Remembering Sergio Estrada RIP 1961-2017

My friend, Sergio Estrada, passed away October 1, 2017.  He had just turned 56 in September and died unexpectantly of a very aggressive type of leukemia and shocked everyone who knew him.

It’s been just a few weeks since his passing, and I still can’t believe it.  It was so sudden and so surreal.

I first met Sergio around 2007.   He was the lead guitarist of the local cover band, Monsters of Rock.  Not just any cover band, a METAL cover band.  Not usually my cup of tea, but they were really good, with killer vocals and monster guitars!  As I soon became a fan, Sergio became a friend.  I often ran into Sergio out at different shows around town; even ones wasn’t playing in.   He was always supporting other local bands.  Sergio was one of the nice guys.

I’ve taken quite a few photographs of Sergio over the past ten years.  Not much time in the grand scheme of things.  He was one of the musicians I featured in my first Photo show at San Pascual Winery in September 2013.  He attended the opening celebration and we posed for a snapshot next to a live photo of him.  We got to talking about this particular live image, and Sergio noted that the guitar he was using in the photograph was not his favorite “G&L.”  He then told me the story of his favorite G&L guitar.  That’s when I got the idea for a collection of stories about musicians and their favorite instruments.

Now, after his passing, it’s time.  I’ve decided to dedicate my collection of “Musician’s Stories” to My good friend Sergio Estrada.  The first story, “Sergio and the #391st G&L”, is his, written in his own words.  I couldn’t have told it any better.

Sergio Estrada and the #391st G&L

“A lot of people have been commenting on my new guitar at the Monsters of Rock gigs (G&L F100).  It has an interesting story that I thought I’d share.  It’s a guitar that was only in production for a few years.

Anyhoo, back in 1981 I saw a G&L at Guitar Trader in Clairemont Mesa and fell in love with it.  It was $700, which today, would be equivalent to at least $2000.  I asked my dad for a loan, but he did better.  On Christmas morning he told me, “Let’s go get that guitar.”  At the time I had no idea what a huge sacrifice this was for him.  He was a working-class immigrant, and $700 was probably close to what he made in a month.

Years later, I traded it to my friend Mike Fenton, owner of Muzik Muzik, a popular music store in El Cajon.  Turned out, he was a good friend of Steve Vai, who at the time was playing with David Lee Roth.  Their equipment truck had been stolen and Steve’s roadie, Elwood Francis, also a good friend of Mike’s, put out a call to buy used guitars so he’d have spare parts for Steve’s guitars.  I traded it to Mike for an amp and a mic. It was a fair trade at the time.

Fast forward 20 years.  I’m playing in MOR and my dad asked me if I was still playing the G&L.  When I told him I’d traded it, he was visibly upset.  He was so proud that he was able to get that guitar for me and I realized that it represented more than just a guitar.  It symbolized his love, faith, and the sacrifice he’d made for me.  I had to get it back.  Or at least replace it.

Looking through eBay, I soon found out that they were a rare find.  Mostly going for $2000, but never in the gold finish like the one I had.  I had all but given up.  But then one day I ran into Mike in Julian.  I asked about the guitar, and he told me that Elwood ended up liking it so much that he kept it as his own.  I told Mike that if he ever ran into him to tell him I’d like to buy it back.  At that time Elwood was a roadie for the Wallflowers and hard to track down.  About a year later, though the magic of Facebook, I found and added Mike to my FB account.  I sent him a message reminding, further explaining the significance that guitar had for me.

About a month ago he sent me a message telling me that he’d ran into Elwood and he’d agreed to sell it back to me.  I contacted Elwood and he told me a little about the guitar. One thing he noted was that the serial number on the guitar was an early one, so I braced myself as to what he would ask for it.  To my surprise, he only asked for $500, a steal for a vintage G&L F100.  The story touched him and all he asked was that he’d get a picture of me and my dad holding the guitar.  The thing about guitars is that to the purist, a guitar is like one’s kid.  Elwood obviously understood that and he sent that G&L home to his dad.

The week that I got the guitar shipped to my home (from Oregon), MOR had a gig.  I took it, just to have as a back up.  I tuned all my guitars, then plugged the G&L in, tuned it up and struck a chord.  As I heard the chord come out of my amp, I was like, Oh, my God, what was that?  I guess 31 years have a way of making the wood dense and resonant.  It sounded great and since then it has become my main guitar.  I’ll never let it out of my hands again.  I’ve even told my daughters that that guitar must stay in the family after I’m gone.  Again, thank you, to Mike Fenton and Elwood Francis for making it all possible.”

I photographed Sergio many times since I heard this story.  The great majority of those photos show him performing with his beloved #391.

Story and photos by Stephanie Pillar