Willie Nelson’s Guitar Named Trigger: The Story of His Famous Martin Acoustic

by Matthew Wilson
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Willie Nelson has had both a long and storied career in country music. And he’s accomplished with that old ragged guitar affectionately named Trigger.

At first glance, Nelson’s instrument looks both decrepit and barely holding together. There’s a large hole above the bridge, that’s widened with years. And like a bathroom stall, several names have been graffitied into the wood soundboard. But that’s the history of country music seeped into its tired old frets and strings.

Nelson quite literally wore a hole into the wood from decades of picking at the strings during concerts and album recordings. Pieces of wood would fly off during concerts. The names aren’t graffiti but hundreds of autographs from other musicians and Nelson’s friends over the years.

Willie Nelson Buys Trigger

Nelson first bought the N-20 nylon-string classical acoustic guitar in 1969. A drunk patron had stepped on his Baldwin guitar during a concert in Texas. The instrument was beyond repair, so the musician needed a replacement. He quickly fell in love with the classical guitar, which would become his constant companion throughout his career.

So why did Nelson name his guitar Trigger? Most instruments probably don’t have nicknames. But Nelson was a sentimental guy and felt a connection to the instrument. He also was a fan of westerns and Roy Rogers in particular at the time. He decided to name the instrument after Rogers’ horse Trigger. And like a trusty steed, the guitar led him to great success and renown.

Nelson loved the instrument so much that it was quite literally one of the only things he saved when his house caught fire. Well, that and a pound of weed that he had a neighbor hide. Nelson ran into the blaze and grabbed the guitar, carrying it to safety before it burned to ash. After the fire, Nelson decided to head to Austin, Texas, and leave the conformities of Tennessee behind.

Trigger and Outlaw Music

While in Music City, Willie Nelson struggled to adhere to the industry’s formula for what they thought a musician should look and sound like. In Texas, Nelson partnered with other musicians to kick off the Outlaw Country movement that would soon sweep the industry. Growing out both his hair and beard, the singer looked a far cry from how he did in his early days.

And at the center of the movement was a singular guitar, not yet chipped and faded. Nelson amplified the acoustic guitar, creating a distinct sound many had never heard before. He created psychedelic hillbilly to go along with the psychedelic rock of the era.

Trigger ended up featuring on some of Nelson’s biggest albums of his career including “Shotgun Willie” and “Red Headed Stranger” for instance. Nelson cherishes the guitar so much that he plans to finish out his career with the instrument. He said when the guitar finally dies for good (as much as an instrument can die), he’ll know it’s time to retire.

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