By Jeremy Garrett | From the January-February 2022 issue of Strings magazine
My dad’s a bluegrass musician who grew up in Stockton, California. The way he got into music was that he had this little dog when he was 12 or 13 years old. And the dog got real sick. And his parents, my grandparents, knew that the dog had to be put to sleep.
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I don’t know if they really knew how to handle a situation like that the right way, but their way of doing it was to buy a guitar for my dad while he was off at school, and when he got home, he would have the new guitar and the dog would be gone.
So that’s what they did.
It made a real impact on him, obviously. It hurt him, I think. It sounds like it was pretty traumatizing to him, because he loved that dog. So he just focused on playing that guitar, as a way of dealing with his feelings. He played that guitar every day. He listened to Flatt and Scruggs’ early music and other bluegrass guys, and he became known as the music guy on the block, just playing that guitar all the time.
Well, down the street there was an elderly couple, and the lady played the fiddle. She had a fiddle that was made in 1914. She played in the symphony there, locally. She ended up getting cancer and passing away. The husband just kept that violin of hers there in the house, and the way the story was told to me, he sort of got too choked up by that fiddle of hers always being right there every time he turned around. So one day he walked down the street with that violin in his hand, and he handed it to my dad and said, “Here you go. You’ll know what to do with this.”
And so, my dad kept it, but he never learned to play it. He stuck with the guitar. And when I was born, and got a little older and sort of interested in playing something, he started trying to get me into the fiddle. That one was too big for me, of course, but I took some early classical lessons, and that violin just sat there in the corner waiting for me until I was big enough to play it, maybe when I was 13 or so.
And that’s the fiddle I’ve been playing all of my life.
It’s a great instrument. It’s a super-fine instrument. It was made by a man named Herman Hagberg, who was a Swedish fiddle maker as I understand it. He was building fiddles in Minnesota and moved to California. He built this violin in Berkeley. He had a thing where he hollowed out the braces inside the fiddle, and he patented that. So there’s no other quite like it. It’s a super-loud fiddle. The tone is just epic. And I’m extraordinarily lucky to have it. It’s been my best friend all my life. I would never sell it for any reason.
I’ve had a couple of catastrophes with it, but it’s hanging in there. I keep thinking I might have to retire it, as sometimes happens with these older fiddles, but it’s so comfortable in my hand it’s like my voice. It’s just a part of me.
Jeremy Garrett is fiddler for the Infamous Stringdusters.