Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Randy Hunt wasn’t sure when the “surgery” on Floyd “Lightnin’” Chance’s upright acoustic bass would be finished. The instrument, laying bare on Hunt’s table, could take months to restore.
“It’s been two steps forward, three steps back,” Hunt, 44, said of the work he has accomplished since he started the task a few months ago.
The timeline, or lack of one, was par for the course for Hunt, who’s worked as a luthier at Williams Fine Violins on 17th Avenue for seven years. A doctor of damaged stringed instruments, Hunt repairs and restores beat-up violins, guitars, cellos and upright basses. A bassist himself, he freelances and holds lessons in Nashville when he has the time.
The unfinished bass is an artifact of Nashville’s music history, Hunt said. The late Chance, who died in 2005, accompanied some of the city’s biggest music stars during his time, recording bass lines for Hank Williams and the Everly Brothers in the 1950s.
The instrument has “been on the road with a lot of iconic music figures,” Hunt said.
The Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum hired Hunt to restore two of Chance’s basses. Both were damaged in 2010, during the worst flood in the city’s history.
“I watched a man just crying, throwing away his basses and amps and tossing them in the dumpster,” said Jay McDowell, multimedia curator for the museum. “So many musicians lost so much. It was horrific.”
Making the bass look nice isn’t the point, Hunt said. As a museum item, hiding every blemish would mean robbing the instrument of its historic value.
“Every little scratch and nick and dent tells a story,” he said. “You want to keep it as original as possible.”
The model itself didn’t impress Hunt. It was an old German upright, the kind he assumed high school students bought and played. However, he was aware that the musician matters more than the instrument, and said that the artifact reveals a lot about the kind of people he idolizes.
“We all think that they all had great instruments,” Hunt said. “They didn’t always have the good stuff. They made due with what they did (have). Despite that, it sounded good.”