Identifying a mysterious guitar

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By Kirsten Laskey

It began as a simple transaction between friends but transformed into an intriguing mystery.

Tony Chan of Los Alamos purchased a guitar from a friend two or three years ago, and perhaps at first glance it appeared to be a beat-up Martin guitar, but a few clues revealed there was more to the musical instrument than what met the eye.

A label on the lid of the guitar case reveals the guitar dates back to the 1867 and on the peghead or the top of guitar, there is an elaborate silver “presentation plate,” which Chan believes may indicate the guitar was from the Civil War era.

The guitar’s origins make it special, he said. “You don’t see many 1800s Martins,” Chan said.

As a result, Chan said he feels a strong responsibility toward the guitar and decided to fulfill two objectives to it. First, have it restored, and second, research its history.

To get it restored, Chan sent the guitar to Frank Ford, a respected luthier bass at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, Calif.

“(I’m) fulfilling my sense of responsibility,” Chan said. “I feel responsible because there are not too many guitars of this vintage around and because it looks like a Civil War piece.”

Chan said he knew about Ford through a friend, Bill Richardson, who worked for him.

Once Ford saw the date of the guitar, he became very excited about doing the project.

It took Ford two years to finish the restoration work. Chan said the guitar had suffered a lot of neglect – the inside had been damaged by water and mud and the outside was scarred with scratches. However, Ford fixed the guitar from its bridge to the peghead. Chan said he is very pleased with the results.

Now that the objective has been completed, Chan is moving on to his second objective, researching the history behind the guitar; which is proving to be a bit of a challenge.

He is in the process of getting information from the Martin guitar company and hopes to get a positive response. Despite the challenges, Chan is enjoying this process of solving this mystery. “I just have a strong sense of history,’ he said. “I love history.”

The instrument is a favorite. “I do like guitars. I do enjoy guitar music (and) I do play a little bit,” he said.