A Tale of Two Pickguards

I have many autographs from many musicians. But in truth, I’ve only wanted two autographs. One is from St. Louis Cardinals pitching legend Bob Gibson (I know he’s not a musician). The other is from my musical hero, Adrian Belew.

I have attained Adrian’s autograph more times than I care to count. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. They’ve just mounted up over the years. But there are a couple that really matter.

In my early days of internet exploration (around 1998), I befriended Rob Murphree, who ran Adrian’s web site. One day around 2000 (I think), Rob mentioned he was heading to Ade’s house for a day or two. I’d always wanted Ade’s signature on my favorite Fender Stratocaster. I took a shot and asked Rob to ask Adrian if he would sign a pickguard for me. Rob was happy to ask. So I bought a new pickguard and sent it to Rob in Alabama, who took it with him to Nashville.

Not long after I discovered his web page, Adrian held an interactive Q & A session with his fans. I asked him for advice on maintaining my enthusiasm for playing guitar. Ade gave me a thoughtful answer about challenging myself and picking up the instrument simply for the joy of it. “In other words,” he wrote, “just play, man. Play!”

It was great advice, and I mentioned it to Ade in a note I included with the pickguard. Within a couple of days after Rob’s visit, I received a package in the mail. There was my pickguard, autographed just so:

I was thrilled beyond words. I couldn’t wait to put it on my guitar. But there was a problem.

The pickguard was housed in a tight plastic wrapping for display on sales racks. I removed that before sending the pickguard off. However, I failed to remove the second thin plastic layer, which also protected the guard. Adrian signed his name on top of that plastic. It would take no effort whatsoever to rub that signature off while I played. There was no way I could use that pickguard on my guitar. So I decided to frame it.

In 2006, I caught Adrian’s performance in St. Louis. The show was held in Blueberry Hill’s famed Duck Room. Adrian was kind enough to meet his fans after the show. I was determined to get the autograph properly this time, so I took my guitar with me. I waited patiently in line. When the time came, I presented Ade with my guitar. “Oh, look! You’ve brought me a Stratocaster!” he exclaimed with a grin. (He had been transitioning to a custom Parker Fly during this time, but his main axe before that one was a Strat.) I sheepishly joked that I knew he’d always wanted one. He laughed and signed the pickguard right where I wanted, without even asking me.

I took a second and asked Adrian if he remembered signing a pickguard Rob had brought him a few years before. His face lit up again. “I DO remember that,” he said. “That was for you? Wow! Yeah, I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to remove that plastic layer, so I left it in place.” Well, that explained it. After signing my guitar, we posed for what remains my favorite picture of the two of us.

photo by Abbi Telander

About ten years later, I was forced to sell that guitar. I was so despondent over it, I forgot to remove the pickguard! I thought I might be able to buy the guitar back in a couple of months. But a year passed, and my favorite guitar was sold before I could get back to it.

The man who sold it, Mike, gave me a glimmer of hope. He said he had removed the pickguard Adrian signed, anticipating I might come back for it. That was the good news. The bad news was he’d misplaced it somewhere in his store! That was nearly a couple of years ago. He’s STILL looking for it.

I’ve seen Adrian live on several occasions since then. The last time he was in town, it FINALLY dawned on me to buy another pickguard to take to the gig, so Ade could sign it. I hung around at the back of the line, watching my hero sign his name at least five dozen times. When my turn finally came, we took a minute to chat, since we had come to know one another over the years, and he was one of the focal points of my book. Finally, I handed him the pickguard, reminding him of what he’d signed more than 15 years before. I asked if he wouldn’t mind repeating that particular autograph. To which I got this:

The contrast between the two signatures is stark, but understandable. The first signature was from a man at ease in the comfort of his own home. The second is that of a man who just finished a blistering two hour set, then spent another hour or so signing things. Regardless, I went home happy.

This time, I will do things right. I’ll have my new pickguard lacquered within an inch of its life before I put it to practical use. It’s the first step toward my next Adrian Belew-inspired guitar.

I’ve even found the perfect Stratocaster for it. But that’s another story.




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