Monday, August 20, 2012

Legionnaire Debuts Hand-Crafted Guitar

Jim George with hand-crafted guitar.
By Bob Stronach

UTICA -- The sound of an electric guitar pierced Utica Post 229 at a recent karaoke night. It wasn't a recording. Vice Commander Jim George was debuting a guitar he had spent over a year hand-crafting. He performed a number of rock and soft rock songs as people sang along.

Jim was pleased with the sound: "It screams when it's turned on."

He has owned a number of guitars, and often found himself dissatisfied with something about each one. So he decided to make his own.

“This is my first ‘real’ one (making from scratch). I used to buy older ones or busted-up ones and ‘Frankenstein’ them. That’s pretty much how I got to learn to put them together. Plus, I used to tinker with mine all the time. I also used to fix them for friends, depending on what the problem was.”

Jim shows guitar to vets Roy Jensen and Cal Anacher.
He used maple, “because out of every guitar that I've owned, the maple ones always had a warmer sound and more sustain to them. I think it just gives a much fuller sound. That's pretty much the standard with the high-end guitars as well.”

He has one finishing touch left to do: scripting the name of its maker on the head stock. But it won't be his given name, Henry James George II. Instead it will be part of his Mohawk name. It's Okwa:ho.

 “That’s one way to say ‘wolf’,” Jim noted. He’s named after his grandfather, who was a Mohawk chief and whose name roughly translates as Lone Wolf.

“My full name is Okwa:ho Owella (prounouned o-GWA-who o-gweela). Mine roughly means younger or junior wolf.”

When Jim was growing up, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, who lived at Akwesasne (Saint Regis) reservation (which straddles the New York-Canadian border) before moving to Utica.

Guitar sports image of crow.
As a chief, his grandfather had met with Pope John Paul II several times and developed a friendship to the point of exchanging personal letters. Jim used to accompany his grandfather everywhere, including celebrations at the Martyrs Shrine at Auriesville, NY and the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine at Fonda, NY. (Kateri, a 17th century Mohawk mystic being canonized as a saint by the Vatican in October, lived her young years at Auriesville, and then her teen/young adult years at Fonda after the Mohawks moved their village across the river.)

Decorating the body of the guitar is an image of a crow, or tsio ka':we in Mohawk (pronounced joe-ga-way). Its wings are tucked, head turned and eyes staring straight out. It was painted by Auxiliary member Eileen Bowes. 

He could cite several reasons for using a crow: It was one of his grandfather's favorite creatures, he said, and in mythology, "it carries the soul (of the departed) to the other side." Another reason is tinged with humor: "It reminds me of past mistakes, and not to repeat them if I don't want to eat crow."