When Southern-rock/country artist Tim Montana finished watching the 2014 film American Sniper, the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, in a theater struck quiet by the movie's somber ending, he was overcome by the desire to do something to help U.S. service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
So Montana, the leader of the band Tim Montana and the Shrednecks, reached out to his contact at Gibson Guitars and pitched a pie-in-the-sky idea. "I called Gibson and said, 'What if we make a Chris Kyle guitar? I don't know how it's going to happen, but. . . ' and they were like, 'OK.'"
The result was a red, white and blue Les Paul adorned with Kyle's infamous Punisher skull logo that Montana, Gibson and the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit auctioned off to raise money for the Guardian of Heroes Foundation, which helps wounded U.S. soldiers. The instrument sold for $117,500, prompting Montana to try and top it with another guitar this year. With help from the Gibson Foundation, they commissioned a hand-carved custom-made guitar, again decorated with Kyle's insignia, that also includes a spent shell from one of the sniper's missions.
"Last year it was a 10 to $15,000 guitar and this one, being a one-off, it could be worth $50,000, especially with all the war relics in there," says Montana, who worked with Kyle's father to make sure the camouflage design on the guitar's body matched that of Kyle's own fatigues.
Montana, who recently finished a tour with ZZ Top and will be supporting Kid Rock on his summer dates, performed at a benefit for Kyle in Texas last month. Bidding on the guitar, which this year benefits the Spirit of a Hero Foundation, ends Monday, June 6th.
Still, for all his patriotism and support of the U.S. military — his band's Sprinter van is sponsored by and placarded with SEAL-endorsed businesses — Montana doesn't shy away from the fact that some may have a less flattering view of Kyle and his exploits in and after battle.
"His name may bring up a lot of controversy, but at the end of the day, he saved a lot of American lives by being there," says Montana. "We celebrate that, and we raise money to continue doing good things in his name."