Jump to content

guitar collector meets jimmy page


Recommended Posts

click to see original article and photos

Chesapeake man tells tales on his collection of 250 guitars


By Lon Wagner

The Virginian-Pilot

© June 29, 2008

Man, Greg Sipe can't just start off with his best guitar story.

Stories are like rock songs, man, every layer's important. You need the drums and bass to push that baby forward, and the guitars... Dude, don't even start.

Greg loves guitars, especially Gibson guitars. Loves them so much, he's got 250 of them stashed in his Chesapeake house, and they're worth a few million bucks.

When a friend asks to see Greg's collection, his wife, Susan, warns: "There's a story for every one, and it takes a while to see them."

Greg's guitar stories, about how he acquired them, maybe meeting the rock star who played the guitar, they're like anthem rockers. "Won't Get Fooled Again," "All Right Now," definitely "Freebird," man, Greg loves the Skynard boys.

Greg's got one story that stands above the rest. He acts it out, at times role-playing his dad, his wife, his son, a famous rock photographer, even doing the English accent of a rock legend.

The story takes a full 35 minutes for him to tell it right.

If guitar stories were rock songs, this one would be Greg's "Stairway to Heaven."

But look, man, Zeppelin didn't begin its fourth album with "Stairway." Last track on the first side, dude. Something like that, you got to build up to it.

It's 8:30 on a Thursday night, and I'm in the room above Greg's garage. I've come to see his guitars and to hear his signature story, but he's been telling other tales and winding on down the road for more than an hour.

He's bought so many guitars, paying somewhere between thousands and tens of thousands for them, that the folks at the Gibson Custom shop know him. He's gone to guitar fantasy camp there, spray-painted his own guitar body, stood side-to-side backstage with guys from bands like Aerosmith.

"Let me say this, I don't collect it just to have it," Greg says. "If it's somebody I admired growing up, see that's what I love about Gibson, Gibson guitars, think about it, man, when you were growing up as a teenager who were you into?"

In high school? How about The Who?

"Let me tell you something, right now, I'll pull out a Pete Townshend SG, a replica of the one that you see him in those jumpsuits jumping, with the P-90. Remember those Les Paul deluxes he had, with the number one, three, six and nine?

"Oh, yeah, see, that's what's cool."

Greg's got not just the SG, but two other Pete Townshend replicas.

He's a big man, played football in high school, and he's not a rock star. He can play, pretty well, but his day job that has paid for all his acquisitions doesn't bring fame: he owns an underground utility company.

But he is rock 'n' roll. He says his wife will bury him in jeans and a T-shirt, with memorabilia from his favorite band, Led Zeppelin, all around. Right now, he's surrounded by what looks like a full set-up for a rock band, stools for sitting and jamming, and black guitar cases lining every wall.

They are stacked two deep in some places, and every one contains a guitar. Greg's a little concerned about showing them off, but he's got a full-blown security system with running video cameras. And he asks that his neighborhood not be revealed.

Greg wants to share his enthusiasm, a word that undersells his run away excitement. He walks into the stacks of cases, looks at a tag, and pulls one out.

"I'm going to show you something I had built," he says.

Flip, flip, flip, flip, go the buckles on a case as he unlatches them.

"I guarantee you won't see another one like it in the world."

It's from the Gibson Custom Shop, he explains, and they'll build you a guitar any way you like it. Now Greg, he's always been a big concertgoer, and always saved his ticket stubs, and a few years ago he sent them off to Gibson.

He pulls out the guitar. The entire front side is a collage of Greg's old ticket stubs: Skynard, John Fogerty, Jimmy Page at the Capital Center, Neal Young and Crazy Horse.

"I got Metallica in there somewhere," Greg says, looking closely, "there's Metallica, right there."

Now, what else do you hope you do, Greg asks, if you are lucky, when you go to a concert.

I don't know, get a spot up front?

"No, get backstage!"

He flips the guitar over and his back-stage passes cover the back.

"See, as a young kid, man, growing up and loving rock and roll," Greg says, "Dude, I'm a lucky guy, man. I'm a very, extremely... Hey, man, I got to meet Jeff Beck!"

In Greg's world, there are many great guitarists, but only a few who achieved rock 'n' roll icon status. Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.

Greg shuffles between guitar cases and reaches for one against the wall. He talks as he moves, explaining that Tony Iommi is the godfather of all the heavy metal you hear today.

So what Gibson does, they take the guitar of a rock star like Iommi and replicate every detail of it. Where the varnish rubbed off the back of the guitar after resting against the guitarist's hip during hundreds of concerts; where a cigarette burned it; where part of the neck broke and was bolted back on. Identical.

Gibson will make maybe 250, and 25 of those will be signed by the guitarist. If Greg really likes the guitarist, he steps up to the plate and buys one of the signed ones.

Greg really likes Iommi. When Greg saw Gibson was doing an Iommi guitar, Greg said to himself: "Aw man, that's cool, bad-ass, dude, I got to get one of those."

And he did, and Greg rarely stops there, so the Iommi story continues. And it makes me wonder if he's ever going to get to his signature story, but he says he is.

Right when Greg picked the Iommi guitar, Sabbath had a date in town with Ozfest. Greg wanted that sucker signed, so he called a friend in the music business and pleaded: "All I want to do, I don't want no tickets, I don't want the man to give me nothing, I just want to get backstage and have the man sign my guitar."

Greg's standing, and moving around his garage guitar room as he relates this, how he took his son, Scott, how he stood nervously as the security guards called to each other about the guy waiting out back with a guitar.

Then out came Iommi. He took Greg's guitar, laid it down and wrote his name on it, then turned to Greg: "Let's do a picture, man," Iommi said.

Oh ho ho! Greg's thinking. A picture? You don't ask for that. And he's got that picture, and in it, Greg's face is all red because he was giggling and laughing so much.

Flip, flip, flip, flip, go the buckles, and Greg announces the guitar like a guest at a formal function: "This is the SG Tony Iommi Signature model."

It's black, mahogany, the fingerboard made of rosewood with five inlaid crosses, and at the Dallas Guitar Show Greg saw a guy who was asking $8,000 for his un-signed one.

Is Greg planning to sell his?

"Oh, no."

One day, he'll probably give it to his son, because Greg isn't apt to brag, but when Scott wants to, he can play.

"Now," Greg says, "As far as anything with Jimmy, un-uh."

Greg's keeping the Jimmy Page stuff. He goes all out for Jimmy. He's got an exact replica of Jimmy's Les Paul, the one he did "Whole Lotta Love," "Black Dog" - Greg gets real excited here - "Rock and Roll."

The double-neck guitar that Page used to play "Stairway"? Gibson made 25 replicas that were signed.

"Hey, man," Greg says. "If it was Jimi Hendrix, I wouldn't do it. If it was Eric Clapton, I wouldn't do it, I mean, they're icons, but I wouldn't go all out for everybody.

"But anything to do with Jimmy? I try to get the best deal, but that's where it's at for me."

What Greg's trying to say, for the signed double-neck, he had to pay retail. They were going for $31,000.

Greg bought three.

See, but one just sold for $56,000, so it's an investment.

And it's Jimmy Page, which brings us to Greg's best story.

Greg gets off his bar stool and stands. He can't tell the story sitting.

It began one summer, at what Greg says music buffs call a NAMM show. At these National Association of Music Merchants events, music companies display everything from sheet music to ballroom pianos and Stradivarius violins.

Greg's been to a lot of the NAMMs, and this particular summer event he met a guy from Gibson's acoustic shop in Montana, a master guitar maker named Ren Ferguson.

"Great guy, man, great guy," Greg says. "When he builds something, look out, man, it's killer."

Greg started telling Ferguson about his guitars, "I've got the Hummingbird, I've got the Dove, I've got the Elvis Presley Signature model, I've got this, I'm going on... "

He sensed that he'd gained Ferguson's attention, so he told him about his dream, to have an acoustic built based on the artwork of "Led Zeppelin III."

Greg pulls out the actual album and thrusts it toward me.

"OK, 'Led Zeppelin III,' OK?"

Cool, rock on.

That summer, Greg pulled out a CD to show Ferguson, images of the album artwork that he just happened to be traveling with.

Sure, Greg, we'll see what we can do and get back to you, Ferguson said. Greg hopes for a quick get-back, but July, August and September passed before Ferguson calls.

They'll build the guitar for him.

So while they were making it, Gibson put out a Les Paul Signature on behalf of Joe Perry, Aerosmith's guitarist, and Greg picked that up.

"I can pull that out and show it to you," Greg offers, then backs off. "You'll be here all night."

Now, Gibson knows people like Greg, and people like Greg get invited to special events like the unveiling of the Joe Perry model at the House of Blues in Boston. He had just gotten the guitar he had built, the "Zeppelin III" one, and he pondered whether to take it: "Do I bring that Zeppelin piece up there? Joe Perry's a collector. You know damn well he's a collector. What the hell, I'm going to bring it."

Greg also brought his two Joe Perry custom shop models, and he got to meet Perry. While Perry was signing Greg's guitars, with Sue standing right there, Greg asked how many guitars Perry had.

Well, Greg, actually I've got about 430, Perry said.

So Greg turned to his wife, "See?"

Susan thought, "But you're not a rock star," but she didn't say that.

Anyway, they got to talking, Greg mentioned the Zeppelin guitar and Perry said he'd like to see it, so Greg went to his car and got it out of the trunk. They stood around, then, Greg explaining to him how it came about.

The whole time, a man was off to the side. Greg jumps a few feet away in the guitar garage, and does an air-camera, pretending to shoot photos while making the sound of a camera lens. Shoo-sh, shoo-sh, shoo-sh.

Finally, the photographer says, and Greg does this in an English accent, "Hey, Joe, if you don't mind, hold the guitah up there, will you?"


Greg started to walk off, to put the guitar away, and the man shooting pictures called to him, "Suh, 'scuse me, Suh, Suh, do you have a business card?"

"No, sir, Captain, I sure don't, I'm up here on leisure, I'm from Virginia," Greg said.

The photographer went off to get one of his cards, but Greg got distracted when Stephen Tyler walked in. Bottom line, Greg brought his Aerosmith "Get Your Wings" album and every member of the band signed it.

But when Greg got back to the hotel room, the first thing he asked his wife was about the photographer. Did he leave a business card?

Susan handed it to him.

Holy - Greg's not sure what word he used next, but he's pretty sure it was a strong one - but Holy something! That was Ross Halfin, Ross Halfin took a picture of his guitar!

Then he told Susan, and he's sure of these precise words: "I'm telling you right now, as sure as that guitar is sitting on the floor right there, Jimmy's going to see them pictures of that guitar!"

He couldn't believe it, man.

Halfin's a long time rock 'n' roll photographer, having shot Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Rush and Zeppelin. Greg was embarrassed not to recognize him, so he fired off an e-mail to the address on the card. Halfin didn't e-mail him back.

A few days later, Greg was on U.S. 58, on his way to I-85 and taking his Dad and step mom on a trip to Nashville. His cell phone rang. Greg imitates the accent on the other end:

"Yeah, Greg, Ross here, look, uh, I'm cawling from London.... Anyhow, Jimmy would like to see the guitah. Any chance you could be in New York on Tuesday morning?"

OH-Ho-Ho! Greg said in his head.

"Um, yeah, I'm sure we can work something out, Ross," Greg said into the phone.

Halfin said he had a couple of questions. First, is the guitar he saw the only one made?

"Oh, most definitely, guarantee it, only one in the world, I had 'em make it on my behalf."

If you don't mind me asking, Halfin said, how much did you pay for the guitah?

"You know," Greg said, "about eleven grand."

Greg got to his hotel in New York the next week, and was about to call up to Halfin's room when he walked by. Come to find out, the whole band was in town, Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant for the premiere of their DVD, "How the West Was Won."

And Greg got invited to the premiere. But Halfin also gave him a warning:

"Look now, I'm not trying to burst your bubble or anything," Halfin told him, "but Jimmy's not going to sign your guitah, he won't be doing any pictures."

Greg decided right then to be a rock and not to roll.

"Ross, that's fine, man, I truly appreciate the opportunity if you help me meet my idol, man," Greg told him.

Greg remembers being a teenager listening to Zeppelin in his top bunk on his transistor radio, and when that third album came out he must've written 10 letters to the Atlantic Records address in New York.

Then Halfin told Greg he was on the VIP list for the premiere, where Greg got to sit down front. During the part about John Bonham, the band's deceased drummer, tears came to Greg's eyes.

When the showing was over, Greg's cell phone rang: "Greg, Ross here, look man, there's going to be a VIP party after the premiere here. You're on the list. You got something to write with?"

So Greg and his son went to the private party, and met John Paul Jones and Page. Greg could barely speak when Page told him he looked forward to seeing Greg's guitar, tomorrow in his hotel room.

The next day, Halfin escorted Greg and his son over to the Plaza Hotel, and Greg remembers how tall those ceilings were, and the elevator gate that you pull across, and the bodyguard who opened Page's room door.

Once again, the guard said, Jimmy's not doing pictures, and he's not signing anything. Greg vowed to be the easiest guy he ever dealt with. While they waited for Page, Greg pulled out his Led Zeppelin photography book, which happened to be compiled by Halfin, and got Halfin to sign it.

Then Page came out, dressed in all black, and shook Scott's hand and then Greg's. And got right down to business.

"So this is the guitah, eh?" Greg says, doing Page's voice and accent.

Greg was going to reach down and get it out for Page, but Halfin stopped him: "No, no, Greg, let Jimmy get it."

So Greg watched his guitar idol's face as he lifted out the guitar. Here, Greg mimics Page's look, tilting his head down, nodding, and raising his eyebrows.

"He looked over at Ross, you know, and he walked over to the bed, man, and said, 'Whoa, boy Greg, whoa, I've never seen keys like these before, what kind of keys are these?' "

Greg told him they were imperials, actually made of pearl.

Tell me about the guitar, Page said.

"Well Jimmy," Greg said, "bottom line for me, man, you guys are the greatest rock and roll band ever, man, and I wanted to build something in tribute to you."

Greg started getting a little choked up. Page stood the guitar on the headboard of his bed and looked at Halfin.

"Ross, I need a picture with the guitah, eh?" Greg remembers him saying.

Page then took the guitar, strummed it and said, "Oh, nice tone, nice tone."

He looked up at Greg.

"Greg, let's do a picture, eh?"


So Greg handed his camera to Halfin, who took the shot. Jimmy Page, Greg's Zeppelin guitar, and Greg.

They talked a little bit more, then just before leaving Halfin turned to Page.

"Hey, Jimmy, sign Greg's book here."

At this point in the story, Greg's out of "man"s and he wordlessly shrugs a look of disbelief.

Page signed his book: "To Greg, Rock On, Jimmy Page."

And Greg has a big, blown-up print of the photo that was taken that day in New York. He pulls it out and holds it up.

"That's The Man right there," he says, pointing at Page, "and you see me, I came prepared."

And there's Greg, wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, ready to rock on.

Lon Wagner, (757) 446-2341, lon.wagner@pilotonline.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

click to see original article and photos

Chesapeake man tells tales on his collection of 250 guitars


What a great story! Thanks for sharing it. I love reading things like that. How fortunate that Chesapeake man is to be able to pursue his passion and then to meet his idol.

Next time someone trots out the line about Halfin being an asshole, show them this story.

Thanks for the link.

Good point. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice story, Is there the actual picture they speak about anywhere? Would love to see it.

take the link and notice the guy with the zeppelin 3 guitar. click on "slideshow" to see the others.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

take the link and notice the guy with the zeppelin 3 guitar. click on "slideshow" to see the others.

Hey, where does it say slideshow? All I could get were pics of his guitars.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey, where does it say slideshow? All I could get were pics of his guitars.

See the picture, right? There is a "click for more" link right by it that you can use to see the rest of the photos.

It's a nice little story, thanks for posting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great story! I was just hoping for the happy ending to be that Jimmy actually signed the guitar for him but actually I guess I'd rather have my pic with Jimmy :)

Yeah me too.

Now that guy's a real Led Zeppelin fan... cool guy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Next time someone trots out the line about Halfin being an asshole, show them this story.

Thanks for the link.

That's true; it was RH and a case of "being in the right place at the right time" that made it all happen for this gentleman. Plus good karma. It's nice to read stories like this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I enjoyed that, thanks.

FWIW, I couldn't view the images either. I clicked the link and got the article, but link to view more images gave me a 'page not found'. I'd really like a glimpse of the guitar described in the article... sounds cool. B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I enjoyed that, thanks.

FWIW, I couldn't view the images either. I clicked the link and got the article, but link to view more images gave me a 'page not found'. I'd really like a glimpse of the guitar described in the article... sounds cool. B)

the guitar in the article is pictured right next to the article. (left)

directly below that picture is a link for more....it works.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...