May of 2016 I walked into a Guitar Center to look, I swear just look, at guitars. Hung high upon the wall was a Derek Trucks Gibson SG. It showcased a natural wood with a red finish and it was gorgeous. I had a plan throughout the six months that she lived with me that when she left and I had survived that portion that I would go out and buy myself a new guitar. It was this exact guitar, well maybe not the signature model but an SG nonetheless, that I had wanted. It was perfect in so many ways. When the salesperson took it down from the very top row and placed it in my hands it felt good, it felt so good. He suggested I take it into the amp room and give it a try. He could see that I was worried about the price and he knew that if I just sat and played it that I would inevitably fall in love and make the emotional purchase. Still I waffled. There were so many moments like this where I would call her and she would talk me into getting the item I wanted because I worked so hard for the family and didn’t really do things for myself. She wasn’t around for me to call, it was my decision, it was my first decision that I had to make all on my own without the input of a vested partner. I talked myself out of it 50 times while I stood in that store until I walked out with the guitar and placed it in my car. It was an emotional purchase, it was a purchase to make me feel better, it was a purchase that ruined the guitar that I had always wanted.
The add on Craigslist spoke to the amazing guitar that it was. It spoke to the child-like care I had shown the guitar. It spoke to the regular check ups, the cleaning, the replacement of strings, the end displayed a price and hitting that “post” button was a difficult decision but one that again I had to make on my own, this time though, I had far more practice. Within two weeks a very nice man showed up to my house, plugged the guitar in and played it so beautifully. He spoke of how his brother had been through some tough times but worked his way through them and it was his birthday so he was going to get him the guitar that he had always wanted, the very Gibson SG I had always wanted. When he handed me the neatly piled stack of hundred dollar bills, then placed the guitar into the hard shell case and told me how much he thought his brother would love it, then thanking me for the sale I smiled, but in reality, I should have been the one thanking him. The beautiful Gibson SG that was a childhood dream was haunted to me. This was to be the guitar that I purchased myself IF I made it through the six months as gracefully as I could, when that didn’t happen and I bought myself that guitar anyway I couldn’t play it. I may have played that guitar 30 times in a year, which is nothing considering how much I actually play. I didn’t deserve that guitar in my mind, I failed with my goal of making it but I bought it anyway. I rewarded myself for a failure and I couldn’t take it anymore. Everyone tried to talk me out of it, everyone said I would regret it, everyone begged me to change my mind. They had no idea what that guitar meant to me in the beginning and what it turned out to be in my conscious, a reminder that I was undeserving of so many things.
I have built guitars before. Purchasing a guitar body, wiring how I want it, with the electronics I want, and the feel that I want. This time it is different. Previously I did it out of necessity as I couldn’t afford the guitars I wanted. This time however I am seeking a guitar, a discarded guitar, one that someone loved but left in a store stared down upon by all of the better guitars with their shiny pickups, clean perfectly tuned strings, hand selected woods, and beautifully designed neck. They are the guitars that everyone wants, I don’t though. I want the guitar that needs someone to help it out, to show it the confidence that it can be something, to show it the love that it is no longer being shown. Maybe it was traded for a better model, maybe it was sold because the player had given up on learning, or maybe they just fell out of love with this particular guitar and needed a change. In my search I have found many guitars that “would work” for my rebuild but I am not looking for that. I am looking for “the one” that speaks to me. The one that looks back at me just as I look at it. I will not purchase one until that feeling comes over me, I refuse. The importance of this rebuild goes deeper than just having another guitar, this is the rebuild that will take all that I have to give to it just as I have had to rebuild myself.
A rebuild starts with having a vision, seeing this guitar, knowing it is the one in my heart. When I take it home I will plug it in and play it with the same care that I play the current guitars I have. I will let it sing to me in its current state, let it tell me what it wants to be making sure that I listen to each note, strum, each crackle when I turn the tone and volume knobs, and to the sound it makes when I tune it and inevitably when it falls out of tune. It will tell me what it wants to be and how it wants to sound and I will make it into just that. To start I will remove the strings that attach it from the bridge that it no longer wants to be staring down, the strings run from that bridge to the neck of the guitar. The strings may be old, they may hang like a noose strangling the correct tone into something that the neck need not hear or feel. The noose will be thrown away, discarded and never to be thought of again for there is no need to strung from that bridge again. Gently I will remove the screws that hold the pick guard to the body. The pick guard is the protective plate that holds the heart of the guitar, the pickups, wiring, and tone knobs. By removing this protective plate I am opening this guitar up to the vulnerabilities that it may fear the most. This guitars weaknesses are on display for all to see and while I am here to protect and love this guitar these weaknesses are needing to be exposed, the guitar needs to see the reality of what they have to overcome during this rebuild. I will leave the pick guard out to proudly show the new musical partner what it overcame to become what it is set to become. Finally, I will lay the guitar on its face and with the utmost care unscrew the four screws that hold the neck in place. The neck is the brain of the guitar, it tells the pickups the sound to make by pushing and plotting a course amongst the frets. A neck can warp, it can rust and decay, it can lead the brain of the guitar to make choices that aren’t what they would normally make based upon the condition it finds itself in.
Based upon how this guitar wants to sound, how it wants to live, and how it wants to be recognized is how the new brains and heart will be decided. This is no simple process; it takes really looking into the soul of the guitar and recognizing that maybe the guitar and how it was constructed wasn’t actually how that particular guitar wanted to sound. It takes hours, days, months to look inside the feel of the guitar and determine will it be a loud aggressive guitar, a gentle strumming guitar that fills the background of any song beautifully, or is it a guitar that wants to be front and center belting out an amazing solo to wow its audience. Once this is decided the new heart must be found, hours and hours of painstakingly spent hours slicing through websites, youtube videos, and guitar shops looking for the heart that will allow this guitar come to life. When they are found the right tone and volume knobs are equally vital, as they will dictate the way the heart is heard. If cheap tone and volume pots are purchased they can create a scratchy sound that will distort the message and if they are not the right power then the guitar that is begging to be heard will only come across as the soft-spoken, shy guitar that will wilt into the background never to be heard. Proper wiring is also key to the heart of the guitar as if the guitar is not properly wired it will either not make a sound at all or make a garbled sound that is unrecognizable to those wanting to listen. After the internal organs are purchased the pick guard is then found. It has to protect the heart better than the previous pick guard did. Most likely the guitar had a singe or double ply pick guard that left the heart susceptible to being hurt by dust or corrosion from moisture. Only a triple ply pick guard will do for this rebuild, top protection as it had been hurt in the past and any caregiver would want to be wary of a second destruction point. The new bridge that will hold the strings will be sturdy but beautiful, one to lie across not jump from. One to enjoy the view or the sound and not one to stare down over the edge of. It will be stable, it won’t shake or bow to the pressures of play or tensions the strings will place upon it. The brain of the new guitar, the neck, will be selected to match the new heart; rosewood or maple depending on the resonance the guitar seeks. There could be a little flash in a way of mother of pearl inlays to stand out a little, or the usual round inlays that will not distract the listener from the sound the guitar is relaying to their welcoming ears. The brain must have a good positive feeling to it, it will recognize when the need is for a low feeling, shout when it needs to scream “look at me”, and sing quietly when mood calls for patience. Lastly the strings will connect it all together. Attaching from the bridge to the neck and spanning the heart of the guitar, they will be chosen as carefully as the rest. A heavier string will add tension where it may be necessary but also where it could become unwelcome, thin strings can suffer a break easier but offer a tone that is easy to listen and play, but the middle thickness of the strings will allow for tension, won’t break as easy, and still offer the vibrancy the guitar seeks in its new life.
I have spent the past, close to two years now, rebuilding a life much like rebuilding a guitar. It took staring into my soul quietly for months, figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I was perceived as. These were hard months, there were many moments where I wanted to break like the thin string of a guitar, there were many months where I stood defiantly to the world and screamed like the heavy sounding guitar, and there were moments where I turned my volume down and strummed in the background. My heart changed, my brains or thoughts changed, my tone and volume changed to the volumes and tones for the situation, sometimes correctly and others not so much, and my strings changed sometimes adding too much tension and sometimes being too brittle for the moment. I restrung and continued playing, I tuned, fell out of tune, and retuned regularly. While I am still working on my sound, still progressing on my tone and volume, I keep playing because I love it, because it gives me something, and because I am not ready to give up. There is nothing like picking up a finished rebuild of a guitar, plugging it in and seeing what it has to say. One day I look forward to someone looking at me in the same manner.