The Story Of A Guitar – Reg Meuross

It’s hard to explain that feeling when a guitar speaks to you, but it was magical, and in spite of all the repairs and accidents this little guitar felt like the one I’d been looking for all my life

In March 2014 I was invited to San Jose, California, to do some one to one songwriting tuition. It seemed like a golden opportunity to also do some gigs. So with my agent Katie we got a little tour together, just a couple of local gigs and a couple of days writing with my old friend and top shelf songwriter Marsha Malamet.

I decided not to take a guitar but buy one there, as they are nearly half price in the States. So with Erin Bentley, my generous pupil, we went to the local new and vintage guitar emporium in San Jose.

What I thought was just going to be a local music shop turned out to be the mother of vintage guitar shops, especially my favourite small bodied guitars. There were hundreds lining the walls, along with the usual shop items. After a fair bit of picking and plucking I settled on an old L series Gibson, the L standing for Ladies guitar. It had some damage which I knew could be repaired back home and I was pretty sure it would realise a profit as a rare vintage item.

Just as I was about to leave the shop I spotted, hanging high on the wall what looked like a small vintage Martin guitar. I have always wanted to own a Martin but they are way up there with the most expensive new and rare guitars. The best ones are about the best you can get and most of the best ones are vintage. This one was only $900, unheard of for such an instrument, but closer inspection quickly explained why. It had a replacement back, bridge and machine heads.

The varnish was like poorly boiled toffee and the interior was a log train wreck. It was labelled as a Project.

Still, I thought I would give it a little play and immediately it sang. It’s hard to explain that feeling when a guitar speaks to you, but it was magical, and in spite of all the repairs and accidents this little guitar felt like the one I’d been looking for all my life.

Back home in the UK I couldn’t stop thinking about that sad little guitar with all its wounds and scars and sweet little voice and desire to please and be played. I was worried that someone else might come in and spot it high on the wall and discover its sweetness too. So I decided I would push my luck and I called Erin suggesting she might want to buy that little guitar and put it under her bed until I could raise the money to bring it home.

“Of course!” she said! So immediately I got in touch with Rich, the kindly old hippie who ran the shop and who initially showed me the instrument.

His communications were filled with warnings; it needs a neck re-set, the back is wrong, the bridge is wrong, and so on. Rich sent photos which I forwarded to my friend Stuart Palmer in Doncaster, guitar repairer and Luthier to the best. Stuart’s assessment of the damage was that it could be done but it was going to be costly and a lengthy process. Meanwhile the guitar continued to languish beneath Erin’s bed, week after week after month after month. Six months went by and still I was no closer to finding the money it would take to buy and ship the instrument here.

Time went by and my finances seemed to deteriorate even further, by late November I was beginning to think I might have to suggest to Erin that she put the Martin on Ebay where she would probably make a small profit, or return to the shop and see if they would take it back. But then the trail of kindness that Erin and Rich initiated took on a new momentum.

I was playing in Essex and staying with my old friend Roy Gandy. Roy
has been a big supporter of mine since back in the 1980s Panic Brothers days. He is owner of Rega Research, a company specialising in high end hi fi equipment.

Sound is Roy’s passion, or the faithful delivery of musical sound more specifically. Apart from playing private concerts for his company I also sang on a recording project where Roy acquired all the original valve equipment he thought he would need to make some pure recordings of some of his favourite songs.

I told Roy the story of the little guitar and I could see he sympathised with my predicament. I left and a week went by and suddenly out of the blue, Roy called me. “I’ve had an idea,”  he said. “With your permission I would like to try and bring your guitar home.”  Roy’s plan involved another angel called Bill. Bill was Roy’s accountant and had been a quiet fan over the years and two years ago his second wife had commissioned me to write a song about them for Bill’s birthday. Their story was one of triumph over grief and illness. Bill’s first wife had died and his second wife had been their nanny. After his wife’s death the nanny stayed on to help out, in which time Bill’s health deteriorated. Six years passed and one day Bill announced that he would like to marry again but it would depend on him pulling through impending heart operations. Bill pulled through and they married and the story made a good song which I played live to them in a village hall in Southend. Roy’s plan was that Bill would put up the money to buy the guitar, approximately £800, and Roy’s company would ship it back to England. In return I would play a free concert for Roy’s employees in aid of the local Air Ambulance.

Roy & Bill’s generosity took my breath away! A solution had been found and one in which I could make some kind of repayment.
So the slow process began and eventually in late spring 2015 Roy called me to say the guitar had arrived at his house.

I collected it and took it home and did what I could in the way of restoration. I stripped away all the hideous varnish on the top and neck and eventually managed to get it back to its original mahogany finish. The next step was to deliver it to Stuart for the finer restoration needed.

Months passed until finally on 31st October, Halloween I arrived at Stuart’s workshop in Doncaster to collect my 1944 Martin guitar. Stuart had taken it apart completely, replacing the koi wood back with a piece of luthier’s mahogany dating from around the same period. He had
repaired a shattered block and made from scratch a rosewood bridge, he had painstakingly pinned and blocked the interior so that all the cracks and faults, no matter how small were safe and secure.

“She’s got a few wrinkles like any 71 year old grandma, but she’s a beautiful instrument without a doubt”
 Stuart said in his rich Yorkshire drawl. I was almost too nervous to play it in case something had been lost between Doncaster and San Jose. But I needn’t have worried, that sweet sweet voice was not only still there but it was stronger and deeper and even sweeter than it was back in the dry California air. I handed Stuart his payment, a fraction of what he should have charged me for all the work and time he’d put into the instrument, and I brought my 1944 017 Martin guitar home.

A big thank you to everyone mentioned in this story and those on the edges of it too.

My next task is to write some good songs and play some good concerts in the way of repayment for all that love, kindness and generosity that sweet little instrument brought into my life.

I’m looking forward to bringing you these songs. If you have any ideas for solo gigs for me and my ‘new’ guitar in 2016 get in touch.

Reg x

Get in touch if you’d like to interview Reg about this story, or book him for a gig/festival HERE

 

 

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Reg Meuross Singer Songwriter Storyteller