Monday, October 19, 2009

My Shenk Guitar/My Avatar

I've been asked about my Google avatar and if I wouldn't mind posting the story of that guitar. So...

First time I saw it was through the window of Jim’s shop. I was up in Goshen for one of the first of what has now become 5 years of old-timey jams held in the farmer’s market of Goshen.

The guitar hung on a rack between several others – most of those others being repairs that Jim was working on. It didn’t have a pickguard and so I mistakenly assumed that it was a Larrivee (Larrivee’s had clear pickguards back then).

I let myself into the shop and after introducing myself to Jim, I was able to inspect and play the guitar for the first time. It was wonderful. It probably had had its first set of strings put on it a week or two before. Still, it had a wide-open sound – dry and clear. Great for fingerpicking. Stellar for flatpicking.

Jim got busy that year with mandolin after archtop after jumbo order and, as such, the guitar stayed on his wall for months. Every time I went to Goshen for the bi-monthly jams, I’d often spend more of those Saturdays playing that guitar in Jim’s shop than I’d spend across the parking lot at the farmer’s market jam.

Jim and I struck up a good friendship trading stories and tunes over that guitar. We talked for hours about our shared life as craftsmen -- making a living by our wits and learning the finer points (often the hard way) of trying to market our aesthetic ideas in a subjective world. The joys and trials of working with our hands.

And over those months (that ended up turning into more than a year) I watched Jim tweak the guitar – buffing the varnish (Jim hand rubs all of his guitars – it started out because health concerns didn’t allow him poly spray. He kept it up because there is just nothing that compares to a fine rubbed finish) to a fine, warm glow, adding a pickguard – little details.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. The guitar was sold. For me, it was an opportunity lost. I never had the money to buy the guitar and I knew I was playing it on borrowed time all those Saturdays. It went to a good home.
Rayna Gellert’s (Uncle Earl/Freight Hoppers) mom bought it. That was cool for two reasons: Uncle Earl is cool, and I would still have the chance of seeing the guitar from time to time, as Rayna’s mom is part of the Goshen music scene that I bump into from time to time.

Truth is, early this spring the farmer’s market was closed on a jam Saturday and the jam was moved to Rayna’s mom’s house. And I went for one reason. I went with camera in hand, determined to get a few photos of the guitar. Got ‘em too.

Well, I got the heart-breaking email late one night a few weeks ago. Rayna’s mom had to sell the guitar. For long enough she had fought the tendonitis that the big guitar gave her. She loved the guitar but couldn’t play it.

I was broke. I couldn’t possibly get the thing. I can’t tell you how often I thought about that guitar over the past few weeks now, knowing as I did that it was most probably going to be sold to someone I didn’t know and I’d never again see it.

Well, yesterday was a jam Saturday. And I went up to Goshen as usual. I hung out in Jim’s shop as usual (he’s got a freakishly great small-bodied – his own design – walnut-backed guitar he built and that I now play every time I go up there). And for a good fifteen minutes all we talked about was the guitar, it being for sale, the sense of loss in it all.

And it just happened to be a Saturday when so many of the friends that I’ve made in Goshen were all there too. I was sitting there playing “Her name was Joanne, and she lived in a meadow by a pond…” with Joe and Jim. I’m not sure if Jim and Joe were rolling their eyes at my odd 60’s choice in music, but we sure seemed to sound good on it. I looked up to see that Rayna’s mom (and her husband) was coming up the walkway toward Jim’s shop with a guitar case in hand.

The ONLY thing that crossed my mind at the sight of them approaching was that I MIGHT get one more chance – one more song out of that guitar before I never saw it again.

Rayna’s mom walked through the shop door. I smiled up at her and said, “MAN, your ears must have been burning, ‘cause we’ve been talking about you ALL morning!”.

She smiled back down at me (I was still sitting). Then she stepped over, set the case at my feet and said, “Happy anniversary. Dar (my wife) just bought this for you.”

Well, I’m not a man of few words. I became one.


  1. What a great story and what a lovely anniversary gift from your wife. It brought me to tears.

  2. "Love is truly grand"

    ain't that the truth?!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the story, CDT. I quite obviously drew the long straw in the marriage game.