Tom Baker: Honoring veterans with gift of music

Guitarmaker‘s Frets4Vets provides instruments to soldiers who learn to play
October 3, 2017

Tom Baker is hard at work in his Georgetown shop, building a custom guitar he plans to give away. The guitar is going to a veteran, and before it's finished, Baker will laser-engrave it with a map, showing the last location where the veteran who is getting it was deployed.

"I make it personal for them. One-of-a-kind," says Baker, who never served in the military himself, although his father, father-in-law and other relatives did. "Music has always been an important part of my life," he says. "I think music can be a great coping mechanism for anyone, but especially veterans who might need something positive to focus on," Baker says.

A musician and owner of Baker Built Custom Instruments, Baker has established a nonprofit called Frets4Vets to serve veterans, especially those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The first step for each veteran who signs up for Frets4Vets is to take up a loaner guitar the program provides and participate in 16 weeks of guitar lessons.

Those who complete the full course earn a guitar custom-made for them, honoring their service, Baker says. More than 300 veterans are on a waiting list, Baker says, more than 100 of them from Sussex and Kent counties. Frets4Vets allows all veterans to apply to the program, and no referral is needed.

Baker is working with a Cambridge, Md.-based instructor to develop tablet-based video software so instructors will give participants the same lesson regardless of where the veteran lives. He hopes the program will eventually expand nationwide.

The first group of participants will soon finish their instruction, and the veterans are set to receive their guitars, Baker says.

Baker has no children, which he says has motivated him to find ways to make a difference in the lives of other people. "It's just my wife and myself. The only way I'll be remembered is by creating something which will continue to give back in the future," he says.

Fundraisers scheduled

A fundraiser is planned in conjunction with a graduation ceremony for the first group of veterans, 2–6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, in the pavilion at American Legion Post 28, Millsboro.

A second fundraiser, featuring national recording artist Madison Rising and regional bands Fuzzbox Piranha and Steel Rain, is set for 5-10 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, also at American Legion Post 28.