Old Marty and Ruth
Old Marty 1961-2023 Perhaps you heard about the recent demise of my guitar. This was an unfortunate and tragic accident. After the Luminaria Buttercup show, Odie absentmindedly backed over it with the van. I wasn’t there, but I found out a few days later. Odie felt horrible, understandably, and apparently this type of accident occurs more commonly than one might think. So I learned from other musicians with similarly crushed instruments, backed over by their own vehicles.
Allow me to share a reflection on the profound bond between a musician and their instrument, and how the absence of a guitar that has traveled the country with you, weathered countless hours of strumming, can be heart-wrenching.
The guitar never had a name, which is something I might change going forward. My friend Taylor Muse (Quiet Company) has a guitar named “Stacey Abrams” and another named “Joe Reyes”. I kid you not. For now we will call the guitar “Old Marty”, a 1961 Martin 00-18, which is a small step up from the smallest parlor sized guitar that Martin makes. It was diminutive, but throaty. About a decade ago, I bought it from a music store in Chicago, owned by my friend Heath. It was, unlike most guitars of that age, barely played, in mint condition in the original case. This is not necessarily an advantage. Maybe a plus for sell-ability, but for playability guitars tend to “open up” with use. The more you play an acoustic, the more rich it sounds. It’s literally like the sounding board of the guitar gets stronger with exercise. I believe that the quality of the music that goes thru the instrument makes it sound even better. I am unaware of any scientific experiment testing this phenomena, but I bet I’m right.
Old Marty was relatively closed up, sort of an ancient new guitar, when I got it. So, I began playing it in earnest. It became my chief companion in Demitasse, and soon became the acoustic that I exclusively played in Buttercup, supplanting the old buzzy Classy. I worked a pretty deep groove in the wood, a gash like the one in Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. Old Marty survived many a close call, and that last night of its life—October 21, 2023—I felt myself tracing through the chords on stage, strumming so very lightly, and thinking to myself "Wow this guitar has really finally opened up." It was louder, more resonant, with more bass that ever before. Little did I know that it would be its last performance.
When Odie broke the news a few days later and showed me the wreckage, I went through stages of grief, starting with anger and evolving into deep sadness. For days I moped about, wondering what I would do. I felt unmoored, with gigs coming up, and no guitar. I began to look for a replacement online, but found that prices had dramatically risen and an equal replacement was out of reach.
The thing was, I was very broken up (no pun intended) by the loss of this particular guitar.
I felt weird. Even though I had other guitars—I have several electric guitars—I don’t have a suitable acoustic guitar for stage. I still have Classy, but that thing buzzes like crazy and I can’t play individual notes gently with a pleasant tone. The fact is, the guitar doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be comfortable, something that you want to play.
I had resigned myself to a prolonged search and, in the meantime, figuring out a temporary replacement. A lot of well meaning folks said it could be repaired. Sorry guys, that guitar was crushed to a powder, and would never sound the same. I knew it instantly. Besides, the near total rebuild of that guitar would cost a fortune.
I should say here now before continuing, that as bad as I felt, I’m sure Odie felt worse. He offered me a replacement guitar, but it felt bulky and wrong to my hands. At that moment I was not ready; I wanted Old Marty. Odie soon went off on an European tour with Garrett, and I’m sure that timing was both tough and a bit of a relief at the same time
Here comes the uplifting part of the story. On Nov 1, my birthday, Debby woke me, fed me coffee and led me to her office. There was a Martin case on the floor. I couldn’t process it really. Inside was a 1962 Martin 00-18, a near replica of Old Marty. Debby had organized a cabal of my close friends and family to split the very substantial cost of the guitar and managed to have it arrive in time for my birthday, a day that I wasn’t even thinking about this year. She conspired with Joe Reyes to ensure it played well. This new Martin guitar was the same model. It was nearly as old, and honestly it played a wee bit better than Old Marty. Instantly I could hear and feel that it was slightly more resonant, equally light and taught. It didn’t have a weird quirk where the B string would get too loud when plucked. I was bowled over and I cried. Not for the guitar. The guitar is just an instrument, a tool, a thing. I was floored by the generosity and kindness of those dear friends and family who conspired to do such a beautiful thing for me. I felt richer beyond words. Later, by myself, I wept into the soundhole.
Here’s a picture (below) documenting these precious people I love so dearly that bought this new guitar, and made me whole. And, what is even more staggering, is that there are so many more in my life that Debby didn’t have time to reach out to, that would fit on this list. I am very, very lucky, indeed. Oh, and Odie apparently did some heavy lifting ($-wise) on this gift.
In the end, it's not just about the guitar; it's about the music, the memories, and the people who make the journey worthwhile. The music is in your head, in your heart. And my heart is positively full.
I think I’ll name this new guitar Ruth, a name I love, which means friendship. (Full name Ruth Bader Ginsberg).I will play Ruth on stage for the first time at the epic Buttercup Party for our new record this Saturday (Nov 18).