Arts: The great rock'n'roll swindle - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Arts: The great rock'n'roll swindle

Craftsmen - and con men - are making a mint forging `vintage' electric guitars. But who wants a beaten-up Strat anyway?

Meet Clive. He showed me round his workshop in North Yorkshire, made me a cup of tea, played me some music on his 1960-something Gibson guitar, and then threatened to kill me. Jokingly, I hope.

There are maybe about a dozen Clives in the world, mostly in America, and they pose a threat to the growing trade in vintage electric guitars. They produce "age refinished" electric guitars. Or forgeries, depending on your point of view.

This, says Clive, is a typical tale of a Sixties Fender Stratocaster: bought for maybe pounds 200 by Afghan Man, it is sold in the Seventies to an owner who tires of its production-line looks and takes a sander and some glitter paint to it, unwittingly destroying its future value as a vintage piece. Eighties Man knocks the hell out of it, but it's the Nineties owner who realises he's got a classic. Offered a pittance for it by a West End dealer, he thinks he can do better. So Nineties Man contacts Clive. And Clive, using secret magic learnt from his joiner dad and his stint as a car sprayer, not to mention 30 years at the plectrum himself, fixes it.

First, he returns the Strat to its factory-original finish. Mint. Worth a fortune. But mint guitars of the period look suspiciously clean. So then Clive does his speciality act. He simulates 30 years of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll. Guitar abuse. Heavy on the fag burns and the ketchup. Wear from belt-buckle gyration, Transit-cracking, floor-dropping and luggage carousel-bashing. And hey presto! A modern classic. That's pounds 5,000 to you guv, instead of the pounds 700 it was worth when Clive got it.

Clive tells me he'd have to kill me if he told me how it was done. But he vehemently denies dishonesty. Though his techniques are those of a forger which, used carefully, can turn a very ordinary non-classic pounds 500 guitar into a pounds 10,000 one, Clive says he never converts cheap stuff into fake gems and he never passes his work off as genuine. He concedes that others do, though.

The trouble is that the electric guitar, especially the Fender Stratocaster and its vast family of cousins, was never meant to go on The Antiques Roadshow. This was a practical, Fifties, production-line tool. Give four 14-year-olds four Fenders and a Philips screwdriver and they'll be able to create four Frankenstein Fenders: neck from one, body from another and so on, before you can say "Meccano".

"It can be a rather grubby Arthur Daley-type world," admits Richard Chapman, a guitar consultant to Christie's. "There are instruments that have been stolen, composite instruments and fakes so good they're almost real. In some cases I take them apart and examine them under ultra-violet light."

In fact, one of the better ways into the business is through the growing trade in vintage spare parts, especially in Fender neck-plates, each with the all-important serial number engraved on it - each gratifyingly easy to remove from one model and attach to another. The Gibson Les Paul, the Fender's rival, is less adaptable - though it's still putty in the hands of craftsmen like Clive.

So does it matter that the fortysomethings on both sides of the Atlantic are getting conned? These are the former teenagers who lusted after the instruments in the Sixties, learnt to play in the Seventies, made a pile in the Eighties and in the Nineties can slake their lust on a terrific guitar, all the while comforting themselves that it's "an investment". Which a vintage guitar is - if it's real. Or if it can pass for real. If you can sell it for $10,000 (pounds 6,250) then $10,000 is what it's worth, real or fake.

There is less risk, and I think more pleasure, in acoustic guitars. You can still pay less than pounds 700 for a cello-shaped Gibson guitar - the head nattily emblazoned with the words "The Gibson" rather than plain old Gibson to demonstrate its early Thirties vintage. And, for those with a love of the acoustic guitar, a celebrity fetish and very deep pockets, it's rumoured that Mark Twain's Martin will shortly appear on the auction scene. Or, for a mere pounds 5,000 you can buy a genuine Maccaferri - as played by Django Reinhardt.

Yet even with acoustics - each as individual as the craftsman who made it - it's easy to be sold a pig in a poke. Bad repairs, amateur re-finishes or unwise modifications can ruin a guitar's value. So why not forget the past and buy a new or new-ish guitar? The answer lies back in the late Sixties, when the main manufacturers, Fender and Gibson, were bought up by big business, turning them from independent companies into small parts of multinationals. They turned out inferior, conveyor-belt stuff, that didn't sound good or keep its value. As soon as that started, the knowledgeable players started looking around for used instruments.

Today, many of the balding boomers who can play do buy new - especially if they've got the bucks for something bespoke. But the fetishists want something for the weekend, a quick trip back to '69. And there's no shortage of them. At the sale of Eric Clapton's collection at Christie's in New York this summer, the place was packed with fans - many with as much as $15,000 to spend and not a hope of coming out with even a guitar strap. But the age-refinished merchants and their ilk threaten the "celebrity- owned" market as much as the vintage one. The reclusive Microsoft co- founder and cable services billionaire Paul Allen recently bought what was billed as the icon of icons: Jimi Hendrix's white Strat which he allegedly used to play the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, so impressing the young Tony Blair. In the US music press it was rumoured he paid as much as $2,000,000 to the Italian music TV personality who originally bought it at auction.

Actually the price was more like $750,000 and despite assurances from Mr Allen's HQ in Seattle that the Strat really was played at Woodstock, the man who sold it to him now denies that he ever said the instrument was the Star-Spangled Strat of Strats. Red Ronnie, as he's known to his Italian fans, insists this is a Hendrix-owned guitar (though there's no documentation for it) but says, through his spokesman, that he never led Mr Allen to believe it was the Woodstock model.

Earlier this year, Mr Allen thought he was dallying with a rock star's wife, Jerry Hall, only to discover the marriage between Ms Hall and Mr Jagger was never legal. Now, he'll have to face the fact that his new guitar may not have been the model he thought it was, either.

`Six Silver Strings' - The quest for a million dollar guitar is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday at 1.30pm and on Saturday 11 December at 11pm

BUYERS' GUIDE

In London

Vintage and Rare Guitars

A paradise for the jazz and acoustic fan. "A vintage guitar is always right or wrong," says proprietor Chris Trigg. "Ours are always right." 0171-370 7835

Vintage Guitar Emporium

"If you'd been in here 10 minutes ago you'd have bumped into Liam and Noel." More pop-related, and an impressive wall of autographs. 0171-371 0100

Auctions

Bonhams tried mounting a twice-yearly auction; this has ended. Christies and Sotheby's stick to pop memorabilia.

USA

The strong pound and cheap air fares means a trip to the USA may be viable. It's strictly against the law to get US dealers to provide you with a receipt for far less than what you really paid, thus avoiding duty. As is telling customs the guitar is one you've had all your life, and you've just come back from playing gigs in the Village. They'll expect an audition.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week