Guitars for Vets organizers Patrick Nettesheim and Dan Van Buskirk help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find hope again through music.
In the time it takes to read this story, another US serviceman or servicewoman will lose their life. It won't be to an IED on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan. It will be to suicide on the battlefield of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression—right here at home. Every day, 19 soldiers take their own lives. Fifty percent of our homeless population is made up of veterans, and more than 250,000 veterans now suffer from PTSD. A 2004 Department of Defense study estimates that 17 to 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq “suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD." And according to a 2008 report cited in Tears of a Warrior: A Family's Story of Combat and Living with PTSD—a book the Veterans Administration uses in its PTSD treatment program— roughly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed since 2003.
It's easy to slap a "Support Our Troops" magnet on the back of a vehicle to show solidarity in times of deployment, but where is that support when these men and women come home physically and emotionally broken? Where do they turn when society is not informed or empathetic enough to understand their state of mind, or when they are shamed into silence by the stigma of "mental illness"?
These are crucial questions too often left both unasked and unanswered. However, two guitarists with their hearts in the right place are doing their best to make a difference. Guitar instructor Patrick Nettesheim and guitar-playing Vietnam War veteran Dan Van Buskirk decided to take matters into their own hands by creating Guitars for Vets (G4V), a unique form of music therapy they're taking to VA medical centers.
Founded in 2008, Guitars for Vets is a nonprofit that provides six free, one-on-one guitar lessons and a new acoustic guitar to veterans in recovery. Its mission is simple: Turn the guitar into a source of healing, communication, and self-expression. Veterans enrolled in the program receive their own new Oscar Schmidt acoustic guitar at their sixth lesson, and thereafter they can continue learning through group lessons. G4V began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but has chapters in several other states—as well as one in Afghanistan—and it's receiving requests from VA centers across the country. Six strings at a time, it's working miracles.
To Hell and Back Again
Van Buskirk and Nettesheim met in 2007, when Van Buskirk became Nettesheim's guitar student. It was a fortuitous step on the long road to recovery for a lifetime pacifist who joined the military to uphold family duty.
Although the Peace Corps was his first calling, Van Buskirk joined the Marine Corps and became a reconnaissance scout and sniper during a time when, he says, "We were a bunch of young men confused by John Wayne movies, masculinity, and serving your country. I was assigned to Albrook, the hottest, best team battalion. We were on patrol schedules in Laos, and it was so dangerous that all the guys left letters and valuables for their loved ones because no one expected to return alive. Because Albrook was so good, the whole team would go on patrol. Except they wouldn't let me go—I was too inexperienced. One day, the North Vietnamese set up an ambush for Albrook. They shot down the helicopter with a rocket and all the guys died."
During Van Buskirk's 1968-1969 tour, he did 40 patrols in Laos and Cambodia, lost his best friend there, and witnessed unspeakable horrors that remain with him today. Upon return, he was hospitalized for a year and told he had "shell shock," as it was called then. "They didn't know how to treat it," he says. "I was in a deep, deep depression. You feel like you are in a black tunnel that has no light on the other side. I just wanted some light, but I couldn't see it."
Van Buskirk struggled to maintain a normal life. He married, became a father, worked, and went back to school to earn degrees in sociology and anthropology. Though he attempted to become an adjusted civilian, Vietnam never left him. "I mostly had a sense that 'I just don't get it,"' he says. "It plagued me. Some people live joyously, but for veterans with PTSD, we're in survival mode." Van Buskirk still experiences flashbacks and nightmares.
In 2005, after losing two jobs, Van Buskirk was placed on full chronic disability. As part of his search for ways to deal with depression, he bought a guitar. He had tried playing years before, but lacked focus due to PTSD. Cream City Music, in Brookfield, Wisconsin, recommended Nettesheim as an instructor. The lessons became educational for both men: Van Buskirk learned to play, while Nettesheim learned about Vietnam and the struggles returning veterans faced. They realized they were on to something.
Guitars for Vets debuted in the Milwaukee VA spinal rehab unit, where Van Buskirk and Nettesheim performed for paralyzed veterans whose lives are spent in wheelchairs and on their backs. "Dan played 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' and we saw guys who had been staring at the ceiling for 40 years just light up," says Nettesheim. "The smiles, the happiness—they would hold the guitars while I strummed them. I knew it was magic. These men with broken bodies, broken spirits, and no way out of their situations as prisoners of their own bodies—I saw the light in their eyes." During their next lesson, Van Buskirk and Nettesheim put a plan in action and created Guitars for Vets.
Asked to explain the source of that rekindled light—why the guitar is a source of comfort— Nettesheim says, "How you hold it against your midsection—it's a metaphoric shield. When you look at trauma as part of the human condition, in moments of sadness and weeping, you rock back and forth and hold a pillow or a teddy bear to your midsection. It's an innate trait. The guitar is a good surrogate for that. It allows you to speak without words. The cool thing with the guitar, and many instruments, is the universal language: Others get what you're feeling by what you play. It helps us communicate emotions that may be too difficult to verbalize. That's why music touches so many people deeply."
Faces of the Faceless
A group of vets from the St. Louis, Missouri, chapter of G4V gathers to socialize and support each other through song.
Photo by Glen Harris
Miami resident John Miranda understands using music in place of words. He spent a good portion of his adult years entrenched in the rock-musician lifestyle on the West Coast. In 1973, he joined the service and became a parachuter during the final stages of the Vietnam War. "Conflict and war are no picnic," he says. "Nor was the way we were treated when we came home. When I got out of the military, I began drinking heavily, jumped onboard with a band, and played my life away."
Miranda is now in his mid 50s, and not long ago he found the courage and the means to clean up his life. He went to the Miami VA for help in 2009 and met music therapist Elizabeth Stockton, whom he credits for not giving up on him during the hospital's three-month program. Through music and sobriety, he is learning to unlock emotions he believed didn't exist. "I know the power of music and what a program like this can do," says Miranda, who became the first instructor for the Miami chapter of Guitars for Vets. "There's life to music. It's very spiritual."
Guitars for Vets is staffed entirely by volunteers. Instructors must train through a strict VA program, and they're submitted to rigorous FBI background checks that require fingerprinting and official badges for admission to facilities. In addition to government protocol, G4V has three requirements. "Instructors must show gratitude toward veterans for what they have given," says Nettesheim. "They must be empathetic and sincerely able to feel these veterans' stories, and they must be nonjudgmental and throw all political thoughts out the door."
Marc DeRuiter instructs the Grand Rapids, Michigan, chapter of Guitars for Vets. A Navy veteran from 1972–1975 who was stationed in both the Philippines and Vietnam, he discovered the organization in 2009 through a web search. Based on his experience performing for patients in Alzheimer's Disease units for seven years, he understands the therapeutic effects of music. He has been a musician since his teens, and he has a repertoire of country, bluegrass, rock, and oldies tunes. He has performed with the same musicians for 30 years, and he began teaching guitar at his church 10 years ago. After discovering G4V online, DeRuiter says he emailed Nettesheim because he thought he'd be "a good fit." He explains, "Our philosophies are right in line with each other. I'm sold on the therapeutic value of music—you spend an hour a day doing it, and your body treats it like a workout. It relieves your stress. You practice until you get it right, and that provides a sense of accomplishment."
Marc DeRuiter (right), a Navy vet who served in Vietnam from 1972 to 1975, instructs Richard Pierson in a Guitars for Vets class at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, VA center.
Photo by Marc DeRuiter
For that reason, DeRuiter makes a point of teaching actual songs to his students right away, helping them through "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and "The Ballad of Tom Dooley." "If you've got a song, you've got something," he says. "Some of these veterans have never played guitar before, and they love it. They practice on their own and get together to practice too."
Nettesheim says that camaraderie is a crucial element of Guitars for Vets. "When you talk to veterans—especially combat veterans—they'll tell you that they miss the teamwork and close friendships they formed while in the service. When their tour is over, they often move on and never see each other again. They fight to protect each other's lives, and there is a great sense of loss when those relationships are gone. They go from the battlefield to being thrust back into civilian life. Concentrating on playing and practicing in groups helps them to stop thinking about their grief. Working together brings them feelings of family and belonging."
Dan Van Buskirk (right), a Marines reconaissance scout during the Vietnam War, took up guitar in 2005 after years of PTSD had ravaged his personal and professional lives. In 2008, he and his instructor, Patrick Nettesheim (left), formed Guitars for Vets.
Photo by Tim Evans
Alan Harrison, another Vietnam vet involved with G4V, learned about the organization through the Milwaukee VA hospital. He had played guitar as a teenager but gave it up when he joined the Navy, where he spent 21 years. He also suffers from severe PTSD. During his time in the service, he says, "I saw a man dismembered, sucked into the intake of a jet, and that wasn't the worst thing I saw."
When Harrison returned to civilian life, he couldn't erase his memories.
PTSD and depression had set in. Two years ago, he signed on for lessons with Guitars for Vets and now he's a volunteer for the program. "When I pick up the guitar, it takes me to a simpler time when I didn't have these memories," he says. "The guitar eases the pain. Without this program, I would still be in serious therapy. It helps me cope." (Visit myspace.com/guitarsforvets to hear "Dusty Old Road," a song Harrison and Meaghan Owens wrote about his experiences as a veteran.)
Of course, Harrison, Van Buskirk, DeRuiter, and Miranda are just a few of the countless veterans of past and present armed conflicts who suffer from the debilitating effects of PTSD. Van Buskirk expresses great concern for those who have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I see a lot of men and women slip through the cracks when they come home. I see them get fired because employers aren't held accountable for dealing with soldiers with anxiety issues. I see things that sadden me," he says. "But a smiling face, a compassionate heart, a listening ear, and the vibrations of a guitar can help. I can't sit back and not be part of the solution. Medication is a useful band-aid but in no way helps the soldier get their soul back. If a soldier takes meds as the end-all be-all, they will miss out on getting their whole person back. If we take the lead with this program, maybe others will find it easier to help veterans—and maybe the VA will become more progressive and not just say, 'Increase your meds.'"
How to Help
Guitars for Vets has distributed over 600 guitar packs to date, but these instruments are purchased, not donated—and G4V incurs significant shipping costs to send guitars to its chapters. Each guitar pack consists of an instrument, a bag, and a tuner, and it is paid for by G4V, with the Oscar Schmidt acoustics being purchased at dealer cost. To date, no manufacturer has been willing to donate any instruments, so the organization relies on monetary donations from supporters. For the price of an evening out—dinner, movie, and drinks—you can help pay for one of these packs. Stay home one night and change a veteran's life.
Before receiving their free guitar at their sixth lesson, veterans enrolled in G4V learn to play on donated practice guitars. If you have an acoustic guitar gathering dust in your closet, send it in. Even if the instrument is no longer playable, artists associated with the program can turn it into an art piece that will then be sold to raise funds for G4V. Even if you don't have an old guitar to donate, you can help raise awareness of the program and provide useful funds by purchasing Guitars for Vets merchandise on the organization's website. There are other ways to get involved, too. G4V needs instructors and coordinators to set up new chapters and help with existing groups. Visit their website guitarsforvets.org or G4V's Facebook page for more details on the program and ways you can make a difference.
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For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD