I went to visit my cousin, and my family stayed with his family for a few days. On the first night, we had a nice dinner and had a great visit, then around 11:00 we all decided to turn in. His wife took us down to the basement to show us where we were going to sleep. There was this acoustic guitar in the corner, and my cousin’s wife must have noticed me looking at it, and said, “Oh we got that from one of our aunts. I think it is a good one.”
She left the room, and my wife went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. But I just stood there, staring at this guitar. “Ohmigod,” I thought to myself, “that’s not what I think it is, is it?” Generally, if there is a guitar in the room, it is the first thing I notice, and this one was just kind of in the corner glowing at me like that scene where they take off the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I turned on all of the lights that were available in the room, and picked the guitar up. Very carefully.
I had never seen a guitar like this before, let alone held one in my hands. It had a mother of pearl logo “Gibson” on the headstock with matching split parallelogram fret markers. There was no label on the inside to tell me the model. The covered tuners reminded me of the ones on my 70s Marauder so I assumed it was from the same period, but the buttons were plastic. The pickguard had a point like a Hummingbird but without the ornamentation. The body was a sunburst.
When my wife returned, I told her about this guitar and she got into the whole Antique Roadshow vibe to the story. With her help and going on the internet, I was able to determine that this was a 1956-1960 Gibson Southern Jumbo or SJ. I found one for sale on line for $4000 in okay condition and another one for sale in England in good condition for over 5000 pounds or over $10000. The one lying on my cousin’s basement bed was in very good to excellent condition. There was zero fret wear. There were no scratches on the finish, though there was the beautiful antique craze patterns in the gloss which does nothing to the sound but shows how old this thing was. The only defect on this SJ was a small chip in the headstock.
In my hands, the guitar felt like a dream. I started to tune it, but the tuners were old and sticky, and there was no way I was going to break one off just so I could diddle around on it. I was able to get the three bass strings in tune without a lot of resistance, and plucked a few lines on it. Despite the age of the strings, that articulated Gibson thump was there, just like Libby Cotten or Pete Townsend. I then slackened off the strings a bit to get an even tension on the neck.
The next morning, I told my cousin and his wife what I had discovered about that guitar that was in the basement. I think they were a little disbelieving until I showed them the UK website with one for sale for $10000. I asked them where they got the guitar and they explained that their aunt had probably bought it, meaning to learn to play, but never got around to it. She passed away, and it just sat there some more until the uncle was getting rid of a bunch of her stuff, and thought it would be good for their son. They wrapped it in a sheet and took it home.
They asked what they should do with it. I told them they had 3 choices:
- 1) Sell it. I don’t think they would get 10 Gs for it because they would have to sell it themselves internationally, but maybe they could sell it for less to a local dealer.
- 2) Keep it. Put it in a case until they figure out what to do with it or keep it as an investment.
- 3) Play it. The guitar was made and bought to be played. It is one of those dream possessions, like a Harley or a nice piece of jewelry. BUT, I love guitars, and even I was nervous about wrecking it. My own guitars are cheap(er) workhorses, meant to be played, tinkered with, and definitely not worried about. I wouldn’t ride a Harley to work, and I wouldn’t wear a sapphire to the grocery store.
My cousin and his family will have to give it some thought before they deal with this unexpected treasure. I had always been skeptical of these stories of people finding treasures in their family’s homes. How could people not know what they had? But my cousin’s story made a lot of sense. The whole “chain of knowing” about this guitar had been broken. It truly was a Closet Classic.