Her Name is Helen

I walked into Guitar Center tonight after a long, hard day of work with it in mind to buy some strings and maybe a pedal or something.  At the most, I thought maybe I’d walk out with a small practice-amp or some gadget to help me bring my big-old Fender amp down to bedroom volume so I can practice through it more readily…  But then I wandered into the acoustic guitar room and there was a guitar just hanging there, waiting for me…


I saw her on my way out.  I had played a newer Martin and thought, “Cool guitar, but I’m not ready to pay that much for it–plays about like the Parkwood I already own anyway…”  Then I turned and saw the vintage, 1973 Martin D18 of my dreams.  I’ve bumped into D18s before, but the price has always said, “Not in your wildest dreams, kid” to me…but out of curiosity, I looked at the tag.  I won’t disclose what it was here, but the price was so low my first thought was, “What’s WRONG with it, then?”  (It was the kind of price that was comparable to finding a ’73 Camaro at an Enterprise lot and they said you could keep it if you just rented it for a couple weeks.)  So I wandered out and saw the same guy who’d sold me my Rickenbacker bass milling about.  He asked if he could help me and I said, “I’ve got a couple of questions I kinda hope I don’t like the answers to…” and I asked him to tell me more about the ’73 Martin hanging on the wall.

Zack pulled the guitar down for me and I strummed a few chords.  I saw some age-wear on it, but it was stuff comparable to your 1973 Camaro having scuffed paint on the rear fenders, a non-original tail-light, and one of the hub caps is there, but dented.  I asked foremost, if they were solid on the asking price and he said that it’d just come in on January 2, the previous owner trading it in to buy a Taylor guitar, and on the vintage stuff they don’t haggle in the first 90 days.  I nodded my way through that answer and said, “Well, it’s beat up.  There’s scuffs and the pick-guard’s peeling up, and that’s an aftermarket pickup in there…but honestly that stuff makes it look cool…  What can you tell me about the previous owner?”

Considered making you wait to the end to see the whole thing, but why leave you hanging?

Zack told me that the previous owner was an older lady who gigged regularly.  She was the ORIGINAL owner, having and maintaining the guitar for all 43 years of its life.  (That’s good news.  Like if the Enterprise lot said that your 73 Camaro had a clean title and all of the service records in the glove box.)  At that point I said, “And she only drove it to church on Sunday, right?”  He laughed and said, “No, you can see it was used a lot, but if it’d been me, I’d have kept this instead of getting the Taylor.”  Out of curiosity, I asked if he remembered her name and he didn’t off the top of his head…  At that point, I played a little more, realized it plays as well if not better than any other acoustic I own, and said, “Well…let me walk around the store a little and think about it…” and put it back on the wall.

So I walked, and I texted my brother about it a little.  (I often consult Dave on guitar purchases…or sometimes he consults me into one I wasn’t even looking at…whatever…)  I did a few laps and knew it was a “once in a lifetime” price I’d have kicked myself over.  It’s a MARTIN D18.  It’s a classic, it’s around my price-range, and it sounds great.  I found Zack again and said, “Let me plug it in…”  So we plugged it in.  And Zack got paged over the intercom, so he left to deal with whatever was going on and I was alone with the guitar a while.  And I played and played, and knew what I was going to do.

Zack came back in and I asked if he could throw in a guitar strap and some new strings.  He said yes, and that it came with a case.  We talked about financing and all that…  (I’ve got 0% interest for long enough that I’ll have it paid off before I pay even a dime extra…and if that sentence read as anything other than fart noises to you, then you’re probably still too invested in the Camaro metaphor from earlier…)  Then he went to get the case.  And LOOK at this bad-ass, ugly-ass vintage, blue case!

If I hadn’t already been sold, this would’ve done it.

It took a while to get the sale completed.  I hadn’t used my Guitar Center card in so long I forgot that I hadn’t activated the new card, so we had to work around that, and the place was under-staffed so Zack was also still answering phones while working with me.  (I was actually pretty impressed with his multi-tasking.)  We made some small talk in the interim and my brother texted me again saying he’d put the kids to bed so, “Where are we on this thing?” At which point I texted him the very first picture I ever took of her…


I like how the warm lights in Guitar Center bring out the gold in the tuners.

As I was closing up the case, I said, “Hey, if you happen to remember the name of the lady that sold this to you, please shoot me an e-mail.  I’m just looking for her first name.  Don’t want to track her down or anything–I was just thinking I’d name the guitar after her…”  I think Zack could tell that was a big deal to me and he said he could look it up real quick.  He tapped a few keys, did a little reading, and told me…

“Her name is Helen.”



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