The guitar’s witch wood was worn like a church pew polished by a billion fidgeting butts. The body was ovoid, sort of like a Vox Mk VI. The pickups looked positively prehistoric, like a rectangle within a rectangle. They were riveted immobile. The neck was flat and wide. The head was simple and elegant. The grimy tuners were of a silvery cloudy finish, darkened to black on the edges. Neglected silver plate perhaps. “I’m going to flip it over,” I said. “I don’t touch it,” he replied, “but go ahead if you want.” Ever mindful that my fingers could curl up like bacon and that I may wet myself, I picked it up. Fingers felt fine, bladder was still manageable. The back was clad, as advertised, with well burnished galvanized bucket metal. It had been carefully hammered flat and secured with tiny brass screws. A nice bit of metal work done to a real crappy piece of metal. The edges had been slightly rolled to a seamless transition around the sides. I was excited. I had not seen anything like it since that time in Peru, but that’s a way other story.
The unwrapped guitar glowed with the burnished gloom of a thousand sad songs. “If you like this guitar, my Aunt Jane says she’s got a banjo that was made by monkeys.” I asked, “Can I pick it up?” I noticed he avoided touching it. I also ignored the banjo remark. “I don’t touch it,” he answered. “My Uncle Paul brought it back from Indonesia. That’s over by China and Cuba and what not.” “Did he buy it there?” I wanted to pick it up. “Can I pick it up?” He said, “I don’t pick it up.” “Why not?” I asked. He said, “I told you it’s made of witch wood, didn’t I? I don’t mess with stuff made of witch wood.” I resisted my natural sarcastic gifts. I did not ask how often things made of witch wood had shown up in his life. Obviously it was often enough to have taught him a lesson. “Wally Ostrander come over one time and played an old Surfari’s song on this very guitar. I think it was Pipeline. Anyhoo, his fingers twisted up like fried bacon and he pissed himself.” I stared at him. “Well, it’s a difficult song to play correctly.” He didn’t laugh. “I don’t touch it,” he said again. He was not amused.
Do any of you believe in haunted guitars? Witch wood? Do you think I should risk picking up the guitar?
The stink of a fine guitar hunt is varied. It may be mothballs, a soothing cedar or maybe the brunky musk of ancient dust. We rolled up to a cinder block house being attacked on all sides by a landscape gone wild. The roof was missing shingles, the gutters were losing their battle with mean Mr. Gravity. This hunt’s odor? I could smell mildew from 20’ away with my windows rolled up. “What fun,” I thought to myself. Dirty ballcap man was at the door fumbling with the lock. “Coming in?” “I’ll wait here,” I called. “I have allergies.” I pointed to my nose, as if that was visual verification. “Bring the guitar out and we”ll look at it in good light.” “Allrighty then,” he nodded. He hustled through the door and when he reappeared he had a bundle under his arm. He looked like he had a hog trussed up in an old quilt and 70 yards of duct tape. He unceremoniously dumped the pig shaped parcel on the hood of my truck and began tearing tape. The tape was old and cheap and left great clots of itself all over the quilt. Old Dirtyhat was becoming quite sweaty by his efforts. Tape shards stuck to his fingers, the nose he picked with those fingers, and the crotch he scratched with those fingers. Finally, with the tape gone, he began to unwrap and unwrap and unwrap. The quilt was coated with odd rust colored stains. When the guitar came to light, it was worth the wait.
He said “I got a guitar that’s made of witch wood and galvanized bucket metal.” "It’s not acoustic is it? I don’t buy acoustic guitars." A gentle belch punctuated the end of my sentence. He spit on the ground. It might have been tobacco juice or maybe just spit. "Oh, it’s electric all right," he said. "You can see char marks where it shorted out or something one time. I never played it. I swapped a guy for a log splitter I could never get running right, but turns out it just needed a plug and a little starting fluid. I was really ripped off, turns out. It’s real witch wood though. You familiar with witch wood?" I said that I wasn’t. He smiled. "Witch wood is wood that is from a tree that a witch was hung from until dead." He smiled again. "Rather than just until she was gasping mightily?" I asked. I’m a total riot sometimes, I swear. "Huh?" he said. "Never mind," I said. He spit again. "Anyhoo, it’s at home in my gun safe. Wanna see it? It’s pretty cool." I have an inner instinct that tells me when to roll the dice and when to pass. It fails me a lot. But it’s the only inner thing that still talks to me. "Let’s go," I said. "I’ll follow you." The Russian guitar in Pennsylvania could wait a bit longer.
Guitar hunting makes me hungry, so I made a pit stop at Jim’s Fatboy in Marietta. I ordered a carotid clotting, double mayo, double onion. I would pay for that later. Some lanky guy, wearing the world’s dirtiest ball cap, walked up to me and said “Thatcher Truck?” I said that it was. “You buy guitars?” he asked. I paused before replying. I was in a hurry and did not want to look at one more banged up, neck warped, knob missinged, Stratocaster inspired First Act guitar that some bozo bought back when he thought he would be the next Randy Rhoads. I couldn’t say that I didn’t buy guitars because the door on my truck announced that I did, indeed, buy guitars and announced it in 10 inch letters, no less. At the end of my mental debate I decided it best to not anger one of the locals, and a mean looking one at that, and said “What do you have?” I regretted it immediately.
I better go gas up the truck. I’m heading over to East Pennsylvania today. Someone phoned me about a guitar he found in the crawl space under his godmother’s house trailer. I asked him if it was preserved from the elements in any way and he said “Yes” but would not elaborate any further no matter how I hinted around. I don’t think the crawl space under a house trailer is ideal for the preservation of an electric guitar no matter how well it’s wrapped up. I’m not expecting much. But he did say, the trailer is a rare 1949 Noonan Land Baron Deluxe and there are not many of those left, my friend, especially with the copper plated side trim intact! So I’m going to look at the trailer mostly and hopefully the guitar will be a bonus. He told me it’s Russian. And Russian electric guitars … well, when’s the last time you saw one? He said the pickups are wood and pitch with little triangle shaped magnets. Woo Hoo! I’m outta here.