The Story Behind Willie Nelson's Trusty Guitar, Trigger

For the last 51 years, Willie Nelson has played Trigger, despite the gaping hole and wear and tear of constant touring.

Since 1969, Willie Nelson has played one guitar, and one guitar only - a Martin N-20 (4-20?) he named Trigger after Roy Rogers' horse. "I figured," Nelson told Dallas Monthly in 2012, "this is my horse."

The acoustic model is not only famous for the longevity of it and its owner (Nelson turned 86 on April 29), but for the second gaping hole created over the years by the sheer force of Nelson's playing. It also has been autographed by many friends; some are more visible than others.

The article explains how the guitar has been maintained for the last 45 years - thanks, in large part, to Austin guitar repairman Mark Erlewine, who reconditions Trigger twice a year. About the hole, he notes, "I always thought it enhanced the sound."

Trigger rarely leaves Nelson's hands. According to the article, Nelson once punched a drunk Jerry Jeff Walker when he found him fooling around with the guitar against his wishes.

In a recent interview, Nelson explained how he acquired the guitar and why he likes it so much:

'I had a Guild guitar that I was playing. I had it laying on the stage there. I had the case open and some drunk stepped on it and busted it all to pieces. I called Shot Jackson in Nashville and said, 'You got any good guitars for sale up there, I just busted mine?' He said, 'I have this Martin N-20 that's a good guitar." I said, 'Do you think I'd like it?' He said, 'Well, it's a Martin, they don't make bad guitars.' I said, 'How much is it?' He said, '$750.' I had just bought a roping horse for $750. I said, 'Well, I guess that's the price of the day.' So I bought the guitar. I've had it ever since. It has the tone that I like. It has a Django-like tone. Django Reinhardt's my favorite guitar player. Any time I can hit a note that sounds anywhere near what he did, and I like it, so that's why I got so hooked on Trigger.'

Watch Rolling Stone's short film about Trigger, narrated by Woody Harrelson.

This article was originally posted in 2015. It has been updated.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.