Joe Bonamassa's Guitar Safaris: Tales of Tweed from the Heartland

Every once in a while I check my Facebook messages.
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Every once in a while I check my Facebook messages. They range from “You rock, Joe!” to “You are an over-rated hack, Joe!” and maybe five times a year some cool gear-related message pops up out of nowhere. On a rainy spring day in Rockford, Illinois, I am on the bus checking my Facebook messages and lo and behold, a picture of a museum-grade tweed Deluxe and matching Deluxe steel is in my inbox from a gentleman with a story of how it had belonged to his uncle and was found in a closet upon his uncle’s passing. I make a call to the messenger directly and it turns out he lives in Iowa and is coming to my show in Rockford. I told him to bring it all and to meet me backstage at 4:30. I was getting a sense that he thought the steel was worth more than the “speaker.” Hmmm…

You see, back in the mid 1950s, Fender offered in their catalog a “Student Champ Set” and a “Studio Deluxe Set,” two levels of steel and amp packages designed to let a kid or a pro get his or her hula groove on in one easy step. Think of those “Strat Packs” you see in music stores around Christmas time, only in the 1950s these were totally “Made in the USA.” I sometimes think about this stuff in terms of the modern disposable age. You can’t get an iPhone to last more than 18 months without its planned obsolescence kicking in (right as you have all of your photos and phone numbers not saved). Now pause and think about this set of gear almost 60 years old, still rocking and sounding great, built to last decades, not months. The 1950s represented a golden era of manufacturing in this country that unfortunately isn’t coming back. You can “craft” a beer or a coffee all you want, but you ain’t no Leo Fender. Sigh. Man, I was born in the wrong era… Okay, enough of me being a grumpy old man before his time.

At 4:30 on the day of the show in Rockford, I see a gentleman carry in a really nice tweed case, the “speaker,” and two Fender cables and the Fender volume pedal still in its original box. Ladies and gentleman, this is the definition of farm fresh. I quickly educated him on the true value of the set. The Deluxe amp is in mint condition. (Did I mention it still had the hang tag on it?) I negotiate the price for fair 2015 market value of the amp and get him to throw in the steel for free. This way everybody wins a little and the set stays together. I am a big proponent for keeping sets together. His uncle would have wanted it that way. It is the only complete Studio Deluxe set I have ever seen. Now, could you go on EBay and put one together? Sure. But these guys came together and that is how they will stay if I have any say in the matter.

Honestly, the best part of the set is the receipt and the ledger of his uncle’s steel lessons from the autumn of 1957 to the winter of 1959. A glimpse into the past of great gear, good music, and superior penmanship.

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