The United Service Organizations
(USO) began its star treatment for
U.S. troops during World War II, when
Bob Hope took the stage at March Air
Force Base in Riverside, California, on
May 6, 1941. Since then, celebrities—from
musicians like the Zac Brown Band and
Toby Keith to comedians and actors such
as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart—have
entertained and participated in thousands
of USO shows across the globe. The aim is
to lift troop morale through laughter and
song, regardless of the political affiliation
of the star. But for Lillian Axe lead guitarist
Steve Blaze, it went further than that.
“I’ve always had a great appreciation for
our military at all levels—from the guys at
the desks to the guys in the field—for what
they’ve done for this country,” says Blaze.
“When my friend Major Henry C. Cecil
asked me if I thought it’d be a good idea to get
luthier John Guilford to build a guitar to benefit
the U.S. Air Force … [laughs] before he
could even finish his sentence, I said, ‘Yes!’”
On April 27, 2011, nine members
of the NATO Air Training Command
– Afghanistan (NATC–A) were killed
in action while serving as advisors and
mentors to members of Afghanistan’s military.
Their mission was to train Afghan
Air Force (AAF) personnel to become an
independent and operationally capable unit
that would provide security for Afghanistan
once U.S. forces left.
In 2010, Maj. Cecil served in Afghanistan
with the men and women who were killed.
He knew three of them very closely and
roomed with Capt. Nathan Nylander during
the last few weeks that he was in Kabul.
Losing his comrades had a huge impact on
Cecil, and it inspired him to raise money
for their families through the Air Advisor
Luthier John Guilford, alum of the
Guitar Institute of Technology, was eager for
the chance to participate. “Henry contacted
me with his concept for a guitar, and his
story flat-out touched my heart,” he says.
“I was honored that he and Steve thought
enough of my abilities as a builder. I wanted
to help in any way possible to help them
honor the fallen service men and women.”
The USAF Redeemer guitar that
Guilford built in their honor features a
bound, poplar body covered with United
States Air Force camouflage, and it’s finished
in gloss nitrocellulose. The 25 1/2"-
scale instrument has a 22-fret, quartersawn
rock-maple neck and an ebony fretboard
that has the words “U.S. Air Force” inlaid
in mother-of-pearl. It also features the Buzz
Feiten tuning system, an original Floyd
Rose tremolo, Gotoh Mini 510 tuners,
and Seymour Duncan Blackouts—a Metal
model in the bridge and a Standard model
in the neck position.
The guitar’s back is engraved with the
nine soldiers’ names—Lt. Col. Frank D.
Bryant Jr., Maj. Philip D. Ambard, Maj.
Jeffrey O. Ausborn, Maj. David L. Brodeur,
Maj. Raymond G. Estelle, Maj. Charles A.
Ransom, Capt. Nathan J. Nylander, retired
Lt. Col. James McLaughlin and Master Sgt.
Tara R. Brown—on a 5-ply plaque made of
Since acquiring the guitar from
Guilford after it was unveiled at the Dallas
International Guitar Show, Blaze has played
it during every performance of “Take the
Bullet”—a song he wrote and dedicated
to the military in 2010. The guitar will be
raffled off on Veterans Day (November 11,
2012), with all funds going to the fallen
service members’ families.
“I don’t have much, but what I do have
is owed to the servicemen and women who
have provided me that opportunity,” reflects
Guilford. “I feel blessed to have a chance to
give back a small token of my appreciation
through my craft. Hopefully, it’ll help raise
some money for the families and children
who lost their mother or father, and the
guitar should create music to celebrate the
freedom we enjoy every day.”
A special thanks to Maj. Henry C. Cecil, John
Guilford, and Steve Blaze for the opportunity
to feature this fine piece of gear and its story.