Reader Guitar of the Month: The Grassfire Phoenix

A reclaimed Epiphone Firebird rises from the ashes.

Name: Tom Foreman

Hometown: Grenville-Sur-La-Rouge, Quebec, Canada
Guitar: Epiphone Firebird Studio

I’ve wanted a Firebird for just about as long as I’ve played guitar. There’s just something about them that radiates cool. I also love that they’re a polarizer, kinda like Rush. You either love them or hate them, no middle ground.

I usually play a Tele, far more suited to the Uncle Tupelo-type of alt country I write, but I couldn’t get these guitars out of my system. In the winter of 2014, I spied a natural-wood Epiphone Firebird Studio in Montreal for $200 Canadian. (That’s like $0.50 American, right?) When I saw it, I was amazed. There was no hint of its original paint. The dude even sanded the pickguard and there weren’t any fret markers left on the fretboard. This guy was thorough!

And the guitar played like a dream. Although my inner bottom-feeder was screaming in protest, I couldn’t help myself and offered the guy more cash, which he wouldn’t take. When I asked why, he said the guitar was a gift from his very ex-wife. (Now I understood the sanding.) My plans for painting the ’bird TV Yellow changed because paint would cover up its story. I’d just oil it and leave it looking like a musical cutting board. So, with a little tung oil, a new leather cover for the pickguard, and a large North American Aviation decal, the project was almost complete.

I’m a huge Blackberry Smoke fan and love the tone Charlie Starr gets from his gear. The original Epiphone humbuckers in this Firebird were pretty anemic and light years away from the sound I wanted, so I had Dave Budzinski of Budz Pickups make me a killer set of humbucker-sized P-90s.

Now all this baby needed was a name. While I was trapped in Europe this spring after my passport was stolen, my redneck neighbors decided—during a windstorm—that it was time to burn down their old farmhouse. This, of course, set fire to the valley. I was stranded thousands of miles away and that fire nearly torched my house, my studio, and my Firebird. I was a bit stressed out, but from those ashes comes this story.

And thus, I give you the Grassfire Phoenix.

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