Dylan Smith went into a Jacksonville antique store with little money and some curiosity, but he left with an expensive antique guitar — and a lot of gratitude.
Smith, a freshman at Jacksonville State University, was out with his friends when he noticed a few of his favorite instruments in Old South Antique Shop.
“I was outside, and I saw guitars in the window,” Smith said, retelling the story from the same shop. “I was like ‘I need to go in, and I need to pick up a guitar.’”
Smith is a self-taught guitarist, picking up what he could where he could. He’s had a few guitars, but got rid of all but one to help with the cost of college. He plays the songs of some of his favorites — Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer and B.B. King — but not in front of a lot of people.
“I mostly just play in my bedroom,” laughed Smith.
What Smith found in the antique shop were a few old guitars, but one in particular caught his eye: A 1955 Harmony Archtop.
“I just thought, ‘Hey, it’s an old guitar, I wonder if it still plays good,’” Smith recalled. “I picked it up, and it did. I didn’t know if I should be playing something that old. I didn’t feel worthy.”
Smith said he had seen just one other similar guitar before, at his job as a guitar tech at Mike’s Treasure Chest in Anniston. That one is priced at $1,200.
“For 300 bucks, it was a steal,” Smith said. “I just couldn’t afford it. I’m a college student, my price range is free.”
Smith put the guitar back down, but kept coming back and playing more during his visit to the store. His attachment to the guitar didn’t go unnoticed.
“He played the guitar two or three times, and she kind of looked over there at him,” said Dianne Landers, a witness to the event and owner of a booth at the antique shop.
The onlooker, a woman who told store employees she wished to remain anonymous, spoke to the owner outside.
“The lady had handed her her credit card outside and said she wanted to buy the guitar for the young man,” Landers said.
The woman, her arm in a sling, approached Smith for his assistance.
“I asked where we’re taking it,” Smith said. “She said ‘We’re taking it to your car.’ I was in disbelief.”
“It was like an early Christmas,” Landers said. “They hugged each other, and he just started crying. It was just a real touching moment. He was just in awe. He was flabbergasted. His face was just in shock.”
“It was disbelief, shock. She doesn’t even know me, why would she do this,” Smith said. “I still can’t believe that somebody dropped $300 on a guitar for someone they didn’t even know.”
Landers said she was touched witnessing the moment.
“There’s a lot of kindness in the world, and sometimes you just don’t see it in individuals,” Landers said.
Landers snapped a couple of pictures of Smith and posted them on the Facebook page for her booth, the Blue Owl.
“My first thought was that people need to see this,” Landers said. “People really need to understand that there is real kindness out there.”
Smith said he has been playing the new guitar for five to six hours a day since getting it. As he recounted the story Wednesday, he polished the body and cleaned the strings.
“It plays well, but I’m helping it play better,” Smith said.
Smith said he was beyond grateful to his anonymous gift giver — and to get to play the guitar.
“You don’t have to own something to be able to enjoy it,” Smith said. “I enjoyed it for those few minutes I was playing it. But now, I get to enjoy it for the rest of my life, because I’m not getting rid of it.”
With the new old guitar in hand, Smith said he could begin building his collection.
“I’ve got one that I keep. I had to get rid of a few, but I’ve got that one that I keep,” Smith said. “That guitar for me is my first wife.”
When asked what he would call the gift guitar, Smith paused briefly, then smiled.
“The mistress,” Smith said. “I think I like that.”