I sold a guitar yesterday. And that comes with another story.

My sister’s godfather was a music dealer — I knew him as Uncle Stan. Stan made most of his money from piano sales, but also stocked guitars. When my sister had her confirmation in the late 70s (if I remember correctly), Uncle Stan gave her two awesome gifts — a pair of guitars. One was a nylon-string Framus folk guitar, and the other was a large 12-string dreadnaught made by Epiphone. The thought was, since she was into music, she would learn how to play guitar on the nylon, and then eventually graduate to the more complicated 12-string. I was forbidden from touching the 12-string, and Denise never really got around to playing it much, so it spent most of its time in its case. The case was kept in the attic…even during the humid New Jersey summers.

When I wanted to learn to play guitar, I was told I didn’t need an electric because, well, we had guitars in the house — if I wanted to learn to play guitar, I could use the nylon string. I ultimately learned how to play guitar on the Framus (and how not to; nobody told me you weren’t supposed to play with a pick). Even though I was playing more than Denise was, I was still told the 12-string was off-limits. Occasionally I would sneak up to the attic and play it, just to gauge my skills. But I always put it back, and aside from a few of my sister’s boyfriends, it spent most of its time sitting in the heat.

By the time I was in college, I’d gotten a few of my own electrics (including Amelia) and I started to get nostalgic. I asked my sister if she still had the Framus; turns out she had sold it or traded it to a friend or something. (I later found a very similar Framus in better condition while living in Brooklyn and bought it in 1995; I’ve since sold it and ugpraded to a Guild.) She still had the 12-string, but her romantic interest at the time was digging it and it wasn’t for sale. (I found out that said dude was playing it as a six-string because he liked the sound.)

When I graduated college, Denise and Romantic Interest had parted ways, and gave me the Epiphone as a gift. It had some wear — sloppy stuff like the side of the neck having nicks in the finish from leaning it up against tables and desks and stuff. It was still in fairly good shape but its age was starting to show. The spruce top was a little buckled too; again, keeping it at concert pitch and storing it in a hot attic is not good. But none of us really understood that at the time; it wasn’t until years later that I learned about how to care for guitars. But the holy grail was finally mine, and I dubbed it Emma — for Emma Thompson, on whom I’ve always had a bit of a crush, and was a good analogy for “the older woman” that this guitar represented.

I ultimately did some research and found out some things about this guitar. It was an Epiphone Bard FT112, and somewhat uncommon. It was made in the late 60s, before Gibson moved its plant from Kalamazoo to overseas (Epis from the 70s are not prized), which means Uncle Stan had saved this guitar and given it to Denise from his private stock. And they didn’t make a lot of Bard 12-strings in the 60s, but one found its way into the hands or Roy Orbison. He wrote “Oh, Pretty Woman” on a 1962 Epiphone Bard. It has since been reissued in his honor.

The trouble was the guitar was almost impossible for me to play. My little hands had trouble getting around this enormous neck; the nut is almost two inches wide. After wanting it for years, I found it very difficult to play. I feel strongly that there is an intangible “rightness” or “wrongness” to guitars; they are not inherently good or bad, but they are clearly either meant for you or they are not. Without getting all hippie shit on you, I chalk it up to some combination of ergonomics, sympathic vibrations, and magic. (You could call it love if you wanted.) Point is, when shopping, “your” guitar will talk to you if you just listen. But this Epiphone simply wasn’t my guitar.

I kept it for 15 years anyway.

This year I finally started to think that it was spending more time in a case than it should (the only time I took it out was so Kat could shoot the photos you see here), and I never really grew into the guitar the way I thought I would, so it was time to let it go. This is when I found out about Roy Orbison and rarity and all that stuff. Originals go for anywhere from $300 to $1500, depending on their condition. I knew mine was not at the upper range of that scale; it had some finish checking (the little lines through the gloss that older guitars commonly get) and some dings, one or two of which I contributed. I didn’t think it would be worth much. Then I started to think, hey, maybe it will be worth something. I decided to trade it in toward the purchase of another 12-string that was properly mine, and finally took it to Gryphon on Saturday.

The news, it turns out, was bad. It is still uncommon, but it’s uncommon because not many have survived. They don’t make them like they used to…and sometimes that’s good. What’s more, they said it looked like this guitar had spent about 20 years in the trunk of a car on a hot day. I said they weren’t wrong. There were cracks, there were warps, and there were other shifts from age and string tension that I simply didn’t know were problems. I wasn’t offended; I was happy to hear the truth. They said they could buy it but it would need work on their end to restore it to its former glory, and it might not even be successful. But if they did, they would still need to make a profit on their work (of course). They offered me $250 in trade. I played every 12-string in the store while thinking about it, including a lovely used Taylor 655ce that was half what I would pay new — really a stunningly good deal for a guitar of this quality and workmanship. But I had to be honest — it wasn’t speaking to me quite the way I wanted it to. Gryphon was cool about it; they would still take the Epiphone for store credit, to be used when I found the right guitar.

After some errands, I came back and did the deal. I don’t want to put this on eBay. I don’t want the hassle. I want it to be with someone who will appreciate it, and I want the repairs done by people I trust — and I trust Gryphon. So the guitar is now in their workshop, awaiting attention. I don’t think they put it in the attic.

So Emma is no longer my guitar. But I realize now, after letting it go easily and without much nostalgia, that she never really was.

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