Social media serves many masters these days. Capricious in nature and ubiquitous in scale, its power to propel certain people (often of no discernible talent) into virality is singular. Though the spotlight tends to favor the absurd, it can occasionally make friends of strangers. Such is the case with me and Los Angeles-based guitarist Todd Wisenbaker, or totally_tod as he is known on Instagram.
I became aware of him four or five months ago, after flipping through posts that Instagram had algorithmically suggested. What I saw was a great player whose apparent enthusiasm for learning, practice, genre exploration and all things guitar, (particularly Fender guitars) was not only entirely without pretense, but indelibly drenched in humor.
I liked a few of his videos, and made a comment or two, and he did the same to the few posts I have up of me playing. Shortly thereafter, we bumped into each other at our neighborhood coffee shop, took stock of mutual friends, realized that our significant others were already acquainted, and that we live three blocks away from each other. There we were, hanging out, in 3-D.
Last week, Todd invited me to his place to look at his collection of guitars, to play, and to tell the origin stories of a few of his favorites. We started by talking about his most recent acquisition, a gorgeous ‛63 Stratocaster.
“I just got this one, and I’m still buzzing from it,” Todd told me. “I’ll try and make a long story short, but that might be kind of tough with this one. I’ve been recording with Ryan Adams lately and have been using his ‛61 Strat, which is 100% original and not surprisingly, incredible to play. That said, it’s totally its own thing and can be a little tough to play because of its set up, but it absolutely got me inspired to start looking for one.
“I’d been scouring the web, looking constantly at Reverb, Gbase, eBay, craigslist, everywhere I could think of but never saw anything that got me really excited. I’d mainly been looking at refinished guitars because I didn’t think it was remotely possible that I’d be able to find anything original from that era that could be within my budget. Right around that same time I was needing a new acoustic, had been looking into Martin HD-28s, and the Hollywood Guitar Center was the closest store that had one in stock. So I went down, played one for a while, and after I’d gotten a good feel for the guitar I stopped in the vintage room, just to look around. Right as I was about to leave, an older man, I’d say in his seventies, walked in holding what was obviously a vintage Fender case, and my heart started pounding. He put it on the counter and told the nearest salesman that he wanted some information on the guitar, which is often short hand for, ‘I’m looking to sell.’
“The guy that was working the desk had just gotten on a call, so I walked up, said hello, and asked what was in the case. ‘A ‛50s Strat,’ he said. He opened the case, and there it was, totally incredible and in Lake Placid Blue, one of my all time favorite colors. I gave it a closer look, could tell it had the three way switch and that it was actually from the ‛60s. We talked a bit and I told him what I was seeing so he could better negotiate when the guy got off the phone.
“Out of respect for Guitar Center and the salesman, I let them talk, went back to looking around, and tried to just be casual, which was actually pretty tough because I was starting to really freak out. A few minutes later the man said that wasn’t into doing business with Guitar Center because of their wanting to take the guitar apart so that it could be verified and authenticated, which is totally understandable, but the real deal breaker was that, because it was a Saturday, they wouldn’t be able to write him a check for a few days. So he shut the case, turned to me and asked me if I’d be interested the guitar. By that point, I was in total shock. I bet if I could see myself in that moment, I was probably shaking a little bit.
Residue from where the plastic body guard (now removed) joined the body. Over time, these body guards’ gaskets would start to rot and eat away paint.
“We went outside and I offered him $5,000, which was all I could afford, and, shockingly, he accepted. We drove to the bank in my car, I got the money, and when I gave it to him he thanked me and made sure to tell me that I was really helping him out. He also said that if I hadn’t bought the guitar that his plan was to drive to Vegas so that he could sell it on the show Pawn Stars. He’d seen a bunch of episodes that dealt with rare instruments and to him that was the next best option.
“Once I got it home, I took it apart, talked with local tech Eric Bailey about what I was seeing, and everything checked out. I’ve been playing it nonstop ever since. The wild thing about it is that if he’d had the patience to go through Guitar Center’s process, he’d have gotten $15,000, easy. It was the most ‘right place, right time’ guitar moment I’ve ever had, and I’m still freaking out about it.”
Next up, is Todd’s early ‛70s Rickenbacker. A craigslist score from 2014, which is all original except for the Mastery bridge he added and the wiring that he did to his own spec.
This 2004 Gretsch Black Falcon was given to Todd as a wedding present by his friend and collaborator, Ryan Adams. Diehard Adams fans will recognize this as the guitar used in the performance of the “Let It Ride.”
Todd’s ‛65 Jazzmaster, another craigslist score, brought him up all the way up to Bakersfield. Right after buying the guitar for a steal, Todd’s car broke down, requiring repairs totaling almost the exact amount the guitar was discounted.
Last but not least is Todd’s ‛81 Washburn A-20, which was his first guitar, bought at American Music in Oxnard, California in 1992. Todd remembers being drawn to it because of its Metallica-ish aesthetic, and that it was truly love at first sight.