Guitar Dreams Magazine - September 2009


Joe, what did you do jobwise before working in the vintage gear business?  For most of my "adult" (and I use the word generously when referring to myself)life I've been involved in the computer business; from 1988 through 2003, I was president of "The Criterion Group", which supplied extremely specialized contract computer programmers to Fortune 500 companies.  As everyone knows, most of this work went "off-shore" after the year 2000, so I let my business die a natural and graceful "death", LOL...

When did you start playing guitar and what was your first gear?  I started at the ripe young age of 9, in 1965.  My father was a former concert violist and a fine pianist; one day he came home from work and announced that I WOULD be taking music lessons for two years minimum.  He insisted that I take lessons in a "serious" instrument; my choice - either the violin or the piano.  After begging my mother to work on him, she convinced him (reluctantly) to allow me to take guitar lessons at "Sid Kleiner's House of Guitars" in New Jersey.  I remember him taking me there and asking them what the cheapest electric guitar they had was.  He was handed a sunburst Kay single pickup thinline for $25.00 - he summarily bought it, handed it to me, and announced that that was my guitar, and I'd better take good care of it!  I remember it being huge to me; I also remember the action being what seemed like a half inch off the 'board.  I remember a 1963 Lake Placid Blue Fender Stratocaster being on the wall for sale at the same time.  I was totally mesmerized by its compact size and alluring curves.  I asked to hold it - when Sid Kleiner handed it to me, I thought I had died and gone to Guitar Heaven!  It just felt perfect to my 9 year old hands.  I asked how much it was, and Sid told my Dad that it was a recent trade-in, and that I could have it for $175.00; furthermore, I could pay $5/week for it every week along with my weekly lesson (also $5).  My Dad just laughed, and said he'd be God-damned if he'd pay that amount of money for a silly looking instrument made out of a solid piece of wood, and painted in that "pimp" color (Remember - I grew up in New Jersey; we learned what a Pimp was when we were about six years old!).  So I made do with that sunburst Kay.  I fondly remember the Mel Bay books (I think I even have a couple of 'em in my attic somewhere, along with my "diploma" from Sid Kleiner's House of Guitars, proclaiming some level of proficiency (which I probably haven't progressed much past since then!) in my attic.  I also remember my Dad coming home from work every week on the nights I had had a lesson, and demanding that I show him what I had learned that day.  He was too thrifty to buy me an amplifier to go along with my fancy new guitar, so I had to plug in and play through the Sherwood Stereo system that my parents owned.  My Dad  played totally "by ear" and also possessed perfect pitch; I came to absolutely DREAD those evenings, because he was entirely intolerant of any mistakes or learning slowness that I would exhibit.  He also could not understand how anyone could not learn by ear and have perfect pitch, let alone his (only) son!  It was two years of living hell out of my life, after which I would not pick up a guitar for 30 years.  It took me that long to work up the courage to start taking lessons again, and risk my Dad's harsh criticism.  Kids today don't know how easy they have it!

What music have you been into back then? Did you play in any bands?  My only interest then and now is in both kinds of music - Rock AND Roll!  The Beatles were my first influence, though I quickly graduated to The Stones, and then graduated again to Led Zeppelin, which is still my favorite band.  I myself have never played in a band, other than to sit in on a few sessions in the last ten years - when I was younger, most of the hoodlum friends that I grew up with as a kid thought that playing a musical instrument was for sissies, and then I had that 30 year hiatus from playing.  Getting back to the guitar was always in my heart though, and I'm glad I did!

When did your love for vintage guitars occur? Was there a special event / inspiration that made you want  to own a vintage guitar?  My wife and I started vacationing in Southern California in 1988; specifically, a sleepy little beach town named Encinitas.  There's an old movie theater there with a vintage music store right next door.  One dreary day we decided to take in a movie - while waiting for the movie to start, I wandered in there and saw a 1963 Foam Green Stratocaster under the glass.  I asked to see it, and it was ALL over!  I started going to every vintage guitar store I could find in every town I traveled through, mostly focusing on Stratocasters, since that was the guitar that had felt so "natural" to me as a kid, and that I had been denied by my mean old Dad!  It took me six more years of looking to get up the courage to actually buy a guitar; though I was making very good money at the time, I was too afraid to spend too much money for a vintage guitar, so my first "real" guitar that I bought was a 1994 Jeff Beck Stratocaster in Surf Green.  I was hooked!

What was the first vintage guitar you bought, and how did you acquire it? Do still own it?  After I bought the Jeff Beck Stratocaster, I began collecting - mostly early Fullerton 1957 Reissue Stratocasters from 1982 - I think I had one in every color!  One day, while buying a vintage white 1982 '57 Reissue AND a black 1982 '57 Reissue from Shomaker Guitars in Burlington, NC - I spied a sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard on the wall - a consignment piece dating from the '80's.  I asked about it, and was told that while it was a nice guitar, what I really wanted was one with a "flamed" maple top, like the 1994 '59 Historic Reissue that they would be getting in next week (that was already sold).  I foolishly asked what "flame" was - little did I know that the answer to that innocent little question would change my life forever!  I made a special trip up to Shomaker Guitars the following week when the 1994 '59 Reissue arrived (I got to see it before the owner did!); after that, it was all over but the crying (and spending!).  Like a man being introduced to crack cocaine, I fell hopelessly and totally in love with flametop Gibson Les Pauls.  When I get "hooked" on something, my nature is to totally & entirely immerse myself in that thing, which I proceeded to do.  I gobbled up each and every tidbit of information on the Gibson Les Paul Sunburst - I remember buying three copies of the Vic DaPra/Jay Scott book "Burst" in a year's time - I'd go through each one so much that they literally fell apart and disintegrated in my hands!  I bought Japanese books on Gibson Les Pauls (hunting down every Mac Yasuda book, which was hard to do in the States and before the Internet) - I'd buy a guitar book if it had a single picture of a Sunburst Les Paul in it!  I know I'm not alone, having subsequently talked to other Sunburst Les Paul aficionados since then.  Anyway, back to the question:  The first real vintage guitar I bought was a 1959 Les Paul TV Junior; actually, I bought three of them at one time - a '58, a '59, and a '60.  I drove from North Carolina up to Maryland and bought them all from Buck Sulcer.  I remember that it was wintertime, and the temperature was in the low 20's.  After doing the deal, I had my wife go start the car and turn the heater on high; I then raced each guitar out to the inside of the car so they wouldn't lacquer-check, since they were all in mint condition.  I kept the '59 the longest (what IS it about a 1959 Gibson?), but at the time, my real love was for the Gibson '59 Historic Reissue - the more flamey the better!  This was in the early years of Gibson's Historic program, which many will remember had some of the flamiest Les Pauls that have ever been made, either before or since then.  I sold the '58 and '60 TV Juniors within a year, in order to finance my addiction.  I was known then as the guy that would pay way too much for a '94, '95, or '96 1959 Historic Reissue with thick, wide, wavy, and deep flame.  In the course of a few years, I assembled a collection of 12  Uberflametops.  Eventually, even the '59 TV Junior got sold to support my flametop habit.

When and why did you leave your old job behind and decide to found Ganzler Inc.?  As I said earlier, I closed my computer business in 2003; not only was that industry going overseas, but my heart was no longer in it.  Also, in 2000, I began taking care of my elderly father fulltime - he suffered from dementia and numerous other health issues - being the perfectionist that I am, I just didn't feel like I could trust anyone else to take care of him properly other than myself or my wife.  The upside to this is that I had even more time to research Gibson Les Paul flametops.  Around 1998 or so, I began to really become truly fascinated with the early Gibson Les Paul Standard flametops from 1958 through 1960 - as in:  "Hmmm, maybe I should get myself one of these!"  I began focusing on these Les Pauls almost exclusively - I'd drive 250 miles and spend the night just to see one that a guitar dealer had for sale, or that a private owner would agree to let me see.  More on how Ganzler Incorporated was formed alittle later...
You not only work with vintage guitars, you also own one of the most beautiful Les Paul Standards on the whole  planet. Tell us about Gladys! How did you find her? How much did you pay? What is so special about her? Anecdotes please ;) ! Why the nickname?  In October 2002 at the Arlington Texas guitar show, guitar collector extraordinaire and true Texas gentleman Ronny Proler had a booth set up, displaying some of his fine collection of original 1958-1960 sunburst Les Pauls - I seem to recall that he had 7-8 of them on display for all to see.  But first, alittle history:  In September of 2001, Gruhn Guitars took in a 1959 Gibson Les Paul from the longtime owner from Galien Michigan on consignment.  He had bought it in the early '60's and had owned it since.  At that time, I was cruising the Gruhn website almost daily, watching for "interesting" inventory acquisitions, as were many others.  The guitar immediately caught my eye; as I said previously, I was at this time actually considering buying a real '58-'60 Les Paul.  Because I had become spoiled by Gibson's Historic Uberflametops, nothing less than an UberBurst would do for me - it would have to have thick, wide, wavy and deep flame.  Also, it would have to be fairly faded, but still with some color left, never had a Bigsby tailpiece or Grover tuners, fairly light in weight, and in VG+ condition, with no headstock breaks/repairs.  I also wanted an original owner or 2nd owner guitar - not one that had "made the rounds" among a string of collectors and dealers.  Finally, it had to sound as good as it looked, with bonus points for originality, double-white PAF's, and the more shaped "Cali Girl" brown case.  The "cherry on the sundae" would be if it was from the coveted 1959 model year.  Did I mention that I'm picky?  This particular guitar fit all of my requirements and my "wish list".  The price was listed at $150,000.00.  I gulped hard (previous to my seeing this particular Les Paul, I had only seen two other Bursts that fit into this category; one of them is (still) in the hands of a collector who never sells anything, and the other got scooped up (by the same collector) after I let a dealer friend talk me out of offering the full asking price.) and started juggling the numbers - if I sold every other guitar I owned (about 20) and every amp (about 12), I'd still be about $40,000.00 short.  At this time too, my business was seriously waning - I had no idea exactly when and where I'd (legally!) raise the extra funds.  I remained "a deer in the headlights" - unable to commit for about two weeks - when I finally got up the nerve to call, it had been sold to Mr. Proler.  Then I really kicked myself in the ass; to me, the only thing worse than paying too much for a thing you want is to remain indecisive and afraid to commit, and let that thing slip out of your grasp, usually forever!  I contemplated euthanizing myself immediately - I did not deserve to live!  A few weeks later, my good friend Charlie Daughtry, himself a good friend of Ronny Proler, called me from his cell phone to rave to me about the 1959 Les Paul that he had just put through a rigorous workout; that's right, the very same guitar I had dragged my feet on!  Charlie is a monster player with an excellent ear for tone - he proceeded to wax on for 20 minutes about how it was one of the hands-down best guitars he had ever heard or played.  After he hung up, I rummaged through my desk drawer for my pistol.  Fast forward to Arlington 2002 - there, among the 7-8 Sunburst Les Pauls sitting in Mr. Proler's booth, cases open, flame tops prominently displayed - was MY guitar!  It stood out like a diamond in a goat's ass!  I was instantly shocked at how much better she looked in -person than in the photos - my pulse quickened; I felt faint.  I bullied my way through the crowd of gape-mouthed onlookers, with no attempt at manners - after all, I had the biggest gape-mouth of all!  I quickly greeted my friend Ronny, and asked permission to pick up what was to become the guitar of my dreams.  I immediately became aware of not only how (fairly) light she was, but of how well-balanced she was.  Seasoned guitar players and collectors know what I'm talking about - a properly balanced guitar immediately feels "alive".  As everyone around me "disappeared", I sat down to strum this instrument of the Gods.  From the beginning, I knew in my heart of hearts that I had found "my guitar".  After a few minutes of bonding (which was all I needed!), I put her back on display in her Cali Girl case and offered Ronny $150K for her.  I knew that he had gotten an exceptional deal from George, buying it for considerably less than the $150K asking price, so my $150K offer represented a fine return on investment for 12 months' ownership.  His answer was a polite - "Joe, it's not for sale - but you can visit with her again at the April 2003 Dallas Show."  I was dejected, but determined not to be defeated.  During the remaining two days of the show, I repeated my offer several hundred times - by Sunday, I expected a restraining order to be delivered to me there at the show!  For the following six weeks, "Gladys", as Ronny named her (apparently because he was "Glad As Hell" to get her, so her full name is "Gladys Hell") was ALL I thought about, morning, noon, and night.  I called Ronny every day but Sundays, literally begging at the end of each call.  I sent him a box of steaks.  I offered to paint his house.  Meanwhile, I worked on my friend Charlie Daughtry to work on Ronny, to convince him that he didn't really "need" Gladys.  Finally, on a Tuesday morning six weeks after Arlington, I called Charlie and asked him to offer Ronny $160K on my behalf; after all, what's another $10K for the guitar of your lifetime, I thought.  Charlie called me 15 minutes later:  "$175K and it's yours..."  Muttering under my breath every nasty name for Mr. Proler that I could think of, I said outloud - "I'll take it!"  During the proceeding four months, I dissolved 85% of my guitar and amplifier collection in order to pay back my line of equity loan that I took out to buy Gladys - I've never looked back, nor regretted that move for as much as one second.

What is your mission statement with Ganzler Inc.?  Quite simply "The Truth" - to uncover the entire "story" on each guitar I examine - changed parts, refinishes, repairs, oversprays - using a number of tests and examinations that I've developed over the years.

How does an authentification work? Can you guide us through the steps?  My method for authentication has, and continues to, evolve.  My own "blessing and curse" has been and is that I am extremely detail-oriented.  I like to tell the story that even as a small boy, whenever my parents took me to someone's home, I would go throughout the entire house and straighten each and every picture on all the walls, finding the nearest chair that I could carry from room to room to help me reach.  After numerous apologies to their respective hosts, I was expressly forbidden to do this, so I then proceeded to TELL the hostess exactly which pictures needed straightening...Before each and every '57-'60 Les Paul authentication, I take my own '59 Les Paul out of the vault and proceed to re-review each and every detail, to refresh myself.  If I know the serial number in advance, I mentally review the unique characteristics of that year, including running line changes that occurred within the year in question.  Take 1959 for example - there are at least a half dozen changes, many very subtle, that occurred within Les Pauls from early 1959 through the end of 1959.  When the guitar finally gets in my hands, I start by giving it a thorough once over - it's amazing to me how many issues I catch within the first 30 seconds!  I then start at the top of the headstock and work my way down - looking, feeling (often with my eyes closed), smelling (very important!) and recording each and every detail - finish, color, contours, hardware, and condition.  The biggest difficulty for most people in authenticating a guitar as real or not; or as "repaired/refinished/parts replaced" or not, is the ability to look at an instrument from both the "micro" as well as the "macro" viewpoint(s) simultaneously.  There are certain things that should absolutely, no questions asked always be present on any given vintage guitar; there are also just as many things that should not be present.  I personally use a "3 strike rule" in authenticating - if a guitar has three anomalies for which I can find no good answer for being there, then the guitar is "out"; in other words, I recommend against the potential buyer buying the guitar.  By the same token, a guitar may have a whole handful of anomalies for which I can determine an explanation for (binding removed upon refret, top overspray due to a guitar being "freshened up", parts changed being three examples) that may affect the value of the guitar, but which do not necessarily make it a deal breaker for the potential buyer - it's my job to call these to his attention however, so that he may "go/no go", and or negotiate a price adjustment accordingly.  Finally, I take the 4-6 pages of written notes and review them in person or over the phone with the potential buyer.  If he agrees with them and can get together with the seller, I often wait around until the financial arrangements are completed, and then hand-deliver the instrument to the buyer, who subsequently receives a formal Letter of Authentication from Ganzler Incorporated, which will hopefully add value to his purchase -  during both his tenure of ownership, as well as when he goes to sell it.

Did you ever stumble across forgeries? Are they getting better and better?  In the 14 years I've been looking at vintage guitars with my jaundiced eye, I've seen about 25 forgeries among '57-'60 Les Pauls, and at least as many "wrong" Stratocasters, Telecasters, and other Gibson products.  And yes, the forger's art is getting better and better!  I recently examined two (supposed) 1959 Gibson Les Pauls, both built by the same UK builder.  I had the advantage of knowing beforehand that they were "replicas", so it was a no-pressure situation for me.  While the one (earlier built) example was clearly not correct in at least a dozen small ways, the second (later built) example was much better; in fact, there is one particular acid test that is known by a small handful of people which this guitar had right - I was downright shocked!  Previous to my seeing this guitar, I have never seen this particular detail duplicated correctly.  While I'd like to think that the builder just happened to get this one right by mistake, my fears point otherwise...

Is there secret Burst Knowledge that even the guys who do the forgeries dont know?  As previously indicated, there are a handful of "tells" that guys like my mentors Terry Mueller and Lou Gatanas and myself freely share with each other; these are categorically not for public consumption, nor do I make mention of these minute details in my Authentication Letters.  On the one hand, you would tend to think that there shouldn't really be that much to making an exact duplicate of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul if you had an original in hand throughout the entire build process; in reality, it never ceases to amaze me what little (and reasonably "reproducible") details get missed.  I guess the mindset is that if it fools most of the people most of the time, that's good enough.

Did you ever have guitars where you had doubts? One offs, not documented, etc. ?  I've looked at two Bursts within the last 24 months that were "off the charts" with anomalies - one was a factory second, and the other was a left-handed Burst.  In both cases, I sweat (and voided my bowels) prolifically throughout the authentication process; luckily, I was able to validate each and every anomaly to my own (and the buyer's) satisfaction.  It's examples like those that make me feel good about the service I offer.

Do you also authenticate no Burst vintage guitars?  I feel best doing the guitars I love and am personally very passionate about - Gibson Les Pauls and ES models, and Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters.  I don't pretend to know it all, and my hat's off to guys like "The Burst Brothers" Hollywood Vintage Room, who have a breadth of experience that I could never hope to duplicate.  By the same token, within my own area of expertise, I'm lucky enough to bring a depth of experience that gives me range of comfort in a smaller, more focused field of instruments that others just haven't gone to the same level of detail to attain. 

How did you acquire your knowledge?  As previously mentioned, I've always had an obsessive eye for detail - I call it my blessing and my curse!  My parents were in the antique furniture business when I was growing up, so I've been around wood and lacquer forever!  As a teenager I developed a keen interest in all things mechanical, so I've had considerable exposure to the way things are built, as well as plating, polishing, and plastics.  I've always been accused of looking at things differently - I've found that this has actually helped me when it comes to examining a vintage instrument.  Finally, I must give a tremendous and heartfelt thank-you to both Lou Gatanas and Terry Mueller - they have both mentored me considerably, freely sharing their time, techniques, and knowledge.  You'll not find two more knowledgeable individuals when it comes to vintage fretted instruments.

What do people get from you when you examined a guitar?  At the buyer's request, Ganzler Incorporated provides a tremendously detailed Letter of Authentication - usually 2-4 pages in length - which highlights almost every nuance of the instrument, its consistency within/among the model run, points out every anomaly and its "reason for being", and an overall summary regarding its playability and desirability. 

How high is your fee? And what do people get for the money?  My rate starts at $1K for Fender products and goes up from there; when extensive travel, negotiations, financial aspects, delivery, and "security" issues are required, obviously my rate goes up.  For example, when I have to meet the owner, receive multiple hundred thousands of dollars in cash, hand-carry said cash through multiple States/plane changes, wait in a faraway place for up to a week to complete the transaction, and then hand-deliver the guitar and/or store it in my own secure vault, the rate goes up considerably.

Worst Case: You authentificate a guitar and think is real. But you were wrong. The buyer buys the guitar based on your work
.  Luckily, that hasn't happened yet!  I'd like to think that it never will; my "policy" is that if I'm not 100% absolutely sure whether a guitar is real or not, the buyer of my services is only responsible for my travel expenses.  I guess that if Ganzler Incorporated is ever proven wrong, my corporate assets would be in jeopardy.  Theoretically, unless the builder shows up with a handful of photos proving that he built the instrument in question, it comes down to Ganzler Incorporated's opinion versus someone else's opinion - and you know what they say about "opinions"...I hope it never happens, but I'm not too arrogant to acknowledge that the day could come.  I'm sure there are a pile of people out there that would like to see me "fall on my sword"...

How manay Burst did you have in your hands in your career? Any celebrity instruments?
  I've probably handled 75-85 Bursts - there's are a number of people out there (like Lou Gatanas, Terry Mueller, Tom Wittrock, and Vic DaPra, for example) who have handled double and even triple that amount.  I've handled and examined at least a half dozen current or former celebrity-owned Bursts; discretion prohibits me from name-dropping in this interview however.

What is your favourite Burst besides Gladys?  Without a doubt, that would have to be a 1959 Les Paul sunburst named "The African", and owned by Ronny Proler, the collector that I bought Gladys from.  In a sentence, that guitar has it ALL - Flame, color, condition, provenance, feel and tone.  I believe it to be THE finest electric guitar in existence, at least that has been discovered so far!

Gladys is a very expensive guitar. How do you take care of her?
Is she insured in a special way? Is there an insurance for vintage guitars?
Are you afraid of criminals, is she stored in a vault?
  Gladys lives in a 3,200 pound, 7 inch thick, 7 different alloys-walled, UL-listed high-end jewelry store safe - identical to the kind you see in the "Diamond District" of New York City.  It is rated to 45 minutes to open with extremely specialized tools; it is rated to 2 hours' and 1600 degrees fire protection.  Additionally, I have a sophisticated fire system in the room with the vault, to quickly put out any fire that should start.  She is fully insured for loss with Heritage Insurance - a specialty instrument insurance company here in the States.  Finally, I take full advantage of my 2nd amendment rights under the Constitution of the United States of America - if you know what I mean and I think you do!

What does Joe do, when he is not authentificating Bursts?  My primary job is "Hungarian House Boy", as my lovely wife has a very demanding job which minimizes her free time.  I can clean a house, do a load of laundry, and fold a shirt like Hop Sing only wished he could do!  Aside from that, my passion is riding one of several bicycles that I own - living here in Southern California, I'm lucky enough to have about 340 days/year of great riding weather!  I get in between 125 and 225 miles/week of "saddle time" - it's my passion, and helps me to keep my girlish figure!