It was a Tweet that sent Toronto guitar collectors into a frenzy.
“Stop everything. This is the one,” read the text from Capsule Music, a Queen West store specializing in rare and vintage guitars.
Since the store opened 13 years ago, Capsule has established significant “street cred” among local musicians. It’s a no-nonsense, working musician’s kind of place. So when it sends out a message like that, people pay attention.
“The one” in this case is a 1952 Fender Telecaster, considered the Holy Grail of electric solid-body guitars among collectors, players and music fans. Telecaster devotees are legion and fanatical – this guitar is the Model T of electric six-stringers.
Within hours of that Tweet going out a few weeks ago, a small crowd of gawkers assembled to watch Capsule’s vintage guitar expert, John Dinsmore, meticulously dismantle, catalogue and authenticate its components.
Then the emails and calls began to roll in, mostly from the United States. Guitar fetishists descended, camera phones in hand, hoping for a chance to plug in and play.
“It’s beautiful, huh?” said one guitar fan as he twanged a chord. “Yeah, but I’d be afraid to own it,” said another. He snapped a photo. “It’s just too much money.”
Too pricey for most, but a bargain for others. Collectors know its value will only increase.
“People come in and glance at the tag and then do a double-take,” said Dinsmore. “Does that really say $35,000?!”
To non-collectors, this Tele is nothing but seven pounds of ash and maple screwed together and adorned with a few knobs, magnets and wires. How could something so simple, so plain, so “retro,” command such reverence – and a price tag to match?
Well, if it’s good enough for Jeff Beck, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Cropper and Keith Richards … the list goes on. The canon of rock and pop was written by these household names, and they all did it on a Fender Telecaster, or one of its sibling models known as Broadcaster, Esquire and Nocaster.
Other examples of this model have sold for more than $100,000. “I have a friend in Ithaca who paid $110,000 (U.S.) for a ’51 Broadcaster,” said Dinsmore. (Fender makes replicas of the ’52 Tele that sell for about $1,500 brand new.)
“It’s truly the sound of country music,” he continued, “but the Telecaster was used by some Motown guys, Joe Strummer, Jimmy Page on the first Zeppelin records – it’s all Telecaster. It’s the workhorse of rock guitars.” And it’s remained essentially unchanged in 60 years.
Among guitar cognoscenti, the most coveted Telecasters were made between 1950 and 1954. They are known as Blackguards, because of the distinctive black pick guard that covers part of the body under the strings. In these first four years of production, perhaps 5,000 guitars were produced at Fender’s factory in Fullerton, Calif. Experts estimate as few as 1,000 remain.
“It came out in 1950 and went through some trials, but by ’51 it was what it was meant to be,” said Dinsmore. “It’s significant enough that it’s got its own book.”
The Blackguard, published in 2005, is a loving and painstaking ode in which dozens of Blackguards (some owned by famous artists who remain anonymous) are described in detail, with accompanying photos of the dismantled guitars. It’s museum-quality Tele porn.
The book’s author, Nacho Banos, lives in Valencia, Spain. He wrote the book he’d always searched for but could never find.
He thinks the Capsule Blackguard is priced fairly – he even calls it a good deal.
“Originality is the main thing,” he said over the phone from Valencia. “There are certain collectors that would only appreciate the guitar for the condition. They want very pristine, untouched, no marks, no repairs, no nothing.”
The Capsule Blackguard was put up for sale by a local collector who wishes to remain anonymous. (The commerce of vintage instruments tends to take place in some secrecy.) He acquired most of his pieces in the 1980s, before markets were driven up by international speculation.
When Dinsmore opened the case to inspect the guitar, a receipt from a vintage shop in New York showed the collector had paid $4,000 in 1986