Ken Settle on the Ones that Got Away

World-renowned rock photographer Ken Settle is also a fan and collector of guitars. Here he tells the tragic tale of a guitar he bought, and two he didn’t.
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“AS A 12-YEAR-OLD GUITARIST IN 1971,” RECALLS SETTLE, “I found the object of my obsession at a music store named Pontiac Music & Sound in Pontiac, Michigan: a reverse Gibson Firebird. I’d seen photos of Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, and Bob Seger playing these beautiful instruments, and I was thrilled to have finally located one.

“My parents and the store clerk patiently listened as I played the mint ’64 Firebird III through a blackface Fender Super Reverb. The Firebird tone was unique. It was more brash than a Les Paul and similar to a Strat but with more sustain. The store was asking $300.

"Before making my decision, I tried out two of the other ‘used’ instruments that were present: a ’58 Les Paul goldtop with PAF humbuckers, and a ’59 flame-top Les Paul. Both Les Pauls were in mint condition, with hang tags and an extra set of Gibson strings in the case. As if that weren’t enough, all of this greatness was available for a mere $250 each—50 bucks less than the Firebird!

“‘I think those Les Pauls sound better than that Firebird,’ my father offered. But alas, I chose the Firebird, which I still own, although it’s no longer in mint condition after years of gigging. I’ll always regret not having the foresight—or the capital— to buy those Les Pauls.”

Tommy Emmanuel is a Certified Legend

Acoustic wizard Tommy Emmanuel was presented with Guitar Player’s Legend Award at Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night at Winter NAMM 2009. Past inductees include Les Paul, Duane Eddy, Larry Carlton, and Dick Dale.

“The Guitar Player editors listen to thousands of amazing players each month,” said GP Editor in Chief Michael Molenda to the standing-room only crowd at the event (which also included GP Guitar Superstar winner Vicki Genfan, GP columnist Will Ray, Seymour Duncan, and Pete Anderon). “But when you hear a new Tommy Emmanuel release blasting out of our cubicles, every editor has one of those ‘what the f**k moments.’ He’s so good and so inspiring that you just want to stop what you’re doing and practice like a demon.” To see the ASGN 2009 award ceremony, click to