Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument
Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument
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  • ISBN-13: 9780743266352
  • ISBN: 0743266358
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster


St. John, Allen


Chapter One: The $100,000 Guitar I think it'sgreat,"said Eric Clapton as he looked first at his host, and then at the magical instrument on his lap. "Especially on the top strings. It's easy to bend. It's got a good ringing quality."And so begins the legend of Clapton's guitar. The scene was a recording studio in New York City in 1994. Tim Duffy, a recording engineer by trade, was showing Clapton his facility, hoping he'd sign on to cut an album there. And while the legendary performer was suitably impressed by the audiophile-quality recording gear, what captured his imagination was Duffy's own acoustic guitar."It's flat," Clapton continued. "It's incredibly flat.""The tone?" Duffy asked, somewhat puzzled."The fingerboard," Clapton replied. "Or is that in my imagination?"Clapton noodled a bit, playing some of the sweet and soulful blues riffs that had earned him Grammys, gold records, and even gold-plated guitars."It's lovely," he said. "I've never heard anything about this guy before."The guy was Wayne Henderson, and it's no surprise that even Eric Clapton, one of the world's certifiable guitar freaks, didn't know anything about him. Henderson lives in rural Rugby, Virginia, population 7, where until recently he split his time between building extraordinary guitars and delivering the mail to his neighbors. He has built maybe three hundred guitars over the last thirty-five years, as many as the popular C.F. Martin factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, can finish in a busy afternoon. But in just a few short moments with this guitar, Clapton had discovered one thing. Wayne C. Henderson might just be the greatest guitar builder who ever lived. A Stradivari in glue-stained blue jeans."You want one?" said Duffy, sealing one deal, perhaps in the service of sealing another."Yeah I'dloveto get one.""What size?""The same as this."That's the first story about that guitar. Here's the next one.A few weeks later, a man entered Duffy's studio and approached our engineer."I want to buy your guitar," he said."Well, it's not for sale.""This is the guitar that Eric Clapton really liked, right? Well my daughter is a big Eric Clapton fan, and I want to buy it for her.""It's not for sale.""Yes, it is."Duffy explained how special this guitar is, and how long he waited for it. He'd taken it to Africa when he was eighteen."I've been on camels with it. I've been on dhow boats with it. I've dated girls with it," he said. "I've been everywhere with this guitar."The man listened patiently, and when the ranting subsided, he extracted a checkbook from his pocket and scribbled. "Is this enough?"Duffy squinted. The check was made out in the amount of $100,000."Is this some kind of a joke?""Would you prefer cash? I'll go to the bank if you want."The money wouldn't go to buy the engineer a Mercedes. Duffy, you see, wears another hat as well. He is the head of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization that's devoted to providing the basics for indigent blues musicians. When he went out to do field recordings of great players like Guitar Gabriel and Etta Baker, he was shocked to see the choices forced upon them by their financial situation: food or diabetes medicine; rent or a winter coat; eyeglasses or bus fare to the optometrist. So he started the Music Maker Foundation as a way to give a little something back to these remarkable, but unknown, musicians. A six-figure check would buy a lot of groceries. That's what Duffy was thinking.What he said was, "Let me think about it." Wayne Henderson guitars are one to a customer. If he builds you one, you can pretty much forget about getting a second. So the engineer called Wayne himself and told him the story."That could solve a lot of problems for me," Duffy said sheepishly."It's your guitar," replied the ever-practical Henderson with a laugh. "If you want toSt. John, Allen is the author of 'Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument' with ISBN 9780743266352 and ISBN 0743266358.

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