Guitar Town

Facing what it means to lose the instrument of your dreams

by Paul V. Griffith

As the waters rose in Nashville I was out of town. I'm a drummer, and my neighbor, a bass player, urged me to get home quick. "Our backyards look like lakes," he said, and I worried for my gear, much of which was below ground level. I was lucky. Everything was still dry, and with a little shifting around it would stay that way.

Others haven't been so fortunate. As I talk to fellow musicians, the stories of lost instruments have broken my heart. At Soundcheck Nashville, a rehearsal and instrument-storage facility, the cost in lost guitars alone is expected to run in the millions. Many of them belong to well-known performers and session musicians. Still underwater are pre-war Gibson mandolins, ancient Martin guitars, one-of-a-kind pedal steels, and priceless electrics, like Waylon Jennings's tooled-leather Fender Telecaster, which was stored in the locker of one famous country star.

But it's not just the stars who have suffered. Workaday pickers and songwriters, too, have lost the one thing that, in many cases, most defines them. A guitar is often the only effective interface between a dedicated player and the outside world. Whether it's a sixty-dollar pawnshop mutt or a purebred collectible, for musicians, a guitar is like a pet. They chose it. It's theirs. It fits their lap; it fits their life. They keep it because it comforts them, and—as much as is possible for an inanimate object—they love it.

Essentially, guitars are nothing but piles of wood and wire, but in Nashville they're iconic. Compared to the loss of life, guitars are just stuff, but here they're also the stuff of dreams. In days to come, the true impact of this flood will be revealed: more bodies will be uncovered, flooded homes will be leveled, and people already suffering in a miserable economy will face financial ruin. And when the waters finally recede, some beloved guitars will also be uncovered. Warped, delaminated, mildewed and rusted, they will be irreplaceable.

Published Friday, 7 May 2010