Guitarkadia: What's your first memory of the guitar and how old were you when you started playing?
Joe Becker: First memory? Wow, that's a tough one. I'd have to say of my dad sitting Indian style on the floor in front of his reel to reel, playing, singing and recording. We lived in an apartment in Chicago at that time, on Lawrence and Pulaski. I started playing when I was four but only really played with the A, D and E chords. The guitar was always too big for me to really get a handle on at first. Things stayed like that until I was seven when my dad said if I wanted an electric guitar I had to learn all seven major chords in seven days and he had to be able to call them out randomly with all my fingers landing on all the notes that form the chord. A week later, I had earned my first electric guitar. It was a red Kay.
G: Your dad is a guitar collector. What did you learn from him that shaped your understanding of guitars? What were some of his tricks of the trade for collecting? Meaning, how did he know what to acquire and what not to?
JB: My dad and my uncle are collectors, as am I. I learned a lot from my dad but more in the way of arrangement, recording, and music in general. Tricks of the trade for collecting? Tons! But there are two in particular that will never fail you, regardless of the guitar.
First: If it looks nice, it is. Look at the options like when you buy a car. How many ply is the binding? Is there binding around the neck and headstock and on the back of the guitar? Is the top a figured wood like quilted or flamed maple? Does the guitar seem to "pop" somehow?
Second: get a monster deal. No matter what kind of guitar it is, if you only paid 10 bucks for it, you've won. Ha ha. His primary focus in collecting was to get such an unbelievable deal you could laugh about it afterwords. Now, knowing as much as I do about guitars I could probably write a book on tricks and things to look at but for your average individual collecting I'd say narrow your focus to quality and price.
G: What's your favorite story of a guitar he'd acquired?
JB: I'm probably going to be disowned for letting this family trade secret out but the story is so good.
From discovery all the way to deal making, and of course the quick getaway, there are many tricks of the trade guitar collectors like to use. One that used to work for my dad all the time was at garage sales. Once he went to one, he’d ask "Do you have any musical instruments available?" Half of the time the answer would be yes and the sellers would go inside to retrieve an instrument it never dawned on them to put out with the other garage sale items.
So, it was sometime in August of 1986. My dad and I stopped at this garage sale. I waited in the car while he hopped out to inquire. From the backseat of our car I saw him talking to this older woman, the seller, maybe in her 60s, and the next thing you know she goes inside her house and comes out with a hardshell guitar case. My dad opens the case up, exchanges a few words with her, then closes it, pays her, and rushes right back to the car.
Once inside the car, he lays the case across the entire front seat of the car and kept repeatin, "I can't believe it, I can't believe it." I propped myself up from the back to look at what he’d acquired. Dad opened the case, turned to me with a wide eyed smile and said "Fifteen dollars!"
The old man scored an original Danelectro Longhorn bass WITH the original hardshell case. For fifteen dollars!
It turn out what when Dad asked the old lady if she had any musical instruments, she replied, "Yeah, my son has one upstairs. He left it here years ago and doesn't visit me anymore so you might as well have it."
That's not the end of the story though. Later that same weekend, we were in a book store at the mall and my dad pulls a Guitar World magazine off the shelf (September 1986, No. 7, volume 5) and pulls out the nifty centerfold which happened to showcase the exact same vintage Danelectro bass he had just scored.
Don't get your hopes up too high with the garage sale trick though if you live in the Chicago and Missouri areas because my family's likely already purged all the good stuff in those areas. But it's still a handy trick to know for collectors out there.
By the way, if you haven't in a while, it may be a good idea to visit your mom.
On a side note, a bass guitar featured in the new episode of Pawn Stars - Road Test (Season 8, Episode 55) on the History channel is a Danelectro Longhorn owned by John Entwistle of The Who.
G: How many guitars do you own and which one is your favorite? Why?
JB: Not as many as I used to, sadly, and I honestly don't think there is such a thing as a "favorite" when you're a player. They all look, feel, sound and play different which is why I have so many. I just received an absolutely gorgeous guitar from Timberline Guitars for an endorsement. It's a model T70D dreadnought. As you may know, dreadnoughts are a standard body type for acoustics, but this one is anything but standard. People need to check them out. Prior to that, I was playing a vintage Epiphone Everly Brothers signature model rather heavily.
G: What's the best piece of advice you've gotten from someone who's not a musician about your music?
JB: I really don't accept advice per se from non-musicians about my music as there's really no valid foundation for them to base it on other than "I like this”, “I like that”, and “play that one again" etc.
G: Tell me a story about a project you've worked on that has influenced or changed your approach to music.
JB: Recording with Joe Kelly from the Shadows of Knight is probably the closest I can think of. He definitely refreshed and slightly redirected my approach to the blues. As if with the flick of a switch he was “on.” We played all day and night for an entire weekend and I also fixed the broken headstock on his Flying V, the one that says "Joe Kelley" across the fretboard. So when you see him with it, that's thanks to me.
G: What are you working on now?
JB: I stopped playing completely in 2009 when I discovered that the one I was playing for stopped listening, or apparently never was. I went through a divorce recently and in starting my life over I'm getting back in to playing again. Right now I'm focused on my live band which is interesting because the set is half acoustic, blues/slide type stuff and half electric blues/rock type stuff. I'm also singing. If I can get the band tight enough soon it would be nice to put a new album out by December of this year. But I'm not going to push anything and just see how things unfold. W henever things sound right, that'll be the right time.
Joe Becker is a guitarist, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Chicago, IL. Becker endorses Timberline guitars, GHS strings, Morley Pedals and Graphtech Guitar Labs.