“My Life According to… Final Chapter!”

I think my last column ended with me going down to get my guitar out of hock. Well, I did. In pawnbrokerese, the word is “redeemed.” I redeemed my guitar. I own two “redeemed” guitars. I think this is kind of special. One was redeemed many years ago, but the second is every bit as redeemed as the first. I’m looking for a sermon in this, but I can’t find one.

So I’ll continue with the next twenty years (the last twenty years) of “My Life According to The Acquisition and Disposition of Various Fretted Instruments.” Insertions into said history, usually memories sparked by said history, will be in brackets.

Early 1983

“Traded my friendly old blonde ES-125 [a thin hollow electric guitar with f-holes in its face, like a violin, instead of a round hole like, well, a guitar] to Lloyd Mecham for sweet tobacco-sunburst Alvarez-Yairi dreadnought acoustic.” [Played it on “Hymns” and “Love Songs” albums. It’s pictured on the “Spiritual” CD. My wife will say, “Tell ’em what ‘sunburst’ is! Some of them will have been in suspense for a month!” Okay, a stain pattern where the center of a guitar’s face is bright and sun-like, then fades to a darker hue at the edges.]

3 September 1988

“Ken Stika, a kind master guitar builder in
Provo traded me a beautiful Taylor 810 [big acoustic guitar–Taylor is a modern competitor of C.F. Martin] for some performances in his shop. [This was a remarkable gift. In those days, acquiring a really high-end guitar seemed far into the unfathomable future–I’d only dropped into Ken’s shop because I wanted to meet the guy, and play some nice guitars. This is not new behavior–when I was at BYU, I simply missed a Spanish final exam because I was prowling around Salt Lake looking for Martins I couldn’t possible afford.]
This guitar is deep, throaty, ‘chime-like,’ very ‘live’ sounding–does most of the work for you.”

[It suddenly occurred to me that I may have readers who don’t know what I mean when I write “acoustic” guitar–You will ask, “Isn’t anything involving sound sort of ‘acoustic’ by definition?” “Acoustic” here just means “not electric.” I asked my old songwriting and recording buddy Guy Randle once if he used an electric razor, and he said, “No, acoustic.”]

18 May 1989

“Traded the
Taylor back to Ken for a Martin M-36. [Vital note for the nine readers who understand any of this: If the M-36, which is no longer made, had been given the correct name, it would have been the 0000-35. Then it would obviously be a Martin guitar that you could fully picture from the numbers. As it is, I always have to say, “No, stewardess, it’s not a weapon.”] Very warm and friendly. I may keep this one.”
[I did. It really is the best guitar I’ve ever played. I play it nearly every day, often over the midnight hour, which would have me playing it two days in one sitting.]

15 May 1993

“Drove up to
Temple Square and bought from a kid who gardens there a blonde natural-finish Gibson ES-335 electric guitar. I had seen it displayed on consignment in a store–one of those situations when you say, ‘Hey, what is my guitar doing in this store?’ I always wanted one of these.”

[Not really “always.” When I graduated from high school, eight years after the ES-335 was invented and probably before B.B. King bought his first ES-335 named “Lucille” (there have been, I think, eleven “Lucilles”), our all-night graduation party was held at a sprawling bowling alley. There were lots of rooms, and bands in a couple of them. A guy in one of the bands was playing a walnut-stained Gibson ES-335. It looked to my folksinger eyes something like a musical instrument, as opposed to an appliance or power tool. That’s when I began thinking it might be cool to own one. This would be an example of letting one’s personal history remind one of more of one’s personal history (or remind two of more of two’s personal history, if you’re reading and obeying this column as a couple–a thing to be encouraged).]

23 August 1999

“Martin D-15”

[Bizarre story: I was cast in a play as Joseph Smith’s guitar-playing Guardian Angel (really). When the director first saw my visually interesting Martin guitar he asked, “Do they make white guitars? Could you check?” I didn’t want to tell him that when acoustic guitars are painted, there’s always the possibility that they’ve been made of less than wonderful wood–wood you wouldn’t mind covering up with paint. Still, I checked. Martin had just reintroduced some all-mahogany guitars, last seen in the 1940’s. They weren’t white, but they were real plain. They also happened to be the general color of the jillion-dollar set that was being built for the play. I brought one to a rehearsal. “How about this?” The director looked, briefly, and said, “Yeah! Great!” And they bought it for me. A Martin. For a prop. (This was the same company that flew my son Sam up from St. George daily for a couple of months to rehearse and then portray Joseph Smith. And bought him blue contact lenses, actually visible sometimes from elsewhere on stage. I imagine Emma could see them pretty clearly. The income-to-outgo ratio of this production was, shall we say, “disproportionate.”) It’s a Martin D-15, wonderful guitar. It’s the one that was in hock.]

24 December 1999

“Traded my ES-335 to my monster-jazz-guitarist son Joshua for his sunburst ES-125, a nice jazz box from the early 1950’s.”

28 June 2002

“Traded the old ES-125 for a new ES-135”

[for better sound–very sleek black electric guitar that sounds spookily like my old Howard Roberts guitars. Right here, I was going to invent something funny for “ES” to stand for, since I don’t know what it stands for. But give me a minute with Google and I’ll find out for you… (surf, surf, surf) Okay! “Electric Spanish,” coined in 1936. Well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri River in its decreed course, or to turn it upstream, than to hinder Meridian writers from pouring down knowledge on the heads of y’all.

At this point the “My Life According to…” document refers the reader to a couple of entries in other journal volumes. To wit…]

29 July 2003

“I’ve wanted a really fine banjo for about as long as I can remember. My life insurance company and the telephone company helped me get one yesterday. The former had overdrawn my account by a couple hundred dollars, and for lack of another couple hundred the latter had silenced our phone. I filled our little car to the brim with amps, speakers, redundant recording equipment, a couple of tom-toms, a spare guitar case, and headed for Salt Lake. At a secondhand music store I discovered that my sweet old 1964 Fender Jazz bass (not for sale, nope) was worth a whole lot more than I thought it was. [I can’t even remember how or where I got that bass, but I’d had it for at least twenty years.] I sold them everything but the bass, then drove further north to Intermountain Guitar and Banjo. They got the bass and my old banjo (which I learned was worth a lot less than I thought it was) and I got a new banjo and enough cash to put out the fires as well as buy a feather-light perfectly serviceable and good-sounding Yamaha bass at a big brash guitar store on the way home.

“Twenty-one years ago in East Lansing, Michigan, I played a ‘Whyte Laydie’ banjo that I promised myself I would own one day. This is a Whyte Laydie, highly flamed hard-rock maple, with a star inlaid in a rosewood plate on the peghead. It has a pretty rosewood heel as well. Without the fancy case (I kept my old burlap-covered case) it would have cost me about eight hundred dollars.” [See footnote RE “Burlap-covered case.”]

10 August 2003

“Been paid some money, wondering which fires to throw it at, wondering if I can get a halfway dignified bass guitar to replace my old ’64. [The Yamaha was, as noted, serviceable, but had no history or aesthetic legacy clinging to it–I have a high history and aesthetic legacy need.] Did some arithmetic, found we had enough to pay tithing, with twenty bucks to spare. Saw the bishop out the window while I was looking for a stamp. Walked out in the light rain and handed him the envelope over the fence. Don’t feel noble, just feel good. The light in my wife’s face when I told her what I’d done was worth a million bucks.”

11 August 2003 [Please note that this is the very next day. Thanks.]

“Got a call this morning asking us to pick up a royalty check for back sales of Scripture Scouts. Laurie and I had been pondering which bass to hope for. [After a refund on the Yamaha that I had deluded myself into thinking might suffice, there were five Fender bass guitars that would have brought me into Grown-up Bassplayerland–one of them would have cost us $469 out-of-pocket.] The check was for $468. After yesterday’s tithing decision we’re calling this beautiful Classic Series Jazz Bass ‘the Lord’s choice.’ And we’re perfectly happy. The one-dollar difference between what He brought to it and what we brought to it is probably an apt example of ‘grace, after all you can do.’

“It’s practically an exact replica of my old bass of twenty years’ playing, only prettier.” [Sounds just a titch better, too.]

Here is the Footnote RE ‘Burlap-covered case.’ It’s not at the actual “foot” because this is the internet, and digital is essentially nonlinear and pageless, and also because I couldn’t wait to tell you this great story:

20 September 1987

“I was driving through south Orem and saw two little kids walking home from school dragging an unhinged banjo case. I pulled over (in my big scary black van) and asked them if I could see it. They said, ‘You can have it!’ and took off running… They’d found it in somebody’s trash.”

It was made of really thin wood, and I had to tape the joints together. Fourteen years later, I covered the entire outside of the case with burlap soaked in wood glue, then sanded and varnished it several times over. I love it.

Oh, that most recent guitar? Back in hock again. But to a different pawnbroker. My son (Joseph Smith) was up from Santa Clara for a reunion of his wife’s family. He asked if he could borrow my Martin for the Saturday afternoon picnic. As he went out the door, my wife (his wicked stepmother–really only “wicked” on the strength of literary tradition) said cheerily, “Just be sure you have it back in time for us to pawn it.” He scratched his head and said, “Hey! Can I be your pawnbroker?” Okay by us. Keep redemption in the family.

Now, where’s that tithing envelope?


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