are of the very first two instruments I ever attempted to build from scratch. Blame me as I had no plans, nobody around who knew anything about helping me do such monstrosities 🙂 Ok, likely a few who would have laughed at me wondering why I’d even bother with amazing Fenders, Gibsons, Taylors, several super-talented luthier friends who’d gifted me with brilliant gits- and other high-quality electric and acoustic guitars already in our gear collection!?
Here’s the explanation after a little background.
My earliest days somehow launched me into studying history. Histories of people groups, cultures, ancient and more recent, all sorts of interesting people from all over the planet and in various time periods. I think God set me up as a missionary long before I believed and then walked that path.
As an amateur history freak first, and eventually (age 12) a musician I naturally took to the origins of music in the U.S.A. which brought me early on to the blues. That took me to the issues of slavery, racism and as I had studied American Civil War history from about the 3rd grade on I found a lot of connections re. dirt-poor African-Americans as well as poor whites making do by building “folk instruments” with whatever was available in their “neck of the woods”. Many sang as they worked and when possible with little means, they made their own music-making tools to accompany the clap, stomp, dance and of course, singing. They both learned and created songs and music from such d.i.y. instruments which they also created! To me this was seriously cool, romantic, even mysterious. It’s also what poor folks do when that’s the main thought-of option, sometimes the only one open to them.
Various books, encyclopedias, magazine articles and such brought me the core knowledge of dulcimers, fiddles, banjos and of course cigarbox guitars.
When you think about it, a diddley bow (1 string slide guitar) is comprised of very, very few parts: body, neck, string/s, some sort of string-holder/stopper toward both body-end and toward the neck end, and a bridge (where the string is lifted up from the body end) and nut (where said string/s get lifted up just prior to the top of neck end/stopper/tuner/s). Bailing or other smooth wire or cat-gut, intestines, maybe even horse-hair, or nylon later on (even fishing line) served for strings.
If you’re counting, total parts may be as few as a total of 6 including string. Or add one or two more if more strings are added. Simple!
Played by running a “slide”, be it bone, glass, a smooth stone or backside of a knife, plucked with fingers or beating the string/s with a stick and now music is possible.
So a lot of us crazy Jesus freaks started a festival in Illinois called Cornerstone. What became Cornerstone Farm had an old metal building and around it stuff the former owner had left along with other bits of our own work on the property.
I kept walking or riding by one side of that building and often noticed a hunk of weathered wood about 3 feet long lying there. Snow, rain, sun, it just lay there for years until the day I thought “that could be a simple guitar neck”.
At a yard sale or somewhere I ended up with a metal cookie (biscuit if you’re in the U.K., Oz or NZ, etc.) tin. I thought “Cool, pretty lady in gold on a small, squared black tin… that’s a great fake dobro body there!” Yep.
I honestly don’t recall what year this was but it was long ago at this point.
My family stewarded a mobile home there with a deck, and in late spring or early summer that year I snatched that wood, grabbed the little tin and began cutting, drilling and simply throwing together my first found-object guitar together on our deck picnic table, only knowing it would sound something like an actual dobro (this is a dobro if you’re not aware).
I had been blessed with a Dobro Duolian through an endoresment deal via friends at Gibson/Epiphone/Dobro, and she still comes out to play from time to time as well… but I found a sense of inspiration with what I made as a 4 string slide guitar, in very short time frame taken down to a 3 stringer. I mean seriously inspiring. Why?
I had turned typical 6 string electrics into slide guitars, converting my single pickup Harmony solid body into slide-only axe when I was about 16 or 17 fronting a 3 piece band called Willow in the Milwaukee area. A cool open E, open D or G tuning is, I believe, easy as pie to make sound good, especially through a cookin’ amp and maybe with a distortion or another foot pedal or two. Big deal. Been there, done that, and will do so again. BUT… what can I play on only 3 strings? Or even just on 1 string?
Add either a cheap piezo pickup and 1/4 inch jack (I did) and there you go, sort of like doing the high wire act with no net!! It challenged me to write deeper blues as well as perform in a different way, with a different feel than I would with a typical 6 string. Perhaps a little more authentic to my ear and taste. And so it went and continues as I do gigs these days 🙂
Your mileage may vary but I must say this has been SOOOOOOO fun for me and plenty of folks focus on my songs and approach who would have not likely done so if all I did was use typical store-bought instruments.
When I build for myself it’s quick, crude and I’d rather them look like it, that’s just how I think about ’em -as you can see:
My second piece came about as we rehabbed a building here in Chicago and a couple old and out-of-use wooden filers, the sort you stack up on a desk for papers, was about to be tossed.
My brain switched to “Woah… I could turn one on top of the other, stick a neck and tuners, couple screws and bolts in there with 3 strings and see what it sounds like!” Indeed. So “For a Change” was written and recorded on one of my cd’s with this very guitar. It’s so whupped up an’ ugly it’s purty… at least to me. Sounds cool!
I never put a permanent pickup in/on this one but who knows…
Now I admit, I used 3 old electric guitar tuners on each of these and often build them like that but also often create ’em using an eyebolt with a wingnut as tuners. They work, honest!
I did not build these with the initial thought of playing them in concert or recording, just to play, practice and write on them to see what I might learn and accomplish with the challenge. Yet I continue to still being amazed at how others get inspired by them too, to learn basic music, song structure and of course simple slide playing, etc..
As said earlier, I own many, many quality guitars but even as I write tonight I’m about to throw together yet another git, likely 1 stringer… w. a pickup added too… made from this:
I won’t explain my plans for this one but just say it’s simple, fun and if you are very careful (about things like bedbugs!!!) you can even dumpster dive some cool stuff to create a simple slide guitar yourself. Guess where I got that little shelf… errr, guitar body?
As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn