Gibson Guitar Love Affair!


My wife and I came to Texas in 1966. I was doing advanced technical training at Brooke General Hospital ~ Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. At the time, our apartment off premises cost us $75 a month. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was a major bite out of the $114 paycheck I received from Uncle Sam. Needless to say, my wife was a real go-getter. She got a job for close to eight hours a day at the Joske’s Department store, located a little ways south of the Alamo.

Her weekly routine startled even me! Up at 4 A.M. to get me started so I could get to the Fort and check in by 5. After I left, she would try to grab another hour or so of sleep before having to dress up fancy and take the bus downtown to be at work by 8 A.M. When 4:30 in the afternoon came, she punched out and ran to catch the bus back to our apartment. Changing her clothes, she’d literally raced nearly a mile to the Mustang Drive-In, and work cars for tips for the next five hours!

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was squandering tips money in order to buy a present for me. We had envelops marked ‘Rent,’ ‘Food,’ ‘Misc.’ and our bills always came first before we looked to ‘pleasure spending,’ which didn’t warrant an envelop because there usually wasn’t any extra money to be had (unless my folks slipped us something in the mail).

My beautiful young wife worked like a plow-horse to make up the difference lacking in my US Army pay. Somehow we seemed to get by. Then came a day I’ll never forget. She said we were going on an adventure. So on one of my free days, we boarded the bus and headed for downtown San Antonio. There were several pawn shops along main street, and she clasping my hand, dragged me into one. I thought some trinket in the window had caught her eye. So much for window-shopping.

All the way to the back we strode. There hanging on the wall were a few acoustic guitars. She said, “Pick one out!”  She wasn’t joking! Now up to this point I had always been one of those guys with three bucks in my pocket and a fuel tank guage reading on the big E. How in the hell did we have money to purchase a guitar?

“You want one, don’t you,” she asked. Yah, I really, really did! I had to leave mine, can’t remember if I sold it for seed money or what. But I hadn’t plucked a string in almost a year!

My adolescent guitar playing started with an American made Stella, ¾ sized no less! The whole thing was constructed of thin-walled plywood, even the top, and the strings rose from the frets like high-wires at the circus. It sounded and played like crap. That’s what $25 bucks bought me as a kid. Now, here in this San Antonio pawn shop I was surrounded by Martin, Gretch, never-heard-that-brand guitars, and Gibson. I knew that Gibson and Martin kind of faced off in the acoustic realm, some of my friends had Martin guitars. But at that moment, at that pawn shop, we were constrained by finances. My wife pulled out several coin-filled socks from her purse, and laid them on the counter. There it was fifty bucks in nickels, dimes and quarters!

Well, that fifty bucks bought me an old, dark sun burst Gibson J-45 with a dilapidating cardboard case! Strings were above the frets but not to the extent of that crappy Stella! Although it wouldn’t have been my first choice, I kept that guitar for 30 years. Truth is, I never liked it. That J-45 could only thump, it had no musical note sustain, and chords toned somewhat low, almost as being without life. I had no idea at the time that that Gibson sound was stylistic with Western swing music, thumpy and beat worthy. However, the experience with a guitar that I thought fell short of all my expectations more or less shaped my attitude toward Gibson guitars generally.

Translated, that meant my string of instruments went from Martins to Taylors, to Collings, with a few never-heard-that-name-guitar in between. However, my disdain proved to be unfounded. I recently acquired an old 1965 Gibson Lg-0. I let my luthier work his magic on it with a proper set-up, and you know what? I’m in love! I think this one will stay with me till I die, it is such a joy to play, being in every way so opposite of that first Gibson J-45. I know my wife bought it for me out of love, with hard earned tips at a time in our lives when we had nothing. Thanks, Honey, I’m having a Gibson love affair, again!

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