Voyageur, a storied guitar made from legends

Yesterday's episode of CBC Radio's As it Happens celebrated Canada Day with an interview with Jowi Taylor, author of Six String Nation: 64 Pieces, 6 Strings, 1 Country, 1 Guitar. The book chronicles the creation of Voyageur, a remarkable guitar that was inspired by the near-separation of Canada as a result of a close referendum in Quebec. Taylor crisscrossed the country, collecting artefacts to build a guitar from, from the national (former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's canoe paddle) to the local (the handle from the oyster shucking knife of a champion Míkmaq shucker); from the wonderful (a piece of a spruce tree held sacred by the Haida) to the tragic (a piece of the Westfahl, Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children). It combines everything from a piece of a hockey-stick from the most famous hockey game ever played (Canada vs. USSR, 1972) to a piece of Newfoundland's floating X-ray clinic, established to treat the post WWII TB epidemic.

After the guitar was built, by master luthier George Rizsanyi, Taylor took to the road again, getting all manner of people to play it, from Canadian musical legends (Gordon Lightfoot on his birthday, in his home) to world-famous musicians touring the country, to hundreds of ordinary people, who were all able to touch, hold and play this remarkable instrument (it has a case that is every bit as storied, of course — part of it is sewn from the trousers of veteran hockey announcer Don Cherry!).

The net effect is of an instrument — an artefact — that is sacred and profane, precious and invaluable, common and unique. Marketers try to imbue their products with stories in order to create emotional ties with customers (think of Apple's Think Different campaign, or the mythology spun around Walt Disney), but this is the genuine article, a genuinely storied thing that is as much socially constructed as it is physically crafted.

I've asked the publisher for a review copy of Six String Nation (it comes out at the end of July) and if it's as good as it sounds, I'll have a review of it up as soon as I can.

Six String Nation: 64 Pieces, 6 Strings, 1 Country, 1 Guitar (Amazon)

Six String Nation (site)/Guitar Explorer

As it Happens show notes

MP3 Link