November 11, 2009

A Little Love

My guitar was made in a small village near Patzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico. My father bought it during one of his travels with the intent of teaching himself to play. He never did get around to the playing part and the guitar ended up sitting on one of his bookshelves, looking quite artistic if a bit dusty. When I mentioned that I had always wanted to learn to play guitar, my father was only too happy to pass it on to me. I think, perhaps, he grew tired of the artistic nature of a guitar propped on top of his bookshelf, or thought to himself, “That thing is really getting dusty,” or he felt bad that no one had gotten around to playing the guitar.

Musical instruments should be played after all. I’ve seen quite a few of them end up as dusty decorations in various places. Restaurants, especially, seem to have a fondness for parts of dented trombones and splayed accordions. It seems a shame. That wasn’t their purpose after all. I’m not sure anyone went to the trouble to make a functional instrument with the hopes that some day, just maybe, it’d grace a Chili’s. I imagine that several years ago, an older Mexican gentleman polished the new lacquer on my guitar with a slight smile of pride. A simple but nice guitar. Not so cheap to be a child’s toy, not so expensive to be passed over by the Americano who thinks he might like to learn to play. My father wiped all the dust off that guitar and happily handed it to me.

I didn’t know what to do with it, besides not put it anywhere near my bookshelf. (It’d just be embarrassing if we both let it become a dust catcher.) Luckily, I have friends who know about guitars. I gave it to my friend Ess and asked for his honest opinion. After restringing it, he propped the guitar on this knee and played. (Effortlessly. Just a random little song.) “It’s got a nice sound,” he announced and suddenly by guitar was a musical instrument again.

He did advise, however, that if I was going to play this guitar seriously, that’d I’d have to replace the nuts. (That’s what he called them.) Well, I have every intention of playing this guitar seriously so I determined it was time to go to a music store. First, I looked up online to see if those things were actually called nuts or was Ess just messing with me. I did find a couple of other websites where musicians referred to them as nuts so Ess isn’t full of it, he’s just one of those musician types. However, according to official encyclopedic-looking diagrams of guitars, the first fret is called the nut and the nuts are called tuning keys. Thus armed with new knowledge, I walked into Guitar Center and asked for turny-nobby-thingies for, you know, the strings.

The nice Guitar Center man sighed a little.

“What type of guitar is it?” he asked.

“It’s from Mexico,” I said.

“Is it classical, acoustic, electric?”

“Um…” (Did you know there was a difference between classical and acoustic? Me either.)

“Does it have a plug?”

“No,” this one I knew! “It does not have a plug!”

“I don’t suppose you brought it with you.” He sighed again.

“Yes, it’s in my car.”

A glimmer of hope gleamed in the nice Guitar Center man’s eyes.

“Okay, go get it and I can help you.”

After retrieving my guitar, telling its colorful past, and explaining that it was actually my friend who knew about guitars that told me I needed new turny-nobby-thingies, Mr. Guitar Center looked over my guitar and began turning the tuning keys.

“Did your friend say what was wrong with them?” he asked just as one of the keys came off in his hand. “Oh.”

“Yeah, I think that was it,” I said, very helpfully.

Mr. Guitar Center took me over to the counter told them what I needed and left me in their care. Behind the counter, the wall was covered with an array of guitar parts in plastic packaging. A very young man began pulling parts down and holding them up to my guitar. He would squint a little and then pull another part down and hold it up to my guitar.

“You have to find one that fits,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. I looked up the unending wall of parts and got a little dizzy.

The very young man was joined by, remarkably, an even younger woman who began to also stare at parts at the wall.

“How about that one?” she would ask and point at the wall towering over her.

The young man would reach to a part nowhere near where she was pointing.

“Yeah, that one should work,” she would say.

It’s at this point they began talking some bizarre guitar language. It reminded me a bit of when Ess told me I should get some new nuts. It was all English yet I really didn’t know what was going on. Remember, I was in a Guitar Center at the time so I was surrounded by cacophony and the towering walls of guitar parts. (In case you didn’t know, Guitar Centers have musical instruments that they just let people play willy-nilly. They’re quite noisy.) There was just too much going on to really pay attention to what they were saying. Instead, I just smiled and nodded and considered the child labor laws.

“Here. This should work,” the young man said finally.

“Oh, that’s going to look awesome,” the younger woman said.

I looked at their find. It was a set of some of the gaudiest looking tuning keys I had ever seen—which admittedly is not very many, but still. My guitar is a humble instrument with modest silver and off-white keys. The tuning keys in the package were shiny gold and pearlescent odes to Liberace. I was just about to ask for something less mariachi-pants, when I looked up to see the young people’s faces.

They just seemed so pleased with themselves, so proud they could help me so effectively. I realized that when they had been talking in that guitar-speak they had been praising my little dusty guitar. They didn’t see a bookshelf adornment; they saw a musical instrument that was in need of something shiny to catch the limelight.

“That’ll look so good,” the younger woman said nodding.

“It’s a good little guitar,” the young man said, “it just needs some love.”

I realized that gold mariachi-pants enthusiasm is just what this endeavor needed. If you’re going to teach yourself guitar at 30, if you’re a self-respecting feminist buying yourself a new set of nuts, if you’re going to replace tuning keys on a guitar you don’t even know how to tune, if you’re going to rely on the expertise of teenagers—you just have to go with these things. You just have to be a little silly, err on the side of Elvis, and embrace your inner Guitar Goddess.

With new tuning keys and a new attitude, El Senor Pantalones-de-Mariachi and I are ready go.

"A Modest Guitar" by Anne

"El Senor Pantalones-de-Mariachi " by Anne