Last Call: Your Guitars Own You
What to do when your axes become your axis of anxiety.
I'm a working-class musician—recently upgraded from the starving musician trenches, where I toiled for more than a decade. I drive a '94 Mercury Grand Marquis with all four of its formerly powered windows taped shut. Every time I fill up the tank, the car's value increases by 25 percent.
At any given moment, this barely rolling shit-barge has 10k worth of gear in its ample trunk. Despite my limited income, I have the guitar arsenal of a rich guy, including some sexy, players-grade vintage axes. Unlike cork-sniffing collectors who buy at blue book to display behind glass, I wait for bargains and play them every chance I get.
My entire life—after I've paid for rent, food, and baby's shoes—I've saved my limited dough re mi for gear. In the '80s there were bargains aplenty, before the interwebs and Antiques Roadshow made everyone with a 20-year-old Squier think they had a rare treasure. Now, my old bargain guitars are worth much more than I could afford at today's prices. It's a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless, which leads to two recurring nightmares:
Nightmare #1: In America, there are an estimated 358,300 home structure fires per year. At 4 a.m. every night on tour, this stat awakens me in a sweaty panic as I imagine my home's threadbare wiring turning my guitars into kindling.
Nightmare #2: Lucky thugs bust into my crib and grab 'n' go.
Last month, a thief stole my White Falcon from my girl's place. Miraculously, Alabama police recovered the bird from a pawnshop just a few blocks from the heist. Not an isolated incident. David Oleson, a great guitarist and friend, tackled a guy walking out of his basement at 1 a.m. with Dave's Les Paul in hand. Dave employed Jesse “the Body" Ventura's half chicken wing and held the perp down until the cops arrived. Dave pressed charges, then learned in court that the thief had 158 priors. Stats claim that roughly 12 percent of burglaries end in an arrest, but only 50 percent of burglaries are reported. Statistically speaking, this thief committed thousands of robberies before Dave body-slammed him to justice.
Regrettably, my homeowner's insurance will not cover my guitars, because I use them for work. Separate instrument insurance is shockingly expensive. I can't afford to pay $200 per year to insure a guitar I bought for 2k but now blue books for 18k. Also, what's the point? Insurance gives you money, but there's no replacing the irreplaceable. I feel strangely obligated to protect my guitars for the future. When my infant daughter grows up, she may never use a phone book, taste fresh tuna, or drive a car, but I swear by Lemmy's mole that she will know the pleasures of a 1954 Les Paul goldtop.
So, I went with a two-pronged protection approach.
Prong #1: Home Monitoring. For decades, my old man has paid $50 per month for an amazingly ineffective home security system. When tripped, the system alerts a remote person “monitoring" all accounts worldwide. That person then calls my father (or my siblings, if he doesn't answer) to say his house may have intruders and asks if he or she should call the cops. The entire process gives the bad guys plenty of time for a crash 'n' dash. If the cops are called a few times for a false alarm, my father is penalized with a fee.
The cheaper option: I bought a new monitor system for my front door for $270 and one for the back door for $195. Controlled by my phone anywhere there's service, I can turn the alarm on and get a live feed from inside my house at any time. The system lets me know the inside temperature and alerts me to fires or bad weather. If somebody opens a door or window or trips the motion detector, two alarms scream while the all-seeing fisheye lenses film. A mic lets me hear what's going on and I can even talk to the perp from a speaker in the unit. I imagine some goon with my Tele in his hand staring blankly into the camera while I say, “Hey asshole, put the guitar down and run. The cops are on the way. I sent them a video of you breaking in." No monthly fee, effective, cheap = easy peasy George and Weezy.
Prong #2: Big-Ass Safe. Tennessee is full of Second Amendment enthusiasts (gun nuts) who will happily drop 1k to 5k for a massive gun safe as impenetrable as a Bond villain's lair and capable of withstanding two hours at 1,400 degrees. Craigslist is loaded with them. The safe I bought costs roughly the price of two years of instrument insurance and will accommodate six or seven guitars or, I'm told, 40 rifles. Good luck thugs.
Buddha said suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases. As much as I'd like to be the Zen/hippie cowboy, I am Scrooge McDuck when it comes to guitars. Maybe that's because the right guitar isn't just a possession. It's a relationship. Kind of like when a puppy walks over, licks your hand, and you end up spending the next 10 years together. So yeah, I'm making every effort to keep my favorite guitars.
Someday, my daughter and her little friends might ask, “What's in the safe?" I'll tell them, “Treasure—treasure that will give you magical powers."