For many, a dream guitar consists of a rare Fender, old Gibson or early Martin. For me, it’s always been a Zion. My first serious electric guitar was a ’79-’80 Hondo II Les Paul copy. My Dad bought it for me when I turned 18. The volume and tone pots were always scratchy, and the pickup selector made a lot of noise, but – hey – I didn’t have to worry. I didn’t even own an amp! I’d play thru a small, grey Radio Shack phone amplifier, just slightly larger than a deck of cards. With that volume knob cranked to 10, and a set of headphones, I was ready to jam along to anything I could.
In the mid ’80’s, I began to take notice that several of my favorite guitarists were sporting an unusual name on their choice of axes. First it was Phil Keaggy, then Bob Hartman and finally Kerry Livgren. I’d stare at publicity pictures, hoping for a clear view — for some kind of name. Finally a freeze-framed video tape revealed the particular make: Zion. I remember thinking, if my favorite music from my favorite players comes from these guitars – then I want to know more.
When I sent away for info and pricing, what I found out was that I couldn’t afford a Zion. Custom and quality comes with a price. Maybe if I didn’t have a family to support I would have knuckled down and bought one. But money was tight with my single income, and I was determined to keep my wife home with my two youngsters. So in the meantime, I decided that if I couldn’t get a new Zion, I’d watch and pray for a used one. And so the search began. Pawn shops, guitar stores, pawn shops. Wherever I was, in whatever town, I’d stop in and scan the headstocks looking for that name.
About 10 years into the search, (yeah, 10 years) I did find a beat-up one at a local Melbourne shop. They wanted $800, but the heavy damage and price were enough to steer me clear. Around 1998 I discovered the online world of Internet auctions. Occasionally, a Zion would show up. Of course, I’d watch powerlessly as the price would inch inexorably upward, eclipsing what I could afford.
In the summer of ’99, on the way home from a Michigan vacation, I convinced my family that we needed a little detour. (Ok, so it was a six hour detour.) At Zion’s headquarters in North Carolina, we met Jim Grey, Ken Hoover and the gang. As though there was any doubt… now I really wanted one of these beauties. Time to redouble my prayer requests. Ha ha.
So, the months flew by, and I watched and waited and searched.
And then it happened.
Late in 2001, a teal/blue Zion made its entrance to an online auction. I mildly kept my eye on it. A few days went by, and on Friday, the bidding leveled off – and at a price that really had me sit up and take notice. Usually prices shot up so high that I never even considered the guitar as a possibility. Could this be the one?
A closer look and a question or two to the seller – and I now knew what I was looking at: a mid 1980’s Zion PowerGlide. Glued in neck. Two single coils with a humbucker at the bridge. Electrically sound. No major blemishes to report. When viewed as a whole, it reminded me of a 50’s Thunderbird. It was simply my favorite color married to a favorite instrument. The auction ended on the upcoming Tuesday morning. No sense in getting my hopes up too high, right?
Saturday and Sunday passed, and come Monday morning, the guitar was unbelievably still sitting at under $300! Was I going to be able to get it? Even $300 was a lot at this junction in life – but maybe, just maybe, I could make this work.
I talked about it all weekend. On Monday night I made phone calls to friends, and my Mom in California. “What do you think, Mom, should I get it?” My non-techno Mom knew nothing of online auctions, but she knew how long I’d waited for a Zion.
“Go for it, Ronnie.”
Tuesday morning… did I actually sleep last night?
First thing, before heading off to work, I checked the web page. Still at the same price. Oh man! On the half hour commute, I could only think of one thing. I still had yet to decide on my absolute highest bid. Walking into work, I prayed for wisdom…and the number $420 jumped into my head. Could I afford that? It would be the most I’d ever spent on a musical instrument. (Why that was double what I paid for my first car!) $420. It seemed to be the number.
I arrived at my desk and pulled up the web page. Price unchanged. My stomach started to do loops. Carefully taking note of the auction’s closing time, I synchronized my watch down to the last second. So, I had roughly an hour and a half. Time to get some work done. (Yeah, right!)
I answered a few emails, closed some work orders, and with the minutes ticking down on the clock, decided to show a co-worker what I was going to be bidding on.
Tapping on his door, I explained the item and waited for it to come up on his computer. Once again, that teal beauty popped up on the screen. “That’s a nice guitar,” he said, leaning forward and scrutinizing the photos.
It was then that his phone rang. He picked it up and after a short pause I remember him jumping forward, exclaiming, “WHAT?” The incredulous tone of his voice sent a shiver through me. I immediately knew something was wrong. “A plane?” he asked into the phone. Reaching over, I typed CNN into his web browser….and it didn’t come up. I tried ABC News. No go. CBS. Nada. Something was definitely wrong.
Hanging up the phone, he looked at me and said, “My father-in-law says someone flew a plane into one of the World Trade Towers.” Now it was my turn to be stunned. With news sites too sluggish to respond, the two of us hunted down a room that had a television, and with about ten others we watched in gut wrenching unbelief as the horrible events unfolded. Everything else was forgotten – nothing else existed – nothing else mattered. With the second tower now hit, I felt like going outside and throwing up. It was eerily silent in the little room – I needed to get away from the images. As I got ready to leave my friend elbowed me and said, “Hey, weren’t you going to bid on a guitar?” With a knot in my throat I looked over at him and said, “I don’t think I ever want to play guitar again.”
I walked outside to a bright, sunny Florida day, yet turmoil boiled inside me. Making my way back to my work desk, I absently glanced at my watch wondering how close the auction was to closing. Maybe I’d have time to reflect on my situation… the timer showed two minutes. Two minutes till the auction ended. Conflicting emotions raged inside. Why should I be interested in a guitar, when so much tragedy surrounded my country?
A glance at the web site still showed the guitar’s price relatively unchanged. Do I bid? Do I try for it? I prayed, “Lord, I don’t deserve this guitar- or, for that matter, anything You’ve done for me. But I know that I’ve wanted this guitar for so long- I’ll leave it in Your hands.” Another glimpse at my watch revealed 10 seconds to go. Should I do it? I moved the mouse over… and clicked on the submit button. Then, I put my head on my desk, and for the next five minutes I wept for the tragedy of the day.
Later, when I looked up at the screen, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. To my astonishment, my name was at the top. Did that mean I’d won it? An email confirmed it moments later. I’d won it for just under $400.
I exchanged brief emails with the seller, who after learning of my love for Zions, packed it up and mailed it out, even before the payment had cleared. What a guy! Now all I had to wait for was UPS.
A week later, and the delivery day arrived. I got the phone call from my wife. “It’s here,” she said excitedly. I looked at the clock. Two-thirty in the afternoon. Still two hours of work left.
“Have you opened it?” I asked.
“No, I thought you’d want to.”
I thought about that for three seconds. “No, go ahead and open it.” The phone was put down, and I heard the muffled sounds of cardboard being ripped open. Then, there was the sound of packing peanuts, then the unmistakable sound of a guitar case’s spring-loaded snap latches. I heard a gasp, and immediately thought the worst. It was damaged… Large blemishes marred its surface… I should never have trusted so much money…
My wife picked the phone back up and I immediately asked in an anxious voice: “Well, how is it?”
“Oh, Ron…it’s…it’s beautiful.”
Now my wife has never called a guitar beautiful before. Could I wait the work day out? Absolutely, positively not!
I poked my head in my boss’s door. “Boss, I just received a guitar I’ve been waiting for — for almost 20 years. I’m absolutely no good to you right now. There’s no way I can concentrate on work.”
“See you tomorrow,” was the sweet response.
My family huddled around me when I got home. The black hard-shell case waited on the couch. They’d already seen it. But, would I be disappointed?
My first look… how do I describe it? With the case lid open, I was staring at a masterpiece of artistry, surrounded by a sea of black velvet. The older, black Zion logo was prominently displayed across the teal headstock. My eye followed every curve, taking in the chrome control knobs and floating Kahler Tremelo.
It was perfect. I was stunned into silence. It was exactly what I’d dreamed of. “Well,” my soon to be teenager daughter asked me, “Are you going to play it?”
And play it I did. In tune right from the word go, the Zion delivered on all fronts, delivering its own unique growl to the sound mix.
I played that PowerGlide for nearly three years straight – for practically every Sunday for my church in Florida. And I’m still occasionally recognizable as, “Hey, aren’t you the guy with that cool blue guitar?” Yeah, that’s me.
It says in Psalm 37:4,“Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart” On a horrible day in September, my Zion entered my life. And though I thought I’d never want to play again – the Lord has shown me that He is able to sustain and give me hope, and even my desires, in the worst of times. Now, when I cradle that guitar, and coax those magnificent tones from it, I’m not reminded of what horrors man can do to man; but rather I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness… That good things come to those who wait. Those who wait on Him.
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More Information on Zion Guitars
– Close-Up Shots — 1980’s Zion PowerGlide Electric Guitar(See a slide show featuring more up close Zion pictures.)
– Instrumental Rock – Journey to Boston – Part 1 (This 51-second audio jam features my Zion PowerGlide on lead. For the guitar techs out there, the bridge position humbucker was used through a Digitech GNX-3, with just a touch of eBow. More details available.)
– VIDEO: Intro Solo Riff from Kansas’ Carry on Wayward Son(See an instructional video of my Zion PowerGlide powering through one of Kerry Livgren’s most recognizable riffs.)
– How to Tie Guitar Strings – A Proven Method(Though shot as a video guitar string instructional, the audio was recorded during a jam session in a friend’s bedroom. Listen carefully and you’ll hear moments where the Zion singing out in the background.)
–Zion Guitar’s Official Website