Veterans learn to play guitar | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Wayne Towner
Through the Guitars4Vets program in Parkersburg, guitar instructor Preston Dabbs, right, works with student veteran Bob Wilson, left, as fellow volunteer instructor Ed VanHorn, center, watches. The classes are held weekly at the Vet Center in the traffic circle.

PARKERSBURG — Earlier this summer, two guitarists with local bands decided to volunteer their time as part of a national veterans program and teach veterans how to play guitar as a form of recreation therapy.

After completing their first class in July, Larry Smith with Band of Brothers and Don Staats with Insured Sound have been joined by other area musicians to teach more veterans about guitar playing as part of the national Guitars4Vets program.

Smith said Guitars4Vets was founded in 2007 by Patrick Nettesheim and Dan Van Buskirk in Wisconsin. The goal is to provide recreational therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are about 66 chapters of Guitars4Vets across the country. The only one in West Virginia is Chapter 58 in Clarksburg and Parkersburg is a sub-chapter of that one, he said. Smith said the goal is to become a full chapter in the future.

The program is free for the veterans. It features a 10-week teaching cycle with instructors working with two students at a time.

Guitars4Vets provides the teaching guitars and instructional material while the instructors are volunteers.

Upon successful graduation, each student receives a guitar pack, which includes a new guitar, gig bag, tuner, strap, picks, an extra set of strings, a capo and instruction book.

Smith said the approximate cost is $250 for each guitar pack given to the graduating students. Funds are being raised to cover the cost of the guitar packs.

Donations can be made to the Veterans Hospital in Clarksburg by designating it for the Guitars4Vets account.

Donations can also be made through local music stores that are helping with Guitars4Vets, he said.

The first local instructional class started in May with Smith and Staats serving as teachers. They had four students who began the class, with three completing it while the fourth passed away over the summer, he said.

They started the second class on Aug. 21, with four new students and added an advanced class which includes the three students from the inaugural class and a couple of others with some basic guitar knowledge, Smith said. There are now about eight instructors available to allow more students in the future.

Since there is a waiting list of students, Smith is always interested in having more volunteer instructors and they don’t have to be professional musicians or instructors. Anyone with some basic guitar knowledge and the ability to teach is welcome for the beginner class, he said.

“We are kind of hoping that one of these days that one of these first classes that we taught will be good enough to be teachers. That’s our goal. They would be the perfect teacher because they’ve been through the class,” he said.

The current class should finish in October. Smith expects to begin a new 10-week session during the holiday period, ending in January.

The classes are held at the Vet Center located in the same building with the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic at the traffic circle in Parkersburg.

The instructors teach from the basic Hal Leonard instruction book and focus on things like holding the guitar, notes, strings and other basic guitar knowledge, along with a few songs.

While Guitars4Vets was started for those with PTSD, Smith said it is open to any veteran who would benefit from recreation therapy. The student can be referred by a qualified VA professional or a family doctor regarding the benefits of the therapy, but the referral is necessary to qualify for the no-cost program, he said.

More information on the local program is available by contacting Smith at 304-488-4370 or Staats at Information is also available from Chapter 58 coordinator Billy Trivett in Clarksburg at 540-355-5461 or online at

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