As a vintage guitar collector and owner of Black Book Guitars, Nate Fasold is a master excavator. He’s dogged, detail-oriented and knows how to stay the course. In fact, treasure hunting runs in the Fasold family.

His father, David Fasold, spent his youth in the Merchant Marines. After marrying and settling down to start a family in Key West, Florida, he opened up a marine salvage company that sat out at the end of a long, cement pier. There, Fasold’s father helped his fellow treasure hunters dredge ancient wrecks from the sea floor. It was also where Nate Fasold’s fascination with the thrill of the hunt began.

“Ever since I was a kid, I was into finding treasures, and most importantly the history behind the treasures,” said Fasold. “I was brought up with this pirate fantasy.”

Since 2012, Black Book Guitars has specialized in rare and vintage guitars, basses, amps and auxiliary equipment.

Since 2012, Black Book Guitars has specialized in rare and vintage guitars, basses, amps and auxiliary equipment.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

Fasold dreamed of traveling the world and at age 17, he left Key West for Europe. By the time he was 21, he had found a new life in Switzerland, giving tennis lessons. He had plans to stay, until he received a call from his mother, who had since moved to Corvallis, Oregon. She informed him that his father had a seizure and was going in to surgery.

Fasold returned stateside, but the news only worsened: Both of his parents were diagnosed with brain cancer. At 22, Fasold became his parents’ full-time caregiver and turned to music for cathartic release, experimenting with a secondhand drum machine while they slept.

His father passed away in a matter of months. Fasold and his mother moved to Portland, where she lived in a care home for the next four years. After his mother died, he decided to go to nursing school. He made a small splash with his band, The Natrons, but before long, he returned to his treasure hunting ways. 

“I missed the feeling of going on the hunt,” Fasold said. “Buying and selling used, vintage guitars was something I could do while I was in nursing school.”

Nate Fasold at Powell's Books pointing to a photo of Elliott Smith. Fasold is on a mission to determine whether the guitar in the photo is the same guitar someone is offering to sell to his shop.

Nate Fasold at Powell’s Books pointing to a photo of Elliott Smith. Fasold is on a mission to determine whether the guitar in the photo is the same guitar someone is offering to sell to his shop.

Phoebe Flanigan/OPB

Fasold would spend hours browsing eBay for unusual and storied guitars. In 2012, he opened his shop, Black Book Guitars, on Mississippi Avenue. The tiny shop has become a stopover for touring bands and a hangout for local talent. Fasold is there whenever he’s not on shift as a trauma nurse at the Oregon Health and Science University, and over the years, he has honed his craft in identifying true, vintage guitar gems.

“One thing I’ll do that’s kind of funny is I’ll smell a guitar,” he said. “After seeing lots of different guitars, you just get a sense of what looks right, what smells right.”

Fasold’s latest find is a black acoustic guitar that is believed to have belonged to Portland indie rock legend, Elliott Smith. While at Powell’s Books, he flips through the pages of a book with photos of Smith during his playing days. He stops at a black and white photo of Smith sitting on a ratty, old couch, strumming a black guitar that appears identical to Fasold’s. Fasold is excited, but not totally convinced.

“I’m very skeptical with anything that comes through the shop and if it can’t be authenticated, it’s folklore,” he said. “It’s very cool we were able to find a photo, though. That is great.”

Fasold said he will try to track down an ex-roommate of Smith to see if he can verify anything. In the meantime, he’s already off and running on his next case; he thinks may have found one of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar pedals.

Editor’s note: In October, Fasold flew to Boston to fetch the guitar. It travelled back to Portland in its own airplane seat, and sold to an Elliott Smith fan for $35,000.