Every musical instrument is an individual, and therefore, has a story.
Some of them, like my new guitar, are building their tales with each day that passes. When I hold my guitar right now, it doesn’t have a lot to say — yet. One day, however, it may have many stories to tell to the next person to hold it.
Others are treasure troves of history: just by virtue of their age and the scars (or lack thereof) in their finish, they are a singing biopic of moments past.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell or research further. Old musical instruments do not generally carry serial numbers, and makers’ marks often only have the bare minimum of information: makers’ name and year of completion. If that. My grandmother’s violin has no markings at all, it’s just a humble, handcrafted instrument that got left behind when our young men left to fight WWII, and it’s owner never made it home.
Eventually, it all becomes folklore, half-remembered recollections and haphazard anecdotes passed down (sometimes) from owner to buyer, or from owner to children to seller, or so on. In the case of many old instruments, it seems the mantra (in all it’s variations) is “the instrument needs to be played.” Though I wish people took time to write these stories down, I think the fact that we don’t tells more strongly of the fact that the music these lovely instruments make is more important than a collection of facts about their histories. Or that even though we fear the instrument will not last, we are assured that at least the memories of joy they bring in their brief — or not so brief — lifetimes, will.