Too often you hear stories about older people who lose their zest for life. This is not that story.
This is the story about how an old, beat-up 1962 Gibson SG that was restored by Gibson’s Repair and Restoration team came to make such a difference in the life of 75-year-old George Inman.
The story begins on Oct. 3, 1959. That was the day that Inman — then a young Navy corpsman — walked into Byerly Bros. Music in Peoria, Ill., and laid down the first of 12 payments for a Gibson SG Special finished in white. Inman was a weekend picker who had realized he couldn’t adequately support his family with his earnings from the Navy and had turned to music and a Harmony archtop to make some extra cash.
“I was starving to death with a wife and a house full of kids so I ended up playing music six or seven days a week, and sometimes twice on Sundays,” Inman said. “But that Harmony guitar was killing me.”
Over the next 15 months, while Inman was away fulfilling his naval obligations, his family made monthly $25 payments for the new SG until the owed balance was finally paid off in full on Jan. 10, 1961. The family packed up the new SG and sent it off to Inman.
A Travelin' SG Like No Other
Upon receiving the guitar, Inman and the SG began an odyssey not uncommon between a man and his guitar, although this bond was particularly special. Over the next 10 years, the SG accompanied Inman aboard every naval ship, and every assigned mission, including three different tours of Vietnam during the late 1960s.
On occasional sojourns, when Inman and his SG would return home for well-deserved down time with family and friends, the guitar also became a tension reliever and a means of escape. The SG wasn’t just a money-maker for his family; it became a loyal companion.
“For as long as I can remember, my father always had that guitar,” said Stewart Inman, 51, one of George’s seven offspring. “He was quite the hell-raiser in his day, and that SG just sort of fit his personality. He had a family he raised and took real good care of, but come Friday and Saturday nights, he’d be out playing his music with that SG. It brought out the rebel side of him. Everywhere he traveled, that guitar would go with him. He was all about that SG and his music.”
Loved It On Sunday, But Not On Monday!
As the SG made its way around the world — and to various annual family gatherings — it began to show the wear and tear of the road. Somewhere along its journey, too, its pristine white finish gave way to a bright, metallic green sparkle paint job that was applied under rather capricious circumstances.
“Oh God, we were living out in California and this buddy of mine painted Cadillacs for a living,” George reminisced. “So one drunken Sunday we basically went out to his shop and gave it a new paint job. We loved it on Sunday, but we didn’t like it so much come Monday morning.”
Nonetheless, the guitar remained green. George’s playing days, however, were slowing down to a trickle, partly because the guitar also suffered a broken headstock at some point. The SG was eventually repaired by a luthier in Vermont in the early 1990s, “but it just never played the same,” Stewart said.
“After that, the guitar was just sitting around the house and it ended up in its case in a closet with a few strings on it,” he said. “Eventually, it ended up underneath my dad’s bed and it stayed there until we decided to get it restored.”
Longtime family friend Marty McGuire, who’d also learned to play guitar on an SG, was visiting the Inmans during the summer of 2007 when he inquired about the guitar.
“George was sitting there picking some off-brand ES-335 look-a-like, and his chops were as sharp as I recall them ever being, but his enthusiasm and zeal were missing,” McGuire said. “His true passion for playing seemed to be dead and buried. He just seemed lost, distant and disinterested. Like his glory days had left him behind.
“I asked him, ‘Why don’t you play your SG anymore? Whatever happened to it?’, and he told me about the broken headstock and how it just didn’t play the same anymore,” McGuire said. “I told him that I’d done some woodworking before and that I would take a crack at fixing it for him if he wanted me to.”
The Restoration Process Begins
With some reluctance and even more prodding, George finally gave in and let McGuire take the guitar back home with him to North Carolina, where he would soon realize that the job of restoring such a valued instrument would probably be better left to pros. That’s when he contacted Todd Money, manager at Gibson’s Repair and Restoration department, who explained the processes and time involved in restoring an instrument in the condition of George’s prized SG.
“This was a very difficult project to do,” Money said. “Any time there’s been any type of amateur finishing work done, it’s usually a big problem. This SG had bondo on it, the original contours of the guitar had been sanded down at some point and had to be reconfigured by hand to look correct again. It really created some problems for us.”
Fortunately, they weren’t problems that couldn’t be overcome. After all, this was basically the same team that had restored the historic 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin belonging to legendary bluegrass picker Bill Monroe — an instrument that had been smashed to smithereens with a fireplace poker by an irate woman, and which now hangs in the permanent collection of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. Money knew the shop faced an uphill battle with George’s SG, but not an insurmountable one.
“This guitar needed a little bit of everything, so it was going to take a little bit of time to do it all,” Money said.
With the blessing of McGuire and George’s son Stewart — and without telling George — Money and his team began the laborious process of restoring the SG. Repair and Restoration's Dave Simmonds was assigned as lead tech for the project. Everything was eventually repaired and restored to its original condition, including one of the pickups that needed to be rewound, the body and jack plate that needed to be reconfigured, the once-repaired cracked headstock and, of course, its original alpine white finish. It took many long hours and a little more than one year to finish the job, but time and money were no object to McGuire and Stewart. Their only concern was restoring George’s fire and passion for something that had once meant so much to him.
An SG Comes Home
When the SG was completed in August 2008, it was sent to Stewart’s house in Lacon, Ill., in part because McGuire was busy serving his country in Iraq. Despite his involvement and determination to see the beloved instrument restored to its original glory, McGuire could not be present to see the look on his dear friend’s face when he first opened the case.
And while the Inmans would surely miss their longtime friend, it certainly didn’t deter the anticipation felt by the entire family upon the guitar’s arrival.
“It arrived and I opened it up with my wife, and I was just shocked,” Stewart said. “I almost cried. I was itching to pick it up and play it … I was very tempted to plug it into my amp, but I didn’t do it. I wanted my dad to be the first one to touch it.”
A few hours later, Stewart walked into his father’s house with a brand new, black Gibson case containing the restored SG. George assumed his son had purchased a new Gibson — that is, until he opened up the case and saw his beautifully restored SG looking as good as it did the day it first left Byerly Bros. Music store some 47 years earlier.
“I almost cried,” George said. “When I opened the case and saw it sitting there in that white fleece lining, I just couldn’t believe it. It was like meeting an old friend again. It sounded just like it did when it was brand new.”
George didn’t waste any time either. He dusted off an old amplifier and plugged in the SG and turned it up.
“That guitar was his salvation, and you guys gave it back to him,” Stewart said of the Repair and Restoration team. “Opening up that case brought back so many memories for him that could never be replaced with anything else. We could never pay enough for what that meant to my dad. I simply cannot put into words what the restoration of this guitar has meant to my family.”
For Gibson’s Repair and Restoration team, stories like these are gratifying for everyone involved in the numerous restoration projects they take care of every year.
“That’s probably the biggest part of our motivation,” Money said. “Knowing how someone is going to react, and what they’re going to think, when we’re done with a guitar and they open up that case for the first time is really priceless. It gives a great sense of fulfillment in one’s work.”