When I was 12, I was pretty certain that I was, in fact, going to be a major rockstar melting all of your faces off with my sweet licks. But also being 12 I had no idea as to how one could actually became a professional face melter. My whole plan was as follows:
- Melt faces.
- Maybe a melty faced person would buy my awesome CD’s and see more of my shows.
But there was one thing I did know, you needed an awesome guitar. With lightning. I also knew that this is the sort of guitar that finds you, gleaming in heavenly shafts of light as angels bestow it uponst thee, and you would then sail the seas of epic rock on the mighty ear pillaging vessel known as “Überskreamer, The Shred Worthy.”
Then, I walked into a pawn shop and got myself all kinds of confused.
You see, there were shafts of light, there was a guitar, but this was not Überskreamer, The Shred Worthy. No, this was more “Ladypants Horse Rider, Sheriff of All Pickin’ East of San An-tone.” She was white and gold, big, curvy and wearing mother of pearl inlay like Miss Pecos Cattle Drive, 1958. And pinned to her tortoise-shell pick guard was an America flag. A sparkly American flag. She was a big meaty country girl, and I loved her.
Though I knew she would never shred, I worked the whole summer of 1995 to make her mine. And we had some mighty fine times her and I. On the rare occasion that I brought her out to a show, all the guitar players from the other bands would ooh and ahh over her. “That sound, man!” They would say. But I was always a little wary about her leaving the house because there was always something about her that would whisper to me.
That whisper was a gold plate on the back of her headstock. It read. “Custom Built For Gene Fuller, Gibson Co. Nashville, TN 1992.” And from the very first time I saw it, I wondered, “Who would get rid of a guitar like this?” For 15 years that little gold plate would talk to me. “Why did Gene Fuller get rid of you? Why would he do that to you, Ladypants??”
I could take it no more. Fueled by years of curiosity, I took to the internet in search of this Mr. Fuller. I started with Facebook. And I’ll be if the first guy that popped up wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat and was called “The Texas Guitarman.”
I sent the following message:
This is Nate Croft. I’m writing you because I believe I might have one of your old guitars.
It is a beautiful White Sheraton with a gold plate on the back of the headstock that says it was custom commissioned by a Gene Fuller from Gibson in 1992. I have always wondered how you two were parted. (I’ve had the guitar for about 15 years.)
I’m attaching a few pictures to see if this really is your guitar.”
It didn’t take him very long to reply. It was stolen. He’d only had her two weeks before someone made off with her after show.
It all made sense. It turns out that no one would get rid of such a beautiful, custom-made guitar. And I have have never been so happy to have owned a stolen guitar, because in that moment, I knew that I’d just been taking care of old Ladypants.
I asked Gene for his address, and packed her up in her custom-made case and surrounded her with the softest packing material known to mankind, 3-ply Charmin. I was terrified that after all these years she’d been ok with me that she would be dropped off a UPS truck and smashed. A few prayers and some packing tape later, off she went to Texas. Where she belonged.
And much to our relief, she made it safely home again. Fifteen years later.
No sir, that’s a stallion!
That was 2011, and though we’ve both spoken of meeting up, life doesn’t always make such things very easy. But I decided to fix this. I was going to Texas, and I was going to meet this Mr. Fuller who custom commissions gorgeous guitars from one of the best makers on the planet.
This time last week, I jumped in The Runner and pointed myself towards Texas. I sent Gene a message that said I was headed his way, because I now know that you can’t put these things off. You have to act. Many, many miles later I found myself in the Texas Hill Country, driving up the side of one of those hills until I found a house. A house with its own bandstand! I knew I was in the right place.
Over the last several days, I’ve had the immense pleasure of staying with Gene and Cora Jean Fuller, who are some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I have ever met. We’ve shared stories of gigs played, guitars lost, and tales only those who’ve travelled around playing music would truly understand.
But there’s one more story that I want to share with you that he told me about that white guitar. Gene loves East Tennessee (where I’m from) and even lived there a while himself. On one particular gig he was playing for someone you might have heard of. This little blonde lady who’s also from East Tennessee, Dolly Parton.
Gene was a featured performer at Dollywood for a while, and one day Dolly noticed Gene’s nice leather guitar strap and said she really liked it. As it needed some repair, she asked Gene if she could have it fixed for him and have some copies made for her as there was an unbelievable leather craftsman that lived nearby. Of course Gene says yes. Days later, the strap comes back, but it doesn’t come by itself. You see, Dolly also had the craftsman make Gene another strap. A white one, for his new guitar. And wow, what a thing it was! This was commissioned by one of the flashiest women in entertainment, and it shows.
But as you now know, Gene didn’t get to keep his white guitar very long. In fact, it was gone by the time he received the fancy new strap that had just been made for it. He never even had the chance to use it on the white guitar. He did, however, keep that strap.
So this afternoon, after we’d been listening to old recordings and had a bite to eat, he disappears down the hall for a while. When he appears again, there’s a case in his hand. I know this case.
He flips up the latches, lifts the lid, and there, with newly refinished gold hardware, wearing the most amazing and outrageous white leather guitar strap, is that white guitar. And you may have noticed I’ve stopped calling it “Ladypants.” That’s because I didn’t understand it at first. Gene is a showman. An entertainer, from Texas. This guitar is no little plump lady. No, this is a white stallion, wearing his parade dress. Fitting for The Texas Guitarman,
Texas is full of wild and beautiful treasures. And it is my pleasure to introduce one to you, Mr. Gene Fuller, Texas Guitarman and his unnamed (I asked) White Guitar.
And for the guitar enthusiasts reading along, here’s what Gene told me about this custom-commissioned beauty. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Gene.)
- It took over 2 years to complete
- Its pickups are custom designed by Gene himself, down to specifying how many winds on the coils of the pickups
- It’s made from the finest woods sourced from all over the country.
- Even the case is custom, made in Canada. Its plush interior lining was chosen to match the interior of his truck!
- The electronics of the pickups are set up in a phase blending arrangement to allow for maximum tonal options.
(This always confused the heck out of me when I played it. )
And now for a little music
And what story about a guitar and its owner would be complete without some guitar playing? Here are a couple of videos of Gene playing over the week I stayed with them. And if you like Gene’s picking, stop by his website The Texas Guitarman and get a few CD’s. He’s even recorded a new one titled The White Guitar. I wonder where that came from.