The Old Guitar All Brand New
Billy found me at band practice Thursday night. “I just couldn’t wait, Doc.” He opened the back door of his car and pulled out the case. “I added some more duct tape. It’ll do, but I think we ought to get another case someday. This one ain’t fitting for a man of your position,” he laughed.
He set it on the bed cover of my truck and opened up the case. The top flopped back on the two hinges still left. He’d rigged up the inside with some foam and towels to give some extra support. The old guitar nestled there like a baby at nap time. Moose Dooley came over to inspect.
It was dark-thirty but between the daylight left, a full moon, and a lone bulb on the Moose’s garage I could see he had worked a miracle. I picked it up and sighted the neck. Perfect. I held the sound hole up to my nose. “What kind of glue did you use, young’un?”
“Hot hide, sir. Fresh. The old stuff like they used to use in the Martin factory. I re-set the neck and if it ever has to be reworked again it’ll be a snap… err …a breeze. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Raymond has him a guitar nowadays. Don’t worry.”
I strummed a few notes of ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ It was one I used to play for my wife. “Boy, it frets good.”
He waved his hands, anxious to relay every detail. “The frets are the best part, Doc. I had a buddy who used to work at Gibson. When they moved the high end guitars out to Bozeman he got a roll of 1953 vintage Gibson fret wire. It was all green and moldy, but that cleaned right up. We figured it’d be at least a close cousin to the fret wire on your Gibson mandolin.”
“Lord have mercy, you went all out.”
“We know how traditional you are.”
“That’s as nice a spin on old and stubborn as I’ve ever heard.”
I played a G run. “How’d you get the fret board so level?”
“I had to plane it, and I saved all the shavings. Then I ground them up into sawdust, mixed in a little epoxy, and filled in the divots. Good, huh?”
I took a closer look. “Good? It’s perfect. Who says a touch of OCD is a bad thing?” (I have some myself I’m proud to say) “Good Lord, kid……. my goodness, it’s like twenty-five years ago.”
Every detail was tended to. He had taken apart the old tuning pegs and reworked them. The one he found one for the ‘B’ string that was such a close match I couldn’t tell it was the odd one out, at least in the moonlight. He re-glued the braces and fashioned two new ones. There were new bridge pins to replace the old gnarled up and broken ones. He used real bone for the nut. He buffed it all out by hand, and touched up some rough spots where the wood was exposed, but was careful to leave a vintage look.
It was now the ‘auto-distressed model,’ a look comparable to the factory reproductions folks pay thousands of dollars for. Money just can’t buy memories. This one was real. The boy was young, but he had the wisdom to restore the guitar to playable and still not take away it’s character. When I looked at it I could see my wife at twenty-two, or my kids tucked in at night before they knew the world had any problems. I raked across the strings. When I closed my eyes I heard echos of Raymond the fiddler wail the lovesick blues around a campfire at Fat Boy’s Barbeque. It was bluegrass loud.
The Warbler drove up. “Whatcha got , Doc?”
I gave some quick history and handed it to him. He brushed the strings. “Hey, this is good. He broke into the old Bill Monroe number. “Sitting alone in the moonlight….” She’s bluegrass.”
I motioned towards the kid. “Billy here put it back together.”
Warb played a few more notes. Moose turned to to Billy. “Son, that thing is good. Play it under the moonlight and it stands as good a chance to cure cancer as old Doc does.”
“At least it’d help a man live with what is,” I said. “It’s got the sound, huh?”
Warb resumed the tune. “Wondering about my darling….I can still hear her say good-by….”
Billy smiled. It’s hard to satisfy a bunch of old pickers. He had done good. Forever more he was true bluegrass, and I’m certain he knew it.