I have a lot of guitars. I’m at that awkward stage – more than I need but less than I want. When people see them they often ask “Which one is your favorite?” The fact is that I have a different favorite for each kind of music I want to play. They all have their own voices and I seek out the voice I need for the song of the moment. Truth be told, though, I do have a favorite.
My first guitar was a 12 string handmade by a master luthier named Yairi who crafted guitars on a mountain in Japan for Alvarez. You can still buy Alvarez-Yairi guitars – and they command a premium – but the master has passed on his craft to a team who carry on his traditions. The top is spruce that has aged to a deep honey brown and the rosewood back and sides have a hint of ruby showing through. Guitars, when played regularly, get better with age. The pores of the wood open up, the top gets more sensitive, and the wood finds its voice. This sounds like Zen or nonsense to anyone who doesn’t play an acoustic instrument but those of us who do know it to be true. A lot of science goes into choosing the wood, glue, bracing, and how it goes together.
My guitar was signed by Yairi in December 1977 and I bought it a few months later. I’ve only met one other guitarist who learned on a 12 string – it isn’t advisable. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was playing that guitar around a campfire in the Rocky Mountains in 1978 when some other families pulled into the remote, “no facilities” area. A beautiful young girl came out of one of the pop-up campers and sat down by the fire to listen. Her name was Kami and I married her just over a year later. Many of our early dates were her sitting at her dining room table doing homework while I played across from her. She doesn’t play but she loves that guitar as much as I do.
So why is this in Wineskins? For those who don’t play – you are going to have to just take my word on this next part. Those who play, know. Sometimes I will be playing a classical guitar or my Taylor 8 string or even a regular old six string guitar and I will look up and see the 12 string sitting there. I then set the guitar I’m playing aside and go over to the old guitar and lean close…and hear it already vibrating with the chords I was playing. With daily work, play, and companionship that guitar has opened up so much that it vibrates with whatever music is in the area. It is as if it is ready to sing along, happy to join in with whatever I am doing.
I have often prayed that my heart will be like that with God. I want to be God’s 12 string guitar, ready to vibrate with whatever song He wants to sing in my life. I think of that when I wake in the morning and ask God what He wants to do that day. I think of that when I enter a room and wonder what song He would sing there, who He would bless, who He would listen to, who He would touch.
Unplayed, a guitar will slowly harden and close. You can still play it but it won’t sound very full or sweet. It needs close, frequent contact with the master or it becomes just wood and steel and bits of ivory or plastic locked away in a cardboard case. But played…it becomes something magical and wonderful. I know I have the tendency to be “me” centered, withdrawn into my own corner but deep down my heart wants to be picked up by God…and already singing whatever song He wants to sing in that place, in that time.