amed singer and songwriter Willie Nelson and his trusty guitar Trigger have been entertaining crowds together since 1969. Nelson, a primary contributor to the Outlaw Country subgenre, has enjoyed a long and successful career. A Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee, and the recipient of the first Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, Nelson has also gained notoriety as an animal rights activist and entrepreneur. Trigger, a Martin N-20 classical guitar, was purchased sight-unseen from Nashville guitarist and repairman Shot Jackson. Together musician and instrument have worked to create the unique style and sound of Willie Nelson that we all know and love.
Born in Abbot, Texas in 1933, Willie Nelson and his sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents. Having musical backgrounds of their own, Nelson’s grandparents strongly encouraged both Willie and Bobbie to play, using hymns from church as inspiration. After receiving his first guitar at the age of six, it was clear that music was going to be a lifelong hobby for the young musician.
But it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that Nelson began to fine tune and develop his own unique sound. Following a tragic housefire in which the Nelsons nearly lost everything, Willie made the pivotal decision to relocate from Ridgetop, Tennessee to Austin, Texas. Relieved to be displaced from the traditional Nashville sound, Willie was able to develop the subgenre of Outlaw Country with the likes of music legends Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard.
Trigger was manufactured in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, but its parts were gathered from around the world. It’s Sitka spruce top came from the Pacific Northwest while the back and sides were made out of Brazilian rosewood. Ebony from Africa was used for the fretboard and bridge while the mahogany of the neck came from the Amazon basin. Even the brass pegs came from an international source, Germany.
Guitar and musician came together in 1969 when Nelson’s Baldwin was unexpectedly destroyed following a gig at the John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, Texas. After a drunk stepped on the guitar laying in its case, Nelson had the guitar delivered to Shot Jackson in Nashville, Tennessee for repair. Jackson notified him that the guitar was beyond repair and suggested the Martin N-20 at a price of $750. How did Willie respond? He said, “I had just bought a roping horse for seven hundred and fifty dollars…So I said, ‘That’s pretty cool.’” And then he bought it without even looking at it.
The rest is all history. Together Nelson and his guitar saw the beginnings of Outlaw Country. He played it at the very first Farm Aid, and even for President Jimmy Carter. They have shared stages with Ray Charles and Bob Dylan and after decades of shows, tours, and recording sessions together, the two are still making music together.
No other guitar has endured as much use as Trigger, but the beloved guitar is so important to Willie that the guitar receives routine semiannual checkups with guitar repairman Mark Erlewine. Despite the guitar’s notable wear and tear, including the second hole created by the impact of Willie’s hand against the guitar, Willie remains loyal to his treasured guitar and refuses to use any other instrument. He expects the guitar to last as long as him and told the Rolling stone that "We're both pretty old, got a few scars here and there, but we still manage to make a sound every now and then."
A note from Ashcraft Studios:
Inspired by the musical stylings of Django Reinhardt, Willie instantly fell in love with the sound of Trigger’s nylon strings. “All the guitar players knew who Django was. I liked the sound of his guitar but couldn’t get it on whatever I was playing” said Willie. But when he heard Trigger, he knew he found the sound he was looking for.
Ashcraft Studios prides itself on it’s wide selection of instruments for different sounds because they know how important it is to get the right sound. The studio might not have trigger itself, but there are nylon string options for you to try out. If you’re looking for a specific sound, Ashcraft Studios can help. Call and book a session today to find your right sound.
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