One Man's Search for the Perfect Instrument

People pick up the guitar for different reasons. Johnny Marr, guitarist of Morrissey and The Smiths, wrote an article for The Guardian called "Why Playing the Guitar Means Everything." In it, he says it's always having something "cool to do," whether it's rock-star ambitions or just escaping life. It means "a lifetime of discovery and discipline. Playing guitar means everything." The late great Andres Segovia, a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist, told Music Therapy Today that the guitar is "a small orchestra unto itself." Musical therapists claim that a guitar's tonal quality, its direct nature, its capacity to produce chords and its extensive melodic range greatly enhance the guitar's ability to reach people. God knows playing guitar offered me a much-needed release.

A guitar is more than just a musical instrument. It's a window into your soul. Willie Nelson found his guitar, Trigger, after he busted another guitar. He made a phone call, and a dealer out of Nashville sent him the Martin N-20. When he played it, Nelson knew he had something special. In fact, it was so special that when he was in danger of losing everything to the IRS, Nelson hid the guitar at his manager's house. He had formed a bond with his guitar and named it after a famous signing cowboy's ride: "Roy Rogers had a horse name Trigger," Nelson says on his online general-store site. "I figured: This is my horse."

It's been six years since I last owned a guitar. After an oilfield accident, my picking hand just hasn't been the same. The doctors performed three surgeries trying to correct the nerve damage (or at least alleviate the pain) before they finally admitted that I was screwed as a guitarist. When my arm healed, I picked up my old Alvarez and tried to play, but my right arm went numb halfway through Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
Christian McPhate
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.
Photos by Christian McPhate
McBride and Little D sell guitars with soul.


Check for Christian's continuing search for the perfect guitar.

Unable to watch her collect dust in the corner of my living room, I sold her. I still regret it.

This summer I'm leaving for a writer's sojourn into the wasteland of West Texas, and I need a guitar to take with me to hell. But not just any guitar — I need to find my Trigger.

But to find her will take more than my measly reporting skills. I'll need to consult the gurus of the guitar world if I want to locate her. God knows I won't be able to find her on Guitar Center's wall. I can think of nowhere better to start than a place known for its quality musicians, a place where music is as much part of its culture as cowboy boots, hats and buckles, a place that people around these here parts simply call "Denton."

A Guitar Master

A guitar repairman, known as a luthier, performs surgery on a guitar. The master craftsperson not only understands the complexity behind the magic of stringed instruments but also the intricate tones that each string must make. Gregory Lange, a master luthier, has been operating on guitars for more than two decades, and when I walk in he's handling the inner parts of a Fender Stratocaster with finesse.

Lange is the owner of Little D Guitar Shop, which occupies a newly painted yellow brick building at 124 Austin St. His guitar repair business has been thriving at the same location for more than eight years. "I must be good at what I do because people keep coming back," he says.

Lange learned the art of stringed instrument repair under the watchful eye of a local legend — Christopher Savino. "He was like a genius luthier," says Lange, who shared a room with the legendary craftsman while attending college for jazz guitar at the University of North Texas. Savino had just finished building his first classical guitar. When people saw it, the genius luthier started to receive more orders. He soon dropped out of school to build guitars on a full-time basis and quickly became the "guitar guy" in Denton.

Dissatisfied with another local guitar technician's work, Lange approached Savino. "I know I can do this," he said. "I just need some guidance." Savion agreed and helped him with a few projects. Later, when his business started to take off, the genius luthier called the young jazz guitarist and said, "Hey, I'm turning away a lot of business at the door, so if you want to learn how to do this, you can come here and help me with repairs." Lange agreed and spent six months under his tutelage and four years as his guitar repairman before he opened his own repair shop.

Inside Lange's small shop, a line of electric and acoustic guitars — Ibanez, Yamaha, Guild — line the wall to my right while two rows of them hang in the air toward the center of the shop. A 1968 Gibson SG is mounted on the wall in front of me. Its dark red color is faded with age, but its chrome still shines. To my left is a spacious workroom where a few Stratocasters are in various stages of repair or modification.

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TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I've been looking for my "Trigger" for 20+ years now, and in the meantime the cheap, old, Korean-built, flat-top Hohner acoustic that was 10+ years old when it was given to me has just been getting better and better sounding - sloppy glue joints and all. I thought it was just me, but nearly everyone that plays it remarks on the rich tone it produces.

It is also worn in just the right way. Prior to living with me, she lead a pretty uneventful life in the back of my cousin's closet in a cardboard case with only a few trips to guitar lessons to speak of. When I received her, there wasn't even a scuff on the fretboard or pickguard. Now, I can look her over and almost every nick or ding has a story attached.

Every fret buzz is a reminder of some drunk banging her against the edge of a table or speaker cab. A hundred hands have played her as she was passed around the campfire or basement jam session. She's even been in the spotlight on stage a time or two helping carry a tune to anyone willing to listen. Nearly every bit of guitar, hell, musical knowledge I possess has come to me interpreted in some fashion through that guitar. 

Anyway, I hadn't really even considered it until I read your piece, here, but maybe it's time to give the old girl a name. 

There's really no better way to spend a rainy afternoon than just sitting around a whole bunch of guitars. So I won't stop spending rainy afternoons looking at guitars, but maybe I just won't be looking for guitars, anymore.

Good luck on your quest. Nice article.


A great read, sorry to hear about the accident that spelled your guitar playing doom. As an acoustic fingerstyle player I would be absolutely heartbroken and I'm not sure if I'd even have the will to live if it ever happened to me. I do feel compelled to point out the following: there's a distinct difference between a luthier and a guitar repairman. A luthier BUILDS guitars, and can build the entire thing from start to finish which includes selecting, drying and cutting the wood, carving the neck, cutting fret slots, etc. etc. all entirely by hand. Most shop guitar repairmen don't have the knowledge and experience to be able to call themselves luthiers, and technically it does require a certification, usually an apprenticeship.

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