Guitar Stories – Bill Piburn
This guitar is an electric, nylon string Gibson Chet Atkins model, and I call it my computer guitar because it’s easy to play, and it has a good sound quality without plugging it in. It’s not a guitar I’d want to record with as far as doing a record; I’d use a nylon string with a larger body and greater sound quality for that. But it’s a real playable guitar, everybody loves it. It’s got a sound chamber, so it’s not a solid body; the first ones Gibson made were solid bodies and they were terrible. But it’s a great guitar, easy to play, plays in tune. I’ve arranged and transcribed a lot of music with that guitar.
So basically, being a Chet Atkins model, one day I was going to a breakfast with Chet Atkins and a small gathering of people at a Cracker Barrel, and I thought, you know, I’m gonna feel stupid taking this guitar into Cracker Barrel, but I’m gonna do it and have Chet autograph it.
I remember exactly what he said when I showed the guitar to Chet. He opens it up and he goes, “Oh, you got one of the good ones!” I asked him what he meant and he said, “you got the one with the better pickup in it.” I said, “oh, great!” I had known Chet previous to this so it wasn’t my first meeting with him or anything. So he signed the guitar, and it was kind of funny because in that Cracker Barrel, everybody knew who he was. He had a table he would go to that was kind of his table that they’d reserve for him, you know. He’d go there on Sundays. So the people are watching him autograph the guitar and of course they had no idea who I am. We’re getting ready to leave and this older man reaches out and takes hold of my arm as I’m walking out, and goes, “if you ever learn to play as good as he does, you’ll be something,” and I’m like, “yeah, I know!” It’s like, yeah, I get that.
Initially my thought was to have it just autographed by him. Well, over time, I’d meet a lot of well known guitar players, and I thought, I’m going to go ahead and have other people autograph it as well. I can’t remember exactly who the second person was to sign it, but I can tell you who some of the first were: Earl Klugh, Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Yandell, Steve Wariner, and John Knowles were among the first. I’ve got all the CGP guys on there except Jerry Reed, I think. And those signatures are all kind of gathered in the same area.
The other signatures are from George Benson, Jack Pearson, who played with the Allman Brothers, Brent Mason, Scotty Moore, Ray Flacke, Reggie Young, Phil Keaggy, Martin Taylor, Nokie Edwards, Pierre Bensusan, Oscar Castro-Neves, Harold Bradley, Guy Van Duser, Joe Robinson, Andy Mckee, Michael Spriggs, Jim Nichols, Bucky Barrett, Richard Smith, Adam Rafferty, Pat Bergeson, and Tim Thompson. All these are just on the front as the darker wood on the back wouldn’t really allow it. George Benson was the last person to sign it here back in May (2019), but it’s pretty much full now! I had to save a spot for George, and told him “this would be a good spot right here, take as much territory as you like.” So he wrote his name pretty large, which I’m glad about.
I’m probably going to leave the guitar to my daughter. It’s not a high-dollar value guitar as an instrument itself; it’s not going to draw a lot of money if I ever sold it, but I think with all the signatures of the people that are on it, to the right person it could mean something as a collectible.
But it’s dearer to me because, you know, there were certain people I formed a friendship with, people that were heroes as musicians that you later get to know, and if you like them, become even a bigger hero. I have a friend that says “I never want to meet any of my heroes because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed,” and I can understand that, because myself, I don’t care to listen to anybody’s music if I don’t like them. If somebody’s a jerk…Well I don’t care how great they are, if they’re an ass – there are other people to listen to that are also great. So people that are great musicians and then turn out to be great people, you can identify with their music better, at least in my mind. I’m not able to shut that off. No matter who you are, or what notoriety you have, or how much money you have, we all come into this world and leave it in the same way. There’s no hearse pulling their money or their earthly goods. I’ve been pleased that most people that have notoriety and success have probably gone through enough in their lives that they’re decent people. In fact, I have another story to share with you real quick about that; I had an opportunity to interview Vince Gill maybe 14 years ago, and I said, “man, you’re such a nice guy, you’re probably the nicest, most famous person I’ve talked to, who’s so down to earth.” He said “well, I’ve played too many $25 gigs not to be.”
I basically bought this guitar used from a friend so that I could play it plugged in at a hotel I was playing at. I’ve got probably 10 guitars – I’m not like some people that have like 50 guitars, I don’t have that kind of money, but I’ve got a few electric guitars and a ’68 Ramirez classical that sounds like a freakin’ piano, I’ve got an Ibanez, a Telecaster, a couple guitars my dad made, I’ve got an archtop my grandfather made in 1931 that means a lot to me and is really amazing to have. Sure, there are other guitars I’d like to have if I had the money. But I think it seems a bit crazy to have more instruments than you’ll ever play. I don’t think instruments should be in a case and not played for 10 years. But I’ve got guitars I play more than others. I’m more attached to music than I am a particular instrument.
What else would you like for our readers to know about?
I have a digital guitar magazine that I certainly want people to know about, that I think is frankly the best fingerstyle magazine available because of the content and the people writing for it, called Fingerstyle Journal, at www.fingerstylejournal.com. My current issue is an all Brazilian issue with 13 pieces of music in it, featuring a bunch of amazing Brazilian players. I was the editor of Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine for a decade and got to know players from all over the world, so I try to put together a magazine that’s of the highest quality, with the best educational content, available for an $8 quarterly subscription.