The Cars’ Elliot Easton Shows Off His Collection of Left-Handed Guitars

March 28th, 2012

by Tom Beaujour | Photography by Jimmy Hubbard

When asked to pinpoint when they fell in love with the instrument, most rock guitarists reveal that the infatuation began in their early teens. But the affinity exhibited itself much earlier for Cars guitarist and avid ax collector Elliot Easton. “My mother always loved to tell the story about when I first saw Elvis on television in 1956, when I was three years old,” Easton recalls, relaxing in the backyard of his suburban Los Angeles home. “After the show was over, I brought her a comb and a glass of water and I had her comb my hair in a spit curl. I stood in front of the mirror with a Mickey Mouse guitar and never looked back!”

The young Long Island native was not only precocious—he was also left-handed. Easton quickly realized that while some lefties could simply adapt to right-handed guitars, he preferred to play instruments that were either purpose-built or modified to accommodate his southpaw. “First I had an inexpensive Japanese guitar that we bought in a department store,” he says. “I figured out barre chords upside down, and then I realized that there would be a lot of things I couldn’t do. So I took the guitar into a local mom-and-pop music shop and had them turn the nut and strings around for me. That’s when I really started learning.”

Easton’s first bona fide left-handed guitar was an acoustic made by Favilla, a firm that manufactured ukuleles and other stringed instruments in New York City from the 1890s until the company moved to Farmingdale, Long Island in 1962. (Entertainer Tiny Tim was one of their most notable ukulele endorsers.) “My local music store in Long Island was this place called Grayson’s Music, and they had a left-handed all-mahogany Favilla guitar in the store,” Easton recalls. “I rode my bike every day to a job at a bagel factory to earn the money for it.”

After logging many hours on the Favilla, it became clear to the young guitarist that if he hoped to accurately reproduce the sounds that he heard on his favorite recordings, he would need an electrified instrument—specifically, a Fender Telecaster. “I was crazy about the Band. My hero was Robbie Robertson, and he played a Telecaster,” Easton says. “I also loved Jesse Ed Davis with Taj Mahal, and Bakersfield country players like James Burton and Roy Nichols, and they all played Telecasters. So in 1971, I got a job washing dishes in a restaurant and saved up $225 for a custom-ordered lefty Fender Telecaster. I drove Grayson’s nuts, because I would call them every day to see if the guitar came in.”

Despite his appreciation for the Telecaster, Easton’s eyes (and ears) soon wandered to Les Pauls. “I was a Mike Bloomfield freak, and that Les Paul tone on the Super Session album was just the greatest thing I ever heard,” he says. “My high school band won a countywide battle of the bands, and our prize was a $500 gift certificate to Sam Ash. There were five guys in the group, so we each got $100 to spend. For whatever reason, there were several left-handed Gibsons in the store at the time, and I settled on a Les Paul Deluxe. I sold my Telecaster for $150, so that was $250 with the winnings, and my mom made up the rest. That Les Paul cost $297 with the case out the door, and I regretted buying it almost immediately because you couldn’t do all the pedal-steel bends and stuff you could do on a Telecaster. I wanted a Fender again, but because I could only afford to have one guitar at a time, I just went back and forth like that for years.”

By the time the newly signed Cars traveled to England to record their 1978 self-titled debut album with producer Roy Thomas Baker, they were generating enough cash from their Boston area gigs for Easton to have assembled a three-guitar arsenal: a Martin D-35 acoustic, a 1977 Les Paul Standard that he had refinished in red, and a new Fender Telecaster fitted with a Bartolini Hi-A mini-humbucker in the neck position. Armed with those, a Morley Echo Volume pedal and Roland Chorus Ensemble, the guitarist cut all of his tracks, including the impeccably composed and executed solos to “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” in less than two days. “That record took 12 days to make in total,” Easton says. “It was our club set and we knew what we were going to do, so we just went in there and regurgitated our parts onto tape.”

The Cars turned out to be a hit, and Easton’s new high profile dictated that leading manufacturers like Dean and Hamer were more than happy to accommodate his requests for special-order left-handed instruments. “Companies usually only offer their two or three most popular guitars in left-handed models, and that’s it,” Easton says. “But now I had a little bit of clout, because I was in a band that was selling records, and I could give a guitar company like Hamer or Dean some exposure if they built me a custom lefty”

In addition to acquiring new, custom-built instruments, Easton began to accumulate vintage left-handed examples, many of which were brought to Cars shows by local dealers. “That’s how it was in the Seventies and Eighties,” he says. “Vintage dealers would show up in the dressing room with guitars. They knew I was a lefty, so if they had a lefty in their inventory, they’d bring that to show me. I bought a 1964 Burgundy Mist Stratocaster that was unplayed, with the tags, the strap, and the payment installments receipt. It was in a white Tolex case that creaked when you opened it because the leather wasn’t broken in yet. That guitar was $2,200, which was a fortune at that time. I paid under two grand for a ’59 slab-board and $600 for a Lake Placid Blue ’65 Tele.”

By the time the Cars reconvened with Baker to record their second effort, 1979’s Candy-O, at Cherokee studios in Los Angeles, Easton had accumulated several dozen guitars, all of which were employed on the album. “I had all of them out on stands, and they just looked so cool,” he recalls. “Before I ever reached for a guitar or an amp or a pedal, I would visualize the sound for a given part in my head and I would inevitably go to the right guitar, the right effects, and the right amp.”

With that, Easton rises and leads us past the swimming pool and into his home, a Hacienda-style house that was built in the mid Seventies. The sun-drenched living room features a vaulted, A-frame ceiling and is decorated in immaculate midcentury mod style. “I’m a Sixties kid,” Easton says, explaining his preferred décor. “I always have been and always will be. Some of the Scandinavian modern designs from the Fifties and Sixties, with their clean lines and beautiful wood, are just perfect.

“If they could have frozen the world in 1966 or something, in terms of pop culture and cars, that would have been fine with me,” he continues. “And it’s not that I’m trying to live in the past; it’s just that I love some of those artifacts and the feeling that they generate. There was a sense of whimsy in the world, or at least in this country. We had plenty of money, and people were having fun. There were terrible things going on, of course, but it seemed like there was more of a capacity for silliness. Just think of things like Pillsbury Funny Face drinks like Goofy Grape, Jolly Olly Orange, and Choo Choo Cherry. We had such fun stuff.”

Most of Easton’s fun stuff—at least to guitar collectors—resides in a recently completed home studio that features wall-to-ceiling storage closets faced with richly figured Macassar ebony doors. More than 100 instruments are housed here. Some are rare vintage examples, while others are custom lefties built especially for him. (Factoid: After the Fender Custom Shop opened in 1987, two of the first 10 guitars it built were ordered by Easton: a Foam Green Telecaster Thinline and a Mary Kaye Strat with a bird’s-eye maple neck.)

While the collection remains vast, the guitarist has thinned his herd a bit over the years, and many of the instruments that he accumulated during the Cars’ Eighties heyday are now gone. Parting with instruments is not something that Easton relishes, not only because of the bonds that he forms with his guitars but also because unloading a lefty, no matter how rare, is never an easy task. “You have to find a very particular kind of customer to buy a high-ticket left-handed guitar,” Easton explains. “First, you have to find a lefty—there aren’t that many of us. And then it has to be a lefty who has the money to buy something like that.”

Easton is also quick to point out that because there is comparatively little demand for left-handed vintage guitars, their extreme paucity is also not reflected in their price. “You’d think that because there are so few lefty vintage guitars, they would be worth exponentially more,” Easton says. “It’s like, I have a mint ’58 Telecaster, lefty. How many of those could there be. Maybe three? If a righty is worth $30,000 and there’s thousands of them, this lefty has to be worth $100,000 because there’s none of them, right? But it doesn’t work that way, because lefties are harder to sell and have a much smaller market.”

And while he might have parted with a few of his favorite and most significant pieces in the years between the Car’s dissolution in 1987 and their reformation and release of an excellent new album, Move Like This, last year, Easton seems to have no regrets. He certainly loves the instruments, both new and old, that he has retained and continued to collect. As he opens one storage cabinet after another in an attempt to pick out a few guitars for our shoot, GA tells him to focus primarily on the instruments that he likes most.

“That’s the problem,” he says with a wide grin that’s almost certainly identical to the one he sported when first seeing his Telecaster at Grayson’s decades ago. “There isn’t a single guitar here that I don’t like!”

This article originally appeared in print as “Left the Good Times Roll.”

Comments

  1. Posted by Damian Sullivan on March 29th, 2012, 00:19 [Reply]

    nice to see an article on a lefty besides hendrix. being a lefty its really annoying to flick through your mags and see all these nice RH guitars.
    Have you ever thought of doing an issue soley on left handed guitarist and have all your adverts pertaining to us ,the minortiy. You have know idea how frustrating it is to never see left handed reviews .
    As for what elliot says about the price of lefty guitars “BULLSHIT” ipayed 4800 for my left les paul traditional…same guitar oin a righty model 3000…wheres the justification ?
    reguards
    Damo

  2. Posted by Tomas Alberto Lengua Cabrera on March 29th, 2012, 01:13 [Reply]

    Felicitaciones por tan excelente publicacion, asi como al mismo Elliot Easton. Pero que paso con la Roland GR-707 synth-guitar, la misma que aparece, por ejemplo, en el Live Aid Festival de 1985, en la cancion: Heartbeat City: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz-0bitY7Pw. Por que esta guitarra no aparece en esta coleccion. Saludos. Atte. Tomas Lengua (Luthier de CabreraGuitars: https://www.facebook.com/CabreraGuitarsPage

  3. Posted by Sterling K on March 29th, 2012, 05:18 [Reply]

    As a Southpaw or Lefty, I can really appreciate these, especially the SGs and the Gretsch, both of which are on my List to Have!!!

  4. Posted by Mary Miraglia on April 19th, 2012, 14:43 [Reply]

    Lefties, take heart, you’re increasing in numbers. I have three children, two lefties or as my son Ben would say, 40% of the household, double the average population. As the stigma has decreased I believe the number of lefties is increasing to its normal level. And since my husband was ambidextrous (read: switched by nuns!) it was really 50%. You are gaining in numbers.

  5. Posted by Milton and Renée Glass on April 19th, 2012, 17:26 [Reply]

    We are so proud that our daughter Jill’s husband, Guitarist Elliot Easton, and our son, Mikel Glass, the Artist, whose painting is on the wall, were merged in this picture.

    It’s a wonderful article, as well, in a beautiful magazine. Thanks, Milton and Renée Glass.

    P.We welcome your comments!
    Name: E-mail: Website:
    Comment: S. We have many left-handed family members, and we agree with those who voiced their opinions that Lefties have to accommodate to a “Righties” World — but we are also very conscious that perhaps a great majority of creative talented people are “Lefties”, because their brains and hands must adapt to this imposed expectation.

  6. Posted by Kurt Gaber on May 5th, 2012, 02:32 [Reply]

    Great story! I liked hearing the details of the early days… riding his bike to work at a bagel factory to save up enough money! I lettered several race cars in the mid eighties to save up enough money to buy a new Roland keyboard… because Greg Hawkes of The Cars played a Roland! Was fortunate to buy a very special Les Paul Standard a few years back. Both of these from direct influence of The Cars! Great collection of guitars… it would seem hard to let any of them go!

  7. Posted by Declan on October 16th, 2012, 11:46 [Reply]

    I would recommend all you lefty’s check out a brand called Gaskell, they’re based in Australia and have some killer guitars! Elliot Easton has approved them himself! Hahahah, they have all sorts of hard to find styles like Explorers and Firebirds all the way to standards like the Les Paul, and the fact that they are a smaller company means that your guitar feels a lot more special. I live in Hong Kong and brought a Les Paul styled one back from my trip to Sydney, I am pretty convinced that it’s the ONLY Gaskell in Hong Kong… Pretty cool :) Great article by the way, I’d be happy to take any guitars he doesn’t want off his hands!

  8. Posted by kerry on December 18th, 2013, 16:12 [Reply]

    Why in the world would you photograph them upside down? Top up please.
    Also, I have a guitar I’ve designed that’s sort of Car-based, and a lefty version specifically done for Elliot…which I’d be happy to show him, if he was interested…if he sees this, put him onto my digits.

  9. Posted by Dave Cisco on December 18th, 2013, 16:55 [Reply]

    I’m a lefty with quite a collection myself I have over 25 guitars Gibsons, Fenders,Kramers,Carvins,Taylors,Wahburns,Martins made in USA and even an Ibanez(jap)lol all cost a pretty penny being that there lefthanded I sold a cpl of Les Pauls years ago but I still have 5
    They don’t come cheap I might add I’ve always liked the perfect execution of Elliots solos he is a great guitarist

  10. Posted by eric ernest on December 20th, 2013, 16:23 [Reply]

    “Whose painting is on the wall.”

    I noticed that FIRST! ….and I’m a “guitar guy!” Awesome! ;)

    • Posted by Jill Easton on January 9th, 2014, 23:45 [Reply]

      The artist is my brother, Mikel Glass. The painting is one of a series of rubber glove florals. Thanks for noticing!

  11. Posted by Jd on December 21st, 2013, 10:07 [Reply]

    Flip the photos please!

  12. Posted by Ton on February 1st, 2014, 11:50 [Reply]

    I own a very rare Fender d’Aquistom Ultra. Lefty of course,

    The guy I bought it from claimed it was formerly owned by Elliot..

    Could any one enlighten me on this one ?

    Gr
    Ton

  13. Posted by Robin on April 8th, 2014, 02:06 [Reply]

    Dear Manager,

    Glad to know you about opening a business relationship.

    Grand Musical Instruments Manufacturer, is a factory specialized in all kinds of guitar instruments. Our products had adopted CE, ROSS, CB, FCC, Quality System Authorities.

    For more information, we would like to let you know our company web sites as below.
    http://www.bestamp-guitar.com, http://www.bestgrand-music.com

    Hope to hear good news from you.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Robin
    Sales Director
    Shenzhen Grand Musical Instruments Co.,Ltd
    http://www.bestamp-guitar.com
    http://www.bestgrand-music.com
    Tel: 86-755-32648279 ext.: 808
    Mobile: 86-15099949910

Reply

We welcome your comments!