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Old 06-13-2019, 05:09 PM   #1
Forgotten Child
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Default The Rest Of The Story About Billy Corgan's Stolen 'Gish' Guitar

When Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins got his stolen guitar back after 27 years, he took it to Chicago's guitar miracle worker Geoff Benge.

By Mark Konkol, Patch Staff / PICTURES ON THE WEBSITE

https://patch.com/us/across-america/...en-gish-guitar

CHICAGO — Maybe you've heard about Billy Corgan's prized Fender Stratocaster, the one responsible for the dreamy tones that defined Smashing Pumpkin's debut album, Gish. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin reportedly borrowed the guitar from a friend, or so the story goes, and sold it to Corgan, who refers to it as the "guitar that changed the direction of our lives."

"The minute I started playing on the Strat, it was like it came to life. It was like everything I was doing suddenly was amplified," Corgan told Rolling Stone senior writer Kory Grow. "On that Strat, it was like you suddenly could hear every little thing I was doing. … Suddenly the sound of the band got way more beautiful, psychedelic and wide."

On June 12, 1992, about a year after releasing "Gish" and moments after Corgan left the stage at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, a thief snagged the Smashing Pumpkins' lead singer's beloved guitar and disappeared out the back door into the night. Devastated, Corgan offered a reward. Nobody responded to the offer, but he never gave up hope that he'd get it back one day.

And then it happened, 27 years later. A mom from Flushing, Michigan, who bought a funky guitar at a garage sale for 200 bucks a decade earlier — learned the hidden truth about the "conversation piece" she kept in the basement but never played, and invited Corgan over to see for himself.

He immediately recognized unique details: The cigarette burn on the neck. The initials "KM" engraved in the bridge. The sloppy artwork Corgan added himself, the f-word scratched into the paint, and, of course, the way it felt in his hands.

"I'm literally gonna take it somewhere, and get it fixed up," Corgan told Rolling Stone.

That's pretty much how the story ended, until now.

As things turn out, "somewhere" is a converted auto-repair garage at 1828 West Belmont in Roscoe Village, home to Chicago luthier Geoff Benge's guitar shop.

There's a reason the "Gish" guitar ended up at Benge's place. If you're looking for a Chicago guy to fix your most precious guitar there's probably nobody better, according to people who know about these things.

I first met Benge in 2008 at his fix-it shop's former Lake View location. He told me about the one-armed guitar player who brought in a Regal guitar that had been carried across Europe during WWII, and now rested in pieces in its case. Benge fixed it up so good that when the owner first pressed his fingers against the neck, he cried. At home, the man said with joyful tears, his wife would do the strumming.

"If I can't fix it, it's not broke," Benge says with a laugh.

He's worked on guitars since he scored his first job emptying ashtrays at Sound Post, a long-gone Evanston guitar shop, when he as 14. He helped open Guitar Works, and did a stint in the repair shop at Chicago Music Exchange before building his own repair business based on referrals from a long list of renowned Chicago guitarists. Nicholas Tremulis, Liz Phair, Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones, Steve Albini and, of course, Corgan all count Benge as their trusted guitar repairman, and sometimes miracle worker.

For 20 years, Tremulis, a Chicago music scene stable, has had Benge electrify 1920s acoustic guitars.

In 1993, Albini, the famed recording engineer and owner of Electric Audio studios, had Benge convert a collection of right-handed guitars — including a rare aluminum Voleno guitar — so each one could be played lefty, in other words, upside-down and backwards.

On my recent visit, Benge and his pal and long-time collaborator, Kriss Bataille, ribbed each other about that.

"I remember asking Geoff if he knew why Albini wanted those guitars made left-handed," luthier Kriss Bataille said.

"And I said, 'No, I don't give a f---,'" Benge said.

"So, I told him, Albini's taking them to record Nirvana," Bataille says, laughing. "Pretty cool that we set up guitars used [by Kurt Cobain] on 'In Utero."

Benge, 54, doesn't care much about that. It's not like he played on Nirvana's final record.

"You know what I remember," he said, while twisting the tuner on a recently restrung acoustic. "Months later, Albini brought the guitars back and said, 'Make 'em righty again.' So, I did."

In February, Corgan told Rolling Stone he figured his newly returned guitar was built in 1974.

After taking the guitar apart, taking into account it's outfitted with one of Fender's first die-cast bridge saddles and talking with a guitar electronics expert in California, Benge pegged the Strat as a '75. But the serial number etched on the 3-bolt neck plate hints at a different story.

The Stratocaster's exact vintage, well, that's complicated. Corgan's Stratocaster was built during the heart of the "CBS era" — a low point in Fender's corporate history when the quality of each guitar was a crap shoot.

Between 1973 and 1975 Fender's factory was in flux, lacked inventory and quality controls and, Norvell says, factory workers "went off script." Back then all Fender guitars were made by hand, and put together with mismatched parts from unmarked bins. Sometimes, even guitar necks and bodies didn't match.

"Billy's Strat is more of a guitar on the cusp," Fender Executive Vice President of Products Justin Norvell said.

Benge found the Stratocaster's "flat pole" pickups were stamped with the date, Dec. 30, 1975. The guitar's '76 serial number hints that a Fender craftsman didn't put the finishing touches on before celebrating on New Year's Eve.

On a recent afternoon, Benge pulled the Stratocaster from a case in two pieces, set it on a work bench and pointed to evidence that Corgan's guitar had never been tweaked at a shop or tinkered with by "some dude with a screwdriver" since Corgan last played it.

Aside from unique artwork, the middle pickup that Corgan lowered to accommodate his intense right hand technique was right where he left it.

"Billy has a unique way that he likes to have his pickups set up. It's a little quieter but works fine. I remember him telling me he likes to keep it out of the way of his right hand to accommodate his technique," Benge said. "He recognized that immediately."

Don't give the guitar's set-up too much credit for the "dreamy" tones that defined the Smashing Pumpkins early sound. The magic in Corgan's guitar has everything to do with its perfectly straight, American Hard Rock Maple neck.

"If this was one of five guitars you picked up randomly you'd go, 'Holy crap! This thing feels great.' You wouldn't even care why. It just plays great," Benge said.

Norvell says there's no easy explanation for that.

"The feel of the neck is a very subjective thing and this one resonated with Billy. He probably got it at a time when old guitars break in, fingerboard edges are worn in and create what Billy calls the 'dreamy feel,'" the Fender executive said.

"Back in those days the necks were all hand-shaped and hand-sanded. The ultimate thing you're looking for is the feeling that allows you to free yourself and play seemlessly with perfect ergonomics. For Billy Corgan, that guitar was a perfect harmonic convergence."

Corgan wanted to keep it that way and gave Benge specific instructions: "Fix it, but don't change anything."

"That's a hard line to walk when you're working on somebody's prize possession with such a crazy history," he said. "This is both. I had to be delicate and move slowly. It's a complex equation."

Benge touched a soldiering iron to the worn frets, heating each one just enough to free them without damaging the lacquer on the neck. Stripping out frets, a process that usually takes minutes, lasted more than hour.

He used "hollow-ground end nippers" to size the new fret wires, perfectly curved them to fit the 7.5-inch radius and pressed them into the existing slots on the Fender's neck. Then, Benge artfully filed and polished each new fret with 12,000-grit micromesh, the same stuff used to polish scuffed airplane windshields.

"Everything I did was to very respectfully return the neck to how it had been when Billy first played it," Benge said.

He replaced the missing buzz-canceling back panel and added a fresh set of strings, ensuring the '75-ish Stratocaster will be ready for its triumphant return to Corgan's guitar collection.

"It's all up to speck and sounding really good," Benge says. "When Billy gets back from tour and plugs it in he'll be the final judge of that."

In the meantime, Benge has plenty of work to do at his appointment-only shop — seven to eight guitars-a day that need routine maintenance or, well, a bizarre custom tweak like the one recently ordered up by Albini.

Albini, who plays in the post-hardcore band Shellac, recently deduced that sweat flowing from his arm, across the guitar body, under the pick guard and into the pick-up switches were causing the devise to fail. So, as an experiment, he fashioned a make-shift electrical-tape prophylactic to prevented switch failure. And it worked during Albini's last tour.

"He ordered up a more permanent version of the Albini sweat dam," Benge said. "That's my life. Sometimes, it's magical. Sometimes it's weird."

Last edited by Forgotten Child : 06-13-2019 at 05:58 PM.

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:14 PM   #2
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"Albini, who plays in the post-hardcore band Shellac, recently deduced that sweat flowing from his arm, across the guitar body, under the pick guard and into the pick-up switches were causing the devise to fail. So, as an experiment, he fashioned a make-shift electrical-tape prophylactic to prevented switch failure. And it worked during Albini's last tour.

"He ordered up a more permanent version of the Albini sweat dam," Benge said. "That's my life. Sometimes, it's magical. Sometimes it's weird." "

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:16 PM   #3
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:28 PM   #4
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Thanks for posting but gosh this is hard to read on a phone

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:30 PM   #5
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Yes, not the best idea lol. I think the pictures fucked up with the layout. Go to the website

Last edited by Forgotten Child : 06-13-2019 at 05:38 PM.

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:33 PM   #6
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it's hard to read on desktop too

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:41 PM   #7
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It's hard to read that Corgan didn't give the guitar to Bob English...


 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:46 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Forgotten Child View Post
Yes, not the best idea lol. I think the pictures fucked up with the layout. Go to the website
Yay looks better now, thanks fam!!!!!

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:48 PM   #9
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This is a middle-aged mans wet dream

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 05:53 PM   #10
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I'm reading double posts...

 
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Old 06-13-2019, 11:51 PM   #11
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Restoration projects are so satisfying. I'd love to see more footage of the restoration and cleaning process.

 
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Old 06-14-2019, 09:50 AM   #12
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Old 06-14-2019, 09:53 AM   #13
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The rest of the story about Billy Corgan's Stolen "Gish" guitar: Billy takes it to this guy, gets in a vindictive spat with him like he always does, guy calmly and methodically just absolutely wails on it with a hammer until it's a pile of sawdust

 
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Old 06-14-2019, 10:19 AM   #14
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Hahahahahaha.

“Benge is literally one of the worst people I have ever met. A sick sick human. I am choosing to live in love and light by slandering him in the press. Also, I have so much more money than this guy it’s not even funny.”

 
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Old 06-15-2019, 01:27 AM   #15
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If a guitar already needs a new hip joint... #granddaddymusic

 
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Old 06-30-2019, 08:14 AM   #16
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The second gig at the same place a day later must have been fun when your favorite guitar just got stolen...


 
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