My $15 Arbor

It was around 6:30 a.m. and still dark, so I didn’t get a good look at the guitar, only what I could see with a flashlight.

1. Gold-plated tuners! 2. How about a triple-pickup guitar for about the cost of lunch? 3. Yup—that’s a big gouge. It looks like someone’s dog decided to take out its frustrations on this poor guitar. 4. The quilted maple “foto fl ame” isn’t what jazzes me about this guitar—it’s the sound and playability.  $0$0 $0 $0I love going to the flea market. There’s a pretty decent one about 15 minutes from my house and when I’m not out of town touring, I’m down there most weekends looking for interesting buys. I frequently see cheap guitars there and about six months ago this Arbor Strat copy caught my eye. It was around 6:30 a.m. and still dark, so I didn’t get a good look at the guitar, only what I could see with a flashlight. It didn’t have strings on it (usually a bad sign), so I had no way to tell about the action and neck alignment. The sellers wanted $20, but I talked them down to $15 on principle. I’m a bottom feeder.$0 $0When I got it home and examined the guitar, I discovered that the body had a nice, highly quilted maple pattern underneath a transparent cherry finish. Big deal. Probably a “foto flame” treatment that manufacturers frequently apply to Chinese guitars to make them look more expensive. Unfortunately I also noticed a huge gouge on the back, like a dog had chewed on it. Whoa! I figured I would just clean it up a little, slap on some strings, and sell it for a profit.$0 $0So I restrung it and made some minor adjustments on the bridge. Ready to go. But a funny thing happened when I started playing this guitar—I couldn’t put it down! After about an hour, I said to myself, “Will, what are you thinking? You can’t sell this. This thing plays great!”$0 $0I mean, it had a nice, super-lightweight body, killer comfortable rosewood neck with meaty frets, and gold-plated hardware. “Well,” I reasoned, “it’ll probably sound terrible through an amp.” But after plugging into several amps, it sounded every bit as good as it played. In fact, if I had to compare this to one of my Fenders, the closest one would be my old ’62 Strat, which was refinished wine red and refretted with jumbo wire. So after a weekend of playing it, I decided the Arbor had to stay and I made space for it in my guitar room, next to my G&Ls and Fenders.$0 $0There is one downside to this guitar: The ball ends from most guitar strings get stuck in the trem block when you want to remove them and install a new set. But I keep a really long-shafted screwdriver on hand to poke out any stubborn ball ends whenever I restring the guitar.$0 $0So is it a keeper? Yep, chew marks and all. And for $15 it simply can’t be beat.$0 $0 $0 $0$0 $0 $0Will Ray is a founding member of the Hellecasters guitar-twang trio. He also does guitar clinics promoting his namesake G&L signature model 6-string, and produces artists and bands at his studio in Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact Will on Facebook and at $0 $0