Friday, August 7, 2009

Irene the Headless Backpacker

Friday, August 7, 2009
11 comments

One of the casualties of the recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago was my travel guitar. The headstock cracked off my Martin Backpacker guitar (again). About five years ago I slammed it in a van door, snapping off this rather important part, rendering it unplayable. A local luthier glued it back together and it played as good as new. That is, until I got the bright idea to take it along to the tropics on a trip where there would be some musically oriented fellow travelers. This could have been an installment of that Saturday Night Live skit for "Bad Idea Jeans."

This guitar, the Martin Backpacker, was made to travel. Before it lost its head, this guitar looked a bit like a kayak paddle and sounded only a little better. Unless I could plug it into and amp and use some effects to juice up its sound, the Backpacker was mostly just good enough for some casual, quiet picking and playing. Its sound was thin and tinny. But when there was no other guitar available, I was certainly glad to have this one along. I'd played her outside, inside, and in at least eight different U.S. states, plus one foreign country.

And speaking of that foreign country...

The glue in the guitar's head mend hated the hot, hot heat and the heavy humidity of Trinidad and Tobago. Somewhere between Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Speyside, Tobago, she gave up the ghost. I was sad but accepting. She'd been under such strain lately, what with the medium strings I'd put on her, and the sing-along pop songs we'd played in the van on the road from Matura Beach. Ah, she'd lived a good life, but that life was, sadly, now over.

The thought flitted across my mind like a tortoise-shell pick across a newly tuned high E: maybe I should leave her where she died.

No.

She was American-made and her remaining pieces should, by all rights, be returned to her place of birth. So I carted her lifeless, headless, tuneless body back home on a series of jets, her head still attached to her body by the now-silent and flopping A, D, G, and B strings.


Someday I may strip off her useful parts: thinline pick-up, tuners, strap knobs, and commit her body to the flames. But for now, she's resting in a corner of the basement. She shares that cool, dark space with all of her friends—my numerous other guitars. Now that she's gone, I'm sure they'll miss her, too.

The last song I played on my little Backpacker was "Goodnight Irene." So I guess that was her actual name: Irene. Goodnight, old gal. I'll see you in my dreams...

11 comments:

On August 7, 2009 at 8:32 PM Heron said...

Oh, poor Irene ! Perhaps a trip to her natal home in Nazareth, PA for a head/neck transplant ? Followed by a nice set of Martin SP lights ?
Rock On !

On August 7, 2009 at 9:41 PM Dave Lewis said...

Such tragedies, first the loss of Pinkie, now Irene...a moment of silence...a loooong moment.

On August 8, 2009 at 9:33 AM Nancy Ortiz said...

Don't give up on your instrument. The body is still in good condition. And this is a Martin, excellent instruments and excellent company. I wonder if they have a website which could help. Come on, you know someone can fix it! Nil desperandum, Bill o' Birds!

On August 8, 2009 at 11:47 PM jess said...

Poor Irene!

On August 9, 2009 at 5:13 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

I don't think breaking a guitar is truly worth it, but I like the title of this post almost enough to justify it.

On August 10, 2009 at 8:04 PM April said...

Irene can be repaired. Don't give up on her just yet...I have a 1967 Gibson SG that lost her head, too. Restored and playable! Take her to a really good luthier.

Martins, to my ear, always sound kind of tinny and "plinky." It's part of their charm. I have an old D-28....tinny and plinky. Wouldn't trade the her for nuthin'.

On August 12, 2009 at 12:43 AM Juan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
On August 13, 2009 at 1:31 AM Christena said...
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On August 15, 2009 at 7:53 AM nina at Nature Remains. said...

Keep her handy--it makes a great story.
I can almost feel that humidity-

On August 22, 2009 at 2:42 AM Jack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
On June 10, 2014 at 11:07 AM Tomo said...

Bill, I build handmade cases for girls like Irene. I love my Backpackers, too, and drag them around the world with me whether they want to go or not. Much sympathy for your peghead - all too common a death.

Anyways, here is a shot on Flickr of what I make:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/saburosan/14001540150/


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