After Surviving A Nashville Flood, Raul Malo's Gibson Guitar Gets A New Lease On Life The Mavericks frontman thought his Gibson was gone for good after it was submerged in the 2010 flood. But thanks to a local luthier, the beloved guitar has been restored, ready for more rock 'n' roll.
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After Surviving A Nashville Flood, Raul Malo's Gibson Guitar Gets A New Lease On Life

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After Surviving A Nashville Flood, Raul Malo's Gibson Guitar Gets A New Lease On Life

After Surviving A Nashville Flood, Raul Malo's Gibson Guitar Gets A New Lease On Life

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  • Transcript


THE MAVERICKS: One, two, three, four.


Hey, I get to play country DJ here.


THE MAVERICKS: Come on, everybody.

GONYEA: You're listening to Raul Malo with his group The Mavericks playing London's Royal Albert Hall in 1998. In his hands, a big Gibson L-5 studio guitar. It's shiny white with a gold Bigsby tremolo and a black-and-white-speckled pickguard. Now, flash forward to the spring of 2010. That's when heavy rains triggered massive floods in Tennessee and neighboring states. In Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry was swamped, as were other landmarks. Then there was the Soundcheck warehouse near the Cumberland River, long considered safe keeping for hundreds of musical instruments. It too was flooded, most of its contents underwater and all but destroyed, including Raul Malo's prized Gibson. But now a happy ending. He recently posted a photo of his treasured guitar lovingly repaired by Nashville master instrument builder Joe Glaser. Raul Malo joins us from the studios of WPLN in Nashville. Welcome.

RAUL MALO: Hi. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GONYEA: And also with him is the true hero of this piece, Joe Glaser. Hi, Joe.

JOE GLASER: Glad to be here.

GONYEA: So, Raul, let me start with you. What was special about this guitar that you absolutely had to have it repaired?

MALO: Well, I think like any instrument, you know, whenever they come into your life, you know, sometimes you end up using them a lot. For whatever reason, you know, you bond with them or they inspire a song or there's just something about them. And this one, it looked fantastic on stage and it sounded great. So it - there was just something about it. I just loved playing it. And it always inspired a melody, just inspired you to play.

GONYEA: So, Joe, why don't you tell us what happened to the guitar, what kind of shape it was in when it was brought to you.

GLASER: Well, these instruments set in a storage area submerged for three days probably. The heat and cooling was off in the Soundcheck building where all the storage for all these bands was. And, you know, we opened the cases, took them out and took them apart. And it was a extremely discouraging time. You know, it smelled bad. This was the river. This was diesel and sewage. And you can just imagine. When we took them apart and tried to triage, I ended up with about 150 of them back at my shop. And a number of them were Raul's. The white L-5 would have been a basket case except Raul's a sentimental and soulful character. He came over and said, pal, can't we do anything about the white L-5?


GONYEA: Raul, we're going to play a little music here, one of your recordings from an album called "Today," which is a great Cuban-themed record that you've put out some years ago. And it features the guitar. Let's play it, and I want to hear you talk about it.


MALO: Clearly, this is pre-flood sounds, you know (laughter). So you can hear how beautiful - that beautiful tone, that unmistakable Gibson jumbo body tone, you know. There's not many guitars that sound like that. And I dare say it's even better now.

GONYEA: So how is that? How was that possible?

MALO: Well, I have a theory. I mean, I think it really shows that there is a life to these instruments. They are changing. They are evolving. As instruments get older, they sound different. And when they've been through something as traumatic as this, and I know this because every guitar that's come back to me from the flood has a newfound life, has a newfound vigor to it.

GONYEA: Joe, what's your take on that?

GLASER: Well, you know, you said, how can it be good as new? And actually, instruments get better the moment they're not new. And they - this has been true of violins. It's true...

MALO: Pianos, drums, everything.

GLASER: And partly it's because they get played in. As far as the water goes, I was joking around with one of you guys about the fact that we have a bath tub at my shop, and we're thinking about filling it with water and peeing in it and putting some motor oil in and seeing. But everybody - high-level studio guys and artists - when they got their instruments back, which they knew very well and recorded with, said, man, something's changed. And this guitar is the best it's ever been. I saw this so many times from so many disparate people that I just believe that things happen to wood and glue and stuff loosens up. And in the same way that Stradivari violins are considered to maybe be affected by - in sound - by the fact that the wood was floated down from the mills. The river processing - particularly Nashville river processing, by the way - is very good for sound.

MALO: I know. We were joking, if I'd have known this, I'd have thrown my stuff in the Cumberland years ago, you know.


GONYEA: So we want to hear the guitar. I understand it's packed up and buried in a tour bus.

GLASER: That's right. She's back on the workforce, man, you know (laughter).

GONYEA: But your road crew sent us some audio, so let's give a listen to it.


MALO: I love how the color has faded. And I love how the paint has chipped away. And like the old Confucius saying, you know, a better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. And she's certainly a diamond with a flaw, several of them, but a diamond no less.

GONYEA: Raul Malo and Joe Glaser from the studios of WPLN in Nashville. Thanks very much, guys.

MALO: Thank you.

GLASER: Thank you. My pleasure.


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