Buying, selling and trading gear is part of the fun of being a guitar player. With the announcement of Gibson’s new product line for 2019, guitarists around the world may just find room for one more to add to their collection. It’s fun to hunt for specific pieces, and when you find your Holy Grail, it’s hard to pass on it. Sometimes, you’ll even be willing unload some of your best gear just to have it!
You grow attached to your instruments, and even if you sell and trade gear all the time, there is always one that sticks with you. “I wish I didn’t sell that one…” is a phrase we hear a lot in the industry, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get those pieces back.
I had to opportunity to speak with a man named James Howen; longtime guitar player, songwriter, and friend of the shop. He, like many of us, parted with a guitar that he came to regret selling. However, in an unlikely series of events, would eventually get that guitar back in his collection again.
Kenosha County, 1974
James Howen was bartender at a place called Richard’s Bar in Kenosha. At the time, he was learning guitar on his own, but circumstance left him without an instrument to speak of. Luckily, bartenders seem to have the natural ability to “know somebody,” and that somebody was Sleepy Jim.
“Sleepy Jim” was given this nickname for regularly falling asleep at the bar. Despite his penchant for resting his head on the bar-top, the main reason Sleepy Jim would stop by the bar on Sundays was to visit with Howen behind the pine. They’d talk about a lot of things, but one day the conversation led to playing guitar.
Sleepy Jim told James that he had two guitars; one was a Rickenbacker, and the other was something he didn’t recognize. That following Sunday, he brought in the mystery guitar, and gifted to James.
That would be James’ main guitar, and would follow him on his move to Little Rock, Arkansas. He still didn’t know anything about his guitar, mostly because there was no headstock logo to be found.
James was working two jobs when he was in Little Rock to make ends meet. He knew that he could be doing better back home, so he made the decision to move back to Wisconsin. James’ car was, as he described “shot,” so he ended up hitchhiking to Kenosha County. This would be the first time he’d part with his guitar. He traded it to a friend for “safe keeping,” and in return, the friend lent him $35 for his journey home.
A few years later, James would reach out to his friend about getting guitar back. He was able to send some money down his friend in Little Rock, and in turn he shipped it back to Kenosha County.
The Thin Twin
In the time that James owned his guitar, he wasn’t entirely sure what he had. In an old guitar shop in Chicago, a sales person told him that he owned a Kay, but aside from that bit of knowledge, he
was mostly in the dark. It wouldn’t be until 2007, while scrolling through an online message board, that James would learn what he owned.
James owned a 50’s Model K161, Thin Twin “Howlin Wolf.” The Thin Twin is simultaneously iconic and anomalous. Made famous by Jimmy Reed and Hubert Sumlin, The Thin Twin has made a resurgence in popularity due to it’s furniture-esque esthetic and quirky pickup configuration. Some versions of the Thin Twin would have had a painted logo, but this model would have had a plastic logo glued to the headstock. The plastic logos fall off all the time, so it’s no wonder why James was unable to identify the guitar.
James’ Thin Twin would change hands between friends multiple times throughout the years, until 2016 when he would sell the guitar, along with a few Alvarez acoustics, to a small shop in Milwaukee. They would eventually sell to a songwriter from a group called Names Divine. It would be her main gigging workhorse until she tradded the guitar for a Taylor 150e.
The Thin Twin drew a lot of interest, but its enigmatic nature didn’t initially secure a buyer. It was rare that a customer would gloss over the guitar. It was eye-catching and quirky like an old Gretsch, but sonically produced a bluesier kind of twang. The neck profile screamed 1950’s, as it was like holding the barrel of a baseball bat in your hand when you fingered the frets.
Fast forward to February of 2019; James was surfing Reverb (like I’m sure we all do) only to come across his Thin Twin once again at Dave’s Guitar Shop! He was able to tell that this particular guitar was his because of distinct blemish on the neck and back of guitar, the reproduction tuners he installed, and of course the missing headstock logo.
James called the shop in Milwaukee, and we were able to come to a deal that worked for both parties. James’ Thin Twin changed hands a total of four times, but always found its way back into his collection. In his own words, “…I will, I hope, never sell it again.” You can hear some of the music this Thin Twin helped create at James’ Reverbnation music page.
Do you have any interesting stories about your collection? Are you still trying to find that next great piece? Leave a comment below and tell us about your guitar selling and trading stories!