On the Goe: Guitarists share special connection with instrument
If you’ve ever played a guitar you understand its magic.
The combination of wood, nickel and steel make for an enigmatic product that even at rest pulsates with potential. Its simplicity is alluring and tantalizing, always calling out, wanting to be played. It desires human interaction.
Behind every great song is a guitarist in perfect harmony with the love of his life.
Stevie Ray Vaughan named his battered 1963 Fender Stratocaster his “First Wife.”
Eric Clapton had “Blackie,” a custom 1950s Strat.
Always at the side of Bruce Springsteen is his custom ‘50s era Esquire Tele.
B.B. King had “Lucille,” and Jerry Garcia had “Tiger.”
Could you imagine Paul McCartney without his Hofner bass?
What would Gibson guitars look like if it weren’t for Les Paul’s influence?
Willie Nelson’s M-20 acoustic Martin guitar has a particularly interesting romantic story. Nelson has been with “Trigger” — it was named after Roy Rogers’ horse — for more than 40 years. “When Trigger goes, I’ll quit,” he once said.
A classical nylon-strung former Nazareth, Penn., beauty queen, Trigger hasn’t aged as gracefully as her Martin factory counterparts.
After 44 years of epic weed smoking sessions, Trigger’s Sitka Spruce top looks like the inside of chimney. Forty-four years of endless touring and recording has left a large gapping hole just above the bridge.
Scratched into the face are the autographs of football coaches, lawyers and a who’s who list of contemporary musicians. Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Gene Autry, Waylon Jennings and Ray Benson are just some who have left a mark on Nelson’s beloved guitar.
Benson, the king of Texas swing and Asleep at the Wheel front man, has his own history with legendary guitar models. Switching between various Fender Telecaster models and Gibson models for the past 40 years, Benson’s pièce de résistance is a particularly curvaceous number.
The early 1960s cherry red Gibson, ES-355 arched-top, semi-hollow electric guitar complete with Bigsby vibrato, is a sexy little piece of American craftsmanship. It is the guitar Chuck Berry is most associated with and the guitar Marty McFly played at the Enchanted Under the Sea dance in the movie “Back to the Future.”
Benson’s ES-355 allegedly was previously owned by Leon Rhodes, the light-fingered lead guitarist in Ernest Tubb’s band, the Texas Troubadours.
When Benson bought the guitar he added a red and gold Lone Star beer sticker to the front as tribute to the Texas Troubadours because they always had beer stickers on their equipment. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the president of Lone Star Brewing Co. Harry Jersig would give out cases of beer to bands representing the Lone Star brand when they toured the San Antonio area, and as Benson said in a 2007 interview with Vintage Guitar Magazine, “we were all drinking Lone Star then.”
You won’t see Benson’s Gibson on the Colorado Riverfront Concert Series stage Friday night, Aug. 9, (most likely he will be playing a custom Samick Valley Art’s Telecaster). The retired beauty hangs at Asleep at the Wheel’s offices in Austin, Texas.
I’ve had my own trysts with various models, notably an ongoing affair with a Fender 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition Precision Bass. With chromed out knobs, a Blizzard Pearl paint job and rosewood fret board with pearl inlays, it is a beauty to behold.
Every time I plug in I feel invincible, like every note I play will be perfect, every tone will sound exactly as I intend. While that’s rarely the case, whenever I am near that guitar I feel poised, focused and controlled. Worn and contoured exactly to my touch, without a doubt, that perfect match makes me the best musician I can possibly be.
The connection a guitarist has with his chosen instrument is undeniably strong. It is the tool that empowers legends such as Benson, Nelson and Vaughan with confidence and swagger. It is an interdependent relationship. Once cannot exist without the other.