Inside Willie Nelson's Relationship With His Beloved Guitar, Trigger

Willie Nelson probably didn't see it as a good thing at the time. It was 1969 and a drunk stepped on his Baldwin guitar, crushing the neck, according to "Guitar: The World's Most Seductive Instrument." He needed a new guitar and fast. By chance, he would end up with an acoustic Martin made of rosewood "with the richest, most soulful tone" he'd "ever heard," he recalled in "It's a Long Story: My Life." "I named my guitar Trigger, thinking of the closeness between Roy Rogers and his beloved horse."

Like the iconic duo of the actor and singer Roy Rogers and his blond stallion Trigger, Nelson and his guitar — "my horse" — have been inseparable, having been together through thousands of shows and recording sessions. The guitar survived a fire that turned Nelson's Nashville home to cinders, helped the iconic country singer find his unique voice, and has been present for masterful recording sessions with the likes of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, per Texas Monthly.

Shot Jackson was key

There would be no Trigger if not for a steel guitar and dobro player named Harold Jackson, better known as Shot Jackson. Besides performing with such classic country musicians as Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells, he also crafted his own instruments and repaired them as well. Willie Nelson sent his broken Baldwin to Jackson to see what could be done for it. As it turned out, it was beyond repair. Jackson mentioned that he'd recently gotten a Martin N 20 nylon-stringed guitar he might be interested in. "Is it any good?" Nelson asked (via Texas Monthly). "Well, Martins are known for good guitars," Jackson told him.

Nelson bought the guitar sight unseen for $750, the equivalent of more than $6,000 today. It turned out to be a worthwhile investment. "I had my man Shot Jackson, a guitar genius in Nashville, customize the Martin by integrating the guts and the pickup from the Baldwin," Nelson recalled in "It's a Long Story." "It worked. I had the sound I'd been looking for. I heard it as a human sound, a sound close to my own voice."

Old and beat up

Less than a year after Willie Nelson found the perfect guitar, his home outside of Nashville caught fire. "By the time I got there, it was burning real good," he told People in 1980. He rushed inside and recovered "a pound of Colombian grass." He also saved Trigger. Over the years, the guitar has collected its fair share of scars, from a hole near the bridge from picking the strings, a plethora of signatures by other famous musicians, and thinning frets, among other issues, according to Texas Monthly.

While it was Shot Jackson who reconfigured Trigger for Nelson's needs, another Nashville instrument maker and repairer would be responsible for keeping Trigger alive. Mark Erlewine has continued to shore up Trigger by adding braces and lacquer, replacing tuning pegs, and doing whatever else he can to keep the guitar in shape. After more than 50 years of life with Nelson, it continues to be his faithful companion. "Trigger's like me," Nelson told Texas Monthly. "Old and beat-up." That may be true but they both continue to make beautiful music.