For this month's column I am going to stray away from this old guitar and dedicate this article to one of the unsung heroes of old guitars - the guitar repairman.
Jeff Demarco, one of the Louisville music communities' most well liked and talented repairmen, died unexpectedly at his home on August 19. He was 45 years old. For nearly 30 years, Jeff applied his gift for fixing guitars to this community. There probably isn't a music shop or individual guitar player that did not have Jeff at one time or another, do guitar repair for them.
Just as there were guitar repairmen before Jeff (Fred Couch and L. W. Fox, R.I.P.) come to mind, and there will be others to come, it was Jeff who had the most profound influence on my life. As teenagers growing up in the South End, Jeff was my mentor. He taught me what his dad had passed down to him about the peculiar nature of refinishing stuff. They took the basic principles Jeff's dad knew about antique car restoration and used them as a guiding light in guitar repair. As with any learned effort, so much is trial and error, and I remember quite fondly the many fun times we had in his parents basement, and over at my parents house, trying to fix up these old guitars.
Of course, Jeff was the absolute leader in these endeavors. To shed some insight into all this, Jeff, while being the neighborhood whiz kid, also graduated from Pleasure Ridge Park High School's advanced program as Valedictorian. He then moved on and graduated from U of L on a full Presidential Scholarship, all the while remaining an all-around regular guy and someone you valued as your friend.
Jeff, always eager to learn and willing to help, he enjoyed the challenge of trying to fix something. Whether it was a vintage guitar, car, motor scooter or model airplane, I don't think it really mattered. It just so happened that his path led him toward guitar repair as the thing he did most. Whether it was some famous person's vintage and prized guitar, or perhaps a beginner's learner model, it didn't matter. Jeff would extend the same effort - professional and courteous.
Although his declining health the past few years slowed him down somewhat, he never ceased to amaze me with what he was capable of doing. He was an absolute master at repairing broken headstocks and doing finish work. If you didn't know him and he fixed your guitar's broken headstock, it would seem almost like magic. I always enjoyed seeing someone stare at disbelief after some of Jeff's work. But I believe with Jeff, like so many other people of genius level, it was always a combination of born talent and a lot of hard work, trial and error, mistakes and successes. I know we will miss him. He repaired a lot of guitars for a lot of people. From the simplest to the complete restoration. I'll miss his wit, his talent, and his awareness to not take it all too seriously.
As an owner of a local music shop, it was Jeff Demarco who played such a large part in helping to shape my own destiny. From the teenage days of just hacking around up till last month, he provided constant support for me in my own endeavors. Jeff's sudden passing brought to mind one common thread. I heard this over and over from people remembering Jeff. And that was that he could carry on a conversation with anybody, on any topic. He was brilliant, yet just a real regular guy, too.
My last remembrance of Jeff was from the day before he died. We were sitting in his shop on a couple of amps, and he was showing me the chord changes to the Billy Joe Royal song "I Knew You When". That was another thing about Jeff. He was very musical. He knew all the chords to all the songs. I'm saddened that we never got the chance to finish this one.