My Old Guitar
Tony Rice did a song called ‘Me and My Guitar.’ When I hear it, it always makes me think about mine. I’m sure everyone’s guitar has a rich story behind it.
I recall the first guitar I ever saw. It was a dingy gray-ish hue (now they’d call it charcoal) Silvertone with a white pick-guard and Black Diamond strings. It rested against the wall in the corner of my Uncle’s basement. I thought it looked lonely. It was the first of many strays I thought in need of a home. It only had five strings. I messed with it three months before I realized they usually had six.
I let my crew cut grow out and my parents were afraid I was gonna become one of those Beatles so I let it go for a while, but I dreamed of that guitar. I saved up money from mowing lawns and bought one. It was some no name knockoff dreadnaught, but it had a decent enough sound. It was more than acceptable for a kid.
My buddies and I formed a garage band. I got the job as the guitar man ’cause I knew more than three chords and made up a solo on ‘Louie, Louie’ that impressed them enough to get by. We asked one boy to sing lead for the group. He protested he didn’t know how to sing, but that didn’t matter. We wanted him on board ’cause all the girls said he was cute and we figured they would come to our shows. It worked.
We were terrible though. My parents were right. I was much better at science than guitar. When I got a date with the Homecoming Queen it wasn’t from my guitar skills, but because she needed help with Chemistry. Early on it was clear I was destined to be an ordinary reliable guy and no rock star. My friend made a ‘B’ in a tough course. I made an ‘A’ and went on to medical school.
In spite of no apparent star quality I kept on. I met my wife (then girlfriend) and played every kind of song you can imagine for the girl. I even sang for her. Bless her heart, she married me anyway.
With my first paycheck as a doc I got a used Martin D28, but I held onto the old one too. We’d take it to the beach or the lake and out in the boat. I loaned it to my cousin and he tipped over the canoe and dang near drowned both the guitar and his date. She as not impressed. They broke up.
I played it and sang my kids to sleep at night. My version of John Denver’s ‘This Old Guitar’ put ’em right to sleep. I was never a natural singer, but I learned enough in those sessions to get a start as a part singer. Years later Darin Aldridge helped me get to a passable level of vocal skill.
The kids began to play it. They’d run through the house with the guitar in tow. It got hosed down in the lawn sprinkler one day. By now it had several battle scar cracks. The guitar only cost fifty bucks when I bought it, and was not worth a trip to a professional luthier, so I super-glued the cracks. They held.
One friend’s wife hocked his D-18 guitar at The Jewelry and Pawn and then divorced him. (She inspired the ‘Mean Woman Blues.’) It turns out Johnny gave her a hundred dollars for it, and held in under the counter until my pal could get back on his feet. We took up a collection and Johnny sold it back to us for a hundred bucks. Everyone involved knew a D-18 was worth far more than that except that woman. We waited till the divorce was final, and then gave him his guitar back.
While he waited, I loaned him my old one. He said he used to play it and watch Saturday Night Wrestling with his mama to get over the divorce. When it came back home it smelled somewhere in between day old beer and the men’s locker room. I left it on the porch for a few months to let it air out.
The guitar became a perpetual loaner. Raymond the fiddler landed a gig at a bluegrass bar as a guitar sideman and tenor singer. The only problem was he did not own a guitar. He borrowed mine for his audition, and I let him keep it for six months. I guess it was sort of like an worker’s insurance policy of sorts. I figured he’d wind up unemployed if I got it back too early.
I should have had a better case for it. It was still in the one that came with it, a vintage chip-board by then reinforced with duct tape. It had Amtrak tags on it from the train ride when we took the kids to Disney World.
One night Raymond flipped his car on the way in from a show. It snapped the neck of the guitar, but he expoxied it back into place. It was straighter than you might think, and still very playable. I was just glad it was the neck of the guitar and not him. Guitars can be repaired; humans can be hard to fix up. After that gig was up, the old guitar was covered with cigarette burns and sported a long gash on the back. He couldn’t recall when that happened. It aired it out on the porch again, this time for a whole summer.
In old age it became a starter guitar for the kids in the neighborhood. I don’t know where all it traveled. Sometime in those years it developed a wood smoke type aroma. I suspect it survived Boy Scout campfires and countless bad choruses of Kum Ba Yah. It would stay out late at night and I often had no idea of its whereabouts, but I trusted it to do right. Later it would wind up back on my door step, often with a thank you note.
In the end it was broken down. I took it to my office as a final resting place, the equivalent of a guitar nursing home I guess. The glue had worked its way loose in spots, and a couple braces were missing. The top sagged and the bridge bellied up. The face was covered with pits and gouges and the neck was warped like a ski slope. The rutted fret-board looked like someone had taken a wood chisel and carved out a permanent G run road map. One tuning key was lost to posterity. The strings weren’t Black Diamond, but they looked the part and were rusted and dark. Some kind of odd moldy growth infested the sound box. I considered sending a culture to the lab just to worry them, but we were Corporate by then, and I wasn’t sure they’d take to the idea. It sat in the corner of my office where I would tend to it on occasion, though it was unplayable.
One day a young man spotted it in the corner. “Wow. A guitar. Can I fix it up?”
“Sure, son. I don’t think it’s worth much, but you can give it a try. It needs a new home.”
That was two years ago. Monday this kid calls me. ‘Hey Doc, I’ve about finished your guitar.”
“How do you mean?”
“Refinished it. A couple of us took a class on how to fix up guitars and we used yours to practice on. She’s as good as new.”
“Really?” I finally stammered.
“Yep. You gonna be in Friday? I thought I’d bring it by your office. A bunch of us learned how to play ’cause of you and we want you to have it back.”
“You gotta be kidding me.”
“No sir, no kidding. Man, it’s gonna be right.”
“We’ll I’ll be. Dang, I can’t wait to see it.” I hung up the phone. Can you beat that? I can’t wait till Friday. I’m gonna be like a kid again.