Every once in a while, somebody asks me how much a guitar costs, and I always think of my $30 guitar. Obviously this isn’t the usual price for a guitar. And while it’s not all that valuable as far as money is concerned, to me, it’s much more precious.
In 2008, I was playing in my former band, Hambre de Rumba. After seeing the documentary Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders, in which Ry Cooder travels to Cuba to record an album with some veteran Cuban musicians, my band mates and I, along with a few other friends, decided to travel to Havana to discover some secrets of an awesome type of music called Son Cubano.
When everything was almost ready for the trip, someone said, “Are we going to bring our instruments?”
“Of course!” responded the rest of the group.
And that was how my friend, Vicente (AKA “Gypsy”), and I decided to buy cheap guitars before leaving Spain. Our usual instruments are too expensive to risk ruining them on a leisure trip like this. We had no idea how great a choice this would turn out to be.
Our “Cuban guitars” do not have varnish, so we took advantage of that fact and asked the people we met to sign the wood. Since that trip, there have been many more signatures, and not only in Cuba. I like to say that it is a wandering guitar, because while I use my good guitar for rehearsals and shows, this is the one I take to private parties with friends.
This artifact knows several stories. It knows Rafael’s story, a man from Havana who worked as a civil servant during the day, and at night came with his guitar to the well-known boardwalk, Malecon, to play and sing with us all night long while we all drank “planchao,” a favorite rum of the locals. Or the story of a bunch of Cubans who knew how to play flamenco, the music of our homeland, better than us Spaniards! We met them at Malecon and we all played together.
My guitar also knows the story of the time we played at El Callejón de Hamel in Central Havana, an emblematic alley where local people met once or twice a week to play Rumba. And there are stories that happened years after, like in 2017 when six of my friends and I bicycled part of St. James trail with guitars, a flamenco box, and several other instruments packed onto our bikes. This weeklong trip was so much fun and my guitar still remembers how we played in all the hostels where we stopped, and met with people around the world who sang, danced, and played ukelele with us. There are many more stories, even one with a gypsy baptism.
From all these adventures, my favorite artifact has signatures from all over Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Australia, … and of course Cuba. I get a kick out of the autograph of my friend from Cameroon. I told him to write on the guitar something in his language and he wrote “Hakuna matata.” I just expected something more original.
Maybe this guitar will never play in a big theater or in a great festival. Perhaps it doesn’t sound very good and maybe it has old strings, but I can tell you that I have enjoyed carrying my 30 dollar guitar with me like an old friend. And if someday you and I should meet and this friend of mine is there, please search for a space and sign your name.