A couple of years ago, Darren Stewart—Chief of Police at the Stonington Police Department, in Pawcatuck, Connecticut—encountered a particularly sad case. Stewart was visiting the estate of a local celebrity, Eva Franchi, helping her prepare for an annual concert in memory of her late husband, the tenor and actor Sergio Franchi, when he spotted an old and apparently nice nylon-string guitar in miserable condition.
“I questioned Eva, and it turned out that it was the guitar that Sergio had played on The Ed Sullivan Show,” says Stewart, referring to Franchi’s 24 appearances on the popular television variety show in the ’60s and early ’70s. “She was heartbroken, as the guitar had been in [improper] storage for 25 years and the hot and cold of New England had gotten to it. She just looked at me and said, ‘OK, darling, you get it fixed.’”
Stewart, an avocational guitarist with 30 years of picking under his belt, knew just what to do. He took the instrument, with its detached back and braces, to Zachary Dustin, the owner of Frets, in Westerly, Rhode Island. Based on the hardware’s branding, Dustin determined that the guitar was probably built in the late 1870s for the New York instrument company Zogbaum & Fairchild by the Boston-based luthier John C. Haynes, whose name appears on the back of the headstock.
Dustin faced a daunting job. He initially considered building a mold to put the guitar back together, but opted instead to stabilize the back, reattach all the braces, and then clamp and glue the body a couple of inches at a time, every four or five days, until it finally resumed its original form. Among other repairs, Dustin also made a period-correct floating bridge based on images that he found online and re-fretted the guitar with original fretwire. All told, it took him a full year to complete the painstaking work of restoring the guitar. Stewart felt touched when he finally got to see the results of Dustin’s work. “It was like picking up a piece of history,” he says.