grail guitars.

'53 Goldtop

I recently played on an awards show and ran

into Tim McGraw. He was holding a beautiful

goldtop, almost green with age. I was

staring at this well-worn LP the way most

men stare at Megan Fox's cleavage. I finally

asked, “Is that a '53?" McGraw replied with

the following story.

“About 15 years ago, my career was just getting

going. This guy from my hometown had

just gotten out of prison. He must have heard

my music while he was serving his 20 years.

He looked up my mom and told her he's

down on his luck, needs money, and would

like to sell me an old electric guitar for $200.

My mom called and asked if I wanted to help

the guy out and I said, 'Sure. Give him $500.'

I pretty much forgot about it until a while

later when I was visiting my mom and she

showed me the guitar. I could not believe it.

There it was: a 1953 Les Paul in the original

case. The guy's name is scratched into the

headstock. I wish I knew where he is—I'd pay

him more."

The Korinas

Rick Vito—guitar slinger extraordinaire, former

member of Fleetwood Mac, solo artist,

and an integral part of the sound behind Bob

Seger, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and

many others—told me the best Holy Grail

story I've ever heard. I'll let him tell it.

“I was on tour with Fleetwood Mac in 1990

and had an off night the Wednesday before

Thanksgiving. The bellman at our hotel told

me about a great band, and I decided to

go see them. As it turns out, to my amazement,

the guitarist was playing a real vintage

Explorer! I cornered him on a break and

learned that he was the original owner, having

bought it new in '59. I asked how he'd managed

not to have sold it in all those years. He

said no one had ever offered him cash, and

also that he'd been thinking of selling it. He

then told me, 'There's just one condition—you

would have to buy my Flying V too!' I scraped

together the money and bought both Holy

Grails the day after Thanksgiving. I had, and

still have, much to be thankful for!

“After buying the guitars, I realized the Flying

V could possibly be the sleeper of the two,

and indeed a very rare guitar. I noticed there

was an additional pickguard on the left side,

additional fret markers on the right side of

the neck, and extra strap buttons indicating

that it had been set up at the factory for

a left-handed player. I later found out that

the original owner (the brother of the man

I bought the guitars from) was a lefty! No

expert I have talked to in all this time has

ever seen a '58 V with these unique factory

appointments, yet all agree that the guitar is

completely original. A rare find, to be sure."

Well, there it is: three guitar players with some

truly lucky finds. Go out there and find your

own Holy Grail, then try and hold on to it.

John Bohlinger

John Bohlinger is a Nashville guitar slinger who works primarily

in television and has recorded and toured with over

30 major-label artists. His songs and playing can be heard

in major motion pictures, on major-label releases, and in

literally hundreds of television drops. Visit him at: or