Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Worthwhile Guitar

I wrote about the story behind this guitar a few years ago. The story goes on...

It's just an old guitar...

"Tell you what. If you're going to go ahead and buy the pugmill, I'll give you the guitar and banjo for an extra $100 if you want them," Dave said. "It's an old Harmony. I used to play coffeehouses with it back in my college years."

Never being one to turn down a guitar for $100, even if the banjo had to come with it, I said, "Sure."

I've known Dave for nearly my entire professional life. He's another potter.

When I was just a kid starting out – half way through my college years, just married and building a pottery from scratch – I headed toward my very first art fair in central Indiana. I had my '66 Buick Skylark loaded beyond full. Just 30 miles from home, the poor old car broke down on the highway that traces the Eel River ridge across Northern Indiana.

After road repairs, I finally got to the art fair a half a day late. Dave was the first person I met. I asked him if he thought it might be worth the extra effort of trying to set up overnight to salvage the rest of the show. A simple roll of the eyes was the first of a thirty-year string of good advice Dave has given me.

Dave has taught me the ropes of doing art fairs for a living. He has taught me much about pottery. And he has taught me much about jumping into life with both feet.

Life has kinda forced Dave into being a maverick. It's not like life is particularly cruel to Dave. Neither has he found the skids to be often greased. But Dave generally has to figure out his own way of doing things. Dave isn’t exactly “gifted” with the best physical tools to excel at the challenges that appeal to his intelligent, inquisitive mind.

For instance, Dave is not built like a potter. He is slight – he’s narrow-shouldered with fine-boned hands. Dave learned early on that he wasn't going to be muscling his way through turning 20 lb. clay pots. Instead, he figured out how to finesse his way through 5 pounders.

But Dave doesn't seem to measure the value of a challenge -- or his willingness to attempt to tackle it -- by how well equipped he might be to take it on. And time and again Dave shows character – the best of humanity – not in excelling at those challenges, but in trying, in enjoying those challenges.

And I've seen Dave get knocked down. Flat. Wiley Coyote meets the oncoming train in the tunnel. I see him continue to get back up. He doesn't bother to look around to see if anyone saw him topple. Why would he? He isn't attempting the challenge to impress others. He knows the intrinsic worthiness of "try."


A life is only empty when it's devoid of "try." Sure, I've learned the art fair ropes from Dave. But the value of "try" is what I'll most take away from the friendship.

And Dave's tenacity has not just earned him my respect, but a career that has spanned four decades, selling thousands of pots a year in nearly every hard-to-get-into fine art fair throughout the Midwest. And there is a group of Midwestern potters whose work will always reflect Dave's influence.

Sometimes "Try" pays off extrinsically as well intrinsically.

So now here I am, looking at this $100 Harmony 1260 Jumbo that I got with the pug mill. It’s not a terribly "gifted" guitar. It's got a bad neck angle, cracked peghead, poor-fitting replacement tuners, and a pickguard that was poorly glued back on. And I'm wondering if it's worth the expense of trying to bring it up to real playability...

...And now there Dave is, looking at the last big challenge for which he's not been given quite adequate tools. There he sits in Florida. Pottery closed forever. One lung gone and the other almost completely ravaged by the cancer he can no longer fight.

I think I'll get the Harmony repaired.

Dave died just weeks after I wrote that. I still think about him often. Not a few times I’ve wondered just how Dave would face the challenges of the changing marketplace. Curiously, the new market was right up Dave’s alley – something at which he really was “gifted”. He was heavily into computers way before the internet became big. I’m guessing Dave would have an Etsy site and I’d be calling him still – as I so often did for his wise advice.

The Harmony sat around the house for a while. I looked into the cost of repairs with a few reputable luthiers. The cost was always so prohibitive that I’d not pull the trigger on those repairs.

But then, through this wonder that is the internet, I met a guy who runs the repair shop of one of the top guitar shops in the country. What’s more – this guy’s passion is restoring old Harmony guitars. And he’s built a national reputation for the quality he puts back into those instruments – always making them even better than they were the day they left the Harmony manufacturer.

So, through a chain of similarly guitar-crazy friends, I handed the guitar off in Chicago and those friends transported that old Harmony up to my new friend, where it waits for its new life – hopefully, some day, in the hands of a new owner who knows the value of “try”.

1 comment:

  1. You didn't mention who did the repairs. I have a Harmony Hollywod that my Dad gave me in the 60's that needs the neck reset. Can you email me the guys name? thanks.