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The surreal saga of Dave’s gutted Gibson

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It’s a story that could easily have ended on anything but a high note. A traveling musician walks up to an airport baggage claim to the screeching sound of metal on metal and the horrific sight of his beloved 1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar (valued at $10,000) being mangled. For guitarist Dave Schneider, it was the most painful part of what turned into a surreal 20-hour journey from Maine to Florida.

Schneider has been “Captain” of The Zambonis for more than 20 years. The band has released seven albums of infectious rock songs devoted to hockey, life and love.

Schneider, along with Adam Gardner of Boston-based alt-pop-rockers Guster, is also part of The LeeVees - a band who specialize in original indie-pop Hanukkah songs. It was on a December tour stop with this group where Dave Schneider experienced (in his words) “The best tragedy ever!”

This long strange trip began in Portland where The LeeVees had played a well-received concert before boarding a plane headed for the next show in Tampa. Because of bad weather, the plane landed in Rochester, where the group rented a car and drove to Buffalo in order to hop a plane to Detroit – not exactly a city known for handling things (or people) with care.

Most of the time, Schneider is allowed to fly with his guitar in sight where he can keep it safe but, in Buffalo, he encountered a Delta employee who said “No.”

Schneider: There were empty seats with lots of room up above, but they wouldn’t let me bring the guitar on board. Usually, I have luck getting through these people one at a time, but I found the one person who wouldn’t let me do it.

Dow: You started filming before you knew for sure that anything was wrong. Did you just have a feeling?

Schneider: As we were landing, I said to Adam (Gardner), “I’ve got a bad vibe here” and I took out my video camera. The baggage handlers who were doing their jobs did nothing wrong. If you watch the clip, you’ll see that she put that guitar on the lower level and it’s just sitting there loose on this metal thing that goes up an elevator shaft. The guitar slid down and became lodged in the shaft between two steel beams. My guitar case was mangled and the guitar was badly damaged. It took three guys with crow bars one hour to free the guitar.

Dow: How seriously damaged was it?

Schneider: Many articles claimed that the guitar was destroyed – it wasn’t. It was just badly damaged and devalued. Airports are just not the place for an angry guy, but I did manage a few curse words. Well, actually one word repeated three times.

Dow: Did Delta admit fault?

Schneider: By offering money from the beginning – yeah. This game of “We can pay this amount” started. They started at $350, then it went up $500 and then they said, “The maximum amount we can give you is $1,000.” I was on the road and couldn’t exactly break away for an estimate.

Dow: I like one of your quotes where you said, “Hey, I’m not a greedy guy, I just want my guitar repaired.”

Schneider: When that quote appeared in the news stories, I got about 10 phone calls from musicians and one lawyer saying, “Hey, you’re forgetting that your guitar is devalued because of this.” Even with repairs, if I wanted to resell it, I could never get the full value because of the damage it went through. The estimate to repair it was $1,980.

Dow: And then the story was everywhere.

Schneider: After the story hit CNN, two big things happened. Delta said, “What can we do to make this right for both of us?” In the end, they paid me for the guitar. Some might say it’s classless to mention what they paid, but it’s the truth and I’d like to put it out there for other musicians who might find themselves in the same position someday. Delta paid me $8,000. And they also gave me two free tickets, so I’m going to Florida in March.

The other big thing is Gibson. For my entire life, I’ve looked at posters of Pete Townshend playing a Gibson SG. And one of my biggest influences has been the great guitar innovator Les Paul. I just love Gibson. The Gibson company called me and said, “Mr. Schneider, we want to give you a brand new 50th anniversary 1963 reissue guitar and we’d like you to come into our studio in New York and give you a tour of where the artists come to play.” I feel good – it’s the best tragedy ever!

Dow: What a great ending to this story! So, are you going to retire the 1965 Gibson and only play your new guitar?

Schneider: No, I think I’ll bring them both and hopefully they’ll get crushed and I’ll end up with four guitars!

Dow: This story has been covered by hundreds of news outlets from CNN to Yahoo, Gawker and Perez Hilton and, in many cases, the media chose not to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Schneider: As you know, my other band is called The Zambonis, and we only do songs about hockey. That might sound like a bad idea, but my favorite thing in the world is when people say, “Hey, you know what? You guys don’t suck!”

Anyway, my dream in life was to play hockey, but unfortunately I’m a chubby Jewish guy so I can only live vicariously through the songs I write about the sport. According to the news media in Russia who reported on this episode, I am “Former NHL player and musician and lead singer of The Zambonis, Dave Schneider.” That is the greatest distortion ever in my favor! I don’t know who I played for – I don’t know when I played for the NHL – but according to Russia, I’m an NHL player. Oh, and all of the coverage from the Midwest claims that I’m a Detroit-based musician, which is very funny because I’m from Connecticut.

I don’t want people to think “Oh, this guy made out great in this deal.” I’m not a greedy pig. I didn’t do this to get my name out there – it just happened. While I’m at Gibson picking up the guitar they have for me, I’m going to buy two guitars and auction them off for charity when I get home.

“The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow” can be heard each morning on Big 104 – The Biggest Hits of the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s - airing on 104.3 FM, 104.7 FM and 107.7 FM.

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