- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) - The story of Phoenix started with an innocuous visit to a Saginaw music store during the mid-1980s.

Phoenix, an Ovation electric-acoustic guitar, left the store that day with Mike Hansen, but didn’t acquire the name Phoenix until this year. At first, Hansen named it Angel.

It took a fire and a lot of handiwork by the unrelated Brian Hansen, owner of B’s Music in Mount Pleasant, for it to earn its new name.

Mike and his wife Joanie had originally gone into the store to buy a mundane piece of musical equipment and saw Angel on the wall.

“Oh my gosh, that’s a beautiful guitar,” Mike said was his reaction to seeing the guitar hanging on the wall. They bought her as a birthday gift to him, and Angel earned a place in Mike’s collection.

“She rode with me through gigs, through good times, through bad times,” Mike said.

The hardest time started this year on March 1 at 1:31 p.m., when a fire started in the attic of Mike and Joanie’s Auburn home, the (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun (https://bit.ly/2j6EYBM ) reported. The exact cause of the fire is unknown, Mike said, but is believed to be linked to a fluorescent light bulb.

It only took a moment for the fire to spread. It was a grab what you can and get out tragedy, Mike said.

They got out, and although they live across the street from a fire department, on that snowy day it took four fire departments to finally extinguish the flames.

“It’s sort of harrowing to sit for seven hours and watch your house burn,” Mike said.

They lost almost everything, including Mike’s collection of guitars, some of which were entirely consumed. That is, except for Angel, in a case and whose body is constructed out of synthetic, fire-resistant materials.

Mike wound up in B’s Music after shopping for a replacement amplifier. No one local to his home could help him, and he found the Mount Pleasant music store on the Internet. He stopped in and got to talking to Brian. The music store owner offered to see if he could fix it up.

The body of the guitar was filled with insulation and the fret board and head were badly charred. Mike said he didn’t hold out a lot of hope in getting back a playable guitar, and that if he did it would be a slide guitar.

One of the first tasks was to remove the insulation. There was also cleaning, a lot of cleaning. Brian started to work, an hour here and an hour there.

“It was a slow burn project,” he said. When business was slow and he wasn’t distracted by other things, he’d work on Angel.

As the months wore on, Mike grew less confident that he’d get anything back. At B’s, however, after cleaning it out and cleaning it up, Brian had started to rebuild and neck and bridge.

“The heat it was exposed to made it look like a roller coaster,” Brian said, and as a result the frets expelled. He sanded it flat, cut new grooves into it and replaced the frets.

He also redid the headstack and inlays, rebuilt the turning keys and, of course, re-lacquered it.

While Brian did this, his friend Shane Smith of Wildwood Studios in Blanchard was redesigning and cutting a sound-hole cover. Originally it was open and bordered by a plastic rosette, which partially melted and warped during the fire.

Shane cut a cover in the design of a Phoenix, the bird of Greek mythology that periodically is reborn by rising from the ashes of its predecessor, and Angel officially had a new name.

The process was slow, grinding and about bringing a guitar back from the dead, Brian said.

“It’s kind of interesting to try to give stuff a second life,” he said.

Earlier this month, Brian called Mike with news: Phoenix was ready to go home, and playable. The even better news is that the electric pick-up that hadn’t worked for 25 years now did.

“He did an awesome job,” Mike said of Brian’s rebuild.

It is not in pristine condition, however.

“She got the scars, but thank God we didn’t,” Mike said.

One of those scars is that the front has an uneven appearance, part looking new and shiny and part looking flat and dull. It also still smells a little of smoke, Mike said. And the sound is different for the work and the new sound-hole cover.

Phoenix will carry on with Mike as one of the few things that survived the house fire. There is sadness in that.

“Most of my guitars had a story, but I lost that part of my past,” he said.

That past included early years playing music to help him cope with the loss of his father in his teen years.

“It would be nothing to sit in my room for three days straight and play guitar,” Mike said.

Ultimately, family responsibilities had forced him to sideline playing guitar so he could spend 28 years running a beauty supplies wholesale business and he’d only in recent years gotten back into playing, usually once or twice a week with old friends.

Now when he plays, the guitar has its own unique sound because of the work and new cover, imperfections courtesy a story that began in the 80s and turned this year in a terrible fire. It won’t be obvious to everyone who sees it, but that doesn’t matter to Mike.

“I know,” he said. “I know the story.”

As for Brian, he started rebuilding guitars in 1998, and opened B’s first in Alma in 2005. He was there for three years, when he moved to the business to 613 N. Mission St., a building he bought in 2010.


Information from: Morning Sun, https://www.themorningsun.com/

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