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A Successful Transplant Lives On

by Charles H. Chapman

In 1974 there was a transplant that never made the TV news programs or into professional journals, but still to date is one of the most successful. I'm speaking of a Gibson J-200 flattop acoustic neck transplanted to a Guild Savoy 150 archtop body. The patient is still working and recently has undergone yet another fret job under the ample direction of luthier Steve Merrill of EU Wurlizer in Boston, MA. The patient is fondly referred to as "The Guilson" and happens to be my favorite jazz axe.

The saga began in the spring of 1967. I was working at Liberty Music Center in Trenton, New Jersey. The owner and I were going through a storage room for inventory purposes when I spied what looked like a hard-shell guitar case crammed behind a large row of storage shelves. With great difficulty we moved the shelves and found a dust-covered guitar case with a new Guild Savoy 150 inside. He told me he had bought the store ten years earlier and had never seen the guitar before and was sure it was never on his original inventory.

He made a few phone calls and found out the guitar was made in 1955. It had never been sold and somehow got shoved behind the storage shelves and was left for dead. I immediately fell in love with it. I had never owned a "jazz axe" before and it intrigued me. I purchased it for $225 and it opened up a new world of music for me. Granted, you don't need a hollow body to play jazz, but for whatever reason it was the spark that changed my direction in music and catapulted me into a style that has turned into my life's work.

In 1971 I was in a serious car accident and miraculously walked away without any injuries. My prize jazz guitar was not so lucky. It was in a soft gig bag and the neck was completely severed at the seventh fret. When I took it out of the case the headstock and the first six frets pulled right off the trussrod. The body was not harmed and somehow the heel and the upper end of the neck were not damaged, making the guitar look like an amputee. I could not bear to part with it and for years it stood in my studio in Framingham, Massachusetts being the butt of many jokes and idle shop talk.

In 1975 I received an urgent call from Ted Skoog, a fine luthier in the Worcester, MA area. "Charles, I think I found a transplant for your guitar," He exclaimed in excited tones. "It will sound crazy at first, but I'm sure it will work." I rushed to his shop and there sitting in the corner was a Gibson J200 acoustic guitar with the body smashed to smithereens, but the neck was intact. "You've got to be kidding" I exclaimed, it will never work. Three weeks later Ted called to relay that after many hours of delicate surgery the operation was a success and the patient was doing well. I could pick it up in about a week.

It was once again love at first sight, or should I say" first sound". The guitar played and sounded better than any jazz guitar I had ever owned. Since that time I've owned and played many jazz guitars, but I still keep coming back to the Guilson and have always considered it one of my prized possessions.

Best musical wishes,
Charles Chapman

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