The first time I picked up a guitar, I was 12 years old. My parents had finally given in to my requests to take lessons, and they took me to the local musical instrument store-slash-school to rent an acoustic guitar.
The first time anyone with an interest in music picks up an instrument can be a memorable moment. Even magical, perhaps. And it was for me. I strummed the guitar with my fingers, not really understanding chords or single notes or even how to properly hold it.
Renting didn’t last long — no more than two months before my Uncle Ken told me he’d sell me his old Martin acoustic. Ken had purchased other guitars and was willing to part with this one. He’d played it for years, but had moved on. Dating it years later, I found the guitar was older than me. I was born in 1976, and it already had three years on me when I entered the world. It was the most money I’d ever spent on any particular thing at that time of my life, and I instantly treasured it.
Not only because it was a beautifully-made instrument, but because I could almost feel its years whenever I held it, hear its long history when I plucked a string or strummed a chord, and sensed I was holding a true classic whenever I opened that case and the smell of it drifted to my nose. Calling it “intoxicating” would not be out of line with how it made — and still makes — me feel.
That Martin is now more than 40 years old and is still mine. I’ve been asked on occasion if I’d be interested in selling it, but although my playing is no better than it was when I stopped taking lessons at 15, that guitar feels like a part of me. It’s currently waiting for me at my parents’ house, and it’s one of the reasons I plan to drive across the country to Toronto next spring. I wouldn’t dare trust an airline with my precious Martin. But spend five days in the car (each way) to ensure it arrives in the Northwest Territories safe and sound? You betcha.
Not every instrument I’ve played or owned is that special. Most aren’t. My first electric guitar, which is also buried in storage at my parents’ place, isn’t. I like it for what it is, but I didn’t love it like I still love that Martin. Not even my growing collection of harmonicas really compares to that piece of finely-crafted wood.