Posted by: David | June 13, 2008

My Mom’s Guitar

My mother bought a Martin 0-18 folk guitar from the Goldie & Libro music shop in downtown New Haven sometime back in the early to mid 1960s. My recollection is that she paid about $600 for it, which was a pretty penny back then. Don’t know if it was new or used, but the Martin website lists #193327 as the last serial number they built in 1963. Mom’s guitar is #193259. If my math is right the guitar was built in December of that pivotal year.

Mom was pretty musical. I remember a vinyl recording we had of her as a teenager playing a fantastic solo piano piece. I wish I could remember what the piece was called, it was a very fast and showy classical piece. Do remember NY Public TV (Channel 13) used it as station ID music way back then. Mom must have had lots of lessons. My grandparents had a Steinway baby grand in their second floor apartment which always drew me when we visited them. The piano and the candy dishes.

Anyway mom was an avid follower of the folk music revival of those aforementioned 1960s. She went to “hoots” at a downtown New Haven bar called the Hofbrau Haus. She played Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary records, among others. She was a member of the New Haven Folk Music Society for a time. I have a couple of spiral bound notebooks in which she wrote lyrics, chords and tablature in for songs she was learning to play. Lots of lyrics. As I look them over I wonder if she may have even created some of her own lyrics. She probably practiced mostly while my sister and I were at school, because there are few memories of her playing.

When my parents divorced my mom, sister, and me moved down to Florida. (We’d been there a couple times on short vacation trips, the three of us. I didn’t know it then, but the fact that dad didn’t come along on these two trips meant something.) I didn’t end up liking 7th or 8th grade in south Florida, so I came back north to live with dad. But in the couple of years I was there, I don’t remember my mom playing that guitar much. But I bet she did. I hope she did. I know it made her happy.

In the intervening years my wife and I made numerous trips to Florida to visit my mom and let her enjoy her grandchildren. (Not that she was entirely thrilled about being a “grandma”!) My wife brought her fancy banjo and they played together … songs like “Turkey In The Straw” and “Shady Grove”. My mom taught me a few things too, and on one trip she let us take the guitar home to New Hampshire for a while. It went back and forth a couple of times, and when mom passed away from emphysema in 1995, the Martin came north again. Probably for good, but who knows?

So about 6 months back I decided I should take the strings off since nobody’d played the thing for a couple of years. It’s a really nice guitar and I thought I was doing it a favor by taking off the strings. Recently I thought it might be nice to try playing it again, so decided to drop it off at Daddy’s Junky Music Store in Manchester just before picking my wife up at the airport. I’d have them look it over and put new strings on it and maybe do something to lower the playing “action”. The guy behind the counter let me know that it was a mistake to take off the strings and to not humidify the instrument. Jeez I hope I didn’t ruin it! I paid the $30 deposit, plus $12.99 for new strings, and left the guitar there. It was somewhat an act of faith.

A week later the repair technician left a message on the phone. I called him back the next day. He described himself as a “wood surgeon … at the molecular level” and provided perfectly measured detail as to what was wrong with the guitar. Turns out that the bridge was almost completely unglued (like ME!) and about to pop off. The “popping off” can be a catastrophic event that can wreck the guitar’s top. Taking off the strings was actually the right, and I might add prescient thing to do.

So the bridge needs re-gluing. That’s $150. The nice repair tech also told me that the guitar was a really fine and valuable instrument. I bet he says that to all the owners. But apparently the thing is now worth more than twice what my mom paid for it. I’m really looking forward to getting it back next week and giving myself some blisters.



  1. Very cool story!

    Now expecting to see repaired-guitar pics!

    Thanks Nimish. 🙂 Good idea, I will take some pictures.

  2. This is so weird that you should do this. First of all I used to own a Martin many years ago. My wasband gave it to me for my birthday during the early 70’s. I played for a while but he felt I didn’t play it enough and talked me into selling it. Before that in the early sixties my sister got a Harmony guitar with S&H Green stamps. For a cheap guitar it had a great sound. My brother had a Martin at the time and was a fantastic guitar player and he taught a lot of stuff to both my sister and me. We were all into folk music and I still have my Kingston Trio vinyl albums along with Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, John Hammond, Jr. etc.

    This week my sister found the guitar. Fortunately she had loosened the strings years ago. I gave it to my friend who also plays guitar and she cleaned it up and put new strings on it. It’s the same guitar I’m holding on my blog page. It still sounds good and I have been practicing this week. Oh, the pain of trying to get callouses.

    I had to look up some of the chords because I couldn’t remember them. I remembered the basic ones A,B,C,D,E,G. I hated the F chord. I don’t remember the minor chords.

    I wish now I had my old Martin.
    I used to use a thumb pick so I need to buy one of those.

    Well, have fun with it.

    Holy shit Joan. This is really too much. I guess I should tell you now. My mother’s name was Joan. Seriously. Her birthday was June 1.

    How cool that you have taken up your old guitar again!! 😀

  3. P.S. Shady Grove was one of my favorites.My sister and brother used to go to the Newport Folk Festival every year. My parents wouldn’t let me go because they said I was too young.

    here is a link to Shady Grove by Jean Ritchie

    Yeah it’s a great song. Kinda haunting. Thanks for the video link.

  4. What a great story. It’s awesome to smile so early in the AM!

    Thank you! I owed you that smile B&G. You gave me some MAJOR frackin’ LOLs with that Vote Repulican video over on your blog. And the bug eating newscaster was LOL too. I hate using the term LOL, but it works.

  5. Yes, it is a great story, though it ends a little too fast, because it would be nice to know whether you got it back and could play it.

    Thank you cantueso. It is not the end. I will go pick the guitar up next Tuesday evening I hope. I’ll probably call the guitar technician/wood surgeon on Monday and see how the operation went. More to come.

  6. Oh, I should have said this first. I loved your story and the fact that you have your mom’s guitar. I even read it twice.

    Thanks so much Joan. I’ll try to follow this up when I pick up the guitar next week. I hope it’s nicely fixed up.

  7. I can’t believe your Mom’s name was Joan and your birthday and hers and mine are so close.
    My son was born on my mother’s birthday. He came three weeks early to manage that one.
    I still haven’t bought a thumb pick.

    What kind of music will you be practicing?

    Yeah that’s really something. My mom would have gotten a kick out of it too. Joan is not that common of a name. Not like Sarah or Jessica or Jennifer … Anyway I don’t know what I’ll be playing. Probably just the same old crap that I play over and over and over. I’m not good at it at all but this guitar makes some beautiful sounds anyway. My fave chords are C, D, G, E minor and A minor. F and B are out. Maybe I’ll try to get them learned if the guitar is any easier to play after the repair.

  8. I should have put on Lucky’s blog “some men are dumbasses” I KNOW you’re not a dumbass. I just happen to be surrounded by a few dumbass men and I forget that out in the world there are actually quite a few non-dumbass men. I know that there are a fair share of dumbass women too. I’m just lucky not to know any except myself when I’m being a dumbass.

    Thank you Joan. I knew what you meant but I’m glad to hear you elaborate (how lucky you are to have mostly non-dumbass women in your life!) … We are pretty much all dumbasses, with occasional glimpses of brilliance. Men, as the “dominant” gender, get to make the biggest fools of themselves. I expect that when the long arc of the pendulum swings us back to matriarchy we’ll see more females being dumbasses. Or not. Maybe they’ll get the earth straightened out if we don’t blow it up first …Until then I will continue to gravitate towards females for friendship.

  9. Almost forgot, Have A Happy Father’s Day!!

    Thanks again Joan. We just finished pigging out on fried seafood from the takeout place I mentioned in a previous post. I’m belching fried oysters now. MMMMM.

  10. Nice story, looking forward to some photos, and do have a nice FATHER’s Day, will ya? 🙂

    Thanks C! I AM having a nice father’s day! Full of deep fried oysters! And had a nice bike ride this afternoon. Planted carrots and dug up the septic tank for tomorrow’s visit by the “honey wagon”.

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