The top floor of the fine old school building on Vasagatan in the centre of Umeå is home to Guitars – The

Museum. On display here are
hundreds of rare guitars from the 1950s and 1960s; enough to turn the heads of guitar connoisseurs from anywhere in the world.

THEIR SECRET
GUITAR COLLECTION
This space holds a guitar similar to the one Keith Richards used to play the Honky Tonk Women riff. And
By Göran Nordell

here’s one like the one Eric Clapton used for his solo in Layla. And the kind that Jimi Hendrix set on fire
in Monterrey.
  But how in the world did these and hundreds more rare and priceless guitars from the 1950s and
1960s end up in Umeå and become Guitars – The Museum? Why aren’t they hanging in the MoMA in
New York, or in the Tate Modern in London?
  This is the story of how the Åhdén twins from Vännäsby managed to put together the world’s finest
collection of vintage guitars surreptitiously, almost in secret.

The lovely old school building on Vasagatan in the Those people around the world who are passionate
centre of Umeå holds a fascinating mystery. It’s absolutely about guitars (and they can be counted in their millions)
right that it houses a music shop – 4Sound. That Sweden’s thought that the vast majority of the legendary and iconic
best music stage moved here from a run-down Scharinska guitars from Gibson and Fender had been charted. Becau-
Villa and has been resurrected – under the name Scha- se there are, of course, not many of them; sometimes only
rinska – is also natural. And that the building was also a few examples of a certain year. And the value of them
then endowed with a number of restaurants and a proper since the beginning of the 1990s has risen significantly
bar is perfect. more than the stock exchange. A Gibson Les Paul or Fen-
Because it’s the top floor, the actual Guitars – The Mu- der Broadcaster in good condition today fetches several
seum and the building’s main attraction, that has grab- million SEK.
bed the attention of the international media and guitar The MyLesPaul forum is one of the biggest haunts on
aficionados. Hundreds of rarities in mint condition from the Net for enthusiasts. You’ll find pages and pages of info
the dawn of our youth culture hang here – the musical there about the museum and the Åhdén twins’ guitars.
instrument that more than any other shaped the image, And no one seems to comprehend how all these guitars
sound and myths of rock’n’roll and the emancipation of worth tens of millions can be hanging right here, two
the generation of our youth. flights up, at Vasagatan 18-20.

D
THEN
E I RH ES M
ECL IRGEAT G
G IUTIAT RARRS C
AOM L LI N
ECG TE INO N 1

they went with their mother to the newsagents.” their own money from Halkan: a Gibson EEA 335 and a Gibson SG. They have always considered their interest in guitars to be a private affair. which corresponds now to roughly SEK 14. prices were affordable. Genesis has two creation stories: the twins from Vännäsby have three.” says Samuel with a right.” says Samuel. never heard that kind of music and guitar playing. Explaining their guitar collection on a forum has proba- bly never occurred to them. but Birger taught us a whole heap of chords. but Brian Jones was pictures with a Gibson ES330 and we just had to have one of these at some time. Chuck Berry’s in particular. It cost twins knew that if they just saved everything they could. which began with small. a Marshall “I didn’t get one. “We didn’t know it then. “I remember that we thought the picture of Brian Jones in a suit with long hair and a guitar hanging off his hip was the coolest thing ever.” the world outside Norrland for them. and drix. iconic guitars in the history of rock. Samuel and Michael Åhdén have not done much to dis- pel the mist. He played jazz and owned a Gibson Les Paul and a Maestro amplifier. Even today.” It was also around this time that Samuel and Michael A Gibson Flying V from 1958.” says Michael. “And then we wanted to have a similar guitar to Bir- ger’s. the family’s radio and suddenly heard a radio host saying: It was Jan “Halkan” Hallqvist who opened the door to “Now we’re going to listen to what is called electric music. and the In 1972.” says Michael. could bring home special models and vintages. Samuel’s guitar would break. at the beginning of the 1960s. D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 2 . They were around ten years old and had been begging and pleading for a magazine with the Beatles on the front cover. One version is that. it took a Gibson Les Paul for it to sound “But you got a Hagströms later. In the 1970s and 1980s. home-made guitars of Masonite and string. ton’s ground-breaking. Not only because he Samuel. it was about the Rolling Stones. Travel money that went to a guitar they had not yet risen to stratospheric heights. brutal guitar sound. Pretty badly in the beginning of cour- se. “But when we finally got it. “I remember the record sleeve with Clapton. a legendary guitar shop on Södermalm in Stockholm. Samuel and Michael saved all the occurred one afternoon after school when they turned up money they could and looked for affordable objects. and so we wanted to have one of In the mid 1970s. smile.” says “He became an important mentor. But their burning interest in guitars might just as well have been ignited at their neighbour Birger Jakobsson’s place. and later led them on to Gibson Les Paul and Fender Broadcaster. the actual story of the Museum’s creation. “We got to play it. SEK 2147. he runs And what began playing was Purple Haze by Jimi Hen. Until quite recently. he also “We checked and found out that Hendrix was playing knew how to tell a fake from an original. So I meet them one afternoon when they’re photograp- hing some guitars in an east end studio to find out more about their journey. we must’ve been maybe twelve years old and had of the 1950s. But the initial spark – and what made them want to Then as now. they have rarely granted interviews and respectfully ignore Facebook and Twitter. One of the most first heard a record by the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clap. they bought their first guitars with course. Jimi Hendrix and how it all began But how it all began. Chuck Berry. Samuel got his first guitar.” says Michael. a Gibson SG. is somewhat ambiguous and full of interpreta- tions even for Samuel and Michael.” Samuel fills in.” Perhaps it all started there. that had a decisive impact.” It was like. it was difficult to get hold of Gibson and own not just one guitar but many – might just as well have Fender guitars in Umeå. knows everything there is to know about the classic guitars “Geez. “so I was hoping that in the background and his Gibson in the foreground.” says Michael. they could afford to buy more. And in part shrouded in secrecy. on a Fender Stratocaster.303. For us.

Ray Dietrich had retired from his job as a car designer Now they had the beginnings of a serious guitar collec. Just days before this visit. there were kan before he disappeared off into Europe to dry baguet. but wanted to say hi to Hal. Edsel and Packard – big. 95 percent of my travel money disappeared. ceased to be exciting to two young boys. Kalamazoo. spare parts and accessories galore for owning a Buick 401 tes.Twins Samuel and Michael Åhdén bought their first guitars in the mid-1970s. and was immediately persuaded by Gibson’s manager Ted Hippies in a Ford Crestline McCarty to give up retirement and design guitars instead. like many others. He Their grandfather had a well-run garage that was never had saved all year for the trip. Today. with soft lines and pronounced fins. these “I bought it. were made. In addition. Every summer holidays in the 1960s. the twins spent This collaboration led to the iconic Gibson Firebird with their grandfather. but today they are highly prized and fetch D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 3 . for Studebaker. Halkan had brought home a They got to go for drives. The loved American cars from the 1950s: big. or Ford Crestline. in some way to their love of guitars. This experience with 1950s cars married itself neighbour Birger had let them play at home in Vännäsby. Samuel went Interrailing. ‘Yanks’ had a kind of relationship with guitars. But that wasn’t all that Samuel and Michael collec. brash vehicles tion. who ran a taxi business and which was painted with car enamel from DuPont. cheap red wine and overnight stays on park benches.” says Samuel. and it turned out to be a very hard up trip. just like the one the twins’ chrome. Here. hear the rumble and enjoy the true rarity: a Gibson Les Paul. shiny – and gas Firebird was not a success in 1963 and only a few hundred guzzlers. In 1976. He settled down in ted. they own more than 300 rare and priceless guitars from the 1950s and 1960s. Michigan where Gibson has its head office.

The Stratocaster guitarist of that time.” says Samuel. from 1963. he moonlighted as an inventor. The guitarist was always in the background. So the guitar had to content itself with being a rhythm and accompaniment instrument. Today. common denominator: timeless design and culture – and Les Paul realized that Bigsby’s solution of attaching the that’s why they’re worth preserving. Five years later. saxophonist. the “inspiration” to position the six tuning screws in a they got a couple of Yanks from their grandfather. unreliable and guitar-smashing Pete Townsend would certainly have D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 4 . downy moustaches highest notes. while in the foreground were the singer. had horrific feedback. requiring a substantial hollow body in order to be heard. Merle Travis. It wasn’t a commercial model was first marketed in 1954 and soon became the guitar success either. guitar builder and road racing driver Paul Bigsby developed a solid body guitar for the greatest A Fender Stratocaster. they are far more robust than acoustic guitars. Both said thanks. music and guitars have a because of his other great invention: the tremolo arm. including Buddy Holly. They had long hair. leader with their hollow electric and acoustic guitars that So we cut our hair and took to wearing jeans jackets. strings to a solid body was crucial. It was not a hit: not even Les Paul himself real- ly believed in its design. and went hot rod. “We were scared. engineer Leo Fender and musician Les Paul. says Michael. trumpeter – instruments that could be heard without too sophisticated amplifiers. Bigsby’s guitar is forgotten. but no an indignant hot rodder in a leather vest suddenly tore thanks. huh?” of modern music. He quite simply mounted a guitar neck on a plank of wood with a pickup. they were hippies in a classic American Les Paul developed yet another prototype. Les Paul got the idea of a guitar without a hollow body. But it made an indelible impression on of choice for young musicians.” were crucial for the emerging rock music of the 1950s. and in part because The first electric guitars had already appeared in 1910. but we realized that it didn’t quite fit In Gibson’s case because CEO Ted McCarty didn’t be- looking the way we did. They line and to shape the body in such a way that the guitarist loved gliding slowly through Umeå to the rumbling of a could reach down the end of the fret board to play the V8. His real name was Lester William Polsfuss and besides being a successful guitarist. several million SEK in original condition. headbands. open the door on Michael’s side and shouted: “How in In Fender’s case because they were in full swing with hell can you long-haired hippies be riding around in a car developing the first guitar that would rewrite the history like this. He called this creation “The Log”. In part because they have a much cockier sound and can be Faltering start for the electric guitar heard above even a baying audience. when our lives revolved around lieve in solid body guitars: Gibson had become the world the USA’s 1950s. But in 1943. and Afghan vests. but his name lives on “The American 1950s cars. And Leo Fender got When they got their driving licenses in the mid 1970s. The Who’s but were not a success: they were bulky. McCarty didn’t realize then that solid guitar bodies “But we kept our Afghan vests up in the attic. Fiesta Red. knocking on the doors of the bastion of guitar building One day they were cruising past the train station when Gibson and upstart Fender.” jazz musicians loved.

Pete Townsend. rock musician from the UK. get back his stolen favourite by offering in exchange both And these guitars might have remained there in a Les Paul from 1958 and a Gibson bass guitar. In 1958. was a hit and changed how musicians looked at the Gib- ched. But Clapton wasn’t satisfied with one favourite guitar. The guitars were a hit for all guitarists who played son Les Paul for all time. maple top – which created the famous red-toned colour Clapton reciprocated this gift in 1968 when he gave scale (sunburst) – it was a flop. When they had a free day. And heavy metal would that just a few years ago had been considered hopelessly have been inconceivable. had The Day” on the Ed Sullivan show in 1957. things didn’t go so tion of giving their guitars nicknames. slide up and down the strings few handcrafted guitars from the 1950s and early 1960s. Only 98 Flying V guitars were made Cream’s first US tour.looked silly rather than rebellious without a guitar that Page (Led Zeppelin) and Eric Clapton try out the guitar could take some punishment. you belonged to a rhythm and blues tradition. King must-have guitar for all young. just like it had as Chuck Berry.B. such a hit with the Bluesbreakers. And that Gibson realized its mistake.. because they were carrying on a cultural tradition. young Lucy right up to the end of 2001. He kept oblivion if not for their discovery by a headstrong. Tennessee. Pete Townsend that the Stones released “It’s All Over Now” with one of and Stevie Winwood. out of date. They discovered that the guitar rhythm and blues. the ever-curious Keith shop in Nashville. Jimmy atment centre for alcoholics founded by Clapton. he got a Gibson SG from 1964 from and only 36 Explorers before production was stopped. innovative musicians. saw a Les Paul ters from 1956-57 hanging on the wall. and millions been left on the stage in the ensuing chaos. Eddie Cochran and Roy Orbison. the Rolling Stones were on their first US In 1970. was stolen just before ing V and Explorer.B. A few ended up at turned up with a guitarist in Mexico. be done.. and hold notes – and be heard. But while So it wasn’t surprising that guitarists took up the tradi- the Fender Telecaster was a success. when Gibson stopped making the Gibson Les was swiftly named Lucy after red-haired comedienne Paul Standard. but in spite of a new finish with a psychedelic lacquering. And now came the first These guitars became not only their trademark – they guitar solos that would become the trademarks of the became part of the music’s attitude and a statement that new music. Today there are only around 600 left. a great feeling. smoothly for the Gibson Les Paul. He liked the sound ted $100 a piece and Clapton bought the lot. King named In 1958. and was playing it the same year he gave one each to George Harrison. his buddy George Harrison. which In 1960. who at his breakthrough with “That’ll Be electric from 1948 that he had purchased for $30. Safe at last. B. Back home in London. the Fender Esquire (with one studio with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The place was heated by a barrel of kerosene that Stratocaster was launched in 1954 and quickly became a was suddenly knocked over by two men. all young guitarist sensations on Now guitarists could suddenly turn up the volume the exploding rock scene just had to have one of the without angry feedback. Eric Clapton immediately bought a Les Paul Standard Fender’s first success from 1958 and plugged it into a Marshall amplifier in the In the autumn of 1950. which had been attract customers with today’s iconic guitars like the Fly. Like got outside. Many ended up Harrison’s Lucy was stolen in the 1970s and eventually down in basements and up in attics.. The owner wan- Standard from 1959 – and bought it. he realised that his guitar. he let fellow musicians like Blackie was sold at auction in 2004 to help fund a tre- Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac). But music firm Gretsch (which also made guitars) had This was the record that Samuel and Michael had a series of drum kits and banjos called Broadcaster. At the end of bit clumsy with an old-fashioned design – and expensive. King who started this trend. He ran back into the blaze and managed to save his ter. Ted McCarty realized that something had to his guitar. The guitars that were produced in the gap between the change of names were simply called Nocas. looked up Les Paul. 1952. of television. of young wannabes saw that he was playing a. Once B. The record pickup) and Broadcaster (with two pickups) were laun.B. the 1940s. Famous guitarists and their guitars ter. Stratocas. he found out that the fire had started because of two men Keith Richards changes the course of history fighting over a woman named Lucille. Lucille Ball. a Gibson hollow Buddy Holly. guitar just before the roof collapsed. by chance he strolled into the Sho-Bud guitar tour. and all future guitars he would ever play on. the company’s first solid body guitar. There he saw six Stratocas- Richards was strolling past a pawnshop. been made for hard rock riffs. he assembled his “su- rock music’s most famous riffs. Blackie D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 5 . per Strat” which he named “Blackie” for its black finish. and he managed to pawnshops and shops for second-hand guitars. Back home.. inspired by the hot new medium guitar. such had a sensational sound. only 1718 in total had been produced. Gibson tried to When Eric Clapton’s beloved Les Paul. and in 1952 released the Gibson lins. Despite variants of the original Les Paul from Lucille as a reminder never to fight over a woman. It was experienced as a It was B. he was playing at a dance hall in Twist. Les Paul. so listened to at their neighbour Birger’s place while they newcomer Leo Fender gave up the fight and renamed his gingerly fingered the album sleeve and gazed at Clapton’s guitar the Telecaster. Harrison a cherry red Gibson Les Paul from 1957. In the mid 1960s. Arkan- It didn’t get any easy for Gibson when the Fender sas. boogie-woogie and honky-tonk. sales remained sluggish. their guitars were really comparable to Stradivarius vio- offered collaboration. In June 1964. and feel of the guitar. From the rest. Clapton named it “The Fool” They even developed a new version of the Les Paul after the Dutch designer firm that created the guitar’s Standard that year.

He was a and reluctantly re-lacquered it black. Consignments were sometimes Keith Richards is tops when it about 30–40 guitars at a time. sound. no mobile phones or Skype: it was both David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. allowed to be called the Broad- In other words. So we started The most mythi.. comes to naming guitars. only 200 were produced. as you and the only security was a small might expect. guitars from the 1950s and 1960s in the USA During his short. Tuned in open G so tion is complete. up with a Gibson Les Paul but there were never any and ES 355 or two. Now he had an idea: he would buy up Gilmour’s most important guitar. guitars designed and made in the 1950s caster. no guitar collec- and worn. that constantly eluded field”. And burn. Not just musi- In 1969. “We bought as many as we Allen also bought Hendrix’s could afford. Greek did when he took ters and Stratocasters. and at white Steinway grand piano during a concert. A few months later. it has been jeans. hard life. For every concert. In itself this was quite But it’s a demonic instrument. problems. it was negotiate and complete purchases. Jimi Hendrix mana. Samuel and Michael hards’ favourite guitar since was the Fender Broad- “Exile on Main Street”. ve collection of guitars. Neil Young changed to a Gibson cians – but also collectors. It was very difficult Les Paul from 1953 that he got from fellow to get a bargain. Without one of guitar is incredibly scratched these.” says Samuel. “We used the proceeds to led Banner” at Woodstock in 1967.000.3 million for new purchases. primarily Telecas. He first bought a a lengthy and uncertain process sending letters black Fender Stratocaster at Manny’s Guitar Store and arranging payments across the Atlantic to in New York in 1970. Cragg has said. saved those they really wanted to on which he played “Star-Spang..” Sold some and most famous guitar. had set fire to his the Greek’s mother was a SAS air hostess. So Pop Festival. Michael. an achievement at the time when there was no “Black Strat” is almost as famous as it owner: Internet. it – not very well – black. fixer of considerable proportions who imported Black Strat got a standing ovation lasting several and sold everything that had become popular minutes from the crowd in Hyde Park during Pink in the USA: baseball jackets. have. “Wood Strat”. the airli- to Microsoft founder Paul Allen for nes’ international association. And get the stolen with the rest Pink Floyd’s equipment during guitars all the way to Umeå. These were sold in 1993 SAS with all the airlines part of IATA. they made contact with a person who Manny’s had a blonde Stratocaster from 1967 only went under the name “the Greek”. In the few that it is always ready for the riff in months that the guitar was “Brown Sugar”. but someone over the years had painted speculate. His guitar technician Larry Cragg hated The stoner baggage handler the guitar because it couldn’t be kept tuned for In the early 1980s. Especially for Samuel and musician Jim Messina.500 British pounds which D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 6 . The caster. their first tour in the United States. But side to this story. In 1982. who were neither rich nor wanted to loured. So he called it “Old Black”. already in 1958. in Swedish terms Samuel any length of time. pay the Greek and saved the rest In 2004. something that didn’t bother and Michael had put together a very impressi- Neil Young.went for USD 959. $900. they and early 1960s had their revenge – but there was a flip had been invited to buy David Gilmore’s Broadcaster. Michael. but Lee Lewis who. for Wood Strat. It was originally gold-co. Hendrix was inspired by Jerry Flights across the Atlantic were expensive. he has at least seven named gui. advance and a handshake. only a few charred remains were left it was just a matter of flying. a Fender throughout the entire Telecaster from 1952 Nordic region. leather boots and Floyd’s last reunion in 2005. and not just with of his white Stratocaster. and bring them home to Sweden and the Åhdén ged to single-handedly change how a guitar can brothers. spiced the guitars into Sweden. Since then.500.” says named after a charac. and has been Ric. At that time all employees got whole blocks of free his breakthrough at the Monterey International flights that could be used by the whole family. “We had no idea what the tars on stage. Many more people wanted to own one Pink Floyd’s guitarist wanted 5. he paid USD 1. than the number that were left. to sell guitars from cal of all of them is the 1950s and 1960s “Micawber”. A few months earlier. ter in Charles Dickens’ A particular guitar novel “David Copper.

These were. But the days passed and no Broadcaster showed up. of no interest to us . When it was launched it CEO and the company follow the trend to mass produc- cost 140 US dollars – today. We couldn’t afford to buy more guitars from the golden decade. Gibson and even acoustic Martin guitars became investment objects in the same class as Modernist art.“ D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 7 . you might have to pay the goodly sum of 35. Guitars from Fender. On the other hand. The quality. Samuel and Michael realized that this was the chance of a lifetime. and unusually took out a bank loan for the purchase. sound and feeling were lost. „But that‘s switched over to mass production.000. because that‘s Ted McCarty resigned as Gibson’s what they are made for. Around 1995. It had passed its life of four decades more or less in a guitar case and was barely used. more or less all guitars were made by hand from rare woods like Indian mahogany and Brazilian rosewood.today would be over SEK 120. which rapidly Many of Michael and Samuel Åhdén‘s guitars are worth large sums of money. a couple tion. Customs concluded that someone among those who had handled the guitar during loading must have been smoking a joint while they were working and that the sniffer dog’s sensitive nose had picked that up. in original condition.” says Michael. we couldn’t afford it. Up until1966. “We realized that our journey was over in 1992.” says Samuel. they had a bank loan that had to be paid. the market for vintage guitars exploded. timeless jewellery and handmade watches from the Jura valley in Switzerland. the same guitar was valued at the inconceivable sum of 750. immense popularity of rock music meant that millions of But the tireless Greek found a Bro- adcaster in Washington at a guitar dealer’s. Then Fender was sold to TV corporation CBS. of million. A drug sniffer dog had reacted to the consignment and the customs officers examined the guitar carefully – without finding a single trace of illicit drugs.000 US dollars. “A total nightmare. we were nervous!” says Samuel.” says Michael. The Greek took care of the trans- port from Washington via London to Stockholm by air. Ten years later. And we play them all. Prices go meteoric In the early 1990s. Investigations revealed that the guitar was seized at Heathrow in London. “Shit.000 US dollars for a Gibson Les Paul from 1958. of course.we‘ll never sell any of them. crass economic decisions: the “It was too much. And the twins found buying newer vintages to be pointless.

drum sets. They start by naming a model and a year.” says them and play them. I ask which guitar they would take with them to a desert with a Marshall at their back and screaming. it isn’t about money.” says Michael. Regardless of how valua- ble they are. a device that allows you to tighten the Falcons. For us. And not least the coolest stuff from their grandfather’s garage. play. I realize that it is like asking a parent which of their ed to rise. Gibson Flying Vs.” says Michael. We just wanted to own them. for more “undiscovered” Fenders and Gibsons. And they all wanted to have a guitar. there were a few surprises. name another. and have second thoughts The years passed. again. When they recently unpacked absolutely all the guitars they own. “I would take two Fender Telecasters from 1956 equip- ing with one of their bands: the Steve Roper Band. They don’t even want to talk about it. they might also have added: They are entirely disinterested in how much all their almost 300 guitars are worth. “Because we play all of them.” says Samuel. Dirty Harry’s or Cover Kings. Michael. cond thoughts. We are never going to sell any guitar. they are timeless. “We discovered 25 that we didn’t know we had. adoring fans island. “It was never our aim. in their In the end they agree . Today. the prices of vintage guitars continu. White ped with B-Benders. Gibson ES 335s and Fender Stratocas- ters. Samuel worked as an archivist at the Väster- botten county administrative board and Michael in the music shop.young people aspired to a future on a brightly lit stage. look at Les Paul Sunburst from 1960. a few acoustics like the Evelyn Brothers’ blonde acoustic Gibson. guitars are made to be played. “We have never felt the need to show off our guitars. and all the other guitars.on two each: free time Samuel and Michael were touring around. D THEN E I RH ES M ECL IRGEAT G G IUTIAT RARRS C AOM L LI N ECG TE INO N 8 . or “I would take a Gibson Flying V from 1958 and a Gibson to talk about them. have se- in front of them. B-string a full tone to C. they are fully occupied with organising exhibitions in the museum and how to hang all their Fender Broadcasters. And even various models of Gretsch guitars. so it’s pointless to talk about their value. Previously. When the world was crying out children they love most.” says Samuel with a laugh. 4Sound.” And. Gibson Les Paul Standards. amplifiers and mi- crophones they have. and rise again.