Buying the Lie

“I’d like to sell my Les Paul.”  The words were said with a knowing smile and I realized that something wasn’t right.  I took the beautiful electric guitar from the hands of the young man and glanced at it, taking in the classic lines of the carved top, the typical “speed knobs” that adjusted the volume and tone for the two humbucking pickups.  Everything was in its proper place, but somehow the quality I expected wasn’t showing up.  The wood grain was ho-hum, the black lines which alternated with the off-white plastic in the binding around the body weren’t crisp and clean.  I glanced up at the young man and realized that he was waiting.  Aha!  I saw it!  The quintessential script logo on the face of the headstock leapt out at me, a jarring testimony to the ineptitude of the counterfeiter.  In his clumsy attempt to create the illusion of a top-quality, high-dollar professional guitar, instead of the usual inlaid mother-of-pearl logo, this joker had used black tape and a decal.  I looked up at the young man standing in front of me, now with a huge grin on his face.  It was never his intention to cheat me with the guitar, but he wanted to see how long it would take me to recognize the fakery.  In that instant, my mind skipped back to the day, many years ago, when I wasn’t so quick to spot just such a sham.

I was in a pawn shop in the big metropolis of Dallas.  It was my habit to haunt these shops on a regular basis, since the online market had just opened up to many of us and the bargains in the city shops were often easy money on the world-wide market.  The Gibson acoustic guitar hanging behind the counter was calling my name.  As any other “picker” would do, I diverted my attention away from it to keep the shop-keeper from knowing my real target.  After inquiring about a few other instruments nearby, I asked to look at this beautiful vintage instrument.  The selling price was well below the market price, the label inside was genuine, and the logo on the headstock left no doubt in my mind.  Knowing beyond question that the guitar was real and would net me a tidy profit, I laid down my four hundred dollars and left the shop, clutching my treasure.

Back home in Arkansas, I laid the guitar down on my workbench to clean and restring it in preparation for a few photographs that would help to market it at a sizable profit.  As I cleaned, questions began to form.  What had only looked like a smudge in the dingy light of the hock shop, actually appeared to be dried glue near the heel of the neck when viewed under the bright light on my bench.  Upon closer examination, it was evident that the neck didn’t fit very well on the body.  And, the label inside the soundhole, while genuine, almost certainly had been attached with something other than the normal adhesive.  I got my adjustable mirror and a flashlight to take a look inside the body.  The bracing was all wrong!  A visit to a friend who is actually an expert in vintage instruments led to the truth.  The neck was genuine, as was the label, but everything else was something very different than what I had expected.  The cheaply copied Oriental body, made attractive only by the marriage to the neck of the real thing, was worthless.  I was devastated, to say nothing of the embarrassment.  It was an expensive lesson.  I did eventually get the shop owner to give me a refund, but only at the cost of his good will, and with a promise never to darken the door of his establishment again.  I’m happy to keep the promise, since it doesn’t seem to make sense to deal with a man who will knowingly cheat his customers.  He blamed my greed, an argument which had the advantage of being correct, but it did not excuse his dishonesty.  I’ve never been back.

So, sadder but wiser, I muddle on.  Happily, I don’t encounter such fakes often, but experience is often the best teacher.  I did make a trade with the young man for his “Les Paul” the other day, but only for the value of the parts, a miniscule price compared to what the authentic model would have set me back.  It has been interesting to see the reaction of customers who walk into my store and see it on the workbench.  The awe in their eyes has been replaced over and over again with shock and dismay when I have them look closely at the points which are obviously faked.  It’s amazing!  From a distance, the guitar is an incredible work of art, guaranteed to attract the admiration of nearly every customer who sees it.  Only as they approach it and examine the workmanship, does the truth sink in.  They’ve been had!  The valuable and desirable object of their adoration from afar is nothing but a worthless, offensive piece of junk up close!

At the risk of being obvious, I would invite you to examine the real lesson of the counterfeit Les Paul guitar.  It has nothing to do with the guitar and everything to do with all of those other objects of our affection and desire with which we surround ourselves, and with which we torment ourselves, in covetous pursuit of the same.  It would seem that life is full of such “fakes”, from people to possessions; from dresses to dreams.  From a distance, many of these things are exactly what we have searched for, but upon closer examination, the reality becomes evident.   The glitz and glitter of the showroom floor soon dissolve as the the flaws and shortcomings make it painfully clear that we have fallen for counterfeits and cheap imitations. 

At my cash register, I have a special pen which I use to test money (especially the big bills), before it goes into the drawer.  The special ink with which the pen is filled checks the content of the “paper” money.  Our currency is actually made of cloth and is completely unlike regular paper, which is constituted of wood components.  One mark from the pen and a counterfeit bill will show a black line on it, while the genuine money shows brown.  I remember one afternoon, as I struggled with exhaustion from a busy day, I grabbed a similar-looking marker and touched it to a customer’s hundred dollar bill.  Black!  I looked suspiciously at the man and told him that he had a fake bill.  He denied it angrily, insisting that the bill had come directly from the bank.  I glanced in my hand and recognized the different marker, sheepishly admitting my error to the man and then accepted the bill and placed it into the cash drawer.

When we get the item from the proper source, we’re assured of having the genuine article in our hands.  Come to think of it, that’s not bad advice for living, either.   

“Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can only come of reality.”
(Nicolas Chamfort~French playwright~1741-1794)

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”
(Revelation 3:17,18~NIV)

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