This story begins in May of 1958 at Arthur’s Music in Indianapolis. Amos Arthur, a proud Gibson and Fender dealer, takes delivery of a mysterious, wedge-shaped Gibson guitar. It is very futuristic, it has these new, unproven, humbucking pickups, and, to make matters worse, a case that resembles a coffin. Now for the real deal breaker: You can’t even sit down and play it comfortably! Who is gonna want one of these guitars? It’s a folly and so is that Explorer thing! But, as you can tell, we are talking about the original run of korina Gibson Flying Vs made between 1958 and early 1959. One of the true holy grails among guitar collectors. Probably around 100 real ones exist from what I can gather from experts. These guitars are routinely faked, and fakes have been sold as real, hence the old adage, “No case, no deal.” The same rule applies with Explorers. There are even fewer of them.
The Ballad of Amos Arthur actually starts at my friend Norm’s shop in Tarzana, California—Norman’s Rare Guitars. I had been spoiled on the road carrying not one but two of a friend’s original Flying Vs (thank you, Ronny!) for a tour in tribute to the Three Kings—Freddie, Albert, and B.B. I wanted to recreate the sounds of those early Albert King albums and the korina V is the only way to go. Now hooked, I asked Norman if he was willing to sell me his V that he had owned for over 40 years. He said, “If you’re gonna play it, I’ll sell it to you.” I agreed wholeheartedly, and was very grateful to him for his trust in me that the guitar will not only be played but also have a loving new home. So, on a hot day in August my friend Rick and I drive out to an undisclosed location that is the site of Norm’s secret stash. It is overwhelming in the best possible way to be honest. I pick up the amazing V (and a very nice tuxedo Telecaster Custom) and drive back to Nerdville, California, both thrilled and terrified at the same time. Now I gotta pay it off!
Here’s where this story gets really interesting. A few years ago, I stumbled upon three really cool photos: a store clerk in the ’50s playing a Flying V, a Flying V on a stand in a music store circa ’58, and a crazy looking guy on a roof with a Flying V, also from that era. These pics were in rotation as my screensavers for a long time. After I acquired my V, I texted a picture of the serial number to my tech (and vintage expert) Mike Hickey. Within ten minutes, I get a picture of Amos holding the guitar (see photo) and a pic of a guy named Kenny C on the roof of a 5 & Dime store during a pole-sitting publicity stunt in the late summer of 1958—the very same pictures I was using as my screensaver. Mike says to me, “That’s your guitar.” The black guard with the white jack plate can easily be seen, especially with Kenny C on the roof. It turns out that my guitar had been shipped to Arthur’s in May of 1958—the serial number matched the log. Amos took some really great photos of his shop back in those days. It is very rare to get a glimpse into the shops that sold all the gear we covet so much. Arthur’s Music is still open and, by the time this story runs, my guitar—now named “Amos”—will have traveled back home to see Amos’ daughter and granddaughter in Indianapolis after 58 years away.