Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rene' Martinez - Texas Guitar Whiz

A transplanted Texan is still a Texan. Regardless of where a Texan goes, Texas goes with him. I think I will always identify strongly with Texas, not simply because it is the land of my birth and the place I lived most of my life. Texas, as an ideal, is in many ways, reflective of not only what is best about being an American, but also of what has always been great about being an American. There is something special about that place. Hey, these aren't my rules, I'm just reporting what I know to be true here.

I suppose it is remotely possible that if I were from Kentucky, Tennessee or, God forbid, even California, I might feel the same way. That somehow some part of the essence of the place of my formative years, goes with me wherever I go. But I doubt it.

All that to say that, since moving to Indiana in 1999, I have not really missed much of the life left behind. I love living in the country and it is very meaningful to me that we live on a patch of ground that has been in my family since James Madison served as Secretary of State. About the only thing I miss is the mix of ethnic cultures that exists in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. I miss having a choice of 5 or 6 excellent Mexican restaurants or barbecue joints within a 1-mile radius of home. And there are a handful of friends and family that I miss seeing as often as I used to. But not much more.

The only other thing I've missed is not having ready access to a high-quality, guitar repair shop. I am fortunate in that I can do a lot of the basic maintenance, and even a fair amount of hot-rodding and customization. I haven't met anyone around here, though, that I trust to do any kind of major surgery. Some things simply cannot be done by a hack, such as fret job or a full transducer refit in a valuable acoustic. Only a real craftsman, a seasoned professional artist, can do these things. Such a person can breathe new life and energy into an instrument, whereas even a well-meaning amateur can maim, cripple, or kill a beloved tool and friend.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across this excellent article about Rene' Martinez. In Texas, for years I always had my guitars repaired and serviced at Charlie's Guitar Shop which, in the world of guitarists, is simply a mythic place. Well do I remember as a 22-year old kid, hanging out there one rainy Saturday afternoon, listening to Bugs Henderson holding court, playing the blues on some old Strat plugged into some old Fender amp, and wandering through the happy chaos of the cramped shop, admiring the wonderful guitars, vintage and new, hanging from the walls. People came from all over the southwest to drop their guitars off for repair, to talk to Charlie and Rene', and to take in the magical ambience of the place. Over the years, Rene' Martinez worked on my mid-70's Gibson Hummingbird (may it rest in peace), my 1976 ES-335TD Sunburst, and at least one of my Ibanez solidbodies, as I can recall.

I didn't know him well, personally, but I remember Rene' Martinez as the considerate and humble artisan that this interview portrays him to be. And his work was unimpeachable. It didn't seem to matter to him whether it was a cheap beginner's guitar or a seasoned custom instrument owned by a pro. He seemed to take the same careful and caring approach, regardless. Every guitar that passed through his hands was better for the experience, whether it was mine, Stevie Ray Vaughn's, Johnnie Winter's, Carlos Santana's, or John Mayer's. It's a blessing to me to see him doing so well.

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