A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life- Road Dog-Winter ’03

Ah, the start of a tour. We’ll leave out the pre-tour preparation, and thus spare you the gory details of watching me guess how many CD’s, books and videos to drop-ship to the beginning point of the tour and the entertaining attempts to fit my clothing and gear into the available luggage space. Instead let’s just look at the first 24 hours of the trip itself, on October 31, and November 1, 2002.

First, it’s generally prudent for me to arrive almost three hours early at the outgoing airport. It makes for a pretty long day, but that’s part of the bargain. Every piece of luggage I carry, including my guitars, looks suspicious at airports- full of wires, batteries, and circuitry, and the natural response of the staff is to undress me down to my socks and civvies and work me over with their wands, while the folks who operate the giant scanning machines do the same with my luggage, both checked and carry-on. If you’ve flown recently, you probably have watched the security folks pick some lucky flier for the in-depth security review. That lucky person is always me.

It should have occurred to me that flying on Halloween might expose me to some sort of weirdness, but it was the day of choice to begin the tour, which was to commence with a concert in North Carolina on the following evening, Friday, November 1. The Thursday Halloween start would allow me to fly 4 hours east fro Utah to Virginia, pick up my gear and rental car, fight some ugly D.C traffic at rush hour, and drive a couple hundred miles that evening towards Friday’s show, where, after making the rest of the drive on Friday morning, I would be picking up my product and heading to sound check.

The weirdness started when the skycaps, my old friends, announced that they were going to have to charge me an additional $40 to check my third bag, which was my doubly-packaged 12-string LKSM. A new airline policy had decreed a two bag limit, and though no one had thought to tell me, there it was, big as life. (They also indicated that the new fee was going to rise as we approached Thanksgiving, to catch the folks who bring lots of stuff on flights for the holidays. Of course that’s right when this tour ends). I checked the three bags, after lots of the usual scanning and x-raying, and paid the additional tariff, kissed my wife Tomi goodbye, and headed for the internal airport security, where the usual undressing and questions awaited me.

So far, I’m just out $40, but that was just the beginning. Upon arrival in D.C. I picked up my luggage, including the 12-string in the customized Taylor case/padded nylon gig bag double arrangement that I have used successfully for 12 years. All seemed well, and I headed for the rental agency, where, after getting my car, I began to load it up. Grabbing the 12-string case, I heard a horrible clunking sound from within. Unzipping and unclipping the double cases, I saw the obvious source of the sound. Somehow, the airlines had managed to break the magnetic pickup which should have been sturdily clamped in the sound hole of the guitar, giving it a blow of such severity that the pickup snapped off on both sides where its wings had been attached AND double-stick taped to the edge of the sound hole. It was bashing about inside the body of the guitar, still wired to the endpin jack, and making those mighty clunking noises.

As many of you may realize by now, I had made a major mistake by not having inspected the guitar at the airport. Chalk that one up to complacency- after 12 trouble-free years of using my double case system, I wasn’t sufficiently alert to the possibility of problems. At this point there was no use in returning to the baggage folks and complaining. The fact was that I had paid the airlines an extra $40 to check the guitar, and in return they hade given the guitar a mighty thrashing. Nothing to be done but to fix it, if possible, and do my shows.

A few things to ponder at this point: there were no marks on either case, and even more remarkably, the guitar wasn’t damaged in any way. Whatever had happened had somehow driven the cases downwards with enough force to shatter both sides of the pickup as it sat in the sound hole, but without doing any other damage. The guitar was even still in tune!

A second item of interest- I was scheduled to shoot a new Contemporary 12-String video for Homespun Tapes in two weeks up in Woodstock, NY, so I would need this guitar and its pickups to be fully functional, and also attractive in appearance, for that video shoot.

That evening, after two hours of 20 mile per hour crawling around the D.C commute and another three hours of driving south towards the Friday concert venue, I called up my wife and we arranged for her to ship me a replacement pickup to John’s Music in Hilton Head, South Carolina where I was scheduled to do a Taylor workshop on the following Wednesday. That gave the U.S. Postal Service five days for the delivery, and it gave me five concerts and workshops where a repair job of some sort would have to suffice.

On Friday morning I got up too early and drove to Winston-Salem, site of that evening’s concert, the location of my drop-shipped product, and I hoped, a good hardware store. I found the store, bought a foot of 1″ wide bendable brass stock, (brass is not magnetic, an advantage when working near my pickup) some double stick tape, some nice shiny black duct tape, and a pair of pliers. I cut and bent two 2″ pieces of the brass at right angles in the middle, and taped them onto the sides of the broken pickup so that the brass would act as replacement wings. I then put double-stick tape on the underside of the wings, and pushed the repaired pickup back into the sound hole so that it would sit in its usual spot. The duct tape reinforced the pickup in place, so that it wouldn’t be shaken out no matter how the guitar was turned or shaken.

At this point, I didn’t know whether my repair would work electronically, only that it was back in the sound hole where it belonged. Given the bashing, and that the pickup had been careening around inside the body for hours as the guitar was being loaded and unloaded, it was entirely possible that a brace had been broken, some wiring detached, or the pickup itself damaged. I took a small mixer from my luggage and checked to see if there was signal coming out of the guitar. It turned out that there was indeed a signal present. So far, so good, though I would not be able to hear it or judge its quality, until the sound check that evening.

Still to come- picking up my boxes of product, testing the repaired system at sound check, making more repairs or adjustments to my jerry-rigged guitar if necessary, and hopefully, picking up the replacement pickup the following week and installing it successfully in time for the rest of the tour and the video shoot. Not to mention, of course, the necessity of explaining to each evening’s audience that, while I do have a genuine fondness for black duct tape, I am not trying to make some new sort of 12-string fashion statement. But that’s for another story…