Sunday, April 9, 2017

Guitar Trip to Amsterdam

The number of vintage archtops on the Dutch market has always been very limited. At any given moment in time, there's probably no more than 10-15 vintage Gibson archtops for sale within the Dutch borders. For more you have to shop abroad. In the Netherlands, it's a slow and painfully small market. Some of the more expensive models take years to sell. I actually know a few that have been for sale since 2010 in a local vintage store (!). Asking prices are often ridiculous (20k for an 1950s ES 5 ... lol ... get real) but sometimes there are a few that spark my interest. Since most of the Dutch vintage guitar stores are in Amsterdam, I took a trip on a train (hey, that's a song) with my wife and we combined some sight seeing with some guitar spotting, not all of them vintage by the way. It was a lovely spring day and Amsterdam was in full swing. What a city ... Go there dudes. It's an experience.

First stop was Diamond guitars, situated in a beautiful stately canal mansion with high ceilings that now accomodates a few businesses and organisations. A truly historic place, for in WW II, it used to be the residence of the "Joodse Raad" (Jewish Council). So those walls must have witnessed some very dramatic scenes. The Council was in fact an instrument for the occupying Germans to facilitate the smooth selection and deportation of Jews. Read all about it here.

Owner of Diamond Guitars , Wil Peters, gave us a warm welcome and I checked out a 1997 Gibson Wes Montgomery he has had for sale for a while. It was already the second Wesmo I played this week (a friend visited me with his 1995 Wesmo earlier this week) and the guitar at Wil's place was pretty similar. Very nice guitar with a deep acoustic voice. It was as clean as a whistle.

He also showed me a Byrdland that he sold earlier for a great price and was back for maintenance. I had my eyes on that one a while ago when he was selling it but I was too late then. To me it felt just like a mini L5. Short scale neck, thin body, not so deep voice. Both guitars were in mint condition and were obviously from the same era. Same finish, same woods, even the same flames in the back and on the neck. No vintage mojo though. I'm still not entirely sure if I am a high end carved top man myself.

Though he sometimes has some very nice jazz guitars in his collection, Wil's core business - and passion - is steel string guitars. He probably has the biggest offering of Lowden flattops in the Netherlands. And then there are his Martins, as well as a number of other brands (Collings, Avalon, Turner etc.) I played both a Martin D18 and a D35 and loved the lush and classic strumming sounds that I know so well from the pop hits from the 70s (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, "Horse with no Name" etc.). The Lowden flattops sounded great too. They are pretty expensive guitars so they should sound fabulous and ... they do. Upon leaving, he showed me a Gibson mandoline from 1914 that was in ... mint condition. Really amazing.

Next stop was Dirk Witte in the Vijzelstraat. We went on foot so we got a good view of the city in between guitar stores. The guitar I wanted to check out was a 1950 Gibson ES 150. The condition was very mediocre, the finish was in pretty bad condition and it had two filled holes in the headstock. The tail piece did not look original to me. It felt and played great though with tons of vintage mojo. But considering the condition, I felt the price was too steep. Nice guitar though.

Then off to The String.  I love that store. It's a small, charmingly untidy but very cozy vintage store at a very nice square and Rienk seems like an easy going guy to deal with.  It was at his place that I bought my first vintage Gibson archtop in 1998: a 1951 Gibson ES 125. I played that guitar for years before I gave it to my daughter. Rienk always has a few ES 125s around and kind of specialises in affordable used and vintage guitars from all kinds of brands. He told me the prices for even the ES 125 were going up though and that it was harder and harder to get affordable ones. I played a 1964 Gibson ES 125, a 60s ES 125t and a George Benson signed Ibanez GB 10 from 2008. Of course in the tone department the ES 125t was no match for the full sized 125. The Benson was nice but, again, I missed the vintage mojo. There is something unexplicably cool about playing old and battered guitars I guess. I am becoming less and less a fan of shiny new ones.

The bottom line. I played a few nice guitars today but the one that really knocked me out in terms of price/quality and pure vintage mojo was undoubtedly the most modest of all, the Gibson ES 125. "A student model at best" it is decribed on some "expert page" on the web. Student model my ass. Listen to anything by Martijn van Iterson. It may not have any snob appeal but it is clearly unbeatable for the money. Heck, at least, they used to be. The one I played was 2.0k ...  Mmmm. Maybe the affordable vintage era is coming to a close too. Anyway, here's a 125 in action:


  1. Came here from Mel's SVNV. Although not a musician myself, I enjoy your blog. Keep on sharing and Happy Easter!

  2. If someone is with you always there than he or she will get the chance to learn new things about the music. I am a regular reader of the your blog. I have never posted any comments, but this time I did, I must have to show support to you. You always go here and there and collect so many information for us, which is very much necessary for us. Those who are interested in music and planning to be a musician.

  3. Next time you visit Holland, come and see: