Guitars 4 Vets: How Private Guitar Lessons Started a Global Movement

Make Music Day

Interview with Guitars 4 Vets co-founder Patrick Nettesheim, conducted by the Make Music Alliance in May 2022.

How did Guitars 4 Vets begin? 

This was not part of the master plan, I wanted to be a rockstar! I played music since childhood, starting on trumpet (but I was allergic to valve oil) and later moving on to guitar and piano. I have played in bands all my life, and started teaching music at age 16, and I’ve been teaching ever since. In fall 2006 I met Dan Van Buskirk, a combat veteran who always wanted to play guitar, but felt that his disability (PTSD) prevented him from connecting to music. 

How did Dan find you? 

I was teaching at a music store in Brookfield WI (Cream City Music) and playing in bands. Dan came to me for lessons, and we started working with my P.A.G.E. approach (Patience, Acceptance, Gratitude and Empathy), and quickly forged a strong student/teacher bond. My belief is that music when it works is a spiritual experience, and the guitar is the catalyst for positive human interaction. Music is the telekinesis of emotion; you take your thoughts and feelings, and now you can feel your feelings.

How did Guitars 4 Vets begin?

Because his guitar lessons helped him so much with his PTSD, it was Dan’s idea to go to the VA in Milwaukee, as he felt compelled to share the benefit. I was too busy, but Dan persuaded me! We went with the intention of playing for the people in spinal rehab at the VA. The store where I was teaching was owned by Joe Gallenberger, whose dad had recently died of complications from PTSD (he was a veteran of the Korean War). When Joe heard that we were going to play music at the VA, he handed me 2 guitars and said “Take these in honor of my dad, and use them to help these people”. We handed the guitars to the veterans, and started teaching! When we finished, the nurses said “you’re coming back next week”, and more and more people joined. Soon after this, we decided to form a nonprofit. I came up with the name, googled it, and nothing came up, so we went ahead and registered it and had nonprofit status within a year. Now this is a global movement

What is your primary mission with Guitars 4 Vets?

What we are doing is making the therapeutic nature of music making available for free. We provide guitars and lessons for Military Veterans, at no cost to them. Upon graduation, each Veteran is awarded a guitar, gig bag, picks, strap, tuner, stand, method book, capo and a certificate of completion. Since 2007, Guitars for Vets has provided nearly 6,000 new guitars and 60,000 lessons to our Nation’s Veterans. More than 110 chapters have been established in over 40 states, and 500 volunteers assure the mission is successful.

What is the Guitars 4 Vets approach to teaching?

The way we teach is guided by the students, we ask the student what they want to learn. Show them the  concept, and then demonstrate a practical application that the student is interested in. We then encourage them to do something on their own with it. We light the way while they are searching for their path.

I see you are hosting a big event on Make Music Day, June 21st 2022; would you like to say something about that?

The 21 Guitar Salute honors the men and women that have served in the military and are now living with the challenges of Post Traumatic Stress [PTSD]. Donations collected from this event will support our brothers and sisters on their journey toward recovery by providing them with free guitars, lessons, teamwork and camaraderie.