Gibson Guitar Factory

Toward the end of my excellent tour of the Gibson Guitar factory in Memphis TN, I spotted a red double-neck electric guitar like the one Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page plays -- a six-string neck and a twelve-string neck attached to a huge solid body. It was beautiful -- sanded, freshly lacquered, and waiting for its electronics to be installed before (perhaps) being shipped off to Mr. Page in London (Seth, our tour guide, wouldn’t confirm or deny).

I asked Seth if there was a double-neck in the Gibson factory store that I could look at, and he said there was. In fact, he said, every Gibson guitar model -- acoustic and electric -- is represented and for sale in the store, and at “factory store discounts.”

I play a vintage Martin D-18 accoustic and know a little something about guitars, which is why I had been looking forward to taking the tour, but I’m not in the market for another guitar, even though I’ve always wanted to get my hands on a real electric guitar to feel what it must be like to play one. Because while “Guitar Hero” might be fun -- like karaoke -- it’s not playing guitar.

In the store after the tour, Travis (really), the sales associate, must have noticed me drooling over the double-neck and decided that this old geezer looks like he’s ripe for a sale.

“Want to try it out?” he asked. “I can plug you in right over here,” he said, pointing to some live amps.

I thought “Are you kidding? Of course I do!”

“Sure,” I said. He got a cable and plugged me in.

The first thing you notice is how heavy it is, which probably explains why Jimmy Page always looked a little hunched-over when playing it. But it is fun to play – being able to switch between six and twelve strings is really neat. I didn’t get close to understanding any of the controls or deploying any special effects, but that was okay. It was enough just to play it.

I unplugged it, and returned it to its stand.

Now that I realized I could play any guitar in the store, I was drunk with power. Travis must have seen this scenario play out in the store many times before, and knew enough to wait out the storm before making any attempt to close a sale.

So I plugged in and played a Gibson Les Paul Model guitar that Les Paul not only invented, but actually played and autographed during a recent visit to the factory. I thus had a direct connection to the creator of the electric guitar and multi-track recording. I felt like Adam in Micheangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.

Then on to a gorgeous red SG model, then to a J50 accoustic, then to the Sheryl Crow Signature Model, and on and on.

Soon it was closing time, and I wished Travis a good evening, and said I’d see him tomorrow.

I did have another chance to visit the store before we had to return home, and I got to play a couple more guitars.

And I did really did buy something – strings for my Martin, and a bunch of picks for my guitar-playing friends.