The Ones That Got Away

I started getting into the idea of playing electric guitar when I was around 14 years old. Up until that point I had been learning classical guitar, so when various kids at school  started  jamming together with the aim of forming a rock band, I was keen to get involved.

At that time there was a pool of equipment that kind of circulated around those teenagers that had an interest in playing music. Typically someone would acquire one of these pieces of gear from another kid, then sell it on when either they got bored with the whole making music thing or they graduated onto something better.

There are three items of this kind that stick in my memory — an electric guitar, a keyboard and an amp.

The guitar was a Les Paul copy made by a company called Kay. There is some info online about them. It was black with white binding and it was totally horrible. It was a nasty buzzy, high action, twisted neck motherf***** of a guitar, seemingly strung with barbed wire. It had likely been changing hands between schoolkids in my town since the late 60s. I got it in about 1985 and paid about 10 quid for it. I don’t recall exactly what happened to it, but I likely offloaded it around my 15th birthday when I got my first ‘real’ electric guitar — an Aria Pro II Wildkat (an entry level ‘superstrat’). This was like night and day. I count the Wildkat as my first real guitar. It’s possible that the Les Paul copy wasn’t as bad as I remember, that it was just such a shock after playing a nylon stringed classical guitar, or that it just needed a setup and some TLC, but my memory is that it was The Worst Guitar Ever.

The Worst Guitar Ever?The amp and the keyboard were a bit of a different story. Around about 1986 or early ’87, I knew an older kid who had passed through the band phase and was now trying to offload his gear. He told me that he had a keyboard that I could borrow for a couple of weeks and if I liked it, I could pay him 15 or 20 quid for it. He also had an old amp he’d been using with it that he could throw in. I agreed to the trial period.

They keyboard didn’t impress me much. It was a very old analog synth. It was monophonic (only one key sounded at a time, no chords) and had only a very small keyboard. This was at the time when the Yamaha DX7 digital, polyphonic synth was all the rage. So this little analog thing was about as fashionable as flared trousers and trog oil. After playing around with it for a little bit, I told the seller that I wasn’t interested and gave him back his stuff.

I didn’t pay much attention to the amp at all. It was quite loud, but hummed quite a lot and also seemed at least 15 years old. I just wasn’t interested. So I didn’t try to make a deal for that either.

The keyboard player in our band ended up buying the keyboard and used it at gigs we played. I don’t think he bought the amp.

But I did remember the names and brands written on the gear.

In the 1990s vintage analog synths and tube amps came back into fashion and became highly sought after. I heard ‘Blow Your Head’ by Fred Wesley. Indie rock bands such as The Stone Roses and Oasis started making it big and were using vintage British amps. Slowly, a little at a time and with a growing sense of horror, it dawned on me exactly what I had turned down back in 1986.

Here’s a couple of pictures.

The keyboard was a Minimoog analog synth. And the amp was a classic Vox AC30 probably from the 1960s or 70s.This amp was made famous by The Beatles among others. Although not famous enough that either the seller or I had ever heard of it however. Now of course, with the Internet, this could not happen. Any 15 year old wanting to check out what something is worth just has to stick the details in Google.

Of course now, both the Minimoog and the AC30 are both considered highly collectable and very valuable. A Minimoog Class D on eBay has a Buy it Now price between $3000 and $4000. A vintage Made in England Vox AC30 is about $2000.

So back in 1986 I could’ve had over $5000 worth of vintage kit for the equivalent of $30.


Update: I’m reliably informed that the keyboard was not a Moog, but rather a similar, but less desirable Jen. Only worth about $300 these days! Can’t believe it. I’ve been dining out on that story for years… Just shows how fallible the human memory is!


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