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A Guitar that Changed Music History

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Rochester: A Guitar that Changed Music History
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A local music historian played a key role in confirming a discovery that has classic rock buffs excited. A rare guitar that disappeared more than four decades ago has been found. It's all part of an upcoming TV special on PBS. YNN's Seth Voorhees has the story.

"You can name key guitars in history, Hendrix at Monterrey, the Strat he smashed up. Something like Paul McCartney’s Hofner Beatle bass; that’s an iconic guitar,” said Andy Babiuk.

Babiuk would know.

"I’ve held a lot of really famous guitars in my hand," said Babiuk.

He’s held instruments from groups from the Beatles to the Stones.

The owner of Fab Gear in Fairport is a musician, author, and consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people. ‘I've got John Lennon's guitar, I got George Harrison's thing.’ It’s always something or some auction house, and I've gotta authenticate these things and nine times out of ten it's fake, and just some chucklehead trying to make some money," said Babiuk.

A call from some TV show producers last year got Babiuk's interest.

"Some people from PBS called and said ‘we have this guitar that's supposed to be Dylan's,’" said Babiuk.

Bob Dylan's guitar, at least that's how the story went. The one he used the first time the then-folk singer plugged in public, and played electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.

"It was something that really changed not only music and musical culture, but it's pop culture also. So it's pretty iconic," said Babiuk.

The gig didn't go well.

"I mean, here's one of the first times he's playing like a Rolling Stone, and he got booed off the stage," said Babiuk.

The guitar in question now belongs to Dawn Peterson, a New Jersey woman whose dad was a pilot who'd flown for Bob Dylan. She contacted the PBS show "History Detectives," which brought the Fender Stratocaster to Babiuk's shop.

"We literally took the whole guitar apart," said Babiuk.

Using color photos of the Dylan concert, comparing them to the guitar's unique wood grain, and checking the serial number and the date the instrument was built, Babiuk reached a conclusion.

"Without a doubt, I mean that's Dylan's guitar, so it's super valuable. If it was in my shop I could sell it in a second," said Babiuk.

There is another unresolved issue that was touched on in the episode of History Detectives. If the guitar was left on the plane, then who is the instrument's rightful owner?

"Who it belongs to, it’s questionable. So I stay far away from it," said Babiuk.

Unpublished song lyrics written by Dylan were also found inside the guitar case. Safe estimates put the value of the 1964 Fender Strat at $500,000. Babiuk believes the instrument could fetch a million, not that he thinks that is how the story should end.

"This is the kind of instrument that should be in something like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so people can see it. Or something like the Smithsonian. It's that important; it's part of American heritage, really," said Babiuk.

To learn more about the story of the rare Bob Dylan guitar, as well as Andy's role in finding it, catch the History Detectives on PBS, WXXI locally, next Tuesday at 9 p.m.

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