11 May 2015

Guitars & Gratitude

During my 14th, 15th, and 16th summers, I worked with Janet McKinney (who is, in my opinion, the patron saint of children's ministries) doing backyard Bible clubs.  Anyone who has had the same pleasure knows it's a fun job.  "Mum-mum" McKinney and I trekked much of south Jersey, often in the blistering heat, and taught groups of kids at churches, YMCAs, public parks, and private homes alike.  My job was the missionary story.  That meant I had to memorize the stories of Hudson Taylor and other heroes of the faith to recite along with flip books full of colorful illustrations.

The money that I earned over the course of those three summers went into my first guitar, a Yamaha FGX.  A solidly  built, solidly mid-range guitar, she was the best-sounding instrument in my price range when my mom took me shopping in August of 2005.  It was an historic occasion: that was the first big purchase I made with my own money.  My mom and dad might have contributed to the overall cost since it was so close to my birthday, but I earned that guitar literally by the sweat of my brow.

It was an investment and it was an accomplishment.

Battle damage sustained early in her career.
Over the course of the next ten years, I played that FGX constantly.  It started its career with youth group praise & worship, then soon added songwriting to its job description, and ultimately passed through three bands in addition to regular praise and worship, performances at weddings, funerals, and graduations.  In all, I've probably played that guitar an average of 3-4 days a week for the last decade.  It's no wonder that her frets are worn down and pitted, that there's something that may or may not be a bloodstain on her front where my forearm rests, that her once-sturdy electronics every once in a while cut out, that she has intonation issues galore, or that she no longer can no longer stay in tune.

During worship services for the past months, I'd find myself tuning frantically between songs (sometimes during), and occasionally even have to stop a song during the introduction to correct the finicky b-string.  It was that or risk throwing the entire song into a cacophonous, atonal mess.

I knew the guitar's status was grim, but I wasn't really in a position to invest a lot of money into pricey repairs -- much less an entirely new instrument.  In my mind, I'd just have to push through the inconvenience.

As would the rest of the musicians behind me.

Though (I hope) I didn't publicize it, the ailing status of my guitar was no secret.  Without my knowledge, the teenagers I disciple, the other members of the worship band, and a significant number of friends & family from Fellowship Bible Church got together and began collecting money for me to purchase a new guitar and retire the old one.

It's funny to think in terms of "retiring" a guitar or otherwise personifying a piece of wood and strings.  If you ever thought guitar players are being melodramatic when they give their instruments floral girls' names and speak of them with fondness limning their eyelids... you're probably right.  I did try to name my guitar once when I was still a teenager, actually, but whatever name I picked never stuck.  Regardless, that Yamaha FGX that I first spotted hanging on the wall at the route 38 Guitar Center ten years ago became an integral component of what I do, and it is heavy on my heart that I've finally reached the point that she can no longer be my primary instrument.

Silly?  Melodramatic?


But still.

And so, on May 8th and 9th, equipped with money presented to me in front of Wednesday night youth group (transitioning back into my lesson that night was considerably difficult), Tara and I went out shopping.

For two days, I played a lot of guitars.  I'm really into the sound of Guild acoustic guitars, but their selection is typically used and always limited -- usually too old to be considered an upgrade but too new to be considered vintage.  The Taylors I sat down with were all far too bright.  I've never been a fan of Gibsons, so I didn't spend more than a few minutes with those selections.  I played a really nice Breedlove as well as one Takamine and a Washburn.  There were a couple of nice guitars in some local shops that I really liked, but the instrument I ultimately ended up buying was again hanging on the wall of the route 38 Guitar Center.

Maybe I'm "mainstream" for buying a Martin.  But this particular GPCPA4 was the only guitar I really came back to (and I played the same model across the parking lot at Sam Ash, but preferred this piece of wood).  It has a warm and organic sound, a thin but sturdy neck, and "scoop" style Fishman electronics, which are perfect for worship leading -- it can cut through the mix and it can stand alone as a solo instrument if necessary.  I was blown away by the warmth and depth of the sound when I plugged in the guitar.  It still has plenty of brightness to its tone without sounding "shiny," which contributes to the fullness of its presence and resonance.  The guitar has a solid spruce top, Sapele back and sides, and a Richlite fingerboard. Frankly, I'm not enough of a guitar nerd to really place a lot of stock in those spelling words, but I know enough about acoustic guitars to know that this is a fantastic instrument and a quality investment.  While it of course pains me to "retire" my faithful FGX, it is undeniably exciting to have a new, quality guitar of this caliber for the future.

All that to say this.

If you are reading this and you had any part in helping me purchase this instrument, thank you so much for supporting me as your worship leader and for enabling me to continue to serve the Lord with excellence.  This guitar is dedicated to the worship ministry at Fellowship Bible Church and to the glory of our great High Priest, Savior, and King.

I'd like to especially thank a few individuals.

Jack Klose -- one of my closest friends and mentors.  Jack has seen me through some of the hardest years of my life, he loves the Lord with an infectious earnestness, and he trained me to do the work I'm now doing.  Thank you for believing in me, for your pastoral care, and for your tireless co-laboring.  How about we actually sit down and have dinner together some night now that we've lived across town from each other for more than a year now?

Lori Mariano -- one of the most organized and purpose-driven folks I've had the pleasure of working with, and arguably the mastermind behind the modern FBC worship experience.  Thanks for keeping my head on straight, for making me consider the details I would otherwise overlook, and for serving the Lord with such a willing heart.

Mike Moore -- the drummer who wants to be a musician when he grows up, who keeps me in time, and who (centuries ago) hosted a Bible study for teenagers back when my hair still reached my shoulder blades.  It was Mike who once pulled me aside after a gig he played with my high school band and told me that while he loved what I was doing with the band, my real strength was in leading worship.  Without that encouragement, I might not be where I am today.

The FBC worship/tech teams -- all of you rallied behind me when I assumed leadership and continue to serve alongside one another with faithful diligence, humility, and excellence (not to mention flexibility -- our favorite word).  I will never stop telling you all how grateful I am for the opportunity we have to worship our God together.

Finally, all of my students -- college, high school, or junior high, you guys and girls are a joy to me.  It is my privilege to be your youth director.  Thank you so much for coming together to help me replace my old guitar, for tolerating my terrible jokes, and for faithfully attending Third Place and UM.  You guys are part of the future of the church, and I don't just mean the future of FBC.  Your generation can have a powerful influence on whichever faith community you eventually find yourselves part of.  Stay true to Him always.

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
-- Ephesians 3.20-21