“Music will take you to places where you can feel safe and happy even when life seems to be kicking you in the teeth.”

That’s the philosophy of Army Veteran Bill Trivett who has been safe and happy playing the guitar since he was eight and enjoys sharing those good feelings with other Veterans. Trivett is the volunteer guitar instructor with Guitars for Vets at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

A veteran plays a guitar.

Army Veteran and Guitar Teacher Bill Trivett

“I want to teach guitar to Veterans because I have seen what it does to their confidence and how it helps them to unwind when things get crazy,” Trivett says.

In April of 2015, the Guitars for Vets Clarksburg Chapter began to provide guitar lessons to assist Veterans with a variety of issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and even healing from physical wounds.

“This program help the Veterans deal with issues without reaching for a bottle of pills or alcohol and is much more rewarding when they can play their guitar,” Trivett says.  “After a few weeks they are more outgoing and before long the want to start showing others what the lessons have done for them.”

Trivett, who lists B.B. King and Eric Clapton among his favorites, notes that “I explain to the students that guitar is like any other skill. It takes time and practice to master it, so just keep trying. You are already better than you think you are.”

A U.S. Cavalry Veteran, he remembers that ”When we graduated our second class, the guys all said they did not feel like they had improved much over ten weeks. They even said ‘we suck.’ Then we put them in with the beginners in the third class and then they said ‘Hey, we are not half bad.’ We all had a good laugh and those guys are now going to be instructors.”

The all-volunteer Guitars for Vets program started as one person, a guitar instructor who helped a Veteran learn how to play the guitar.  During the training, the Veteran and instructor noticed how profound music was for therapy and Guitars for Vets was born.

Guitars for Vets, a non-profit, started in 2007 and now has more than 50 chapters across the country helping more than two thousand Veterans.

Although he is an excellent guitarist, Trivett points out that “I am a trained drummer but drums don’t fit well in the Army and you can take a guitar everywhere. I hold my own with a bass but I never want to get payed for playing. I think that turns it into a job.”

Trivett, seldom without his First Cavalry hat – “Once Cav, Always Cav” – is a Fender guy but also owns Epiphones, Washburns, and Schecters.  “The brand only matters when you want to show off.  The Yamahas we give our students play just as good as the high dollar jobs and if you drop it and break it, you’re not out $5,000.”

“Music is the only thing I know that affects everyone whether they know it or not. It is a powerful and emotional thing. We would not be able to do this without the support of the VA staff that allows us to work here.  They have been great. We are looking forward to many years of helping Veterans here and where the other 58 Chapters are located.”

About the Author: Robert Yerkey is a Compensated Work Therapy Veteran at the Department of Veterans Affairs

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Published on Jan. 7, 2016

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  1. Ken Broglin January 12, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I don’t play the guitars but I do build them. I concentrate mostly on Fender Telecasters and Strats but I do have a Gibson SG style in the works that I am installing 3 humbuckers instead of the standard 2. The humbuckers are colored red, white and blue with red, white and blue strings with 2 of each color from top to bottom once it is finished. It has an authentic Epiphone SG neck and cherry red body. I always use authentic necks on my guitars because I just don’t have the tools or patience to properly build necks. Once I finish the guitar I may donate it to a handicapped vet depending how it turns out. Also I am a Vietnam Vet from 1962-1963 as a U.S. Army helicopter crew chief.

  2. Tony Soriano January 8, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    Any idea how to start one here in Las Vegas?

  3. Tony Soriano January 8, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    I would like to start one here in Las Vegas. I have been playing guitar since the age of 8 and have played in numerous bands over the years. Hoping someone will contact me with information to start one. (US Navy Vietnam vet 1969-1973

  4. Michael A. Sams January 8, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I’m just learning guitar. Is there a chapter near me in Richland, Wash?

  5. Gerald M. Vance January 8, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Howdy Bill,
    I wish we had met when I was at the Clarksburg VA years ago. I am a disabled Vet, an accomplished guitarist and singer songwriter and would like to become involved in a program for our VETS here in Louisville,Ky. Like you , I have several guitars,two of which are Yamaha’s. They are excellent in sound,craftsmanship and value. Please advise if there is already a group here or how to start one. I will appreciate any help you can offer.
    Thanks and GOD Bless,
    Chaplain Jerry Vance

  6. Leah Talley January 8, 2016 at 2:30 am

    How would someone put together a branch of this program near Camp Pendleton?

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