A spinal cord injury is devastating for many reasons, from losing one’s ability to walk to something as “small” as not being able to hold a pen. For actor and newsreader Erik Holm, losing the ability to play guitar because of reduced hand dexterity after his SCI was one of the most distressing consequences of his injury.
“When I left the hospital, on my list of things I’d like to do again walking was around number seven or eight while playing guitar was around three or four,” Holm reflects. However, recently, after more than a decade of not being able to play guitar, Holm could finally make music on a new adapted guitar by Mervyn Davis.
Davis has been a guitar builder for a number of years and offers guitar building courses. His interest in the instrument started early in life. “My parents couldn’t keep me from a guitar shop,” Davis says. “Like many young boys, I started building tin guitars, mainly because I wanted one. If I look back now, making the guitar was maybe the most enjoyable part.”
Holm’s sisters heard about the guitar building courses Davis offers, raised the required money and contacted him to find out whether he’d be up to the challenge. He was, and soon Holm and Davis were building the adapted guitar.
“I went through to show Merv what I can and can’t do. He worked around that to make the guitar. It sounds just like a normal guitar. It is as close to the real thing as it can be,” Holm explains. The mechanism allows him to play up to 26 chords in minor, sharp and flat. He only uses his wrist and arm to control the guitar to play.
Creating the guitar was not easy, though. “I think most of the challenges came later with the working of the mechanics,” Davis says. “The first step was to determine how many movements I have to work with. When we finally found a mechanism that works, the challenge was getting it to work smoothly and easily so that there is no resistance.
“I needed to build something that he would be able to use, but I didn’t want the guitar to be too simple. I tell all my clients that the musician’s ability should be the limitation, not the instrument.”
While the desire to play guitar was very personal for Holm, he says playing an adapted instrument has numerous other benefits for people with disabilities. “The fine motor skills I acquired from playing the adapted guitar have impacted other parts of my life. I’m able to hold a pen better. If you don’t join sport after your injury, there is not really a lot to do.
“I’ve built more muscles from playing the instrument than I ever did with gym. I want every rehabilitation centre to have this instrument. It means so much to a person – physically and spiritually. My dream would be to see the instrument made accessible to people across the world.”
Since getting his adapted guitar, Holm has started performing, with two big festivals coming up. He concludes: “At the beginning I was scared about whether I would be able to play and now it is just about practice. Words can’t describe how much this guitar means to me.”
Find out how you can get an adapted guitar for yourself in the next issue of ROLLING INSPIRATION. Subscribe here. Alternatively, contact Erik Holm directly for more information at 076 335 4262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.