Wood Words

My favorite guitar is nearly fifty years old, and as such I rarely play it.  It is a 1978 Les Paul Custom I received as a high school graduation present from my parents.  In the interest of preserving it, I usually play my Stratocaster.  But on occasions, I will take it out of the case, tune it up and open a dialogue with it.

The other night, while everybody else was sleeping, I awakened my oldest musical companion.  As it was late at night, I didn’t plug it into an amp.  I just played it acoustically.  An unplugged, solid body guitar is not known for tone production, so I was surprised by the sound I heard.  In the still of the night, the resonance of the solid body astounded me.  It had a character and warmth that was far greater than the thin, tinny sound I was expecting.  With the softer sound produced without amplification, I was more aware of the vibrations being transferred from the guitar’s body to mine.  The feeling was exquisite.  These vibrations spoke through my ears, eyes, and torso. The feeling was that of complete immersion.

My Strat has a thinner neck than does the Les Paul, and when wrapped my hand around it, I felt transported to another time as I adjusted to the old, familiar shape.  As I ran my fingers up and down the neck, it brought to mind songs I hadn’t played in years.  As I recalled music that I played in my youth, while playing in rock bands, it felt as if the instrument was speaking to me across the decades.  Playing music, to me, has always been about being in the present moment.  But this was different.  I felt present in my past. 

Listening to music has the same effect on me.  I can be fully present to the feelings that are immediately evoked by what I am listening to, while simultaneously being in another time.  It is ethereal.  This feeling is what brought me to start playing an instrument in the first place.  I wanted to bring forth those same emotions in other people, in a wordless conversation that speaks to them as it is speaking to me.

Some would say a guitar is an inanimate object, made of wood and metal.  I say it is pure energy.  Wood and metal are made from atoms, which are 99.99999% energy and only .00001% mass.  Furthermore, wood comes from a living tree.  Far from inanimate.  To say my guitar can speak is not an exaggeration in my mind.  I will keep this old friend around for the rest of my life, even when my hands are no longer able to play it.  And when I pass on, so will my guitar, to someone else.  I wonder who it will talk to next.

“This old guitar ain’t mine to keep, Just taking care of it now

It’s been around for years and years, Just waiting in its old case” – Neil Young