Guitar Blog – My Gibson Hummingbird is broken

I have broken my Gibson Hummingbird. It is a massive, massive tragedy

By tutor Henry Outhwaite, 26th September 2014

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It has taken me days to recover from the initial shock. And it wasn’t like it was even my fault. I was sitting, teaching a guitar lesson, as I do every day, when I decided to pick up my Hummingbird to play along with a student. This is unusual because my teaching workhorse of choice is inevitably my Guild. I picked up the Gibson, went to strum along and saw, with abject horror, the massive crack in the base of the headstock. “Sh*t!”, I rather unprofessionally said to the eleven-year-old girl I was teaching at the time, rather more professionally managing to hold back my tears.

I couldn’t concentrate on the rest of the lesson. Thoughts raced through my mind. Is it terminal? Can it be repaired? Will it ever play the same again? But mostly the thought was ‘How did this happen?’.

It doesn’t take that much to break off a headstock. Several of my students have dropped guitars and snapped necks and headstocks. Canadian musician Dave Carol famously lost his headstock to inept baggage handlers at United Airlines. Dave tried to get compensation from United and was brushed aside so wrote and recorded a song called ‘United Break Guitars’. After being watched on Youtube by tens of millions of people, United offered him belated and very apologetic compensation. You can view the video here:

As soon as the lesson was over and I had chased the student out of the door, I was on the phone to a guitar maker. The luthier answered the phone rather distractedly as he was out-and-about  and busy.

“I’m afraid I’m in Tesco at the moment, can you call me later?”.

“I have broken the head off my Hummingbird”

“Ah, OK, let me just find somewhere quieter to talk to you”

{. . . .}

“Ok, first things first. It’s all going to be OK. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed. You need to gather up any splinters you can find and bring it to me.”

There must be some sort of counselling course for luthiers specially designed to help them soothe people who have just broken their Gibson Hummingbird. This guy probably got a merit on the course: he was great. He calmed me, assured me it wasn’t my fault, that it is a regular occurrence with Hummingbirds due to their very thin headstocks. I wouldn’t even know it had happened by the time he had finished with it. We arranged to meet and hand over the guitar and after much gratitude from me, in which I think I may have accidentally called him ‘doctor’, I hung up and managed to carry on with my life.

This still left the question of how it happened hanging in the air though. And I’m not sure what the answer is. It might have been me: a little knock could have weakened it. Who knows? But at the moment I’m much more comfortable blaming my children. They must have been playing in my studio and, after knocking it over, stood it back up again and tiptoed off. This seems likely.

Or it may have been the Russians. The Russians or the Chinese, or Al-Qaeda. Or possibly a combination of all of them. In revenge against humanity.

I’ll never know.


Guitar blog by BGL tutor Henry Outhwaite, 26th September 2014