A “Serious” Guitar Collector…. and a 1964 Kawai SD3W

Kawai SD3W 1

I loved this guitar.  There were all sorts of reasons not to like it.  It was heavy and had a HUGE neck.  The pickups were real low output, the neck joints on this model are always troublesome, and the truss rod design on this model is way under-spec’ed and a real design flaw.  Yet, I loved this darn thing. This exact guitar came to me from a fellow down south who had inherited it from his neighbor, an elderly black musician (and a semi-popular musician who I’d heard of plenty).  A true bluesman.  This was his one and only guitar since the 60s and the old feller apparently played this guitar every day, right up until he passed.  The neighbor ended up with this one, contacted me, and the guitar and it’s stories ended up with me.

When I got this one, it had all this gentle wear around the edges.  I could tell this guitar was loved, and played.  It was all complete, and even had some really old strings on it with the wound G.  A HEAVY gauge, like what could be called a “real man’s” string gauge.  Maybe .13s?  Anyway, within days I set on with reviving this guitar.  Like I mentioned, the truss rods in this model were very problematic and usually just end up rattling around inside the necks even when they’re tightened all the way.  About three days of work went into this guitar.  We did everything except a re-fret.  You name it, we did it.  I was so proud of the way it came out, and I swear to you humble reader, that this guitar had soul.  I mean, this was one of the models that Hound Dog Taylor played.  It was just a special guitar with a special backstory and it had everything you’d want in a vintage guitar, regardless of what country produced it.

Kawai SD3W 2

Reluctantly, after owning this one for quite a while I decided to sell it and pass it on to the next guitar player with fire in his/her belly.  With a full time job, a family, repair work, writing books and magazine articles, answering emails, running this site, making video demos, giving guitar lessons, etc., etc., I barely have time to sleep.  So eventually I end up selling off guitars to keep newer stuff coming in to the shop.  Answering emails alone is usually a 2 hour nightly routine since I started this site.  I get emails from all over the world and often have to translate text.  I think of myself as a part-time guitar question “answerer” and part-time psychologist since I’m regularly talking people off the proverbial ledge on all sorts of topics.  A lot of the dudes that email me seem lonely, often feeling like I have felt…that we have this passion for oddball guitars that no one else seems to care about.  Of course it’s not necessarily true, as I’ve quickly learned over the last few years, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like that once upon a time.  I suppose finding someone else with your same quirky passion is a relief, so I often find myself getting to know a lot of you dudes and dudettes in personal ways.  Usually it’s all good.  But this one night I get a semi-frantic email from one of my regulars, asking if I’ve noticed how prices on many Japanese guitar models were surging on ebay.  Peeps, there are many guitar collectors who notice everything about ebay auctions and spend all waking moments studying trends and who’s buying what.  I could seriously write many pages on ebay idiosyncrasies, but let’s keep on topic.  What said emailer was wondering was WHO was buying up all these guitars and seriously outbidding everybody with vengeance?  I remembered it well because I’d noticed it too since the prices were getting really high.  Guitars that were selling regularly for $300 were suddenly going for $700 to $900, and that WAS weird.  I remember my emailer saying “who is this guy!?!?!  He must be a SERIOUS collector!”

Kawai SD3W 3

So yes, many vintage models were seriously spiking in price.  Especially old Teisco guitars, who everybody seems to love and collect mainly because it’s the most common name to people.  In the US, everyone calls a vintage Japanese electric guitar a Teisco.  It’s just a matter of fact.  Around this same time I listed this very guitar, my beloved Kawai SD3W, on ebay to sell.  These SD guitars were also spiking in value so I figured maybe I could actually MAKE money on one of my auctions rather than break even.  In the auction ad I told the back story on this one, didn’t drop the bluesman’s name or the Hound Dog Taylor name because I sorta hate that name association thing, and within like 10 minutes someone hits the buy-it-now.

Kawai SD3W 4

The buyer was a guy on the west coast, and we exchanged a few emails.  He said he knew this site and we talked about vintage guitars.  Everything was cordial and cool, and then a few red flags popped up.  Right away I had a sinking feeling about this transaction and I hadn’t even boxed up the guitar.  But check this: First off, the buyer (let’s call him Rich) started complaining to me that he recently bought a similar Kawai SD guitar and claimed the seller had lied about a bunch of stuff and the two of them were currently going back and forth through ebay’s resolution center. I’m not sure why he wanted to tell me this, but I saw it as the first sign of foreboding.  It’s sort of ironic because the seller Rich was having trouble with, I knew.  This other seller is in his 70s and has a heart of gold.  He’s not a tech guy or much of a guitar player, but he does like old guitars and spends every week traveling around his vicinity searching yard sales, flea markets, and antique shops for interesting guitars.  Not a bad profession if you ask me!  But how Rich was describing him seemed more than a bit off.  The point is, the seller always takes good pictures and describes stuff really well.  He may not know everything that’s wrong with a particular guitar, but he’s an honest dude.  Anyway, Rich started asking me all these questions about the condition and playability (this was after he bought my SD3W).  I answered every question in turn, and promptly boxed up this wonderful guitar and sent it off.  Over the next few days Rich kept sending me emails with questions and I started to feel like a sponge that was being wrung out.  He sort of exhausted me but I kept on with his questions, even though I started to see some pomposity becoming evident.  First, he sent me some pictures of him on like a red carpet Hollywood sort of event, and pictures of his awards, like gold Oscars.  Yup.  Dude was wearing sunglasses at night, for real.  Other pictures included some shots of his old band from the 90s.  Oh man, the anecdotes and comments that ran through my head when I saw these photos!  Listen, I identify myself as a punk rocker at heart and I’ve always despised corporate anything.  I’m the son of a steel worker and a hairdresser, and believe me when I say, I’m grounded.

Then he starts to show off pictures of his recent acquisitions, and what do I see?  All those Teiscos that were commanding HUGE prices!  Every single one of them!  Of course there were other models nestled in his studio, like some real (what I would call) pretentious guitars and some real expensive guitars.  Peeps, this Rich was spending thousands in a matter of weeks and apparently sending some living-beathing Teisco collectors halfway into the nuthouse!  I had a to chuckle a little about all the hoopla.  But this guy was a serious collector and money was no consequence.  There was a time when I was younger when I would’ve really resented a dude like Rich, having tons of dough to blow on guitars as I was struggling to get through a gig with a pieced-together vintage Japanese import that was squealing like a banshee!  Thankfully now, I’m a slightly wiser man that’s come to a certain peace about such things.  But then my SD3W arrived at Rich’s studio.

Kawai SD3W 5

The emails from Rich came at an alarming pace, like three lengthy emails within an hour.  I’d just got home from a 10 hour workday, made dinner, got the kids to bed, and sat down at the computer trying to wrap my brain around Rich’s email comments.  First, my packing job was awful (something I’d never heard from any other buyer since I always try to overpack my stuff).  He had all sorts of criticisms about how the guitar wasn’t packed properly.  But get this, the guitar arrived safe and sound!!  He just didn’t like how I recycled packing stuff and how the box wasn’t enough of this or too little of that.  He also said the the guitar was “damaged”, and the guitar’s set-up was awful.  In fact, the overall tones of these emails was pretty damning of me and my beloved SD3W.  I thought on these emails that night and all the next day.  Was he trying to be rude?  Was he just coming across that way and I was reading it all wrong?  So I examined these comments again.  What happened was after he unpacked the guitar and started strumming or staring or whatever this dude was doing, one of the little knobbers cracked and fell apart.  OK, 60 year old guitar.  It happens.  I can remedy that.  Then again to my packing job and how it was awful.  Hmmm.  Rich said that this was the first guitar he’d ever received that wasn’t double boxed.  Again, hmmm.  Let me ask you, how many guitars do you get delivered that are double boxed?  It’s not many for me.  In fact, I’m happy when a guitar gets delivered in an actual guitar box rather than some pieced together amalgam of diaper boxes taped together!!  So on and on it went and I thought about each of his criticisms.  But the one that finally got to me was the playability critique.  He talked about buzzing all up and down the neck and how is other ones played so much better and how he could’ve done a much better set-up and how he should’ve kept the other SD guitar he sold because it was more original and cleaner and this and that.  Then the ominous negative feedback issue came up with Rich, and the whole ebay resolution thing came up, and then I started to feel held hostage by this dude’s demands.

I used to study religion and philosophy quite a bit, and I still do read a lot on the topics.  There was an old Buddhist story I’ve always liked that went something like this:  During a long prayer/meditation exercise many young monks were practicing the process of emptying their minds of thought.  Simply practicing the art of true meditation and sort of losing oneself in one’s own mind.  I never tried it, but it sounds hard and since I probably have ADD it’d be next to impossible for me!  But the interesting part of all this is an older monk would be walking around among these younger monks with a thick bamboo shoot, and every once in a great while would apply a serious WHACK to the bodies of one of these young monks.  But why?  To bring them back to reality!  My take was, it’s never good to lose too much of yourself in the clouds, and every once in a while you need a good whack to bring you back to the real world.

Kawai SD3W 6

So I did send a reply and called him out on his rude tone, rude comments, and overall rudeness.  It’s something I used to never do, but I just didn’t care in this case!  I just let him have it, in a rather polite way considering what I really wanted to say, and ended by telling him I never wanted to exchange another email or correspondence ever again.  If he wanted to give me negative feedback, then fine.  I gave him a crack with the bamboo!  You know, months later I got an email from ebay stating that they had removed a feedback comment from my record because it didn’t reflect my long history of positive reviews.  I never even saw the comment/feedback since ebay removed it before it ever was posted.  I wonder who might have left that out of whack comment?

But in the end, I really still feel bad for this wonderful old SD3W.  Somebody really loved that darn guitar, and somebody cared enough to give it another shot at making music, and then it ended up with Rich.  Bummer, huh?  So now the Teisco market seems to have calmed down.  Guitar prices seem semi-normal again and I haven’t had a frantic email in a while about a mystery guy buying everything within a mouse click.  But I’m sure the problem of the “serious” collector invades all of our hobbies now and again.  It’s like being at a party with all your buds and then….here comes that loud a-hole that nobody likes but nobody says boo to the guy about how much of an a-hole he really is!!

Folks, don’t get too crazy about this hobby of ours.  It is a hobby after all.  I remember when my son was a few months old, he was sick and throwing up and shivering all over and it was just about the most scared I’d ever been in my life.  Just the image of him suffering struck me to the core, and one of my first thoughts was that I would get rid of everything I owned to see my boy get better.  It’s really true, and was a good realization for me.  Think about that for minute.  Would you get rid of all your guitars, right now?  Maybe you could just keep one.  But would you?  I’ve been meeting many folks during the past few years who would sooner get a divorce, lose their house, or damage their careers to own another guitar.  I’m not sure what to make of these people and I’m not going to judge them for their passion or affliction, depending on your slant.   Unless you need me to give you a good whack with a bamboo shoot….


21 thoughts on “A “Serious” Guitar Collector…. and a 1964 Kawai SD3W

  1. JAMR says:

    unfortunately, you get some crazy buyers at eBay. My advice is to put some “clauses” in your description if you don’t already do: 1) Ask all questions before bidding or buying, NOT after you bid or buy 2) Item is described accurately, any deffects are fully disclosed in the description and in pictures; 3) Sale is final. What you see is what you get. But even then, you’ll get some buyers who cross the line, who are not experienced guitar players, and you just have to deal with them. In answer to your question, I have never received a guitar in a double box, I’ve never seen one shipped like that. An old friend sent me a 1966 Hofner Beatle bass that we had gone to buy together back in 1966 but which he paid for, and after all these years he decided I deserved it because he wasn’t playing anymore and I am. He mailed it Priority Mail in a horrendous box full of newspapers and foam peanuts. Bless the Postal Service, the Hofner was not damaged, even though the box was falling apart, peanuts coming out of it, you name it. The Post Office actually reinforced the package with clear tape at some point. He did write in large letters on all sides of the box: “Delicate musical instrument, please handle with care”.

  2. suzstutz says:

    {Sigh} I’m so sad to read this article and learn about this shoddy treatment you received. This really disturbs me. (Let me at ‘im, I’ll crack him over the head with my own guitar!!!) You’re one of the most righteous dudes I know and you definitely don’t deserve this. Unfortunately sooner or later, everyone ends up running into some crazy psycho who will cause trouble for the sheer pleasure of torturing someone needlessly. I suppose it helps ground us to appreciate the good we do find in humanity, because not everyone has pure intentions in their hearts the way you do. And someday, decades from now, this guitar WILL have a new owner and be loved again. Its story is not over, because of you and the love you put into it!

  3. Shaun says:

    Wow. Great story, insight and perspective ( Headcheck ). It is so very powerful to share experiences. Unfortunately there are more than just a few out there with their “wiring” askew.
    Thanks for this one.

  4. Automatica Jack says:

    First, as a new and novice acquirer of some budget vintage gits (I’ve bought a few and not yet try to sell any) I have greatly appreciated all the videos and info you’ve shared, so thanks on that front. This sort of cautionary tale is a healthy reminder that there’s all kinds out there, so maybe a little care should be taken. On the other hand, so many people are actually great to deal with and part of the fun. I’ve included a link to my first listing — for a really sweet Harmony Rocket H54 — for any feedback or advice. And you can also see a bit of video of it and a great sounding H19 Harmony Silouhette here: http://directr.co/jackmason/

  5. Chris Daddio says:

    As always I really enjoy your posts. I also love my Red Palmer with gold-foil pickups that I bought from you while going through chemotherapy (becoming obsessed with early Japanese imports made cancer treatment a little less horrible!) and it came so well packaged that I almost gave you negative feedback for being overly careful and concerned!!! Seriously, you are a big part of why I love the internet; the sharing of ideas, passions, information, and stories from good people who seem to be of the “live and let live” variety. If it is any consolation, that Palmer is doing super well, gets plenty of attention, and continues to be well loved. Cheers!

  6. Jackal says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post. Sorry things didn’t work out for that beauty, but it certainly wasn’t your fault.

    I stumbled upon your post while researching this guitar. I have the exact same model, handed down to me from my long deceased uncle. I have to admit that it’s not much of a player, compared to my other guitars, but you seem to be doing just fine with it (damn nice playing btw). I may need to dig it out of storage and give it the respect that I’ve failed to give it up to now.

    Anyway, thanks again. It’s nice to finally have model number for this guitar.

  7. Krishna says:

    Thanks for posting this – and my sympathies to you. I’m doing my best to develop my “spidey-sense” for unreasonably difficult customers – I do my best to manage expectations before a transaction or piece of work starts, but there are some people who aren’t great listeners out there. I’ve also noticed a curious inverse relationship between “cost consciousness” and reasonable expectations … I’m being diplomatic here.

    I’m proud of you for biting the bullet and telling this moron to go ahead and give you negative feedback – and very pleasantly surprised to hear that Ebay does that kind of management of feedback !

    Keep up the great work with the blog – I love these guitars and you surprise me on a regular basis with the cool stuff you find and post !!

  8. Krishna says:

    Oh – and also – I think I have one of these Kawai’s in a box somewhere …. bought it because it was in a mid-60s Gibson Firebird case that I needed – for a mid-60s Gibson Firebird !! Hmmm .. need to go rummage ….

  9. Luis says:

    I have a similar one, but my guitar (also Kawai) has just two pickups, not 3 like yours have. So I´m wondering if you can tell which model has only 2 pickups. Thanks!

  10. Jim says:

    Great video! I recently acquired a SD4W but the action is very high. When restring, do you pass the strings down and over support of tremolo, or do you string directly from bridge to nut?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m late as hell getting to this post, but it’s beautiful. I’m looking for confirmation of a specific model of Kawai I bought as a mystery, and didn’t find it, but your story is excellent and grounding. May we never become Rich.

    The next generation of young dumb poor collectors 🙂

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