Collecting stories: Perry A. Margouleff

The owner of Pie Studios on Long Island, New York, recollects how a concert he saw at Fillmore East at the age of nine launched a lifelong love of electric guitars

Musician, producer, engineer and guitar collector Perry A. Margouleff is an old friend of Christie’s — he first introduced us to his guitar collection in Christie’s Magazine  in 2014. ‘I have probably owned more than 3,000 guitars in my lifetime,’ he told us on that occasion. ‘But I’ve never bought anything I didn’t like. I don’t think these things are to be looked at. The beauty of a guitar is when it’s making music.’

In our short film we catch up with the collector at Pie Studios in Long Island, New York, the recording facility he owns and where the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Billy Joel and Alicia Keys have come to employ his expertise.

‘I was really just a kid and I was buying guitars with lawnmower money,’ he explains of his early attraction to the instrument. ‘I realised that when you went into the new music store, and you played the two, three, 400-dollar guitars, you could go across the street to a pawn shop, and they would have the same guitars — but 10 years older — at 70 dollars, 80 dollars… [and they were] the better guitars.

‘I was probably making more money than all my teachers, just swapping guitars. Back then, they were really just used instruments — they weren’t collectables,’ he observes.

‘These instruments never became dated. You look at a Stratocaster, and it looks just as hip on [Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist] Jon Frusciante as it does on Buddy Holly’

Margouleff’s collection currently numbers in excess of 300 guitars, but you won’t see them on display. ‘When I go to somebody’s house who is a “guitar collector” and they have their guitars hanging by the neck on the wall, subjected to temperature changes and whatever else, I frown on them. Poor guitars! Would you want to be hanging around by your neck?’ 

The camera pans across row upon row of guitars — Fenders, Gibsons, Bigsbys — carefully stored in their pleasingly battered, meticulously labelled leather cases.

Neither is the musician given to fetishising the provenance of his instruments. ‘I owned a guitar once that belonged to Jimi Hendrix and I sold it because I thought, “It doesn’t really play good and I am not Jimi Hendrix. It doesn’t mean anything to me.”’

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As he fine-tunes an old Les Paul Standard, Margouleff recalls acquiring his first one, for $2,300: ‘It sorta meant that I ate pizza for six months afterwards.

‘These instruments,’ he continues, ‘never became dated. You look at a Stratocaster, and it looks just as hip on [Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist] Jon Frusciante as it does on Buddy Holly. It never became, “Oh look at that antique guitar, it’s no good any more.”’

Margouleff remains ‘an avid collector’, but, he points out, ‘the joy and payback of all of this is to see people having pleasure from it.’ Relishing his demonstration of how a vintage Les Paul Standard should sound, he adds, ‘That’s the best thing in the world.’