Dave Thornhill keeps 14 guitars on hand just in case he gets the urge to strum a few tunes, a yen that strikes him pretty much every day. He’s owned probably 25 to 30 since childhood when he had to hide that first guitar from his father by stashing it in the coal shed.
“I didn’t buy a really good guitar until I was in high school, a Gretsch 6120. I bought it for $250. Today it would be worth $45,000. I sold it in 1958,” said Thornhill of one that got away.
A second handsome guitar also slipped out of his hands, but he was able to track it down.
“I played with Billy Adams and the Rocketeers in the late 1950s. One day, me and his brother, Charlie Adams, went into a music store, and there were two Les Paul Gibson Cherry Sunburst guitars hanging on the wall. We both bought one. I paid $229 for mine and kept it until 1961 and sold it to my older brother,” Thornhill recalled.
“In 1973, I began to read how valuable the Cherry Sunburst was. I called my brother, Junior, and he told me he had sold it to a friend for $600. I asked him, ‘You think you can get that guitar back? If you can, I’ll get you whatever guitar you want.’ I waited two or three months and went to Junior’s house to try and get it back. The fellow had kept it under his bed six years and never played it and wanted $600 back for it.”
So Thornhill’s brother bought the Les Paul Gibson Cherry Sunburst back and told his brother he wanted a Gibson 335 red guitar in exchange.
“At the time I was playing in Oklahoma City with Conway Twitty, and a guy named Bob Wood had a music store there. I asked him if he had a Gibson ES-335. He said, ‘I just got one in on a trade. You can have it for $300.’ I bought it and next week heard that my brother had the Les Paul back.”
The brothers made the trade.
“At the time the Cherry Sunburst was worth $1,500. It had had some nicks in back of the neck. I decided to take it to the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, and I drove Loretta’s tour bus up to the front and here come all these dignitaries, and it was just me. I told them I wanted the nicks fixed.”
The Gibson folks repaired the nicks but they also refinished the entire guitar, which knocked down the value of the instrument by 50 percent.
As for amplifiers, Thornhill still owns the same Fender twin amp 66 he had when he began playing for Loretta Lynn. And, while he has his choice of over a dozen guitars to play at any moment, the one he plays most is the same one he used while making the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a Japanese guitar made by Electra that he purchased for $100.