History, The Expanded notes 2-Eugene’s Guitar

Eugene Peck

Eugene Peck

I picked up a new old Guitar yesterday. A 1905 martin 0-21 which was willed to me by it’s previous owner, Glen Elfman. Glen left me this message about the history of the guitar.

In the early 1900’s, my grandmother, Rosa Angelina Peck, purchased a small 1905 Martin Style 0-21 parlor guitar, eventually giving it to her adoptive son, Eugene Edward Peck sometime in the early 1930’s.

Notice the missing fret at the neck/body joint.  As the story goes, superstitious musicians would sometimes remove the 13th fret.  While apparently thought to be lucky, it seriously complicated scales in the higher register.
Eugene was caught up in the Hawaiian music craze of the 1930’s that followed the World’s Fair in New York playing traditional “slack key” Hawaiian pieces.  This was, in part, a motivation for his enlistment in the navy in 1937 which ultimately cost him his life at Pearl Harbor.  Stationed aboard the USS Nevada, the luck of the thirteenth fret failed him and he was killed on December 7, 1941.

Recovered from the USS Nevada by friends, the guitar was returned with his personal effects to my grandparents, Arthur Chapin & Rosa Angelina Peck.
Given to me by my aunt Lillian in 1959, it was restored to playable condition in 1963 including replacement of the thirteenth fret.
It’s a good thing that I’m not superstitious…..knock on wood!
The top is German Spruce, the back and sides are Brazilian Rosewood, the neck is Cedar & the bridge, fingerboard & bridge pins are Madagascan Ebony .  Originally braced for gut strings, additional bracing was added to support extra light gauge steel strings.  All other components are original except the later style Martin bridge.  The original bridge was missing.

The replacement thirteenth bar fret and the new bridge were salvaged from an irreparable Martin guitar of later vintage that had been run over by a car.  Yet another sad case of a well meaning wife and an errant Studebaker.

The guitar was restored by luthier Milt Owen at his Hollywood, California shop in 1963 and received a lacquer finish at the legendary “Bernardo’s Guitar Shop” in Los Angeles, California the same year.
I was introduced to Milt by singer Hoyt Axton when I was 17.  Milt was in his late 70’s and we never discussed the cost of the restoration when he started the work.  Knowing the guitar’s history, Milt devised a unique method of payment for his services:
“Promise me you’ll take good care of it.”

Carved by hand in one of the tuning machine pegs and on the heel cap are Gene’s initials, which were preserved during the restoration.

Written in pencil on the inside of the spruce top near the soundhole are the original craftsman’s initials, the guitar’s serial number and the date the guitar was completed.
Originally designed for gut strings, the guitar is now strung with John Pearse extra light 80/20 bronze wound steel strings.

It was the only guitar that I had until 1974 and I played it daily.  Since then I’ve acquired others but none as sweet and I still play it often.
It has lived through Pearl Harbor, benign neglect, a plunge down the front steps of my boyhood Pasadena, California home, two San Francisco bay area burglaries & forty five years with me – a survivor by any definition.
Continuing to do what she does best, the guitar has been played in concerts at the Pistol River Friendship Hall by musicians & friends including Mike Seeger, James Keelaghan, Spencer Bohren & Les Stansell.
The Martin turned 100 years old on July 8, 2005.

In the months following Pearl Harbor and half a world removed, Kiri Ito, a Canadian woman of Japanese descent, contemplated the fate of her cherished piano and awaited the inevitable bus ride that would take her to a wartime internment camp.
Destined to be auctioned with other relics that had been her life, she chose instead to entrust the piano to the mercies of the cold waters off Vancouver Island.  With that private act of love and desperation, Kiri & Eugene would unknowingly become part of each other’s stories.
Canadian friend and songwriter, James Keelaghan (right) paid tribute to her defiance with “Kiri’s Piano” (see lyrics below), written in 1993 and performed at the Pistol River Friendship Hall accompanied by the old Martin.
Thanks Keelo.  I always knew it survived for a reason.

KIRI’S PIANO by James Keelaghan
Of all of Kiri Ito’s joys, the thing she loved the best
Was to play her prized piano when the sun had gone to rest.
I used to hear the notes drift down along the silent water
As Kiri played the notes and scales for her dear sons and daughters.

Now me I played piano though not as good as Kiri,
She went in for that long-haired stuff but my, she played it pretty.
The old piano had a tone would set my heart to aching
It always sounded sweetest though when it was Kiri playing.

In December when the seventh fleet was turned to smoke and ashes
The order came to confiscate their fishing boats and caches.
And Kiri’s husband forced to go and work in labour camps
And Kiri left alone to fend and hold the fort as best she can.

But the music did not drift as often from up the cove at Kiri’s house
And when it did it sounded haunted, played with worry, played with doubt.
For Kiri knew that soon she too would be compelled to leave
And the old upright would stay behind and Kiri she would grieve.

I loaded Kiri on the bus with stoic internees.
The crime that they were guilty of was that they were not like me
And if I was ashamed I didn’t know it at the time,
They were flotsam on the wave of war, they were no friends of mine.

I went up to Kiri’s house to tag all their belongings
And set them out for auctioneers who’d claim them in the morning.
One piece that I thought I’d keep and hold back for myself
Was that haunting ivory upright that Kiri played so well.

But Kiri had not left it there for me to take as plunder,
She’d rolled it down onto the dock and on into the harbor.
The old upright in strangers’ hands was a thought she couldn’t bear
So she consigned it to the sea to settle the affair.

So many years have come and gone since Kiri’s relocation.
I look back now upon that time with shame and resignation.
For Kiri knew what I did not that if we must be free
Then sometimes we must sacrifice to gain our dignity.

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