Blown 30 feet high by an improvised explosive device, United States Marine Jake Schick suffered collapsed lungs, multiple fractures, burn holes over his body, and significant ligament and bone loss. All the while, he never lost consciousness.
Listen to him tell his story, as I did on the Jocko Willinck podcast, and you’ll hear him sum up that awful event as “A bad day at the office.”
To recover from his horrifying experience, Jake underwent 46 operations and 23 blood transfusions. Then he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Through years of rehabilitation, learning to live with physical disabilities and mental, emotional, and spiritual duress, Jake fell into depression. And as with so many unfortunate souls, he became addicted to the prescribed medications intended to ease his pains.
Yet looking back now, after years in recovery and sobriety, and moving forward in life by helping other struggling military people, Jake refers to that day he was blown through the roof of the vehicle he was driving as “a bad day at the office”.
Given his tragic-turned-triumphant story, how could I, in my right mind, ever complain about mistakes I’ve made while building a cigar box guitar? Lord knows in less self-aware, and more self-absorbed moments, I’ve lost that perspective.
Building cigar box guitars is a personal thing. They’re folk art, man, and the artist puts a bit of him or herself into each build. So mistakes, while inevitable, can really rile a builder.
I’m guilty of that short-sightedness.
My building flaws are ultimately inconsequential and getting upset over them is borderline offensive: a failed building-idea execution or poor design is a privilege I should be honored to experience.
And on the cigar box guitar in this post, there was no shortage of flaws to experience.
Pick the guitar up and give it a strum and what you get is a sound akin to strumming a strung-up, solid 2x4. So, as an acoustic musical instrument, it’s quiet. For sure, the lid is too thick and perhaps the neck can be notched differently, allowing for a more active soundboard. Adding to the frustration, given the current setup, the guitar can’t be heard over a casual conversation.
Thank goodness I installed a pickup.
There are holes in the box-top/soundboard that lead to nowhere; not the roughly cut f-style soundholes but the drilled holes by the neck that were intended for a flat-mount pickup. Because the neck is flush to the box and because of my desire to keep the string action low -- even for a fretless CBG -- the flat-mount pickup simply wasn’t a good fit.
So off it came and in went the disc piezo.
For the accessibility and ease of use, disc piezos are awesome. However, I’ve built with them enough to know that my wacky, errant strumming hand creates too much unwanted box-thumping noise while playing a plugged-in, disc piezo-electrified CBG. Really, installing a rod piezo under the bridge in a bit of of the notched neck, a la Shane Speal, would’ve been a better bet.
My lack of foresight and eagerness to finish the instrument quickly resulted in the quiet, un-plugged guitar that quacks when plugged in.
Still, no reason to be upset, because my “bad day at the office” is really a gift to be cherished. At the risk of coming off too hokey, I’m blessed by the opportunity to build cigar box guitars; even the ones that turn out less-than-perfect.
While building the guitar pictured here, there were moments when my blood began to boil; when I realized an error in judgement produced an unwanted result. Yet as I stepped back to review my work, those moments passed. Rather than get too steamed-up about the project, I embraced the good fortune that allows me to build and play handmade musical instruments.
Gratitude for my circumstances is, in part, made possible by those whose bad days are of the sort I don’t wish for anyone.
There are men and women serving the country in which I live -- one of the most admirable pursuits in life -- having much, much worse days at the office than me. Listening to that Jocko Willinck podcast interview of Jake Schick made certain to remind me of that.