The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #44457   Message #653733
Posted By: Justa Picker
19-Feb-02 - 09:05 PM
Thread Name: 'Trigger Happy' - Willie Nelson's Guitar
Subject: 'Trigger Happy' - Willie Nelson's Guitar
Nice article in todays San Francisco Chronicle which I have pasted here for posterity, should discussions about Willie's guitar ever come up.

Willie Nelson has played
the same battered guitar for
35 years

Article by Joel Selvin

Willie Nelson calls his guitar Trigger, after Roy Rogers' noble steed, and no horse ever meant more to any cowboy.

Like Nelson himself, the guitar is weathered, slightly the worse for wear, and one of a kind. Both have a sweet song inside. On the cover of his new record, "The Great Divide," Nelson poses almost like an afterthought behind the battered face of his Martin N20. It is covered with the etched signatures of the country singer's most esteemed colleagues and is missing a good chunk of wood right out of the front.

"It's a classical guitar, and it wasn't designed to use a pick on," said Nelson, who opens tonight for four nights at the Fillmore Auditorium. "Normally, if you're going to use a pick, they have a big plastic pick guard. But this one, over the years, without a pick guard, a lot of picks and fingernails and 'Whiskey Rivers,' the hole just gets bigger every year."

The nylon-string guitar has been an integral part of Nelson's sound throughout his career. He has owned it 35 years and doesn't play any other guitar. He plays the thing with a touch as unique as his singing, and he has no interest in repairing the hole.

"I think it helps the sound," he said. "I've had to reinforce it inside over the years a few times because the hole sorta weakened the woodwork inside."

Martin Guitar's Dick Boak agrees. "He has had some epoxy glopped on it to keep it from falling apart," said Boak. "The guitar really does sound great, and he's probably right in not replacing the soundboard." Martin, in fact, made a special Willie Nelson model replica --"you have to supply your own hole," Boak said.

"It always was the best guitar I ever played," said Nelson, "and it just keeps getting better. Every year it gets a little bit better, like a Stradivarius violin."

The guitar and Nelson have a long, tangled history.

"I originally had a Baldwin setup -- Baldwin guitar, amps and pickups -- and the Baldwin guitar people had given it to me. One night in Helotes, Texas, some drunk stepped in the middle of it and busted it. So I sent it to a friend of mine in Nashville, Sean Jackson, and asked him if he could fix it. He called me back. 'I can't fix it, ' he said, 'but I've got a good guitar on the wall up here. I can take the pickup out and put it in here.'

"I said, 'What is it?' and he said, 'It's a Martin classical guitar.' And I said, 'Well, is it any good?' And he said, 'Martins don't make bad guitars.' I said, 'All right, let me have it.' I paid $750 for it."

Somewhere along the line, he started collecting autographs on the guitar, asking pals such as Johnny Cash or musical associates like his longtime drummer, Paul English, to sign their names in the wood.

"It started out with Leon Russell," Nelson said. "He had a brand-new guitar, and he wanted me to sign it. I started to sign it with my pen, and he said, 'No, no, I want you to take this knife and scratch it in there because I want to keep it and it will make it more valuable.' I said, 'In that case, scratch mine.' He signed my guitar, and since then a lot of people have signed mine -- Roger Miller, Waylon, Kris and a lot more guys."

Nelson doesn't delve into technical talk when asked what is so special about this particular model. Straight talk is his specialty. "I like it because it has a nice soft tone," he said. "Acoustically, it's got a great sound -- I sit around on the bus or hotel room and play it without an amplifier."

Nelson, who is also the author of a new book, "The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes" (Random House), laughs when asked why he put the guitar's picture so prominently on the cover of his new album.

"I think probably the guitar has maybe more fans than I do," he said.