While My Guitar Gently Weeps…

 

Sad day in T Bay

This past Saturday, after soundcheck just prior to a concert Thunder Bay, I casually rested my guitar  against the stage  wall and headed to the back room to fetch some guitar picks.  I had only taken a couple steps when I heard the slide and the crash.  I spun around to see my beloved steed face down with the headstock snapped off just above the nut.

It’s very hard to relate all that went through my mind in that first split second. Like when a whole life flashes through ones eyes just before a car crash, the life of that guitar and the relationships and events associated with it were all suddenly present and re-membered; over a thousand concerts, treks through far away lands, the many songs co-authored, countless hours woodshedding, the pleasure…  and the friendships that led to my acquisition of the guitar  in the first place.

It was about a dozen years ago, I was performing in Sante Fe.  My friends, Lou and Fran Bruno who were promoting the concert,  took it upon themselves to fly the legendary guitar-maker Kevin Ryan and his wife Barb from LA to see the concert. I was well-aware of Kevin. He was a relatively new Luthier (guitar maker) but was already turning heads internationally with his aesthetic sensibilities, rich-toned instruments and technical/design innovations. It was such an honour to play for them and then afterward to head back to the Brunos for fine wines, elegant foods and rich conversation.

Certainly, guitars and guitar artistry were a huge part of that conversation as both Lou and Kevin are fine players in their own right.  At one point, the three of us got into detailed discussion about what we like/dislike in guitars – wood preferences, tonality, aesthetic appointments and the like. I already had a couple great guitars with no real need of another, and certainly I was not  in a financial position to even entertain getting Kevin to build me one. But none of that really mattered because  six months later this one was delivered in a crate to my door.

Now, all these years later, close inspection of the guitar reveals the many scars of a faithful old warhorse. The surface laquer is checkered like a thousand-piece puzzle.  Several large cracks have been glued and reglued  – one which extends from the strap-pin about a foot and a half up along the outer bout and into the waist. The wood around the soundhole has worn away to the abalone inlay that Kevin’s father selected for me from his “private stash” of unique pieces. And there are gouges, dents and divots enough to prove the hundreds of flights, countless careless moments, and endless hours of playing.

Needless to say – accompanying this rush of memory was a significant nausea  as I had to consider that the guitar may be irreparable.  But apparently I need not have worried.   “Jake the Guitar Whisperer”  here in Winnipeg is confident he can fix it. It may not be pretty but it’ll play. But even if her days were indeed over, the echos of her voice would reverberate for some time in the recordings and memories of those blessed enough to hear her in concert and witness first-hand the results of master-craftsmanship, generosity and love.

Just ’cause I’m being all sentimental here – I’ve chosen a song for you to hear that I wrote and recorded on this guitar…  it’s from my CD Sons and Daughters and the song is called Air Jam . Several years ago, my Chicago friend, Johnny Rutlege, asked me to write an instrumental piece  for a film soundtrack he was producing.  It had to have a decidedly  “Marlborough Man” feel to it and so this is what I came up with.   I titled it Air Jam simply because that was the name of Johnny’s production company.

Click song title to listen:

AIR JAM | STEVE BELL

Visit Ryan Guitars HERE…

See Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s recent article on Ryan Guitars HERE…

36 thoughts on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps…

  1. I had the blessing of hearing that guitar the evening before her downfall. Chin up on this one, brother.

  2. Aaagggghhhhh! A national tragedy! Been there, but it was only a stock Gibson SG. Weeping with you on this one, brother!

  3. Cheer up bro. It could have been your Stonebridge!! LOL Just kidding. I’m quite sure your “Guitar Whisperer” can get her back together. This has happened to many fine guitars before. All the best, Roger at Stonebridge Guitars.

  4. No way is all I can think when I read you your letter tittle of the your guitar. So sorry for the lost of a great instrument that was so close to your heart and that made healing music to our souls.

  5. STEVE! I’m so sorry!

    I played that guitar when you were in toronto years back at a missions event. I STILL remember how awesome it was to hold and to play.

    I feel for you my friend.

    Gavin

  6. HI Steve–I’m so sorry to hear about your guitar, but happy that you are able to get it repaired. I have just taken up viiolin and I understand about our love of our instruments- I’m so nervous of anything happpening to it that I am very slow to put it away!! …the same as my piano–I can only imagine how you felt and what went thru your mind. I am so looking forward to hearing your new CD–and seeing you again “live” in Ottawa in April – I am promoting your CD to my friends and to my church family – I absolutely love the Air Jam piece you put on this page. Just love instrumetnal guitar. God bless and I I am praying that it all turns out for good for you.

  7. Sorry to hear this. With your voice, that guitar graces our living room speakers many times each week.
    I hesitate to write the name John Denver here (and you may hesitate to read it), but he sings a song on one of his live albums called “This Old Guitar” and it serves as a fitting tribute to the wooden troubadours we come to love.
    Your music is a blessing to me.

  8. Sickly , just sickly. With God’s blessing may the steed carry on, saddled up for the long ride across the desert to the oasis of Jake, for some respite care and refit. We’re praying for favor and ssafe travel to the livery.

  9. Hey Steve!

    So sorry to hear about your guitar, but sure am glad it can be repaired! As an avid fan and someone who has followed your career with a passion, I am looking forward to hearing more great music out of her both live and recorded. I, too, am anxiously awaiting the release of your new Kindness CD. Take care Steve, and God bless you and your family.

  10. Yikes! I had the headstock taken off too – after a flight.
    It was repaired by Mischa Udovenko in Vancouver – he put a a Martin guitar type ‘bump’ into the neck to hold it all together. It’s doing great now! Can’t replace a guitar that’s had that many years on the road – it’s like an old French wine.

    Cool instrumental btw

    Michael

  11. I’ve always appreciated this piece on your recording, but now even more so, understanding the history of that exquisite instrument. What a privilege to play it so wonderfully through the years. A faithful friend.

  12. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that guitar more than a few feet away from you! Our sympathies are with both of you! We will pray that the Guitar Whisperer can do his magic! Blessings! …P & J in Cowtown

  13. Hope you can repair it! I have seen you play twice Steve. The last time I was blessed that you played at my graduation banquet at Souls Harbour RESCUE Mission in Regina, 2007. You are booked to play at our banquet this May once again. I have a signed copy of Sons & Daughters. Great CD. You’re daughter has an exceptional voice & presence. Will you be featuring her on any up coming albums?

  14. When I started to read this I thought it was your Stonebridge guitar that was damaged, the one you used to tour with the WSO out to Neepawa 2 years back and kindly let me play. But when you said it was your Ryan my heart sank since I know how long you have had it and what a quality instrument it is. I have two guitars that I have played for 34 and 40 years and I know what it is to have so much growth and creativity poured into and over them.
    May your Kevin Ryan live to play another day, even if it is just in the wood shed.
    Colin

  15. Sorry to hear about your guitar Steve! I will put abit of a spin on the whole story. Not owning a guitar, or being musically inclined, I cannot relate, but I can empathize. It is a great lesson in non judgemental attitudes.
    If my dog died, I would be heartbroken, and grieve for quite sometime,…as someone else might about their cat, or their guinea pig,…or their violin,…etc… or their car for that matter. Which takes me back to my first car- a used Toyota Celica. I whined endlessly to my mechanic who made the comment “How can someone be that sentimental about a car !??” So there are lessons to be learn from all life experiences. 🙂

  16. Ouch!!1 Sorry to mhear about the guitar mishap. Dropped an old Ibanez years ago and put a dent in the back of the neck. Still bothers me today. Hate to say it, but its only a piece of wood. I know its an instrument that you cherish though. Our savior was nailed to a wooden cross. His limbs and blood were spilled for our sins. We should think more of His sacrifice. I thank God for Christian performers like you Steve. Hope we can get you back to Montreal

  17. As a fellow traveller, I resonate with your feelings about your instrument Steve. Hope the repairs go well.
    thanks for sharing your tunes over the net, it brightens the pile of work here in my farm office.
    blessings to you from Boissevain.
    be the aroma of Jesus at Breakforth.
    Elaine

  18. We all had the tissues out to share in your grief…but with the borrowed guitar you were able to once again treat Thunder Bay to a most enjoyable evening of solo music. Thank you Steve for once again inspiring us and singing “our favourite” song.
    Much love.
    Rhonda

  19. Thanks for sharing the story, Steve. It’s awesome to hear stories like this about where and how we end up with friendships and musical instruments.

  20. So…….. Did you have a spare gutar for the concert?

    reply: Yes – a very gracious man brought three of his vast collection for me to choose from. I ended up playing a beautiful gibson that sounded great!

  21. Hey Steve. That sucks about your guitar. Hopefully Jake can fix her up, because that is a beautiful looking instrument. I am a big fan of single cut aways. I have a Taylor acoustic and it sounds great, but all I am missing is your talent. Take care and God bless.

    Bryan Sandstrom
    Minnedosa, Manitoba

  22. Reminds me of how I (sort of accidently) dropped my $45 violin from shoulder level in grade three. It didn’t break, so I was forced to continue lessons for another three years. Life is often not quite right. Sometimes the best we can do is to put one simple snowshoe in front of the other and keep going.

  23. HI Steve, My husband, family and I were at that concert here in Thunder Bay! Although you were lamenting/greiving the loss of your dear friend, you still performed with your heart, dignity and grace: not to mention your God-given talent! We thoroughly enjoyed the entire evening! Thanks for sharing many of your “oldies” with us, plus some new songs from your new CD. And the substitute guitar sounded great too! May God continue to guide and bless you as you serve HIM!

  24. Steve,

    SO sorry to hear about accident and see the pictures – Ouch!!!

    I didn’t know the story of it’s origins, but that’s just like Lou, Fran and Kevin.

    FYI – Love Song tour a lot last year for the first time in many years. Be out again starting April.

    Best,

    Tommy Coomes

    r

    eply: Hey Tommy – soo good to see your name if not yourself. I’m getting down to So Cal a lot these days. That’s your turf right? I’ll send my schedule to see if there’s a chance for coffee or lunch or somthing.

  25. This is a true Kentucky Blue Grass sound!!
    Just as the Lord mends you so will he mend your Guitar and yes it will sound as good as ever!!!!!!

  26. Steve,

    I too have heard the slide and the crash only it wasn’t my guitar, it was another band’s bass player’s beautiful and huge double upright bass. I walked across the back of the stage and it was behind a curtain which I of course walked into and knocked the instrument arse over teakettle. It landed with a definate deep bass crash. Thanks be to the Lord no damage to the bass but I didn’t sleep well for weeks.

    As a wannabe guitarist I think I have at 56 years old reached the limit of my guitar chops. I have now turned from striving to play the guitar to building the guitar. A wonderful challenge. I have two dreadnoughts on the go at this time.Trust your freind Jake because I’m sure his confidence will shine through and the instrument is reparable.

    Enjoyed the tune, Air Jam. My wife and I have many of your albums and they bless us thoroughly.

    God bless you and may see you in Edmonton soon.
    Eldon Langerud

  27. Glad it didn’t happen in Sylvan Lake. You might have got stuck playing my Sigma Martin. Lots of dents and scars on that old friend of mine too. I like the John Denver comment earlier — “This Old Guitar” — that was a song I first really wanted to learn to play as a beginner. Also, the Sons and Daughters CD is one of my all-time favourites. Sarah is wonderful on that album, as is the entire cast of musicians. Steve, you’re not too bad on it either!!

  28. Wow. Maaany thoughts come to mind including: condolences, a sense that this is like the hurt you experienced in your arm keeping you from playing – but worse (?), and “What will you do for a regular back-up until your main guitar (whatever may happen) is up to snuff again?”
    Your link to Ryan guitars in Acoustic Guitar Mag was a chunk of time well-used. (Why do I feel like becoming a luthier now?) 🙂
    Finally, Waldy Derksen is a talented singer, and connaissour but really… He played violin? (see post below) I know he was thanked on one of your albums along the way, but probably not for his studio chops right? 🙂

  29. Sorry for your loss Steve. I feel your pain.

    Is that the guitar that was used for the Air Jam recording- in its repaired state? If so, still sounds pretty good! Love your playing.

    Tim Marceniuk

  30. Seeing as the body is nicely seasoned and mellowed, can you get a new neck from Kevin Ryan Guitars to replace the broken one?

  31. So sorry to hear about your guitar. Many years ago I lost a Fender acoustic at the neck due to someone falling on it. The bright side was that it started me on a 44 year love affair with Martins. Hope the Guitar Whisperer can put your Ryan back together again.

    Hope you can make it back up to Fort McMurray again sometime. God had indeed blessed you with a wonderful talent. I love the way you share your joy.

    Brian Howe

  32. Steve, during your (wonderful) performance last night with the wso, as you kept tuning and retuning your guitar because it apparently wouldn’t stay, made me think about a guitar I had once and it had a similar problem which I discovered was due to a hair line crack across the neck. Now after reading this about your guitar accident I thought I would mention it.

  33. I am praying that it will be repaired, and this simply adds to the countless stories and perseverence over the years…. what a rich history and story of provision of hte guitar……. May God provide…. Jer 33:3 Thanks for sharing of your feelings re this tool, that at the same time, can be a little bit of an extention of yourself….. as it ahs allowed you to express and bless others with your music, that God has implanted within you…..

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