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"Who buys these things at those prices?" I asked with real incredulity.

"Collectors," he answered evenly, matter-of-factly.

I began thinking of a couple of collectors I knew. Both were trust-fund hippies who couldn't play their way out of a barn door. One kid, named Reid or Riff or something, taunted me with his Les Pauls, his Rickenbackers, Gretsch Country Gentlemans, and 1950s Fender Broadcasters and Strats. He lived next door and he never let me play them. Instead, he made me listen to his lame, effeminately sensitive compositions on instruments that were meant to roar. Meanwhile, I was duct-taping my Telecaster together after imitating Pete Townshend's guitar violence onstage in San Francisco gay bars -- the only gigs we could get at the time.

I kept eyeing the Townshend model behind the register. I knew Frank would let me play it if I asked, but the idea of playing "My Generation" on the thing at my age seemed ludicrous. "Hope I die before I get old"? Too late.

At one point, Frank produced a Gibson catalog of re-creations, famous models from the past: the 1952 Les Paul Gold Top, the '54, '56, and '57 of the same; the 1954 Oxblood; my old Black Beauty, only a '54 and a '57, one with "Mastertone," whatever that was. Here were Les Paul Juniors, single and double cut. (For the uninitiated, think of a single cut as one horn on a cow; a double, that would be two.) Pages of SG's: Specials, Standards and Customs, a '58 Explorer, a '59 Flying V, Firebirds, a Wes Montgomery, and the other jazz models such as the L-5, the Birdland, the Citation.

I would have started weeping, but I turned the page and began to chuckle inwardly at the idea of rich kids buying the Zakk Wylde (from Black Label Society) "Bullseye" and "Camouflage Bullseye" or the Lenny Kravitz Flying V, the Bob Marley model. All with Dad or Mom's money, no doubt.

Frank had at least one of the Zakk Wyldes and I think a couple of Joe Perry models. Perry's a fine rock guitarist, but his Les Pauls are painted kind of funny. Back to the catalog, and I found an object of such near-erotic affection that it was embarrassing: a pure white double-necked EDS-1275, again something Jimmy Page used (or near enough) with both the 12-string neck and the 6.

Meanwhile, Frank displayed a couple of non-Gibson beauts he had taken as trade-ins; one, a Gretsch hollow-body 6120 in primo condition with a pumpkin paint job. "See, we're like a Mercedes dealership that will take Volvos in trade. If we just had Volvos we wouldn't get Mercedes in trade." He then produced a mint-condition Fender Stratocaster; another trade-in and, coincidentally -- and oddly -- a pumpkin color, only more metallic in sheen.

"People trade this stuff in. They trade toward a Mercedes. I don't need a Fender line." The Gretsch and Stratocaster might be put on display in the ornate wood-and-glass cases across from the counter or they may be placed in a safe. They will not hang with the Gibsons, Epiphones, and PRSs.

I finally cracked and asked to play the Townshend. In the Marshall Room, I went through a few power chords to "I Can See for Miles" and some Tommy stuff. The guitar fought back, it seemed.

When I unplugged and came out of the room, Frank said, smiling, "It's like going back in time, isn't it?"

"Yeah," I sighed. "Yeah, it is."

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