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Canadian jazz guitarist Ed Bickert plays his 1965 blonde Fender Telecaster, which was his main instrument from 1965 until his retirement in 2000.Jeff Bickert/Handout

The guitar long owned and played by the late Canadian jazz great Ed Bickert was sold last week. The sale raised US$32,500 and many questions.

Who bought it? We don’t know – the buyer has chosen to remain anonymous. Will the instrument, iconic in the minds of Canadian jazz fiends, remain in Canada? Yes, it will. Does that even matter? Good question.

The Manitoba-born Bickert, a member of the Order of Canada and indisputably one of the finest jazz guitarists this country has produced, died of cancer in 2019. He was 86. He left behind an elite legacy, an appreciable discography and a well-worn 1965 blonde Fender Telecaster that was his main instrument from 1965 until his retirement in 2000.

Last week, the sale of the instrument by the Bickert Estate was posted on the website of Toronto’s The Twelfth Fret Guitarists’ Pro Shop, the long-running business that helped Bickert maintain the instrument when he was alive and playing, and brokered the sale. News of the guitar’s availability quickly spread on social media, along with comments on the instrument’s cultural value and its place in Canadian music history.

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Bickert's guitar was recently sold to an anonymous buyer. The sale raised US$32,500 and many questions.Handout

Jazz guitarist David Occhipinti, for one, expressed concern for the Telecaster’s preservation, tweeting, “I hope we can do the right thing with how it is taken care of for the future.” He said he also hoped the guitar ended up in a “good place.”

Determining what that right thing and the right place might be is a tricky proposition. The guitar is very special, Occhipinti told The Globe and Mail this week. “I don’t think we celebrate our artists enough in Canada. It would be nice to be able to see the guitar, either on display or in use.”

An example of accessible preservation would be the Chickering piano bought by Glenn Gould in 1955 that currently lives in the lobby of Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio. The Yamaha that Gould used to record his final albums is often played by pianists for informal lobby concerts at Roy Thomson Hall.

While Bickert’s guitar was still up for grabs, Occhipinti sent an e-mail to the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank, which collects exceptional instruments donated for use by qualified musicians. But because the bank collects classical instruments, it wasn’t the best fit for the vintage Fender electric.

A more appropriate institution would be the National Music Centre, a non-profit museum and performance venue located in Calgary. Its holding includes Sylvia Tyson’s autoharp, a Neil Young harmonica and the guitar Randy Bachman used to record American Woman.

Celebrating jazz guitarist Ed Bickert’s eight decades

The NMC’s Jesse Moffatt received an e-mail from a fan of Bickert alerting the museum of the guitar’s sale. But because the prized instrument sold so quickly – in one day – there was nothing the NMC could do.

“It’s a challenge for a cultural organization like ours,” said Moffat, senior director of collections and exhibitions. “You want to keep these objects that relate to Canadian music history, but when they come up for sale it has to fit within our acquisition strategy, and it takes us time to react.”

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The Telecaster is in museum condition.Handout

One hundred per cent of the NMC’s collection has been loaned or donated. Because the museum has no acquisition budget, it would have needed to find a benefactor to cover the cost of Bickert’s guitar in order to add it to its collection. “There’s a process,” Moffat said.

The Telecaster attracted interest from both American and Canadian buyers. “There was a real respect for the instrument,” said Twelfth Fret’s Chris Bennett. “I had people telling me they’d love to take the guitar on, but there’s a whole aura to it.”

According to Bennett, a professional guitarist and a vintage guitar expert, the jazz guitar market differs from the rock guitar scene, where celebrity instruments are flipped indiscriminately. “If someone were to get up on stage and play Ed’s guitar, people would expect something special and particular,” Bennett said. “Personally, the guitar has more mojo than I could deal with.”

One well-known Canadian guitarist, however, doesn’t believe in treating guitars with kid gloves or genre-specific reverence. “If I was ever lucky enough to get Ed’s Tele, I’d use it on stage and record rock, jazz and all kinds of music,” said Bachman, of Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame.

Bachman actually played the Telecaster on a CBC television show. “I also asked Ed to show me how to play the solo he had played on the show, and he did.”

Asked if Bickert’s guitar or any musical instrument should be in a museum for all to see or in the hands of a great player who will continue to use it, Bachman wasn’t sure: “It’s a coin toss.”

The Telecaster is indeed in museum condition. An Allen key used for height adjustment is still taped to the pickguard, and Bickert’s spare pick is taped to the back, exactly where he left it. The guitar strings have not been replaced.

While the purchaser does not wish to be identified, Twelfth Fret’s Bennett divulged that the guitar was “bought enthusiastically” by a serious musician who plans to use it on gigs and sessions, and that it would remain in Canada.

“He told me he fully understands and respects the position of this guitar in Canadian jazz history,” said Bennett. “And he realizes he’s becoming the custodian of something very special to many emotional Bickert fans.”

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