Nashville musicians have plenty of reminders of the 2010 flood. Thousands of instruments destroyed, hundreds of recording, rehearsal, and writing spaces trashed – several major tours were wiped out as they staged in Music City for the summer season. Among the many worthy efforts organized to raise relief money, at least one – Nash20 – has been making lemonade from that bitter fruit with online auctions of flood-damaged instruments from the likes of Peter Frampton, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Vince Gill, and others.
When Nash20 contacted Fender’s James Pennebaker to ask if the company might add a guitar to the auctions, they were hoping for maybe something with a commemorative finish. But what Fender delivered was a jaw-dropping addition to the legacy of the Fender one-off – a Lucite-bodied Esquire filled with actual Cumberland River floodwater.
The Fender team, led by Mike Bump of R&D, included Scott Buehl and Josh Hurst. At first, they considered the custom-finish route. But…
"I’m a huge country music fan," said Bump. "There’s so much history in Nashville, and I thought about all the damage and everything that was lost. So I sketched out a design. It had to be some kind of Tele-style – that’s just what you think of when you hear ‘Nashville.’ We did it as an Esquire because it was easier with one pickup – and I wouldn’t recommend routing it for a front pickup!"
Buehl worked out a channeling scheme that put the guitar’s hardware in solid Lucite, but carved plenty of hollow space for the water inside.
Cutting the chunk was a slow process; unlike a wooden body block, Lucite is prone to stress fractures, chipping, even melting when tool speeds climb too high. Each route was approached in increments, with coolant constantly fed to cutting surfaces.
"You don’t have second chances with this stuff," Bump said. "We were holding our breath each step – one slip and we’d be starting over."
The back is bonded to body, the fill hole located near the front strap button. While the build was coming together, Pennebaker oversaw the collection of flood water.
"I collected some from the Cumberland," Pennebaker recalled. "But the river was back to normal, and the water looked too clean for what we were after. But it turned out there was a farm pond along the river that had been dry for years until the flood. The water had been sitting there getting funkier since the river receded. So we sent for a bottle of it, too, and in the guitar is a mixture of the two. It’s the real deal – you’re looking at water from the flood."
"After the guitar has been sitting still for a little while, you can see sediment gathering in the low spots – tiny bits of junk from the flood," added Bump.
The business-end of the Cumberland Flood Esquire is vintage-reissue all the way, from the ’52 Reissue Esquire neck to the stock ’50s Custom Shop Tele pickup, the Greasebucket tone circuit, and stamped bridge. The flipped control plate is a nod to the typical Nashville setup.
The guitar is anchoring the final round of the Nash20 auctions, underway now. You can follow it at nash20.org. <strong>- Rusty Russell</strong>