I came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.
About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…
Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)
My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!
Me: No biggie. Gives it character!
I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.
On the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.
My son has now inherited my old guitar (shown here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:
As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.
Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.