Cherished guitar finally gets a new lease on life

Being the most you can be isn’t easy. Our best can get lost in the shuffle of aging.

Mr. Deluxe is getting old. Some print sources errantly show that he is 51 years old. Others give his birth date as 1970 and as late as 1978. The birth debate is real, thanks to the bad habit of his manufacturer repeating serial numbers over time and for different models.

His current owner believes he was built/born in 1966. Which shouldn’t be possible. But that is part of his mystique. Mr. Deluxe came to this Montana family in 1985 in trade for an airline ticket. Good trade.

Mr. Deluxe is a guitar. To be specific, he is a Gibson Southern Jumbo Deluxe. And, like many of us at his age or older, he has some health issues. He still sounds great with a new set of strings. But he plays much harder than in the past. Upper frets are a real challenge. He was becoming unplayable. Fixing him would be expensive.

There were cracks in the bridge between the pins. His neck was sinking. Time, dry conditions and a plastic pick guard had distorted the spruce top. There’s a little bit of buckle rash on his back and some checks in his top’s finish were caused by traveling in cold nights. A few scratches, bumps and bruises help prove his age.

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A trusted friend, and great guitarist, came to visit recently. He played Mr. Deluxe. When asked if it would be worth it to do the needed repairs, his answer was: “Nah. Probably not.” Hmmm… What to do?

So, pretend you’re Mr. Deluxe. He’s been told that he is not worth the repairs. He has lived in pain for a long time. But he wants to be the best he can be — as all of us do. He has respectability in name and pedigree. He’s a Gibson guitar. He’s not a Gibson SJ-200, but he’s a genuine acoustic Gibson.

Mr. Deluxe was troubled by his current existence. Guitar angst. He was in crisis. He felts his voice was still worthy. Was he worth the money?

In truth, the dream of every guitar is to be played. And, played well. Played by someone who will push those strings to their sound limits. Mr. Deluxe has carried that dream from the first moment he came off the assembly line and was put in his blue velvet case. Unfortunately, he ended up with his current poor player/owner.

Roberts

Luthier Dan Roberts in his Belgrade shop.

The life of a guitar isn’t easy. All are owned by wannabees. They are musical dreamers with the delusional ambition of playing the Ed Sullivan Show. Or Austin City Limits. Or Carnegie Hall. Or The Grand Ole Opry. Few guitars get that lucky.

We all have seen guitar hobos dragging their instruments from one sidewalk gig to the next. Playing for quarters and the big break. Undeterred by rainstorms. Playing jam sessions. These road-weary wanderers can be seen hitchhiking the freeways of America with a backpack and that ever-present guitar hanging from their side. Good things are coming their way. It’s a belief structure for player and instrument.

Campfires and singing Kumbaya, for some guitars, is sheer heaven. For others, it’s a glimpse in the other direction. Seeking, looking and waiting for the chance is the norm. And, then, the owner’s view changes. Something else catches his eye. “Oh, Look: Shiny!” The dream-maker guitar gets put in a case and pushed far back in a dark closet. Trapped. Forgotten.

Mr. Deluxe had close to the same life experience. Played hard, soft and often in his early days, he was happy. Then, resting on a living room guitar stand, he was picked up and strummed less often. Same tunes. Same mistakes. To protect him from inside elements this owner brought out the hard case. The closet came later.

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Larry Olson

Mr. Deluxe in his current state — done. He was always a pretty thing to look at. He’s much easier to play now.

But Mr. Deluxe is restless and strong. Somehow, the dismissal of his self-worth plucked a dissonant chord on his strings that roared: Get thee to a luthier!

Dan Roberts (check out his website here) was recommended and chosen to complete the repairs. After a couple of phone calls, Mr. Deluxe was placed in his case and transported to the Dan’s’ guitar shop in Belgrade.

He was placed on the workbench and inspected. Mirrors were inserted into his sound hole. A long steel ruler placed against his frets showed the geometric changes the neck’s angle had developed. A neck reset was the first major surgery required. Surgical room No. 2 was readied for the bridge replacement. Mr. Deluxe was still breathing, but resuscitation wasn’t far off. Last rites were a possibility.

Dan took to the task and kept the owner updated on the progress. The normal dovetailed joint connecting the neck to the body was “not normal.” The joint looked more like a peg than a dovetail. Dan had to rebuild it, reposition its angle and rebuild the body fitting to accept the new neck joint.

The bridge, saddle and bone nut were custom made. It wasn’t easy. It took time and effort and expertise. Mr. Deluxe was restrung, wiped clean and placed back in his owner’s hands.

Playing the first chord was like a revelation. A couple of G-runs and major chords made Mr. Deluxe shake, rattle and roll. He was loud. He had sustain. He had timbre. He was much easier to play from the first moment the stitches were pulled and bandages removed. Dan did great work. He did his best.

Mr. Deluxe was as good as he had ever been, maybe even better. He’s happy. Singing often is what he was made to do. His owner tries to accommodate his emotion.

Renew the dreaming with new songs. New chords. More practice. More hard work. We aren’t hitching for rides or playing for quarters, but we’re trying. And, willing.

Taking the steps to be one’s best brings smiles.

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