And, My Guitar’s Name Is…

The thought about naming one of my guitars has honestly never crossed my mind. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nothing against those who do. Whether it’s your favorite car, instrument, computer or plant, if that’s your thing, knock yourself out.

However, this naming thing may change for me because of a recent experience I had during my 3rd tour to Tasmania. Even before this tour was finalized, I was, as they say, over the moon about returning to the wonderful lands down-under and more than honored to participate in not one, but two back-to-back festivals – The Cygnet Folk Festival followed immediately by the Mona Foma Festival in Hobart, as well as a guitar retreat at the Leela Resort in Maleny, just an hour north of Brisbane.

Sharing the festival bills with such names as David Byrne from the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Kristina Olsen, and literally hundreds of entertainers was one of the reminders of why it’s still somewhat tolerable to endure the occasional screeches of babies while locked in a fuselage at 40,000 feet navigating over a vast ocean to literally, the other side of the planet without leaving orbit.

And the thrill of playing around the globe also makes up for the number one question I seem to get asked upon arrival – a question that is always in the back of my mind each time I watch the empty conveyer belt go ’round and ’round until I see the oversized luggage doors swing open with my oversized flight cases. “Did your guitars make it ok?” Well for the first time ever I can actually say NO! But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

So much attention seems to be given these days on a variety of what I feel are the less important questions to be asked such as “How many people came out to hear you?” and “Did you make any money?”

Obviously these questions matter a great deal since without buns in seats the events simply could not happen. Also, unfortunately a great deal of effort going into the promotion of a show or event of any kind never guarantees the turnout hoped for or pardon the pun expected.

But somehow in the big scheme of things there are always budgets of some sense or another emerging and as they say, “The shows go on.” Generally special select individuals are the driving force behind the eventuality of The Show and for those folks, I am extremely grateful.

Which brings me back to the guitar which did NOT survive the Qantas flight from Hobart Tasmania to Brisbane, Australia and how, in this case, a select individual organized something unheard of in the airline/musician relationship industry. Somehow my beloved 6-string Rod Schenk guitar, which was used on my previous two recordings, one ironically being “Tasmania Live!”, was destroyed during the transition. The fact that it was in an SKB flight case and still sustained massive damage beyond comprehension is still a question that boggles the mind. One of my friends actually started laughing and said, “If you gave me that guitar case and any tool I wanted I wouldn’t know how to destroy it!”

I understand that things happen beyond our control, that often times there is not a person or company to point a finger at, and that every time we fly with these precious and beloved instruments of ours, we take a risk. However, the question remains. When something happens, what is the right thing to do?

As far as I’m concerned we seem to love pointing fingers and relish in trying to find someone or something to be responsible for our woes. Many musicians have sounded off over the years with an “it’s the airlines against us” mentality and many of us also know a few particularly dramatic stories that have gone viral with the “justice is done” via the social media spotlight.

I can only speak of my personal experience and I’d like to add it to the mix in order to keep things in balance as opposed to the awful-izing that the media and we tend to lean towards.

Schenk 6 string eyes closed

Simply put, yes, it was a traumatic experience, saddening and I am beginning to miss that guitar. It almost seems to be akin to the grieving process we might experience over time when losing, for example, a beloved pet. After playing for nearly 40 years it was hands down, the best guitar I’ve ever played.

So here’s the clincher. Gay Griffith with Baggage Customer Service based out of the Qantas office in Sydney simply did the right thing. Requesting authorization from a local Australian Luthier acknowledging that the instrument was destroyed beyond repair, my providing photographs of the ‘deceased guitar’ and case, and filing the proper report, she appropriately compensated my builder, Rod Schenk to begin immediately building another comparable guitar for me – including flight case.

No major dramas, no threats, no dancing around the fire seeking vengeance by the gods. Gay handled the situation with simple professionalism, compassion and humanity, which was very evident during our personal conversations. She actually understood the importance of the relationship a touring musician has with their instruments and stepped up to the plate.

So for all the airline horror stories, hopefully here’s a good one to keep things polarized. And, I’m actually thinking of naming my new guitar – Qantas.

How did the trip to Tasmania and Australia go by the way? Well, besides the extensive fires in eastern Hobart during the Festivals, the worst flooding since 1946 near my Guitar Retreat Camp with Loose Acoustics in Maleny, just outside of Brisbane, and one guitar down – pretty much business as usual. Music happened by hook or by crook, the crowds came out, CD’s were sold, people were taught the craft of guitar, and I got a first class flight back to the USA, courtesy of Qantas Airlines. Looks like I’ll be flying with them again in May 2013.