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Fan amasses huge rock music memorabilia collection

25,000 items may be largest collection in Northern California

By Jim Harrington, The Mercury News
Published: May 11, 2024, 6:04am

Bill Guardino stands amid the nearly unfathomably large collection of music memorabilia that overwhelms the house he shares with his wife Janet and his dog Zappa in Gilroy, Calif.

“I don’t know where to begin,” the 69-year-old fan says as he is about to guide me on a private tour of his artifacts, curiosities and undeniably cool stuff.

So, I make the decision for him and immediately zoom past the Beatles, Grateful Dead, etc. and follow my own musical passion right to a gorgeous framed display of Black Sabbath’s debut record, signed by all four of the band members.

“That’s the album that started it all,” Guardino says of the 1970 epic that is considered to be ground zero for heavy metal.

From there, Guardino continues to provide commentary as we soak up such treasures as a signed Doors picture (“That’s a rare piece — to have all four signatures on a photograph like that”) and a copy of Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets” album that is signed by all four original band members — including the late Syd Barrett (“I just can’t believe that I have Syd’s signature on that.”)

We pause a moment to savor the sight of a bass guitar that is signed by none other than the legendary Paul McCartney.

“It might be one of my favorites,” Guardino says. “But There are too many to choose.”

That’s made abundantly clear as we move on to a framed Traveling Wilburys display featuring signatures from all five members of the ultimate rock supergroup — Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. And, oh, wow, that’s a guitar signed by the great bluesman Muddy Waters.

“What I’m showing you is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Guardino, who operates a successful drywalling business, Guardino Drywall, Inc, in the South Bay. “What I am showing you today is probably 1 percent.”

Actually — doing the quick math — it’s far less. I’ll only see a few hundred pieces (at least up close) during this tour. Yet, Guardino estimates he has 250,000 items, constituting what he believes to be the largest collection of music memorabilia in Northern California.

“This is a six bedroom house and every room is full — and the walls,” comments Janet Guardino, who briefly joins our informal tour before disappearing off to her office.

Full is a bit of an understatement. Some of these rooms are so stuffed with goodies — including some nonmusic, pop culture memorabilia — that it’s hard to even walk through them. All of the items mentioned thus far in this story were framed and prominently displayed on the walls in this two-story house.

Yet, the Guardinos would need dozens (if not hundreds) of other houses in order to have the wall space necessary to display all the worthwhile memorabilia in this collection. Most of the treasures are just stocked up in piles, awaiting for their chance to impress.

That fact is underscored as Guardino thumbs through some more items, eventually landing upon a framed copy of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album that is not only signed by the legendary singer-songwriter himself but also his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo (who appears on the album cover with Dylan).

“This needs to be displayed,” Guardino comments of the historically significant piece. “It’s amazing it’s not hanging on the wall.”

It’s really the classic rock items — from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — that jump out at you while strolling through his collection. Yet, Guardino has stuff from other decades and musical genres as well.

“I try to accumulate from every era,” he says. “And I have.”

As if to illustrate the point, we soon come items from Nirvana, Foo Fighters and — wait — is that Justin Bieber?

“That’s a yard sale find,” Guardino clarifies.

Yet, that’s how he’s put together much of his collection, garnering one piece at a time from a variety of sources over the course of decades. His passion for collecting can be traced back to elementary school, when he started buying up Beatles 45s. It went to the next level, however, once he really began to notice all the cool art that adorned rock posters and album covers of the era.

“The artwork is just really inspiring to me,” Guardino says. “That’s really what got me into collecting.”

And one of the bonuses of this pursuit is that Guardino is certainly never at a lack for something music-related to wear.

“I have maybe 3,000 concert T-shirts,” he reckons.

Yet, he’s not just a collector. He’s also a vendor, having transformed his oversized hobby into a side job.

He sells music memorabilia at Ashford’s Heirlooms on Monterey Street in Gilroy as well as online through his own Head Trip Music website.

“Obsession? Maybe,” Guardino says of his collection. “Passion? Definitely.”

“Investment? Definitely.”

Yes, he’s certainly enjoyed some good returns on his investments over the years. As an example, he shows off some rare Grateful Dead handbills, with Rick Griffin art, for a gig that was scheduled to take place in Hawaii, but didn’t end up happening.

“I got these things for $10, $15 a pop and I’ve sold them for $3,000,” he says.

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He turns to his vinyl collection — which he reckons numbers around 100,000 — and showcases a sealed, early number, first pressing of the Beatles’ “White Album.”

“I’d have to get $12,000 for that,” he comments.

Yet, this is not really a money thing for Guardino. That much is made abundantly clear as you witness the joy on his face and hear the passion in his voice as he walks through the amazing collection that he’s put together through the decades. It’s about the love music and the joy of the hunt — of finding that next cool new piece to add to the mix — that keeps him collecting.

“I don’t want to stop,” Guardino says.