Marijuana Policy Project
Curved Papers

Willie Nelson: 'Why I Got Hooked on Trigger'

For the last 45 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 says in a feature about the guitar in Dallas Monthly, "this is my horse."

The acoustic model is not only famous for the longevity of it and its owner (Nelson turned 81 on Apr. 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 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 (he only trusts it with tech Tom Hawkins, who was injured in the recent band bus crash). According to article author Michael Hall, Nelson once punched a drunk Jerry Jeff Walker, who was fooling around with the guitar against his wishes.

In a recent interview, Nelson explains 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...

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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.