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Dads, Daughters and Guitars

Bonding with teenagers over guitars

Molly Huss with her dreadnaught and her laptop.
I’m trying to help my 14-year old daughter learn to play the guitar. Anyone who has a teenage daughter knows how this works. It is a well established fact among teenagers that the two dumbest, most embarrassing, irrelevant, out-of-touch humans to ever waste space on this earth are the very two people that mixed up the DNA cocktail that created them in the first place. I suggest songs to work on; she rolls her eyes in that special teenage way. It takes an incredible amount of patience. I usually possess just a little less than an incredible amount. But we’ll get through this. She’s actually growing out of this phase a bit already. I asked her the other day if she wanted to go to a movie with me, just the two of us, where we might be seen together in a mall. She actually considered it before saying no, but she did suggest that if her older brother went along she would go. He’s 20 and has some scruffy facial hair that I guess must have some magical power to absorb some of the dork rays that must be radiating off of me.

But she is interested enough in learning to play that she is willing to put up with dear old dad, and interested specifically in acoustic guitar (thank you, Taylor Swift). There is something magical about the acoustic guitar. Electrics are cool, but lots of things that are electric are magical: the automatic coffee maker, the lost television remote, the microwave oven. (I remember two old men back in the ‘80s arguing about whether food heated in the microwave would then cool down faster.) But the acoustic guitar just sits there in your lap on the couch, or on the deck or the beach, and makes music without any sparks except for the ones you supply.

I was about 14 when the guitar bug first bit me. My brother-in-law’s family joined my family for a Thanksgiving dinner. After we ate, they pulled out an acoustic guitar and played “The Letter” by the Box Tops with full three-part harmony. I had never been that close to anyone playing a guitar, and I knew I had to get one. My first was a plywood sunburst beginner model that was actually playable and stayed in tune, even if its tone was not something we try to replicate in the shop these days. I worked my way through some chord books and got some help from friends who played. I used the money I made in high school working as a busboy to buy LPs and expand my musical knowledge beyond what I could hear on the radio. Eventually I traded up to a better guitar. In college, my roommates encouraged me to play my guitar, especially after I got a banjo. I traded up for yet another guitar and started putting all of my music on cassettes so I could listen in the car. I was an entrenched holdout when CDs first came out, as I wanted to be sure they didn’t go the way of the 8-track or the Betamax—but of course I eventually gave in. I still have all of that stuff in boxes somewhere in the basement. Now, of course, it’s all on my iPod. Talk about magic.

Last night we were on our way home from a softball tournament. My daughter’s team has been struggling this year, and they had just lost a heartbreaker in the championship game—and we had what looked to be a long, just-lost-a-heartbreaker-in-the-championship-game type of ride home. But after a couple of miles of silence she asked if I could help her to learn Jack Johnson’s “Angel” on the guitar, because she thought it would be a good song to play the next time the family all got together, maybe Thanksgiving. We spent the next two hours listening to songs on her iPod, talking about which ones would be easy or hard to learn and planning when we could find time to work on them. Maybe I’ll grow some scruffy facial hair, and we can play them together.

Jeff Huss
Jeff Huss, co-owner of Huss & Dalton Guitar Co., Inc., hails from North Dakota and moved to Virginia in the late eighties in pursuit of bluegrass music. Along with the music came the opportunity to build acoustic guitars and banjos. In 1995, he and business partner, Mark Dalton formed their business and have established world-wide recognition for building high-end, boutique style guitars and banjos.