Chapter 7, pages 121-123…
After the terrible events of the previous November, a nearly broken Abraham Zapruder packed his bags and hit the road in the early Spring of ’64 to recover his love for film and photography and to forget the horrors to which he and history bore witness.
In mid-May he found himself in a local diner in Kalamazoo where he fell in love with the tone of a Gibson guitar being played by the owner’s son during his breaks. It was a pure tone – a magic and healing tone. When he inquired as to the origin of the guitar he was surprised to find that it came from a local factory – one in which the diner owner’s older brother worked as a machinist.
No one knows why; maybe it was the sad yet hopeful look in his eyes, maybe it was the fact he over-tipped for the coffee (dropping 4 bits on the table as he left), but the owner called Abe back and said that he could probably get him a factory tour if he wanted. Abe’s eyes went wide and his smile – the first he’d made in 6 months – lit up the room.
They met again at the diner early the next day. Abe was cautious; in his hand, a NOS Bell & Howell Model 414PD 8mm Zoomatic movie camera, his original still being in the possession of the FBI. Earlier that morning while still at the motel Abe had loaded the film. The action on the latch of the film bay door was crisp and secure, and the worm drive and gear claw system felt tight but precise as did the pressure plate that would hold the film motionless during its intended use. Abe’s hands moved with an economy of motion when he loaded it – choreographed like one of the great dances of the ballet. He was born to hold and work a camera. He didn’t even have to think about it – it was just done. Pure poetry. God Abe loved cameras. This one felt good.
In the diner he was introduced to Tom, the diner owner’s brother. Tom was a machinist and his handshake, as expected, was firm. He thought Abe looked like a big city boy. Who wears hats like that in Kalamazoo? he thought to himself. In his dark rimmed glasses Abe looked like he should be sitting behind a desk doing ledger work in some garment factory in New York.
Tom loved his Job. He loved working with all the old factory gear at Gibson. He was particularly excited about the two new Delta Rockwell 28-350 20″ band saws they had recently acquired. Damn they were good machines he thought. Ever since the acquisition the factory manager had been claiming he would soon send Tom to the Delta Rockwell factory in Pittsburgh for some advanced training and to scout some of the company’s new and upcoming products that the Gibson factory was considering purchasing as well. Tom never knew it, but the real reason the factory manager wanted him in Pittsburgh was so he could pay a visit to Tom’s wife at Tom’s own home. He was tired of meeting in old hotels off the interstate and longed to be able sit in Tom’s living room with Tom’s wife after expressing their love in Tom’s bedroom and to watch a little TV together while drinking the good liquor Tom always saved for guests. Their affair eventually ended – not because of exposure, but because of the accident. Later that year the factory manager would be found after hours by the cleaning crew – his body horribly mutilated from one of those very same Delta Rockwell saws. There was an investigation – it seems that the safety mechanism that locked the blade out had worn and the manager had somehow gotten caught up by the saw. At least that’s what they concluded. Tom himself was instrumental in identifying the issue with the safety and the factory manager’s family got double indemnity on their policy and an undisclosed sum from The Delta Rockwell Manufacturing Co. for their loss.
Abe drove with Tom. Tom liked driving – he drove Fords. The radio wasn’t much but they’d dialed up something they had in common. Tom enjoyed Gospel Music and the Delta Blues. He loved blues and gospel so much that he’d later relocate to Chicago just for the music. Of course this was after his wife’s depression and hospitalization. She took a turn around the time of the factory manager’s accident and never recovered. Tom never knew why of course. Though it was never said out loud, folks did think he bailed on her rather quickly.
The Gibson factory was big in those days – there was no premium on space. Tom showed Abe their machine shop where they did the refurbs and maintenance on all the bigger pieces of equipment. Abe was impressed with the array of hand tools in the shop and the mix of old and new as far as the big machines went. After that part of the tour Abe gave thanks to Tom and was passed off to the production manager for the rest of the tour. It was time to see guitars.
This was when Abe started filming. Cautious at first, Abe would start and stop the camera every few seconds. He was mad at himself. This was amateur stuff and he was wasting film. Keep it together he thought. Taking few deep breaths, Abe started the film again. He suddenly though of his father – an avid fisherman – who was always telling Abe to Let it out boy let it out. Abe relaxed.
The last stop on the factory tour was the Players’ Room. In those days every guitar went through a final setup and play test by an in-house Gibson musician before leaving the factory to ensure the playability of each instrument. It was a good idea in concept, but in practice it was a bit of a mess. It felt more “assembly-line” than the factory itself as the convergence of all the different production lines ended here. There was a cacophony of the likes Abe had never heard before. Lowering his camera, he wondered if he’d made a mistake coming after-all. The factory had a rhythm and an order. He liked order. He needed order. This was aural chaos.
That’s when he heard it. That liquid smooth sound. Just like the at the Diner Abe was drawn to it. He made his way over to one of the playing stations. Sitting on a small stool was a scarecrow of a man and in his arms was a lovely Cherry Red Gibson ES-335. Abe was floored, and suddenly remembering he had a camera he nearly dropped it as he fumbled to engage the mechanism. If only my camera had had sound he thought. But he wasn’t going to miss this. With a steady hand he zoomed into the guitar – recording and documenting every element about it – as if somehow, capturing this instrument leaving the factory in it’s moment of birth would mean something. Abe circled the man doing the playing – recording it all. From the final chord to the hand-off to the packing mule. The kids who packed the instruments in their cases for shipping were called ‘mules’. This was partly due to the fact that their immediate supervisor was a man named Alfonzo Donkio whom they all called ‘Donkey’. The kids were called ‘Donkey’s Mules’. That’s the kind of thing that counted as humor in those days in Kalamazoo.
As that Cherry Red ES-335 was being packed away, Abe heard the sound again. Oh My Lord he thought, was there another? Indeed there was. Camera ready, he moved in. He noted that the serial numbers were sequential. He asked what that meant. Scarecrow looked up at him: Usually means they were made by the same guy and the same time. He punctuated that statement with a tasty lick and then gestured through the window of the play room to the assembly area. That guy – Him was all Scarecrow could muster. Abe was transfixed. The secret to tone – Was it that guy? Had he found the tone messiah he didn’t even know existed? All set to run out to the floor and fall at the man’s feet he spied Scarecrow grab an identical 3rd guitar. Abe paused. Scarecrow started to play…… it sounded like ass.
Abe stammered out-loud: What the hullabaloo? That sounds terrible. What happened to the magic? Scarecrow just looked at him – annoyed at Abe’s use of the word Hullabaloo. Living in Kalamazoo was hard enough without strangers poking fun he thought to himself. After a few moments one of the mules grabbed that 3rd guitar from his hands and Scarecrow looked harder at Abe before finally answering: Not everyone’s a winner.
Those words resonated with Abe. His life flashed before him – his childhood – the love of his mother – fishing with his father – the first time he ever kissed his wife – all his memories right up to the tragedy in Dealey Plaza. He thought of the young President – of his wife and young children – of the mournful nation – of his loss of hope and love for film and photography. He thought of it all.
Not everyone’s a winner echoed in his mind. He repeated it. Not Everyone’s a winner. He looked over at the mule packing up that ass sounding guitar and something clicked in his mind. He grabbed for the case and exclaimed I’m buying this one … Not everyone’s a winner – and that’s damned okay.
Later that day Abraham Zapruder would leave the Kalamazoo Gibson Guitar Company factory with a brand new Gibson ES-335 leaving behind his NOS Bell & Howell Model 414PD 8mm Zoomatic movie camera containing everything he had filmed that day in exchange. That film would later be discovered by Gibson archivists and one of the two Cherry Red Gibson 335’s that Abe had filmed and left behind would be identified as Eric Clapton’s original guitar.
Abe went on to live a relatively happy life. He stuck with the guitar, taking a few lessons, and learned to play. The guitar still sounded like ass though. After his death from stomach cancer in 1970, the guitar flipped owners many times over the years until finding its way into the hands of a Indie-folk band in 2011 where sounding like ass was a good thing. Today it’s owned by a collector in Korea who’s never played it but enjoys looking at it now and then.