In 2003, I suddenly realized that I was not a high school kid working at the Royal Farm Store. I was an IT professional, middle manager at a major ecommerce company, and if I wanted to buy a new guitar, I could do it, dammit. So I started shopping for something I had always wanted—a jazz archtop. Well, I was in for sticker shock. I went to Chuck Levin's and played a few guitars. Most of the guitars they carry are plywood tops, including a very nice D'Angelico. However, I had a plywood archtop in the ES-335, and I wanted a true carved top. They also showed me a Hofner Jazzica, a smallish carved-top guitar at a reasonable price, which in this case means under $2000. But somehow it wasn't quite what I wanted, so I kept shopping.
I visited Southworth Guitars (which used to be a store but now I think is Internet-only) and played several. But the only thing remotely in my price range was a "distressed" (totally beat up) Gibson that must have been somebody's idea of a collector's item, considering the high price tag. No thanks.
Next was Legato Guitars, a one-man show run by the late Bill Fender. At the time, Bill worked out of his home in Alexandria, then moved to N.C. He dealt almost exclusively in vintage, used, and new archtops. At the time he was the only retailer that handles the very few guitars still made by Bob Benedetto. (Guild, owned by Fender, bought the Benedetto name but Bob still makes one every now and then). I called Bill, and although he said he only rarely gets visitors, he was only too happy to have me come to his house and see his stock.
I spent about an hour playing various guitars he had there, at all price points. I was really taken by the Hofner New President, a new guitar, and a used New Heritage Golden Eagle. I left to go off and think about it.
I went again, this time with my son Eric. I played both guitars again, and decided on the Hofner. Bill had told me about a vintage Benedetto he had that was offered for $20,000. Some famous jazz player, maybe Johnny Smith, had owned it. I told him I'd buy the Hofner if I could play the Bendetto, and he was happy to oblige.
Hard to imagine how that guitar is worth 10 times more than the one I bought.