Chris’s 35th birthday weekend has officially begun. I am going to eat, drink, consume and/or make love to everything I see. People of Earth, you have been warned.
This is Maggie. She was my birthday angel.
I got off work at 3 PM Friday, and headed straight for the pawn shop. But not just any pawn shop. I had seen her in the window a few days prior, and she had been hanging in my mind like a nagging phrase on the edge of memory ever since. Her beauty was as undeniable and timeless as the tide. And, as I would find, equally unforgettable. She drew me, ceaselessly. But beauty is only part of the equation. Beauty is only one possible beginning. There must be a connection. Would she be right for me? Would I be good enough for her? Ancient questions asked by lovers before there were words to express them, the answers to which only time and effort can reveal.
Dumbstruck, I saw that she was still there. How could it be possible that none had seen her beauty and been as enchanted as I was? How was it conceivable that no one had seen her worth? I tried to bury my longing under insipid machismo. Classic surf green, beautiful curves, nice solid body… what more could a guy ask for? But even as I forced the words into my mind, I knew they were unworthy thoughts; puerile misogyny masking the uncomfortable truth that she was my weakness. I was falling in love. And when I finally held her in my arms, felt the smoothness of her neck against my fingers, felt the way she leaned into my body, the drop became eternal. I would be falling for her forever, plummeting blissfully into her bottomless perfection. And I was grateful for the fall.
I celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday with her. My family and friends debated all weekend over what I should name her. Pistachio. Misty. Surfer Girl. Nothing seemed to fit, and I refused to force it. It had to be perfect. I mean, look at her. She’s magnificent. Her name could be no less. I decided to wait it out.
Fast forward to four minutes past midnight on the 12th of July. I found myself in a local pub. I was 35 years and four minutes old, drinking alone, and not yet ready to end the evening, when I overheard a nearby group of young women wish a happy birthday to one of their own. It seemed I was not the only one who had been waiting for midnight. It felt only proper that I should send over a drink to the one with whom I shared a birthday. In return she demanded a birthday dance, a request which she made clear would not be refused, and with which I happily complied. We made our way to the tiny dance floor, and as she took my hand the band played for us “Dead Flowers” by The Rolling Stones.
Ninety minutes prior to this, I had never met these women, nor the band. I hadn’t even made up my mind to go to the bar. And now, after having briefly spoken to the bassist about music earlier in the evening, the band was playing one of my favorite songs by my favorite band so that a wonderful young woman and I could have our birthday dance together. How could I have asked for more than that? The moment was nothing less than magical. And if there’s anything I’ve learned though my numerous mistakes and missteps, it’s that when you are gifted a magic moment, you don’t push it. Don’t muddy it by clinging too tightly. Accept it with sincere gratitude, then let it go. You have to walk away.
And sometimes, if the stars are just so, the magic will follow.
This is Maggie. She was my birthday angel. After the flawlessness of the dance, I thanked the birthday girl and excused myself. It was clear that she and her ladies were tight knit, and I didn’t want to intrude on their revels. But that’s when her friend Maggie came to me, like an envoy from paradise, and told me that I should join them to celebrate my birthday. She would not accept no for an answer, and, in truth, she was so captivating, so powerfully, deeply charming that I don’t think I could have said no, even if the thought had occurred to me.
Maggie made sure my glass was never empty and my lips were always smiling. I’ve never met another woman quite like her, and I doubt I ever will again. Some magic only happens once in a lifetime. Being with Maggie was like dancing with a dream made of starlight. She made everything effortless. When she heard a song she liked and pulled me on the dance floor, we spun like drunken fools. She was electricity in my arms. All of those magnificent women were nothing short of amazing to me that evening, but Maggie made my birthday truly exceptional. She’s something special. Wherever you are, Maggie, thank you for everything. I mean it sincerely when I say that you were perfect.
Much later, my mind still abuzz with potent drinks and the sheer exhilaration of her, I found myself at home. My birthday had been filled to overflowing with life and laughter, partly from my family and friends, but largely from the unexpected evening I spent with those amazing ladies I would come to think of as my Birthday Girls. And as my head hit the pillow, a huge smile made its way across my face. I finally realized what my guitar’s name was. It had been right there the whole evening, and I hadn’t seen it. And it was, after all the overthinking and needless deliberation, absolutely perfect.
This is Maggie. She was my birthday angel.
2008 Fender Squier Bullet Stratocaster
6 String Solid Body
BODY: Basswood, Surf Green finish, 3-Ply White/Black/White pickguard
NECK: Maple, Bolt-On
FRETBOARD: Rosewood, Mother Of Pearl inlay
BRIDGE: Fulcrum Tremolo
I walked through the seediest part of the shop, nerves on the edge of a razor, head slung low, eyes darting about the place like a crazed hummingbird. I knew what I’d come for. What I needed. And it was the one thing I couldn’t find. A whole warehouse full of axes and not a 12-string in sight.
Here’s the problem with guitar stores: one guitar by itself is impressive. Three guitars are mesmerizing. But you fill a whole wall with unpainted wood grain acoustics, and you stop seeing them. Sure, you get the overall impression of lots of guitars, but you can’t see them individually any more. They become a shiny wooden wall with lots of big holes in it.
That’s how I missed the 12-strings.
You see, a man has needs. Sometimes just any girl can fill those needs, and the man is easily content. But sometimes ordinary girls won’t do. Sometimes a man needs something specific, something not just any girl can give him. And sometimes when he needs that something specific he can’t get just anywhere, he’ll get desperate. He’ll pay for it. Through the nose if he needs it enough. And I needed a 12-string. Needed it bad.
The peddler sidled up to me, a human virus with a cockeyed, rotten smile. A ratty little man whose very presence made me feel unclean. But he knew his job, and he had me pegged on sight. He asked me what I was looking for, knowing he’d have it, knowing I’d pay to get it. I hated him instantly. Hated him and required him.
“Twelve strings,” I spat, a breathy confession dripping with shame. And lust.
He smirked, then nodded his greasy head in the direction he walked. A seedy back room. I should have known. Among the girls there waiting to be sold, waiting to be touched by anyone willing to pay for the privilege, were the elusive 12-strings. Cold sweat poured off of me, my heart pounding. I was so close.
There were three of them, each twice the price of the last. I tried to play it cool, but my hands were shaking. I had never paid for it before. It showed. The vermin sneered his nasty leer as I picked up the cheapest one. I ran my fingers over her body, listening to how she responded, and I was disgusted. Her price was exactly how she felt and sounded. Cheap. So I went to the other end of the bell curve.
The priciest girl there was also the prettiest. It was a lot to pay for a sensual fix, but I was desperate. Surely she would be what I needed. But no. She looked pristine, but felt and sounded as cold and hollow as wind through a cave. She was beautiful and perfect and absolutely dead inside. And her little sister, one step down, was just as lifeless. My stomach sank. All of this for nothing. Then the rat man, knowingly grinning from ear to ear, motioned to his left.
“And, of course, we have this one.”
There on the floor, hidden among lesser six strings, was my last hope. She was good looking enough, but nothing too special. I had walked past her twice and never saw her. But she was smooth under my fingertips. She felt good on my lap, arms wrapped around her. I tickled her strings, waiting for the letdown, prepared for the heartbreak. But…
Oh. My. God.
Her voice shamed angels. I’d never heard anything like it. She could be loud but soulful. Gentle but undeniable. She was just what I needed. Better than I needed. Better than I deserved. The rat man knew. The trash he’d pointed me towards, both gilded and soiled, were never there for me to buy at all. He’d been playing me from the start. He knew who I was going to take home before I did.
“She’s an ’86,” he lied. “Only been with one man this whole time. And she sounds great, too. Almost… buttery.”
And he was right. That filthy, greasy son of a bitch, he was dead right. There is a creamy, silken sound to her, to the way she sings when I run my hands over her, when I touch her just so. Soft and giving. Like warm butter.
There were other men there, and a woman, all looking for a girl of their own. They approached me, asked me what sort of chords I was playing that sounded so mystical, so divine, like a song you’ve never heard before but somehow know every note. It was a simple four chord tune in G, nothing any beginning guitar student couldn’t play, but coming from her it sounded like a spell being cast. Something ancient and powerful with a life of its own.
“Just some very old chords,” I said, a half-truth meant to spare them the knowledge that they would never again hear that sound. Because it wasn’t the chords, and it wasn’t the song, and it sure as hell wasn’t me. It was her. It was the way she sang. She was the mythical whore with the heart of gold, the pearl cast before swine. My diamond in the rough. And I was taking her away from all of this.
I left the three of them there as I shoved a wad of crumpled bills into the rat man’s eager palm. One last unsavory act for her to witness. One last sin in exchange for her freedom. A small price to pay. I hope they find hidden angels of their own, I really do. Because I’ve found mine. And I took her home with me.
1991 Yamaha FG-420-12A
12 String Dreadnought
August 21, 1991
TOP: Spruce, Abalone sound hole rosette
BACK & SIDES: Nato (Eastern Mahogany)
NECK: Nato (Eastern Mahogany)
FRETBOARD: Bubinga (African Rosewood), Mother Of Pearl inlay
BRIDGE: unknown, presumably Richlite or similar synthetic compound
2021 UPDATE: This is the song we played that day in the guitar shop. Those ancient chords still hypnotize me, and she still sings them just as sweet. If you’d like to learn a little about Ms. Butterfly’s eponym, you can read about that amazing woman right here.
“You should never underestimate the importance of country in rock ‘n’ roll.”
– Keith Richards
This is my country girl. I call her Whiskey Bravo.
It’s hard to tell from this photo, but I put her in nylon strings. I strung them like steel strings, which you’re really not supposed to do, but she and I made it work. Besides, she’s well worth the effort. Because no matter how tough she is, no matter what she does to live, thrive and survive, sometimes a girl needs to be a girl. She needs to be dressed up. She needs to know she’s appreciated. She needs to feel sexy. And there’s nothing sexier on a woman than quality nylons.
She’s not a full size acoustic, but don’t let her stature fool you. She’s got everything. Everything. She’s got a lower voice than you’d expect from a girl her size, but it’s mellow and smooth, like buckwheat honey. Dark and sweet. She sings like rich Southern molasses, the kind of voice you can listen to for hours and never get enough. This lady is sonic opium.
I keep her strung Keith Richards style, five strings, nice and loose, ready to rock, or croon, or bend some country twang. Or maybe just sing the blues. Whatever mood strikes . Like Keith said, “she got a mind of her own, she’s one of a kind, and she use it well.” Yeah, mighty fine… she’s one of a kind.
She’s named after one of the most beautiful, amazing… you know what? No. She’s far too special, and I’m far too greedy to share. You don’t get to know about this one. This one I’m keeping just for me.
1977 Yamaha FG-335
6-String Jumbo Dreadnought
December 22, 1977
TOP: Spruce laminate
BACK & SIDES: Mahogany laminate
NECK: Nato (Eastern Mahogany)
FRETBOARD: Indian Rosewood, Mother Of Pearl inlay
BRIDGE: Indian Rosewood
You wouldn’t have to look hard to find a better bass player than me. As a matter of fact, you’d barely have to look around at all. But you’d need to keep a weather eye to find a better wingman than Erasmus here.
Old Chuck Darwin may have been the cannonball that blew the top off the evolution of species, but he was most definitely not the one that lit the fuse. A few others before him started by fumbling down the road of guesswork and observation that eventually led us to solid science. Not least among those pioneers was Chuck’s very own grandpa, Erasmus Darwin. I named Erasmus in his honor, and in a greater sense in honor of what Erasmus Darwin represents: humble, sometimes awkward beginnings. Erasmus is my first, and so far only, bass. He is the beginning of a road I intend to go down just as soon as I’m done with a few of the other roads I’m on right now.
Erasmus is the only male guitar I own, and the story of how he and I met would be legendary if only anyone knew it. I’ve kept that story secret until now, a little nugget from the past squirreled away for my occasional amusement. But I think it’s time to let it out for a little air. This is the first time I’ve told this particular tale, so any imperfections in the telling are solely my fault, and not the fault of the story itself. The story is a beautiful thing.
Once upon a time, it seems there was a lady named Marsha who loved her husband very much. Her husband, being the kind of guy to toy with women’s’ hearts, screwed Marsha over. I don’t know how. I don’t want to know how. No woman should ever have to relive her own pain to satisfy something so trivial and unworthy as the curiosity of a man. In any case, it’s not germane to the story. The point is, when Marsha’s husband screwed her over, he did it BIG.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life it’s that no matter how well you know a woman, you can never tell how she’ll respond to betrayal. You wrong a woman and you’re rolling the Devil’s dice. Sometimes the strongest women will just sit and cry silently, and it’s such a heartbreaking thing to see that you want to kill whatever son of a bitch did it to her. Others, sometimes the quiet ones, will break into a furious rage, and you can watch the thunderheads roll across her eyes. At those times it’s best just to run. Betraying a woman is like lighting a match around a powder keg: don’t. It might not go off this time. But it might. Best not to be the one that finds out.
Marsha reacted by matching hurt for hurt. Her man squandered her trust, so she squandered his… along with every material possession he owned. She started by sleeping with a friend of mine, although “sleeping” is a gentle term for it. What she was doing was pure, simple revenge fucking. And after she satisfied her carnal vengeance with my friend, she started selling off her husband’s stuff. At bargain basement prices.
She sold his motorcycle. She sold his DVDs. She sold his television, and his bowling ball, and all of his furniture. She sold all of his sports equipment, thousands of dollars worth. She even sold his fucking clothes. She showed no mercy. It was an end of the relationship clearance sale, and everything must go.
Including his beautiful black Fender Precision Bass.
I wasn’t in the market for a bass. I’d never played one. I’d never even held one. But my friend called me and wanted to know if I would be interested in a gently used bass, still slightly warm, and dirt cheap as long as I asked no questions. Well, who was I to refuse? I didn’t know the whole story then, and it wouldn’t have mattered much if I had. I’m not the kind of man who would let a little thing like a broken marriage come between me and a good guitar.
Erasmus and I got along famously right from the start. We dig the same kind of music. We dig the same kind of women. He even digs the Darwin fish I got for him. He’s the Ron Wood to my Keith Richards. Christopher Woodall, Jr. And he’s much happier hanging with me than with that other guy. That jackass not only broke his woman’s heart, he carved her name in Erasmus’s pickguard. If you look closely enough you’ll see it there, “Marsha” scrawled on the surface like it was written by some shaky handed kid with a gutter nail. And Erasmus and I agree that we’re never, ever getting rid of it. It’s his battle scar. His tattoo. A warning from his past. “Betrayal will cost you the love of a good woman, but it might also cost you a whole lot more.” Words of wisdom passed down from the gods of rock. Message received, my friends. Message most definitely received.
For what it’s worth, Marsha, if you’re out there, whoever you are, thank you. I hope you finally found the peace and love you deserve. I hope you’ve found every trust and comfort life can give. Know that Erasmus and I are both a lot happier because of you.
Custom 1990 Fender Precision Bass Plus
4 String Solid Body
BODY: Alder, Double Cutaway Contoured, Black Pearl finish, 3-Ply White/Black/White pickguard
FRETBOARD: Maple, Black inlay
BRIDGE: Deluxe Plus Fixed Bridge with Fine Tuners
CUSTOM MODIFICATIONS: Series/parallel push-push button has been removed from the circuit and the pickguard hole has been left unfilled.
I am very seriously considering naming this guitar Katie.
She caught my eye the instant I walked in. I don’t know why I didn’t approach her. I was constantly drawn back to her, and I kept stealing glimpses of her from across the room. She looked amazing. But I stayed away. For some reason I cannot explain, I stayed away. I don’t believe in fate or mysticism or any of that jive, but there was a powerful feeling around her, like the inaudible hum in the air near a high voltage power junction. Like an amplifier turned up to full output, with no signal channeled through it. A hum you can’t hear at all, but you feel with every cell in your body. Frightening but enticing. Addictive. Electric. Maybe I knew on some level that if I held her, that would be it for me. I’d want that feeling all the time. I’d feel her vibration through the core of me, and I would be hers.
I kept thinking about her for the next few days. She would pop into my head unbidden, and then vanish just as suddenly. As soon as I’d forgotten about her, she would reappear, clouding my thoughts, filling me with regret that I hadn’t recognized and pursued something so perfect when it was right in front of my face.
I went back to see her. I told myself that I was there for other reasons, but I was there for her. I knew it was hopeless; there was no way she would still be there. Some other guy would have surely seen her and made the move I should have. She would be gone. But against all reason and hope, there she was. Still waiting. Still wonderfully, gloriously available. I have no way to explain this. A hundred other men must have walked by her since I saw her last, looking her over, putting their hands on her, or at least thinking about it. Checking her out. And somehow, for whatever reason, none of them had gotten her. None of them had made the move to possess this perfect beauty. Had they all been crazy? Had they all been blind? How was this possible? I wasted no time searching for answers.
There would be no fucking around this time. I went straight to her, and picked her up. It wasn’t long before I held her properly, the way she was meant to be held. She felt different than I’d imagined. Good different. There was a smoothness and lightness about her that I did not foresee. She felt small and solid and perfectly real and right laying against me, like she had been sculpted to be there. And the sounds we made when I moved my fingers over her perfect neck, her perfect body… well, there’s only one word for it. Music.
So I made her mine.
There is no picture in existence that could do her justice. She’s not something that can be fully appreciated with any one sense alone. She is an experience. Something deep and irresistible vibrates around her. And if you’re nearby, you vibrate with it, like a soundboard. She was the tuning fork that made me sing along, one octave lower, in perfect pitch and unison, just by being in her presence. There’s a word for that, too. Harmony.
Maybe I should name her Harmony. That seems like the sort of clever substitution most people would find acceptable. One step removed from the truth of the matter, safely buffered away from the exposed nerve. Distanced from the threat of pain. But it’s a lie. Saying the name tastes like a dirty penny on my tongue. Aluminum foil on my teeth. Another woman’s name on my lips. It’s wrong. It’s dishonest. Because, like my eyes being drawn repeatedly to her, my heart and my mind are leading me again and again to the inescapable truth, which is that I never had a choice in the matter. I knew what her name was the second I saw her, and all of this is just my long, slow way of trying to accept it. She took hold of me, and in one way or another she’s going to be with me for a long, long time. She’s not going to be easy to forget. She’s not going to be easy to put down.
Yeah, I am very seriously considering naming this guitar Katie.
2005 Fender Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
6 String Solid Body
BODY: Alder, Transparent Green finish, 3-Ply White/Black/White pickguard
NECK: Maple, Bolt-On
FRETBOARD: Rosewood, White Acrylic inlay
BRIDGE: Twin-Pivot Tremolo Bridge with Satin-Anodized Saddles
This is Mathilda.
Yes, I am aware she is a Spectrum. Yes, I am aware that is a beginner’s guitar. Yes, I am aware that Spectrums are notorious for being poorly made and falling out of tune. And, yes, I know I have been playing guitar on and off for about 18 years now and I should know better. Spectrums are low quality trouble.
But not Mathilda.
I picked her up at a pawn shop for next to nothing. They threw in all manner of goodies to get me to take her home with me – a gig bag worth almost as much as she is, a ton of picks, some useless plastic tuning tools, 20% off what they were originally asking, and no sales tax. All unnecessary. I loved her as soon as I saw her.
She bucks the Spectrum convention by holding a tune like a nightingale. Whomever she was with last might have left her, but at one time they loved her. They took care of every part of her. I tuned her once, and only once, and that was on the day I bought her several months ago. I’ve never had to touch her headstock since. I knew what I was getting into when I picked her up, and although she’s a little heavier than I usually like, I am not the kind of man to let a little extra weight or rumors of a weak constitution scare me off. Talk is cheap. You have to get to know a girl before you can judge her. And Mathilda is worth it.
I loved the way she sounded when I played her in the shop, and she sounds even better now. There is a strangely smooth action on her fretboard… she almost encourages me to slide my fingers all over her. Which, of course, I do. So far, I’ve heard no complaints.
Spectrum S-Type Electric
6-String Solid Body
BODY: Hardwood, Tobacco Burst finish
FRETBOARD: Rosewood, Mother Of Pearl inlay
BRIDGE: Fender-Style Saddle