Saying goodbye to an old friend…
In the spring of 2000 I was driving with Ian Hunter and we were having a conversation about Mick Ronson as we had done many, many times. Ian told me he still had several of Mick’s guitars stored at his house and I commented on what an inspiration Mick had been to me and that I would love to own one of his guitars. I said, “the guitar I would love to find is the stripped LP Custom that he played with Bowie.” Ian replied “ God only knows where that went, Mick probably gave it to some guy walking across the street. He didn’t care about gear, it was just a tool to him.”
And that’s how I started, my quest to find and eventually own Mick Ronson’s most famous and recognizable guitar. The 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom, aka the “Ziggy” guitar.
I started my search by posting to guitar websites and forums that I was looking for information on its whereabouts. Eventually that led me to Justin Purington who was doing a fanzine called “Just A Buzz” which was Mott the Hoople based but had Ronson content as well. Justin had interviewed me for my work on Ian Hunters latest album “Rant” and we got to talking about my quest to find Mick’s guitar. He mentioned that he remembered reading somewhere that Mick said he had donated it to the Hard Rock Café in Australia. Eureka! I had a lead to follow! And follow it I did.
I began by calling the HRC corporate office in NYC and began going through the chain of people to the person in charge of memorabilia. When I finally did get in touch with the right guy ( which took weeks ) he told me they had no record of anything Ronson related. He did give me another lead on a guy who’s name escapes me that was in charge of the memorabilia back in the early 80s that would have been the one to deal with Ronson’s guitar during the time it was donated. I got a number and tried to reach him. We played phone tag for a week or so until things lined up and we were finally able to speak. He had no recollection of anything that Mick had donated. I was pretty deflated at this point and began to feel like the guitar was at best, in someone closet. Someone that probably didn’t have a clue as to what they had. God Dammit! I want to find that guitar!!
I am as stubborn as they come and I thought I would call the current HRC memorabilia guy one last time to double check. Maybe it was under David Bowie, or Michael Ronson? He again patiently looked through his inventory database and nothing came up. I said, “how can this be? There is an interview of him saying he donated it to the HRC in Australia!” He said, “Australia? They just license the franchise. I have no idea what they have. Their database is not searchable by me. Here is the number for Sydney and Melborne …”
“Holy shit.” Hope came flooding back in.
I had to wait till almost midnight because of the time difference and I was actually leaving to drive to Florida at 4:00 the next morning for vacation but I didn’t care about the 18 hour drive facing me. I was calling that night.
11:59 … ring ring ring
HRC dude: Hard Rock Café!
Me: Hi, my name is Rick Tedesco and I’m trying to locate a guitar that you might have in your inventory there of memorabilia? Do you have anything owned by Mick Ronson?
HRC dude: Yeah mate. Im standing right next to it. Been hanging here for 12 years.
Me: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK! Is it a Les Paul?
HRC dude: Yeah mate.
Me: Holyfuckingshitholyfuckingshitholyfuckingshit … is it natural wood on the top?
HRCdude: Yeah mate.
Me: MOTHER FUCKER I FUCKING FOUND IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ehem … I gained my composure and then proceeded to work on procuring the guitar for purchase. We eventually landed on a deal where I would supply them with several guitars to replace that one. I agreed to send them 2 Gene Simmons signed basses, a PRS guitar that was owned by Ian Hunter, a strat that I got from Joe Bouchard, Some Bowie gold records I got off ebay and a signed picture of Ian playing the guitar and a signed CD of Ians album “Rant”.
But first I needed to make sure that the guitar was in fact THE guitar. He took several pics of the guitar and emailed them to me. I sent them to Suzi Ronson and she compared them to some detailed photos she had of Mick playing the guitar back in the day. She packed up a few photos and mailed them to me. I checked it out and because the paint had been sanded off, the wood grain on the top of the guitar was like a fingerprint. There it was with zero room for doubt. They had exact wood grain pattern. It was THE guitar.
I confirmed everything was a go and shipped the giant box containing everything I had agreed to and the countdown started. A week went by and I called the HRC and asked … “has the package arrived?” No haven’t seen it or heard anything. Another week … nothing … another week … nothing. Jesus! I confirmed the address with the guy and realized that I had made a HUGE mistake and sent everything to the wrong place!!! He took the tracking info and found it in a lockup at a UPS center a couple hours away. They rerouted the package and finally my shipment had arrived to them. He packed up Mick’s guitar and told me it was on the way. This was 2000 and the idea of getting tracking numbers to check on the internet was still a new concept I guess.
About a week later I had to run a few errands and was out for a couple hours. When I came home there was a rather large box leaning against the garage door. I looked at the label and it was from Australia. OMG yes, UPS left Mick Ronson’s guitar leaning against my garage door.
There are a few moments in your life that are so special … so exciting … so magical … that they leave a mark that last forever. You can close your eyes and go back and almost relive it at will. This was one of those times.
Time for a little back story here. I had purchased my parents house a few years earlier and had started an online guitar store in the downstairs room of that house. This room was the very room that in 1974 I discovered David Bowie. This was the room I sat in as a wide eyed 13 year old boy and watched the “Ziggy Stardust” concert on tv when they aired it on the series “In Concert”. This was the room I sat in and saw Mick Ronson play the guitar that made me want to be a guitar player. This is the room that I opened up the box that contained that very guitar. Talk about the stars aligning. It was surreal to say the least.
I opened the box like a little kid at Christmas … very carefully began undoing the bubble wrap. Holy shit there is no case… dear god don’t let the neck be broken. It wasn’t. The guitar made it in one piece. The strings (which I saved) were rusty and crusty. I carefully took them off and put them in an envelope. I cleaned the fretboard and polished the frets, put on fresh strings, adjusted the truss rod and plugged it in. urrrrr urrrr urrrrr … no signal. Shit. I took the input jack plate off and cleaned the jack. It roared to life. I played Ziggy Stardust. I took a million pictures of it. I stared at it. I played Ziggy stardust again. I played every Bowie song I knew. I stared at it again. Wow.
A couple days later I had a gig at a local club and Ian and his wife Trudi came and I showed him the guitar with Mick’s signature on it. He said, “that’s Mick’s signature alright.” I played it for the first set. When I came off stage, Ian asked if I felt Ronson surging through me and laughed. Funny thing is, I did. I just remember staring down at it thinking holy shit, I’m playing the guitar that recorded every song I ever loved as a kid. I kept the guitar for a few months and played it a few times at a few more gigs then decided to see if the R&RHOF was interested in putting it up on display. I felt I owed that to Mick.
I called a man named Howard Kramer that was the head of things like that at the Hall of Fame. I got his number from my friend and soon to be band mate Dennis Dunaway who had a bass there from his Alice Cooper days. I got Howards secretary and left a message with my number saying I had Mick Ronson’s guitar from his days with David Bowie and wanted to know if they were interested in displaying it there. She said she would pass on the message to him. I don’t think the phone hit the cradle before it rang. It was Howard. He wanted the guitar in the hall … really badly!
We talked and I arranged a 2 year loan to display the guitar there. Later Howard told me of all the guitars they had on display … everyone that was anyone gravitated to and remembered that guitar and commented on it. Mick played with a lot of people and used that guitar on a ton of projects. I also got Ian’s doubleneck “H” guitar put in the hall around the same time since Howard and I hit it off so well.
The 2 years passed and I really wanted the guitar in my hands again. I just missed it and I also was having an issue with the R&RHOF on how much insurance I wanted on it versus how much they thought should be on it. I got the guitar back and used it on several projects over the next few years. I used it on the Dennis Dunaway Project cd “Bones from the Yard”. I used it on Ian’s album “When Im President.” I used it on the Main Man David Bowie tribute album “Hero” when I did “Moonage Daydream ” with the Dennis Dunaway Project. I lent it to Phil Collen of Def Leppard for a couple shows in the area. I used it on my band “Psycho Merchants” debut album “Rubiks Cube” and it’s featured in the video “Fire”. It was featured in many publications from “Guitar Aficionado” to Lisa Johnson’s amazing book “108 Rock Star Guitars” The guitar was making music again.
A friend of mine named Madeline Bocchiaro that is very big into Bowie and Mick and Mott etc… ( she is always sending out blogs and info on cool stuff ) contacted me about a TV show that dealt with R&R memorabilia called “For what its Worth.” She asked if I would be interested in taking the guitar on that show. It was Gary from the Howard Stern show and another guy hosting it. I went and did it. The episode never aired with the guitar on it but the “expert” they had to give his opinion didn’t think as highly about the guitar as I did obviously as he valued it much lower than I thought. Eh, whatever dude … he was definitely proven wrong.
A few years ago I got the idea to do a video for youtube about Mick’s gear. I had acquired a lot of it over the years. I bought all the remaining things Suzi Ronson had of Micks. I own the Marshall Major head he used with Bowie and the Marshall ½ stack he used on “Heaven and Hull” Several pedals and keyboards and his record collection and a mountain of 2” 24 track tapes and several other odds and ends. Most of this stuff was documented in the Weird and Gilly book “The Spider with the Platinum Hair” that I was interviewed for as the owner of Mick’s guitar. I would get calls all the time about the guitar. People came from miles around to get a chance to see it and I would always try to accommodate. Any fan of Micks was ok by me. Everyone always did the same thing I did. Played “Ziggy Stardust”. Even Phil Collen did that!
So I put together this video of me talking about and demoing Mick’s gear. Once again I was talking to Ian about Mick and telling him about the video and he still has Micks guitars stored so I asked him if he was cool with being in the video and talking to me about the guitars he had of Micks. He agreed and that made it a 2 part video. When I put it up I began getting all kinds of comments and likes etc … It was a labor of love and people got it.
The video had been out for a while… a year or two … and out of the blue I got a email from a guy saying he saw my youtube video and loved it and Ronson and asked if I would ever consider parting with the Ronson guitar. I got emails like this all the time and I always replied the same way. I wasn’t looking to sell it, I wasn’t trying to sell it, it would take an enormous amount of money to pry it from my hands.. and not just enormous… stupid enormous. I had many people try to buy it on the cheap over the years. Bob Rock offered me 50k for it. No thanks Bob. But this guy came back with “how much would it take for the guitar and the Marshall Major?” I did some research on him to see if he was for real. He was. He was very well off. A house in Monte Carlo well off. Money wasn’t going to be a problem for him and he was the first guy that approached me that I felt was like me. He really wanted it for the same reason I did and I got that. The negotiation was very fast. I threw him a number. He countered with a number that was well into the neighborhood. I came back with another number and took the amp out of the deal. He said done deal. Ill wire you the money. I was devastated.
I can’t really explain the depression that hit me. I felt like a loved one died. Empty hollow darkness. What had I just done? I know to some this all may sound mellow-dramatic and quite douchey, but whatever … you will either be able to put yourself in my place or you won’t. To those that get it, keep reading. To those rolling their eyes … its only gonna get worse so you might want to quit now. 😉 Anyway … My god did I need the money as I just signed a lease to open a brick and mortar storefront. This would make all the difference in the world and pay off all my debt in the process. The time was absolutely perfect for this to happen. Yet I couldn’t even open the case and look at the guitar. I felt like I had betrayed it and my word as this guitar was NEVER about profit for me. I called Ian almost in tears and told him about the deal. He laughed at me! He said, “What are you, daft? Sell it and don’t even think about it. That’s why you buy things like that! It’s an investment and the investment just paid off you silly bugger!” While I deeply appreciated his approval I knew, if I was ever going to sell it … deep down in my soul I knew this was the right guy, the right amount and the right time … all my senses said now is the time … I still struggled. There is a window for things like this. The window slowly closes and the passion to own something connected to an artist like Mick wanes. As the children of the 70s grow old … their kids and their kids kids … will they appreciate Mick Ronsons gift? Will they pay big money for something he owned? I had a conversation with Suzi Ronson a few weeks before this guy popped up about that very thing as she was considering selling Micks blue telecaster and was asking me for advice on what I thought it was worth. She agreed the window is closing on this stuff as well. That sort of put it in my head that this was the time if I was ever going to do it. Then there was Suzi … she had asked me so many times if I was ever to sell the guitar to give her first shot at it. I always said I would. And I had every intention to honor that. But the amount this guy and I agreed on made that a moot point. It was Suzi that brought Mick Rocks 50k offer to me. I knew where she needed to be on it and this offer was so out of that neighborhood that it wouldn’t have made a difference if I ran it past her or not. I still felt absolutely horrible about it and when I told Suzi, I was very relieved that she seemed ok and understood my position.
The money arrived in my account a few days later. I never got a wire that big. It was impressive but I can honestly say … aside from a little relief of financial pressure being lifted …there was no joy or celebration. “What had I done” was all I felt. The money came late in the week and we needed to figure out a way to insure it for shipping. No one would touch it. Where do you buy that kind of insurance for a guitar shipment? Finally I came up with the idea for him to put it on his home owners policy with a travel clause and that worked. Sunday afternoon I walked down into my studio and brought the case out into the middle of the room. It was time to say goodbye. I set up a video camera. I plugged it in and played Ziggy Stardust one last time. As the song came to an end, I cried, kissed her goodbye and closed the case and never opened it again. She left the following day via Fed Ex to her new home across the pond. I know she is in good hands.
So yes, I owned the Holy Grail and for a period of time, I was honored to be its caretaker. I feel I did good things with it and for it. When the time came, I passed the torch. The one thing I take from this is the joy the new owner got from getting it. He sent me pictures of it in its new home and it brought back the memories of that day in my parents basement.
As an addendum to this blog, I just heard from the gentleman that bought the guitar from me and he is fine with people knowing who he is and that he is a huge Ronson fan as well. His name is Simon Dolan. A very cool guy in my book. The guitar is in very good hands.
— Rick Tedesco, 2014