By Matt Potter
Radical Joy — Catholic Stewardship and Abundance
Shown at right is Hank Williams’ 1944 Martin D-28 guitar.
Hank Williams is often called the King of Country Music, and his influence on musicians is enormous. He led a tortured life, dying at a tragically young 29-years-old.
The guitar was made by C.F. Martin Co. from Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Martin has been making guitars since 1833. Their guitars are considered one of the best brands in the world, and vintage Martins can command sale prices of six figures.
Hank’s guitar resides at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. A 1944 D-28 is a highly prized instrument on its own as it is both rare and coveted for its incredible sound quality. The connection with Hank Williams is what makes this particular special guitar that much more special.
For us Catholics, guitars have been used to provide music during Mass for many years. Not everybody appreciates a guitar at Mass, but sometimes it’s the only option. I love the ground-shaking capacity of a cathedral-sized pipe organ playing something sacred from Haydn or Bach, but in small churches in small towns, parishes can be fortunate to have an electric piano and someone who can play it. I have been at Mass where, at the appropriate time, a commercial recording of a hymn was played through the speakers with parishioners being encouraged to sing along. That is not better than a guitar.
People have strong opinions about the music at Mass. I am treading very lightly here because I am not an expert in the area and, personally, I’m far more of a chant guy than a St. Louis Jesuit fan. But either, or both, can be done with beauty, respect and joy.
Guitars, and stringed instruments in general, have a very long history when it comes to praising God. The song “Silent Night” was written for a guitar when the organ in an Austrian church broke down at Christmas time, and the only instrument available was a guitar. The playing of stringed instruments goes back to ancient times and is encouraged in the Psalms:
“Give thanks to the Lord on the harp; on the ten-stringed lyre offer praise. Sing to him a new song; skillfully play with joyful chant” (Ps 33:2-3).
“Give praise with tambourines and dance, praise him with strings and pipes” (Ps. 150: 4).
Stringed instruments did not look like Hank Williams’ D-28 when David was king 3,000 years ago, but they were used to praise God then like they are today.
I have a guitar that was made in 1979. It is a Guild D-25 that I bought brand new while I was in college. It cost $600 that I didn’t have, so I borrowed the money from a bank and bought it. If you don’t play guitar, that sounds like poor judgment. Guitar players, on the other hand, would not see a problem with that scenario.
While the guitar is still in my possession, I treat it as though it does not really belong to me. I am just taking care of it. Like Hank’s guitar has outlived him, my Guild will outlive me. Good musical instruments have that quality. The next owner will receive a guitar that will have a better sound than the day I bought it, as well as some tell-tale bumps and scrapes that prove it was used to play music and not just hang on a wall.
That guitar, like everything we have, was a gift from God. It has gotten me through good times and bad. I have used it to praise God at Mass and to sing around a campfire. I played it in coffeehouses and on street corners with the case open, looking for free-will contributions. I have played for friends and family at weddings. I played cowboy songs on it for my kids. It was right next to me when I had my God moment. I even used it to write a love song about the time I met my wife.
God expects us to use our gifts and then return them to Him with increase. Hank took his musical gifts and his guitar and gave joy to millions who have heard him sing and play. The gift of my guitar has provided music for many people over the years.
Gifts we receive from God don’t all look the same. Sometimes those gifts have six strings and spruce tops.
As always, thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you. Write to me at [email protected]; Check out our blog: radicaljoy.blog/.