A Lifetime Friendship: The True Cost of Hero Worship

Back in the late 60’s there was a very famous ad campaign by The Guild Guitar Company: Eric Clapton sitting on a high stool, head back, eyes closed, wearing a fringed jacket, and playing a gorgeous blonde Guild F-50. I was smitten; bitten; hook, line & sinker.


It was everything Guild could possibly want from an advertisement: It torpedoed my will-power, sunk my self control, and wrested my wallet into submission.

The owner of the store I worked in found me a factory second F-50R (Indian rosewood) at the Guild plant in Westerly, Rhode Island, so my buddy Michael Savitt & I took a ‘Rhode’ trip to ‘okay’ the guitar. For $375.00 it was basically a pre-approved no-brainer excuse to take a drive!

I was deeply in love with that big, beautiful thing, but our relationship was headed towards trouble; destined for disaster. I was about to learn that all-important life-lesson: Size Matters.

I don’t recall the first signs of discomfort in my fretting hand, but the breaking point is indelibly etched: I was playing at The Mother Earth Cafe in Huntington, NY, and vividly remember the moment, playing a Neil Young song in dropped D tuning, when I went to barre 3rd to 5th fret on the lower 3 strings, and suddenly something felt like it snapped in the palm of my hand….


It was tendonitis. An orthopedist I found gave me a cortisone shot directly in the palm. It fixed me right up, and it hasn’t hurt me since, thankfully.

At the time, however, it was clear that something needed to change. I sensed that the Guild neck was just too small, plus I hadn’t noticed the other obvious problem of the guitar body being way too big for little me! So while my fretting hand healed I practiced playing lap-style Dobro, which I’d taken up recently.

One day while playing Dobro in the local Sam Ash, I looked up to see a man who’d been watching me for a while. He nodded his approval and smiled, asking if I gave lessons. I said yes, and introduced myself. He said he was a guitar builder & repairman. I had no clue at that moment just how important that serendipitous meeting would be. I asked if he would consider making a larger neck for my Guild in trade for lessons, and he readily agreed!

It was John Monteleone, and over the next couple of months he made an ‘Orthopedic’ neck for my Guild F-50. ‘ V’ shaped and wide, with banjo tuners for quick tuning & string changes, the extra girth & width was much more comfortable in my hand. That reality would forever inform all future guitar acquisitions, but more than that: I had met someone whose sense of humor, musicality, craftsmanship, aesthetic sensibility and integrity was inspiring.


Our friendship is now almost a half century old, and going strong.

John and me in front of his shop. Photo by Tom Blackburn

John and me in front of his shop. Photo by Tom Blackburn

Clearly I have Eric Clapton to thank for that introduction. If you run into him please send my warmest regards:-)


Howard Emerson