Big Apple Birthday Bash

Buried near the bottom of  page six in the faded green ledger that Hamer Guitars used to record instrument serial numbers, is an innocuous entry for the third week of December, 1980. It reads: Andy Summers, black, new model, 3-coil, S/N 02391. Three-coil was code for an as yet unnamed model, and it is significant not because this guitar was the first of its kind—It wasn’t—but because Summers and his band, The Police, were about to play a momentous gig with it. The guitar almost didn’t make the show.


The Hamer Guitar serial number ledger book

I awoke early on January 9th, 1981 to a typical Chicago winter morning not unlike today. It was cold, still dark and my first impulse was to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I’d barely gotten any rest after having spent the night partying with friends. Dimly lit, bare trees swayed in the chilly wind outside my window and my head throbbed dully as I put together my thoughts.  Then I remembered—it was my 29th birthday and I was celebrating with a trip to see The Police. I had less than an hour to get out of the house.

At 8:40 AM I boarded a non-stop American Airlines flight to New York, and immediately fell asleep in my seat. Fastidiously packed in a custom-made brown cardboard shipping box and checked as baggage in the hold below was the black serial number 02391 guitar, which I planned to deliver to Summers in time for the band’s first ever show at Madison Square Garden the next day. After working with Andy Summers for almost two years, The Police had arrived in the Big Time, and there was no way I was going to miss it.

The flight was uneventful, relatively short and after a shuttle bus ride into Manhattan I checked into my hotel on 57th street. I was feeling better and there was no need to hurry, I’d done this dozens of times. After ordering some room service, I unboxed the guitar and opened the case. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Despite my packaging, which bordered on fanatical, the fucking airline gorillas had broken the guitar’s neck loose. My blood pressure started to rise and I felt nauseous—this definitely wasn’t in the plan. No amount of profanity was going to fix anything and I resisted the urge to toss the TV out the window. Just barely holding back panic I picked up the phone but instead of throwing it, I called a friend at a guitar shop on 48th street and asked him to open up a repair bench for me. I grabbed the guitar and practically ran all the way there—thoughts spinning in my head. How bad was it? Could it be fixed in time? A dozen blocks of dodging and weaving my way through crowds of people had me sweating and out of breath as I pushed the shop’s door open at last. I was desperate to get the guitar on the bench where I could force the crack in the neck heel open and see how bad things really were.


The view from the workbench on 48th St. The Steak & Brew is now Rudy’s Music.

Luckily it was a pretty clean break, and getting glue in there and clamping would be fairly starightforward. I’m not always a big fan of epoxy for repairs, but in this case it was a good suggestion by the shop’s tech—so we proceeded. We got the clamps on and I removed any excess adhesive off without harming the finish. Could I be this lucky? I took a cab back to the hotel with the guitar still in clamps and was feeling somewhat confident it would hold.


Summers backstage at MSG clowning for my camera after receiving s/n 02391

The next afternoon I delivered the guitar backstage at The Garden, and Summers marched right out on stage with it which was still a real leap of faith. I held my breath, but the neck stayed put. I worked my way from the side of the stage to the orchestra pit in front of the stage and fired off a few photos—one you see here.


The guitar debuts on the big stage

A lot has been said about Summers, Sting and Copeland and how calculating they could be, but I like to remind people about how fearless they were. They were musicians first and last. I witnessed so many occasions where they would try something new without hesitation and that night in New York was no exception. Luckily the guitar didn’t let them down. The feeling of relief that the guitar worked was so overwhelming I barely remember the details of the show.

So, what did Summers think of the guitar? He liked it enough that he asked for another to be built, and we went out to dinner to celebrate—him for having played MSG, and me for having successfully saved the guitar. It was a better birthday present than I had expected.

The guitar model was introduced shortly after, known as “The Prototype”—a decidedly poor choice of product name despite its impressive public debut. I still have a soft spot in my heart for that guitar.

Tail-Draggin’ and Other Pursuits

“I’m a tail dragger
I wipe out my track
When I get what I want
I don’t come sneakin’ back”

—Tail Dragger by Howling Wolf


The Workshop is a laboratory and a work in progress. One day it is a place of solitude and reflection as I slowly craft materials into shape, and the next day it is a clubhouse full of voices and camraderie. Often, it is a music venue—visitors working out on instruments and sending signals through the surrounding woods.

Other times I take the workshop with me as I travel to see old friends and make new ones. These journeys bring the vibe of the shop on-site at studios, shops, homes, galleries, stages and anywhere creative folks gather. I bring my curiosity and am rewarded by learning from others.

This week has been a whirlwind of experience. From sitting in Levon Helm’s place at his drumset in The Barn,  the legendary studio where The Band recorded, to watching Matt Beck play my Sakura guitar on the big stage at a Matchbox 20 gig.


Jim Weider and I lunched in Woodstock, and he recounted the early days of the festival scene before the “Big One.” We visited the place where Paul Butterfield’s band hunkered down to rehearse and get high, and where Bob Dylan rode his Triumph motorcycle for fun.


Multi-instrumentalist Matt Beck and I discussed the origins of guitar-fever and its effect on the American experience beginning with Segovia legitimizing the instrument in the early 20th century. Then Matt put Sakura through its paces on the big stage.

I visited amp restorer/builder Blackie Pagano in Manhattan to talk about the magic vacuum tubes bring to guitar music; then spent an afternoon with producer/guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel drinking great coffee and talking about why the guitar is such a special and alluring instrument.



These were all gritty, but holy guitar places. But sometimes inspiration and iconic moments belong to simple ordinary locations. Inside a lovely suburban home, I held and played Howling Wolf’s 1963 Stratocaster.


I can only hope that some of the stories shared will rub off on me, and what I brought to these exceptional people and places was worthy. The Mighty Wolf may have wiped out his tracks, but I’m thankful for mine.