Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Meet The Man Who Takes Care Of Willie Nelson's Beloved Guitar

David Brown/Texas Standard
Mark Erlewine in his workshop.

From Texas Standard:

A handful of musical instruments are so closely associated with certain artists that the instruments themselves are known by their first names.

Maybe you've heard of Lucille, B.B. King’s favorite guitar, or Eric Clapton's Blackie, the famous Stratocaster you see photos from the 1970s.

But in the rarefied world of musical instruments known by their first names, none are quite as elite or historically significant as that beat up old warhorse Trigger. It’s an acoustic guitar that's as much a part of the iconography of Willie Nelson as his braids or bandanna –
an instrument so cherished by its owner and considered so irreplaceable that it travels with its very own 24/7 bodyguard.


A few days before Christmas, I got a call that Nelson would be spending a little time in Hawaii, a recharge of sorts before the next tour. Trigger wouldn't be traveling with him, instead he would be returning to Texas for some repair work. Would I like to come and see? Would I ever.

In a quiet, older neighborhood in the Texas capitol city, tucked behind fences draped with hydrangeas, I walk up to what looks like a backyard studio – an unassuming place, given all the history here. In this cluttered but immaculate workshop, in a dark green smock, Mark Erlewine hovers over his workbench.

He’s surrounded by mallets and electric screwdrivers, bottles of solvent and jars of q-tips. His patients, priceless electric Gibsons and Fenders and more exotic six- and four-stringed creatures hang along the wall, waiting for Erlewine's undivided attention.

On this day, a familiar old friend is back on the table – Trigger, an iconic Martin N-20 named for Roy Rogers’ horse.

"I have been fortunate to work on that guitar and to witness the growth of the second sound hole and numerous signatures come and be worn and be worn off," Erlewine says.

Trigger is tattooed with signatures of Nelson's famous friends and it bears the battle scars of nearly 50 years on the road. Besides the usual sound hole, there's a gaping crater worn right through the top of the guitar, as if someone slung a hammer into it. The Brazilian rosewood top is worn through by Nelson's playing.

"When there's this much hoodoo in a guitar, this much love in the playing of it, you have to be in awe," Erlewine says.

See more photos and read the rest of the story at Texas Standard.

Related Content