I had driven around and stopped at four other pawn shops around New Orleans, before I found “the guitar”. It had been sitting in a darkened room of the pawn shop next to a small food stand. It was, in fact, the food stand that I used as my marker to locate the shop, based on directions from a local.
“the guitar”, covered in dust, was hidden behind other abandoned guitars, but at least it stood upright, and not on its back. Any weight on it could’ve broken the neck or cracked its body. The headstock was chipped, the back was falling off and it couldn’t hold the tuning, because the tuning pegs were not its original stock and the strings were gritty with dust and grease.
I looked down the neck of the guitar and did not see any serious bends. Plus it was really too dark in the shop to study that kind of detail any closer. I tried to tune the guitar and play a chord. Imagine plucking a note from an electric guitar plugged to an amp in a large and empty stadium. Hear the note. It is true and just keeps on vibrating. Its call brings your soul to its knees. I was unnerved by the tone of this old soul.
“How much do you want for this?” I asked the owner. I got the answer I expected. Something along the lines that it’s a vintage guitar, and it’s a bargain for $125. It comes with its own gig bag. The guitar was worth something as it was an Alvarez and it was fabricated in Japan. It was an old soul with a worn body. Its back was falling out and I saw there was some damage to the heel too. I liked the scorpion sticker on the front, and ghs guitar boomer sticker at the back.
“Ok, I’ll take it.” My answer, without its haggling down words, made the man pause and probably wonder if he’s really given away a gem. The gig bag was in better shape than the guitar.
After returning to LA, and having paid an extra $100 for the extra carriage of the guitar I was the owner of a vintage guitar that couldn’t be played. You can tune it, but it begins to lose its tuning before you can finish a song. I took it around to a few shops to get an idea of the cost of fixing it, but the answers I got weren’t too promising. I took it on a trip to Vancouver. I always need the companionship of a guitar when I’m away from home. The guy at Bonerattle Music store offered to at least glue the back and change the strings. I didn’t mind playing an out of tune guitar, as I just needed to hold it. I could still play a melody on one string; and practice anything with simple creativity. The guy was surprised by its sound. “Its got great tone.” “I know,” I told him, “that’s why I got it and I wanted to save it.”
Then the guitar sat on a gig stand around my apartment unfixed and played not often. It was like grandpa sitting in his rocking chair, waiting for something, that I wish I knew what for. Then one day, I found out there was a hobbyist luthier working in the office. His day job is a technical engineer. His office is adorned with 3 guitars and a bass he built. All of these babies were beautiful. His favorite is a retro-green Strat body with pink knobs. I told him about my guitar, and he said he’d like to work on it. Wide-eyed, I said, “Really?”
That was almost a year ago that we had that conversation. Yesterday morning he handed me the fixed grande dame of the Mississippi. I cradled it, and couldn’t resist strumming a few favorite chords. In his words he said it’s the only guitar he’s worked on that’s “live”. Then he quickly changed his mind and said, “it is one of two… ” He figured that “the guitar” has been played a lot by the look of the wear on the fingerboard. The wear on the headstock looks like the guitar had been pulled out of gig bags often, the kind of guitar you just reach for. “Imagine,” I said, “Can you imagine the hands that’s touched this guitar.” “I know,” he enthused. Our minds raced with stories of its own making.
Last night, while Bruno watched the news, I sat holding the guitar and warming up my fingers and noodling quietly. At times I would stop and apologize for getting carried away. He gently told me, it’s okay. He liked hearing me play. “I don’t play,” I said. This morning, after he left for work, I picked up the guitar again. I started gingerly as my fingers hadn’t played very much lately. I put the metronome at a slow beat of 40. The electronic tick tock focused my attention. After a few minutes of that I moved to chords, then playing songs. I was enamored with the sound. This guitar likes to be played loud. Its tone was so grand and deep – resonating tones and semitones like an aria. By the time I became I aware of time it was 8:44. I still hadn’t walked the dog, and I’m supposed to be at work soon.
I laughed at an old reminder a guitar teacher used to tell me. “Play louder”. This was the first and only guitar I’ve played which I could play loud. I found my voice with this guitar. I dressed for work, happily thinking about an idea – when one day, St. Peter, at the Gate, asks me to play a song to let me pass through into heaven I would have a song to play and I would play it loud enough.