In order to collect something as large and pricey as a guitar, you have to be at least a little quirky.
We’re not talking five or 10 guitars. More like 60. Try 100. Maybe 200.
Guitars are art – not only in the musical sense, but visual as well, and collectors throughout the years have noticed. CityScene caught up with a few collectors in Columbus to find out what it is about guitars that tugs at their heartstrings.
Photo by Jeffrey S. Hall Photography
To call Brian Scott a Mötley Crüe superfan doesn’t come close.
He owns more than 200 guitars, most of them once owned by Mötley Crüe members. He’s tracked down obscure band equipment and even redesigned his basement so it was fit to bear his collection. When he sends an email, his name is styled as “Brian Scött,” mimicking the umlauts used in the Mötley Crüe name. Scott calls the band his “main love.”
He has gained so much renown for collecting band memorabilia that when the Mötley Crüe guys themselves (or, frequently, their ex-wives) are ready to sell gear, they call Scott. He’s gotten to know the right words – and dollar amounts – to maintain that relationship.
“I’ve got some pretty interesting stories. These guys are rock stars, they’re used to being catered to,” says Scott. “The reason I get what I want is because I’m willing to go to any lengths I have to (in order) to get the stuff.”
Scott’s collection doesn’t stop at guitars. His bathroom is home to a detached stall door, graced with a note by Joe Perry of Aerosmith, addressed to Mötley Crüe, on June 22, 1990 (“Watch out for the mosquitos, they’re as bad as lawyers! Have a good (expletive) show!”). He bought and resold a motorcycle owned by the band. He even has a chainsaw that Motley Crue used to saw mannequins’ heads off on stage – a piece that frontman Vince Neil left at an ex-wife’s house. Scott notes that Neil is “so pissed” that Scott has it.
Scott’s basement walls are like a Tetris board decorated with glass cases; he has more memorabilia than space. He does have favorite pieces among the bunch, primarily guitars used during tours and recording.
“I went through hell to go through so many of them,” says Scott. “I have the Girls, Girls, Girls guitar, that’s always a fan favorite. … My oldest piece of memorabilia is a 1976 Gibson bass. It was the first bass that their leader, Nikki (Sixx), used. They recorded their entire first album on it.”
Photo by Amanda DePerro
On the outside, Jack Baruth’s life seems like the ultimate dream of a kid who grew up on Iron Man comic books and too much Grand Theft Auto.
The former professional BMX-racing, motorcycle-driving, supercar-testing Baruth has as colorful a background as his diverse guitar collection.
Baruth is no stranger to collecting. A contributing editor for Road & Track Magazine, Baruth began collecting motorcycles and cars long before his guitar collection began. He’s found himself staring at police lights in the rear view mirror of a McLaren 650S, and has gotten cozy behind the wheel of some of the world’s most impressive machines, including two of the hypercar holy trinity: the Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari. And that was just in one day.
Baruth was gifted his first guitar at the age of 12. Like a kid who unboxes Mega Bloks instead of Lego on Christmas morning, Baruth says his drive to become a musician disappeared when he asked for a Fender Stratocaster, and his dad instead got him an Electra, a brand of Japanese electric guitar.
“It killed my motivation because I didn’t own the guitar that was on MTV,” says Baruth.
However, the gift would inspire something else in Baruth years later: a love of Electras. Baruth is now one of the most prolific collectors of the guitars, and even meets once each year with other Electra collectors.
“It was the kind of thing where I had some money, and the Internet facilitates this illness,” he says. “Buying guitars became my mid-life crisis.”
Baruth still owns that first guitar, a blue Electra, despite dropping it down the stairs during his undergraduate years at Miami University, cracking it on the way to a gig. It doesn’t sit far from his first amp – one that’s probably cursed – either.
The Gibson amp was bought new by a former neighbor’s son, who was drafted to the Vietnam War and didn’t come back. The amp never sounded right, so, in 2011, Baruth asked a friend to take a look at it. His friend fixed the amp, but died shortly after. Though less-than-ideal circumstances surround the amp and Electra, they were the start of it all.
“I always try to get the story when I buy the thing,” says Baruth. “I’m a firm believer that an object is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Steampunk Ain’t Dead
Photo by Amanda DePerro
Tony Cochran is, in the purest definition, a creator.
A successful painter and the creator of the American syndicated Agnes comic strip, Cochran excels at whatever medium he seems to get his hands on. In 2012, his medium of choice shifted to guitars.
That year, Cochran rebuilt a motorcycle. It looked as if it was plucked from the aftermath of a Jetsons apocalypse: ’50s styling translated into the future, then blown up. Rusted, faded yet functional, the motorcycle was a head-turner. Cochran’s interest was piqued when a stranger, upon seeing the motorcycle in Cochran’s driveway, told Cochran that he’d “Steampunked a motorcycle.” Cochran consulted his wife, Vickie Smith.
“I came in and told Vickie, ‘Well, I steampunked a motorcycle. Let’s look up what that means,’” Cochran says. “It turns out, it means that you use a variety of wood and brass and leather materials to make it look like it was made in a different century.”
Cochran’s brother asked him to create a guitar in the same style. Cochran found guitars to be of a much more manageable size, and became the “Father of Steampunk Guitars.” To date, Smith estimates that the couple have sold more than 60 guitars through their website, www.tonycochranguitars.com – Smith handling the sales and marketing, Cochran handling the art. Cochran’s collection is unique from other collectors’, though, because he doesn’t keep the guitars.
“Vickie tries to keep them,” says Cochran. “I don’t want to die with a house full of my own stuff; it kind of looks bad. … Vickie is the most amazing photographer, and she documents them all for me. As long as I have a good documentation of how they looked, why would I really keep the guitar around?”
Cochran and Smith have gained some notoriety around their neighborhood, because the pair have begun collecting pieces and parts – what might be seen by others as junk – that might end up on one of Cochran’s masterpieces. He frequently pulls over if something “perfectly rusty” catches his eye, letting Smith out to snatch it from the side of the road. Smith says neighbors leave boxes of metal on their front porch, and on one occasion, a fan sent a box of switches and wire from Colorado.
Each guitar takes about a month to create – shockingly fast, considering Cochran buys new (but cheap) guitars, only to tear them apart and rebuild them – all between the production of Agnes. Post-op, however, each guitar plays like new. Some buyers have even taken the guitars on tour. Cochran once rigged a guitar custom for a client so that it could be played upside-down without any loose parts or pieces detaching.
Photo by Amanda DePerro
No stranger to creating, Cochran can picture exactly what he wants each guitar to look like before he begins.
“I actually see the guitar – the regular guitar that I start with – and I see it finished,” he says. “I try to ease the transition between when I see that vision, and the time when it goes into production.”
Even after 60-some pieces over five years, Cochran finds that he loves each of the guitars more than the last.
“Every new one is my favorite,” says Cochran. “I love all of them.”
Guitars: An Art Form
Steve Graves’ guitar collection was more or less an accident. He began playing when he was about 14, but the 65-year-old didn’t begin collecting until about 25 years ago.
“I think what probably sparked my ferocious acquisition was an old college buddy of mine got in touch with me probably 25 years ago, and we had a musical partnership,” Graves says. “I realized at that point I had a couple of guitars I kept around the house, and I said, ‘I better get a professional quality guitar – or three – if I’m going to be performing.’”
His collection grew, fed by his love of playing and looking at guitars, into the dozens it is today.
“My first love is acoustic guitars. I love playing them and acquiring them,” he says. “They just, in more ways than one, resonate with me.”
However, Graves says, that doesn’t stop him from getting his hands on electric guitars too. His collection is about evenly split between acoustic and electric guitars. His interest in them started at a young age, inspired mainly by the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
“When I was an eighth-grader and I heard ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and that chiming Rickenbacker 12-string, I was blown away,” Graves says. “That really lit a fire in me.”
Amanda DePerro is an assistant editor. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.
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