Author: Daniel, Bert

The Scar

I see it every time I pick up my vintage instrument. After nearly 100 years, this little mandolin has really been around. And it has this one little problem that I just can't abide. It bugs me. Here I own one of the best sounding instruments I've ever played but it really troubles me to look at it because of the scar. Don't get me wrong, it's a really beautiful mandolin. People admire the classic two point form of my Lyon and Healy style B. Most people are accustomed to seeing F5's. That's mostly what Bill Monroe and practically every Bluegrass mandolin player since him has played. A style mandolins show up pretty often too, especially if they have F holes. What you don't see a lot are round hole mandolins like mine. You see them more often at old time jams, but they're usually A style mandolins, not two point mandolins like my old Lyon & Healy.

Of the three mandolins I own, only one does not have an obvious scar. That would be my little Martin Backpacker mandolin, which set me back all of a hundred dollars brand new. It's a great little instrument and I've treated it with no special care. I grab it and take it along with me whenever I feel the need to have an instrument with me just in case. Maybe I can practice a few tunes while I'm waiting for a bus or for my kid to get finished with his or her own music lesson. I take this mandolin on self contained bike tours out in the boonies. Most of my peers who take an instrument on tour, pack nothing better than a harmonica. I sit around my campfire with a mandolin. And it sounds pretty reasonable.

Six years at campfires and school parking lots. Not a scratch on my little Martin Backpacker. But my F5 cannon, a wide necked Gibson? Not so lucky. I walked into the edge of a grand piano while at a jam one time and it has a little ding on the lower point that anyone can see if my picking arm is not obscuring it. But that's life. My mom put her fine china in the dishwasher. No matter how beautiful and treasured they are, everyday items are made to do their everyday job despite the risks. And instruments are made to be lived with and played a lot. That little ding on my Gibson doesn't really bother me a lot. I plan to keep the instrument forever and what I really value is the sound of the thing, not how it looks.

My Lyon and Healy sounds good too. It has a warm mellow old sound that is unlike the more biting F5 bluegrass instrument. It's more of an old time mandolin but I take it to bluegrass jams sometimes and it holds its own pretty well if I play it right. The neck is shorter than an F5 so it's easier to get around the fretboard. You can actually ring out all the four strings on Bill Monroe's famous chop cord without much stretching of your tired fingers.

But the scar. That's the only drawback. I have to look at it every time I pick it up. It galls me to see it and it wasn't even my fault. The scar was on it when I bought it three years ago. I noticed it of course at the time of purchase, but I bought it anyway because it's such a great mandolin. Every now and then I think about working on it. Scraping it. Bleaching it. But the scar is always there, despite anything I do. And I'm afraid to do anything at all for fear of damaging this wonderful sounding instrument.

The scar is pretty small. It measures about three quarters of an inch by one quarter inch. Yet it's one of the worst scars I can imagine because of what it stands for. I've seen this scar many times before on the sides of pool tables. It's the scar left by a pool player who forgot about the burning cigarette that they left hanging over the side of the table. I used to play pool a lot and I've seen smokers do this lots of times when they put their cigarette down to take a shot.

Wouldn't it be great if we could get every cigarette smoker in this country to quit? Of course the Social Security System would be devastated by so many more people living past 65 but who cares? Imagine the quality of life improvement that would result. Grandparents would get to know their grandkids. The air would be cleaner. And the average smoker would save a thousand dollars a year!

Maybe I'm too sensitive about the scar on my mandolin. Besides being a professional welcome column writer, I also have another job as a primary care physician. I see the devastation cigarettes cause almost every day. I try to get all of my patients to quit smoking. Even the old ones who have been smoking for many years. Statistically, those are the ones that derive the most benefit. They're older after all, and prone to all the illnesses that kill smokers. They think it's too late to derive any benefit from breaking the habit and they are so wrong. Sure, the lung cancer risk takes many years after quitting to approach that of a nonsmoker. But heart attack and stroke is the bigger risk and that extra risk vanishes very quickly after quitting.

I have to say, I don't see all that many cigarettes being smoked when I stroll around at a Bluegrass festival. But I'm sure there are some smokers out there and most of them want to quit. Quit! Lots of my patients have done it. Or if you have a friend who smokes, help them to quit. Two weeks without cheating is all it takes to get the monkey off your back for good, And your doctor can help you reach that two weeks of abstinence with patches or pills if you're having trouble on your own.

I'll always carry that scar on my mandolin. But if you or a friend smokes, don't let it scar you or them. Quit or help someone quit.

Posted:  9/17/2012

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