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Up in Flames

by Vincent Michael

When I first moved to Sacramento I checked out a local music store. After looking the place over, I found out that they had a repair shop. The craftsmen told me that they were repairing a rare Martin guitar, one of the earliest models with a very low serial number. But they were having a problem; over the years, the owner had put stickers all over the soundboard. Due to the effects of light and time, when the stickers were removed, the areas beneath them were markedly lighter in color.

The repairmen removed the varnish to refinish the top, but could not completely eliminate its blotchy appearance. Well, I offered to fix it and ended up doing the job. I took ordinary bleach and poured it all over the top. It worked. The top had to dry thoroughly so one of the staff suggested that I put it under a heat lamp. About this time I began conversing with some of the shop people when suddenly one hollered, "WHAT IS THAT?" Big clouds of smoke billowed from the guitar. The celluloid pickguard had started to burn, and the wood also. Nonetheless, they thanked me for my work and I quietly absented myself from the premises.

Now it gets even better. A week later I had a burning desire to practice diving in a pool. I was once a member of Brazil's Olympic Diving Team and desperately wanted to regain my form. No pools were open at the time, but I knew that the local high school had some nice diving boards. So I climbed over a fence and started to dive. A janitor approached and asked me who I was and what I was doing there. We struck up a conversation and he told me to go ahead and dive some more. While we talked, the subject of guitars came up.

I told him about my performance and luthiery activities and mentioned the burning guitar. He said, "Oh, I know that shop. I took my guitar there for repairs. It has been over six weeks and I still haven't gotten it back. What's wrong with those people?" I asked him what type of guitar it was. He told me that it was a rare, almost antique Martin. That's when I said, "Oops, so it was your guitar that I burned!" The janitor's face turned white in an instant.

Without my help, the store sort of fixed up the guitar and returned it to the janitor, most likely with some form of compensation. Even though the guitar was never the same again, the janitor and I became good friends and for years, I climbed that same fence. I ended up coaching at that high school, until a few years back when it was decided that more female coaches were in order.





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