A retired minister and radio show host credits his new hobby of building guitars with partly helping save his life.
A longtime musician, Orangeburg resident the Rev. David F. White III learned to handcraft acoustic guitars after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He said he was practically at death’s door a few short years ago, but his faith, medicine, a healthy diet and lifestyle, and a new hobby to keep him calm helped turn the situation around.
“It’s kind of funny how as life progressed and I ended up making a living running my mouth, right as I’m getting ready to finish my career as I started it and everybody wondering why I didn’t continue...” he said.
Out of the last seven generations on his father’s side, five were ordained Baptist ministers, he said.
“And my mother’s father was a Baptist minister and my wife’s father is a Baptist minister, so it’s the family business,” he said.
And just as he was getting ready to accept a position with a big church in Boston, he began to have health issues.
“I couldn’t get over a case of bronchitis. And then it was case of pneumonia,” he said. White said his doctor didn’t recognize the onset of congestive heart failure.
A trip to the emergency room led to the diagnosis.
“It’s deadly serious, and it kills more men than any other disease in this country,” he said. “So when you’re told you’ve got the number-one killer of men your age and you’re told you are 72 hours away from total shutdown and you still are not out of the woods – oh, boy.
“One thing about you says, ‘Why am I having to go through this?’ Another part of you says, ‘Hey, very few of us get this opportunity to sit down at 55 years old and think about what if it’s coming to an end now? What do you think of your life, David?' ”
He said, “You make promises you should not make, because God may give you a shot, you don’t know.”
White got his “shot” in part by listening to the advice of his daughter and her friends about meditation and eating healthier and by finding a new outlet to calm his nerves – building guitars.
“It has literally reversed my heart disease, along with the medicines,” he said. “My God, I am so grateful. My life right now is so happy – and I’m calm.”
White read books, watched videos and consulted with luthiers as he began to learn guitar making. He studied the designs of classic instruments and found that some of them have faults that need to be addressed in a modern design. For example, older guitars often require an expensive neck reset because of bowing caused by the vintage-style construction, he said.
“What I decided to do is look at everything that will improve the guitar structurally to make it sounder 80 years from now,” he said. “I don’t want somebody spending almost what it would cost to buy a good, new guitar just to straighten the neck. So I do a 30-degree radius on the top (and) I use a thicker bridge.”
White said he is now “ready to build them one at a time for guys who love the guitar as well as love to play the guitar and who will make sure that these guitars will be here long after all of us who are alive today are long gone.”
He said he’s happy knowing that he’s possibly giving someone generations from now the same joy that he has today. In a way, he will live on through his work, he said.
“That’s why I do it,” he said.
In promoting his work, he said, “I decided to what I learned a long time ago when I was in sales.” Ministry is a lot like working in the sales business.
“You make a pitch at the end of every service for people to accept your ideas, and I think somewhere during the service, they’re passing around a plate,” he said.
“And if you don’t think your success is not related to your attendance, your offerings and the number of new members you’re recruiting – very little difference between a pastor and a successful football coach,” White said.
“Who do you have to work with, first of all, and how good are you at convincing people you’re right, whether you’re selling a product or an idea?” he said.
The new hobby also became a way to make a little money doing something he loved, White said.
“I’ve found that the key to success in life was turning my hobbies into a way to make a living while I found a way to run my mouth and satisfy my need to be a preacher, which turned into a talk-radio show host.”
White also worked for a while selling high-end audio and video equipment and golf gear. But after his health scare, he turned again to his lifelong passion for music and guitars.
Essential to happiness is to “find a way to get paid just being yourself,” he said.
White sometimes performs at open-mic nights at coffee shops and music stores in Summerville and Columbia. He laments the fact that Orangeburg doesn’t have a similar musical scene, a friendly community of pickers and players who a share a passion.
“Selling (guitars) was fun, but playing them’s more fun,” he said.
Another experience that changed his life was spending time with the 10-year-old niece of one of his church members.
“She had a brain tumor. So I went up there every week for 10 months, through the whole process, and I watched the brain tumor take that little girl, very slowly, very painfully," he said.
She was collector of troll dolls and gave him a “preacher troll.”
“The last time I visited, she handed it to me and said, ‘Every time I look at my preacher troll, I think of you, so I want to give this to you, so that every time you look at it, you remember me,'" White said.
“And I tell people, she, more than any person I’ve ever met in my entire life, apart from maybe my wife ... I have learned what real faith in God truly is.”