My Beautiful New Guitar…and Why I’m Putting it Away
I’ve been sitting on this story for a couple months now and finally finding the moment to share it. The timing is interesting because Lent is approaching…but more on that later.
It was a sunny, crisp Southern California day in November. My friend Pete and I were driving up the coast toward Ventura, excited to be extended an invite to Larrivee Guitar‘s “Friends and Family Day” at the factory. I was imagining a huge crowd and the slight possibility of not even being able to get in, but God seemed to have parted the waters because when we arrived the place was empty.
We were greeted by the small team of guitar builders and waisted no time in getting down to the business of talking through what we were interested in seeing and what kind of guitars might be lying around for a steal. I’d been on the lookout for a new guitar for about a year, but I really wasn’t sure what I was really searching for. I wanted a story, mainly. I wanted an experience, not just a guitar from a music store’s crowded walls. There was a big, beautiful SD-60 up for sale that had been Larrivee’s flagship factory guitar for many years, and Pete fell in love with it right away. It sounded deep and rich, with years of loving play wear, but the neck was a bit thick for me.
What I really started to gravitate toward was the smaller, 12th fret 000-60. The new model had a slimmer neck, and this smaller body shape was just perfect. Problem was, there weren’t any of these available in the factory that day. Pete pressed the Larrivée guys a bit for a sample, and well, after a bit of digging, there was actually one, lonely, 000-60 up in the racks, but it wasn’t completed yet. It was about 85% done and still needed some final touches. I held the partly finished, tape covered, dusty guitar in my hand, and knew; this was it.
Some lively discussion ensued about how and when the guitar could be ready to take home. We offered to buy lunch for the technical team if they’d do it right then, but that was met with some reservation. Just when it looked like the whole idea might not happen at all, up walks the man himself, Mr. Jean Larrivée; the patriarch, the inventor, the master-builder. His quick walk, jolly face, and upbeat tone hid the fact he’s been making guitars for over 50 years. He still had that Santa Clause like sparkle in his eye when he talked about the instruments, and he was innocently enthusiastic about my new-found love of the 000-60. He gave his team the nod that this guitar could be finished over lunch and even offered a personal tour of his factory in the meantime. Pete and I knew in a second this was a rare opportunity, one of those situations that may never come around again, and we all shook hands on the deal.
Here’s the shot of Mr. Larrivee and me with the never-before-played 000-60.
Hearing Jean’s stories as we walked the factory that day will be something I’ll never forget. Pete and I would just stare at each other from time to time, wanting to pinch ourselves – was this really happening? We marveled at the pallets of exotic woods from around the world, curing in stacks, the humidifier room where guitar bodies were resting in their new-formed shapes, and floored by the one-of-a-kind, ancient, handmade “machines” that automated some aspects of Jean’s guitar building.
There’s too much to list here (and some things we swore secrecy about), but a kaleidoscope of images will be forever burned into my memory. Everything about this experience was an overwhelming joy. I think God answered my prayer for a “story” and not just a guitar. At the end of the day, Jean posed one final time with me and the finished instrument. He said he didn’t sign them inside anymore (couldn’t get both his hand and a Sharpie into the sound hole very easily), but he graciously signed a custom label that I could put in later. How a craftsman continues to be so passionate and inspired after 50 years was beyond comprehension. He still comes into the factory almost every day to put his personal touches on each guitar.
I’ve been playing this amazing new instrument for a couple months now, and I can truly say it’s the most lavishly manufactured, quality sounding guitar I’ve ever held in my hands. I feel blessed every time I pick it up. But that’s the irony here; I’m sharing this story a couple weeks before Lent begins, and I’ve decided to put the Larrrivee away for the 6-week season ahead. Lent is a time of stripping away, a time to get in touch with our limitedness, and confess in honesty our brokenness and need for a Savior. To that end, our church will practice “A Cappella Sunday” on March 1oth, relying on our voices alone, taking us back to our roots, and my new, gorgeous 000-60 will stay tucked away in its case. It’ll be a few weeks before I play a guitar again on Sunday morning, and even then, in my own personal Lenten tradition, I’ll be lugging around my big, beat-up Hummingbird until Easter morning. But what a glorious Easter that will be…enhanced by the feeling of opening up that case and bringing out the Larrivee once again! Thank you, Jean!