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May 20th, 2009:

Ronnie Monrose sues Gary Moore over theft of ’59 Les Paul

icontexto-webdev-social-bookmark-09facebook481In a downer moment that must have left countless concert-goers blinking, shaking their heads, and bellowing, “drag, man!” Guitarist Ronnie Montrose actually stopped a show in mid-song, had the house lights turned on, and scoured the theater when his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard was stolen right off the stage.

Gary MooreMontrose, a San Franciscan, hasn’t seen his guitar (which he bought from J. Geils) since that night on Oct. 10, 1972 when he played Dudley, Mass. with the Edgar Winter Band … until now. The San Francisco musician — who has played with Herbie Hancock, Van Morrison and others — claims that after 37 years of scouring and thousands of dollars spent on private detectives, his guitar has turned up in the possession of British musician and guitar collector Gary Moore — and, last week,  Montrose filed suit in San Francisco District Court.

Gibson Les Paul models of this vintage are crafted of mahogany; only around 1,700 or so were ever made and no two guitars look exactly alike. Montrose claims he can identify his old axe from pictures of Moore’s collection — but, more exactingly, he says the serial number of the guitar is the same as the one taken from him in Dudley.   

Reached at his home in Brighton, England, Moore refused to discuss the matter, saying only that the “whole thing is a sham” and “I’ve had that guitar for more than 20 years.” Montrose doesn’t dispute that notion, but he insists that doesn’t change the fact that Moore is in possession of his stolen guitar and must return it. An angry Moore refused to comment further on his tussle with Montrose over the decades-old instrument.

The legal ramifications of the case are complex, and Montrose hopes to get a judge to weigh in on several issues, including the statute of limitations on a 37-year-old case and an instance in which the current owner of a piece of stolen property is not alleged to have stolen it. Another major issue is jurisdictional, as the theft is alleged to have occurred in Massachusetts, its current owner lives in England and Montrose lives in San Francisco.

Ed Roman, owner of Ed Roman Guitars in Las Vegas, has served as an expert witness in stolen guitar cases for the estate of late guitar great Jimi Hendrix. He said Montrose faces an uphill battle, primarily because the alleged theft occurred so long ago.

Roman said the Hendrix estate and Paul McCartney have been unable to retrieve stolen guitars in cases where they knew who had them but were unable to overcome the years gone by. “If it is more than 10 years ago, the person who has it usually keeps it,” he said. “I doubt Ronnie is going to be able to get it back.”

Guitar thefts have long been common in the music business. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck had his prized Rickenbacker guitar stolen in September in Helsinki, Finland, only to have it returned anonymously two weeks later at a show in Luxembourg. Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame had his Gibson Les Paul Goldtop guitar stolen from his studio in 1998, and Gibson eventually made a new one for its longtime star client.

Montrose’s hunt for his guitar has been rife with false leads, missed opportunities and dead ends. In January 1977, someone contacted one of Montrose’s bandmates about the guitar’s whereabouts, only to disappear when Montrose hired a private investigator to look into it.

The hunt regained steam in the early 2000s when Indelicato was given a photo of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul by another guitar dealer at a Texas guitar show and told that Montrose’s instrument was in the hands of an English guitar player. The photo showed the guitar’s serial number, and Indelicato claims that an Internet search for the serial number sent him to a forum thread on the Gibson Web site that connected Moore and the serial number for Montrose’s missing guitar.

But it was the November 2007 issue of the British magazine Guitar Buyer that ignited the standoff between Montrose and Moore, who once played for Thin Lizzy as well as being a well respected solo artist.

The publication featured a multi-page spread on Moore and his guitar collection, including several photos of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard. The Sunburst guitar is known for its distinctive maple wood face with unique wood grain patterns. Montrose claims a photo showing a pin-sized hole in the back of the guitar is the proof, as he drills such holes in all of his guitars.

The Guitar Buyer photos showed that the guitar had sustained significant wear and tear over the past 37 years, a sign that Montrose’s complaint claims “substantiates a risk of future damage so as long as the ’59 Gibson remains in Mr. Moore’s possession.”

An angry Moore refused to comment further on his tussle with Montrose over the decades-old instrument. But his quote in the Guitar Buyer story shed light on its value to both men.

When asked if he still played the ’59 Gibson on the road, he replied, “Sometimes, but don’t tell anyone that. I don’t really like taking it out too much because it’s getting a bit scary now. I don’t think I’ll find another Gibson Les Paul to replace it. I’d have to get one of the same vintage, because no matter what new ones I get, they’re never going to be like that.”


Collectable Guitars pt 27 – Fender Robben Ford Model

icontexto-webdev-social-bookmark-09facebook481Blues/Jazz guitarist Robben Ford merges styles to redefine the term “fusion” music. His sound, delivery and conception are all his own – as unmistakable and personal as a fingerprint. He chose a deliberate reinterpretation of the unusual Fender Esprit Ultra as the basis for his signature instrument (the Fender Robben Ford Signature model), which reflects Robben’s discriminating and diverse as both a soloist and rhythm player.

Fender Robben Ford Signature GuitarDesigned in the mid-1980’s, the Esprit effectively reconciled the differences between a blues, jazz and rock guitar, making it ideal for Robben’s varied musical tangents. He was originally drawn to the smaller body size, double-cutaway comfort and remarkable playability of the Esprit as an alternative to the larger, honky-sounding semi-hollow-body he had been playing. Though the Esprit was discontinued by the late 1980’s, Robben remained an ardent user.

The History of the “Master Series”  (by Gary Koehler) is as follows;

Approximately 25 years ago, Dan Smith had an idea. He conceptualized a solidbody guitar with routed chambers. These chambers would, in theory, provide a more resonant tonal characteristic. He also formulated and designed a basic shape for the guitar.

Then, in the early 1980s, Fender became interested in producing and marketing instruments which would be viewed as alternatives to those offered by Gibson. These guitars would not be copies, of course, but highly playable guitars with versatile electronics and other features previously unavailable on instruments manufactured by Fender. The company asked Smith to submit a concept, and what followed was an adventurous effort to produce a new line of guitars unique to the Fender’s catalog. The line was called the Master Series.

Two of Smith’s designs were solidified – the Flame and the Esprit (pronounced espree). Both featured alder bodies with routed tone chambers, maple tops, and set-in necks.

The Flame’s body is slightly larger than a Gibson Les Paul, and features two slightly offset cutaways, similar to Gibson’s SG. Two special-design humbucking pickups were developed via Schaller, as was a tailpiece with fine-tuners. The intention was to offer an electronically versatile alternative to the Gibson Les Paul.

The Esprit’s body is slightly larger than the Flame’s, and features two symmetrical cutaways. As with the Flame, two special-design Schaller humbuckers were employed in conjunction with the fine-tuning tailpiece. This instrument was intended as an alternative to the Gibson ES-335.

A third model was an archtop designed by the late James D’Aquisto. His design included some imaginative, versatile features and stands as a testament to D’Aquisto’s creativity as a luthier. 

These three designs were marketed together as the Fender Master Series.

Once designs were approved, the company turned its attention to issues of manufacturing and production. Fender decided that, at that time, it did not possess the technology to build the instruments. The Japanese company Fujigen Gakki (which served as an Ibanez facility) was contracted by Fender to manufacture the line.

Fender ultimately decided to produce three models of both types. The suffixes Standard, Elite, and Ultra were added under the headings Flame and Esprit. Standards featured dot inlays and chrome tuners. The Elites featured diamond-flake inlays and pearloid-button tuners. And the Ultras had split-block shell inlays, ebony-button tuners and gold hardware. Finish options on the Standards were limited to black, autumn sunburst, and cherry sunburst. The Elite and Ultra were also available in white or pink frost, and candy red or candy green metallic burst.

Smith said Fender offered the Kahler tremolo bridge as an option on these guitars. He recalls Fender made the modification post-production, and relatively few were shipped.

He was unable to find records indicating quantities made, but estimated that between late 1983 and 1985, a few thousand were manufactured. In retrospect, Smith feels the guitars were successful in regard to quality and public perception. The line’s downfall was the sale and subsequent transitional period experienced by Fender. In 1986, Robben Ford was brought on as an endorser of the Esprit model, then Fender reworked the production concept and dubbed the guitar the Robben Ford signature model.

In its incarnation as the Robben Ford signature model, it has retained many of the Ultra’s significant features and deluxe appointments, as specified by Robben, including the Ebony fingerboard with fancy Mother-of-Pearl split-block inlays, Ebony tuning key pegs, multiple binding on the headstock, neck and body and gold-plated hardware. The solid Alder body with a carved Spruce top and built-in acoustical tone chambers is a clever variation on the classic solid-body construction theme of mahogany and maple and is a vital component in producing the rich and consistent sustaining Robben Ford solo guitar voice.

Another is the two-humbucker pickup configuration which yields both a mellow, neck-pickup jazz sound as well as a robust, bridge-pickup blues-rock tone. The coil-splitting switch provides interesting thinner and twangier single-coil timbres ideal for rootsy rock and roll, R&B and funky rhythm comping.

Current values of these rare and collectable guitars are in the £1500-2000 range.