Surely, as guitar collectors/dealers/enthusiasts, VG readers have heard folkloric stories of early-1960’s teenagers who, after buying cool guitars to jam with their friends in the basement or garage, were called to service by Uncle Sam.
Far too many times, the pimply-faced budding musician never returned, and mom and dad “inherited” a guitar they just didn’t think was worth keeping around. So they sold it in a garage sale or simply give it away. And of course, you weren’t there to pick it up.
Here’s a true version of the vintage guitar world’s folk tale.
It’s the early ’60s, and a 16-year-old Milwaukean has just spent a good chunk of his savings to buy his first “real” guitar from a young woman who has rearranged her priorities, putting family above the guitar playing/singing duo she performed with her husband. The 16-year-old is Scott Thiry.
Thiry is, in many ways, a typical kid with an interest in music. He’s inspired by the rock and roll and soul performers of the day – Buddy Holly, The Stones, Percy Sledge, etc. But he’s also a curious and resourceful guy – he built his own amp using the cabinet and some parts from a Wurlitzer juke box. He band, Soul Incorporated, works hard enough to warrant printing business cards, complete with pearlescent swirls. They even get some gigs.
But in October, 1966, uncle Sam calls and Thiry is sent to Ft. Hood, Texas. After being there for about 10 months, he asks his mother to send the Strat to him. But perhaps he got wind that he was about to leave for the war, and soon after, he tells her to keep the guitar at home. In September, 1967, he is “shipped out” to Vietnam, where he is stationed at Bon Gsong and spends about five weeks in-country before a fateful Halloween Day.
That day, in the midst of an enemy attack, he is hit by shrapnel. Taken to a base hospital, he is cleared by a medic to return because he wants to look for a lost buddy. Thiry finds him, but the search costs Thiry his life – he is hit by a mortar and killed instantly.
Back in the States, the Strat spends most of the next 30 years under a bed in his parents’ house. At one point, an antique company nearly takes it. Several times, Thiry’s mother, Louise, considers giving the guitar to some other aspiring guitarist.
1996. Louise Thiry spends a lot of time listening to the radio, including the overnight jocks on WGN, a Chicago-based station. One night, they discuss old guitars. One of them says some old Fenders are selling for $50,000 on the vintage market. She thinks Scott’s guitar is probably one of them. She contacts a friend who knows a local store owner, and word spreads through the “vintage community” there is an elderly woman with a ’57 Shoreline Gold Strat for sale.
But she knows enough that this baby won’t sell for a song, well maybe, how’s that go, “…the best things in life are free but you can’t keep ‘em – she wants money.”
Word reaches Hazardware’s (St. Louis) Dave Hinson via Joe Camarata, a St. Louis nightclub owner, and Duke Tomato, a regional guitarist. Hinson does the necessary leg work and after months of negotiation through a third party, the guitar is purchased by a wealthy collector in Texas for over $40,000. Hinson brokered the sale, and both parties came away “…very happy.”
Inspected at the time of purchase, Hinson discovered the guitar was, in fact, assembled in 1956 (neck date XA 7-56). He said the condition of the instrument is “…about 9.5 out of 10.” Some of the hardware is worn, but there is very little fingerboard wear and minimal belt buckle markings. Not surprisingly, the strings are not original. The case and strap were in near-mint condition. Scott Thiry’s Mel Bay Book One was still in the case with more swirly-print business cards from several bands. No, the phone numbers are no longer valid, except for the parents of a guy who was a singer. Darn the luck.
Louise Thiry, meanwhile, can thank her son for a unique “gift,” a little financial piece of mind she might not have, were it not for her musical son and his intuition.
Photo: Dave Hinson.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’97 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.