The Tale of the Traveling Guitar Salesman


I was talking to an old timer at a classsic car show in Easton, Maryland a few months ago and somehow the subject turned to guitars. It turns out the man played in a country and western band in Cambridge around 1950. He played an acoustic guitar at the time because electrics were pretty much in their infancy. One night a man pulled up outside and listened to them play awhile. He took the guitar player aside and said. “I’ve got an electric guitar I’d be willing to sell you. I’ve been selling them all around the country and I think it would help your sound.”
With that he produced a shiny newfangled electric guitar and a small amplifier and hooked it up.
“I’m telling you, the sound that guitar made was like nothing I’d ever heard,” said the old-timer. “I just had to have it.”
He bought the guitar for around $50, in easy payments of $5 a month. “So what’s your name?” he asked the salesman.
“Fender. Leo Fender.”
The guitar was one of the first of what became known as the Fender Telecasters, a model that is still manufactured today.
“But wait,” I said. “The early models were called Broadcasters. They changed it to Telecaster when threatened with a lawsuit. Are you telling me that was what this was?”
The old timer shook his head. “Nope, this was pre-Broadcaster even. It just said Fender on the headstock. I guess it was a nocaster.”
“So do you still have it?”
“No, I played with it for some years, then decided to sell it. I still didn’t realize the thing was valuable. I put an ad in the paper and got a call from a man up in New Jersey. He was a serious collector.
He said, “I got one nice one with a serial number 5,000 and something. Is yours that low?”
“Lower,” the old timer said.
“Lower than 4,000?”
“Not lower than 3,000?”
“Come on. I’ve never seen one lower than 2,000.”
“This one is.”
“I can’t believe this. Lower than 2,000? So what is the serial number?”
He drove all the way down that night.
“I have to authenticate it,” the buyer said. “You need to take the neck off and look underneath.”
They did and found the number, date and Leo Fender’s initials written in pencil.
“I had been hoping for maybe $200 for the guitar,” the old timer said, “but the man offered me $5,000 on the spot.”
“So was that the end of the story?”
“Well, just a couple of years ago, the guitar sold again at an auction. Somebody paid $75,000 for it.”

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