My First Guitar

I opened the case and the scent took me right back to that musty, dusty, cramped little practice room in the back of the music shop one hot summer.

When I was in high school, my parents came back from a rummage sale with a worn black leather case with tan stitching. The cardboard lining in the case was a little worse for the wear, and the cardboard box for picks that rested beneath the neck of the guitar was missing its lid.

The guitar was perfect.

I smoothed my hand over the polished toasted-buttery grain with its darkened edges. Its few nicks and gouges meant nothing to me. I had no idea how old it was, but it was all new to me, from the cream-colored pickguard to the thick brass strings, to “Fender” written way up at the top.

I’d always loved playing musical instruments. I started with the cello in 4th grade, added the clarinet in 5th, and by the time I got to the guitar in my sophomore year, discovered I could sing.

Yet despite my brother having an electric guitar that thrummed and throbbed at all hours, I’d never considered playing one myself.

Until now. Suddenly I was taking lessons, strumming quite naturally in a down-up-down-up pattern, acquiring stacks of music.

I remember how excited I was when I played “Yesterday,” in that back-of-the-shop practice room, nervously peering at the sheet music, and later on out in the backyard beneath the catalpa tree without any sheet music at all.

I even wrote a snippet of an instrumental and proudly played it for my teacher. After all, I had some catching up to do; Mozart was composing at age 3!

But one by one, over the years, I put down my instruments. First the clarinet and then my beloved cello, as school schedules and other conflicts took over. Singing took the forefront then (and was admittedly easier to take with me on the bus), high school became college, and suddenly there was full-time work, and life in general.

And then one day I realized it’s been 10 or even 15 years since I’d last really played my guitar.

Still, I hadn’t seriously considered giving it away until a fateful weekend when a clutter-clearing fit took hold of me.

What they say about clutter clearing is true: You don’t want to stop until you’ve cleared your entire space. You really do get a sense of achievement, relief, freshness. And suddenly you have room to acquire more things (oops)!

But some of those things give you pause, as I found when I dug into the closet where my guitar had lived for far too long.

I’m very good at the “I might need it someday” mentality. It’s a safeguard against some real or imagined future plight, or something.

Should I let my guitar still sit unnoticed, taking up space in my closet and my subconscious, with only the occasional thought floating up that I should try to strum a few chords again?

Or should I give it away to someone who could be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elmore James, Bo Diddley…or just someone who wants a little more music in their life?

I made a decision, momentous for me, but it felt right. I took pictures and posted them on Facebook.

Within minutes, a friend I work with said he’d take it.

That was fast. Suddenly I had qualms.

Was it the mere act of parting with something that had been a part of me for so long?

Or did I truly, deeply want to play it again, which also meant relearning all the fingering and chords I’d forgotten, which also meant investing not a little time and energy and willingness?

I brought the guitar to work with me the next morning. Its new owner was already there. No more time to decide.

I took it over to his cube.

“Sure you don’t want to keep it?” he asked me.

Ack. Terrible words for a pack rat to hear! I admit, I really had to think about it for a moment. Was my attachment, my nostalgia, too strong?

But as he took my guitar out of its case, his hands molding around it, strumming the chords, admiring it, I knew I wouldn’t take it back. This person understood guitars.

And this guitar deserved to be played, not sit in its case for another 10 or 15 years.

“Do you want anything for it?” he asked.

I didn’t. I had no idea what it was worth, and besides…you can’t sell dreams.

He said he’d record a song with it and let me know how it goes, and if he ever decided to give it away, he’d let me know first so I could take it back.

May it have a fantastic life.

Yep, that’s my guitar!

What have you given away that was hard to do, but was ultimately good for you?

(First published in one form or another over on my blog.)