Old world wisdom, new world insight – poems, poetry, philosophy, dreams, commentary, ideas

Ask, don’t ax, unless you play guitar…

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by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

I came across this one day when I needed an etymology for ax or axe. And it is a Texas story, after all.  You can smell the smoke and imagine the life in the forest with this tale.  I have no attribution because it is legend:

The legend of the musical “Axe”

The origin of the term “axe” as it applies to the guitar is not because rockers have swung their guitars to smash equipment on stage.  It is no accident, however, that many modern guitars have an axe-like shape.

The nickname ‘axe’ is attributed to a man,

whose full name is lost to history, but his compatriots knew him as Torvill. He was a freed slave who left Texas, and made his way to the mountains after the war of northern aggression.  He started his new life as a logger in Virginia.  He was, supposedly, one of the best blues men ever to strum a tune on his new fangled guitar.

The story goes that Torvill took to his playing guitar in the evenings around the logging camp fire. His guitar was a gift on his day of freedom.  It was supposedly passed down from the family of a Conquistador in Mexico.  One night, when he came back to the camp after work, the guitar finally succumbed to the seasons and had fallen apart.  The fretboard had popped off the body at the sound hole.

The neck could not be reattached.  So, Torvill saved the strings, because metal of any kind was precious in those days. He attached the four best strings on a the only thing that was handy, his two handed double-bitted axe.

Obviously, he could only amplify the sound of this newfangled instrument by plucking on them as hard as he could. Everyone sitting with him was able to appreciate the haunting and interesting new tunes dancing from this makeshift guitar.

Over 80 years later guitar makers experimented with solid body guitars.

Remember Torvil the next time you pick up your axe and pluck a tune.

Copyright © 1960-2015 Lawrence J. J. Leonard  All rights reserved.

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One thought on “Ask, don’t ax, unless you play guitar…

  1. Entertaining and informative. 🙂 All the years I’ve spent with musicians, I had no idea.


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