If you're a musician looking for a sound, there are no rules on how you get there. Eddie Van Halen and Les Paul are icons when it comes to hacked and modded instruments. For example, Eddie Van Halen donated a replica of his Frankenstein guitar to the Smithsonian and Les Paul’s Black Beauty sold for $335,500 at auction. Both guitars are iconic and have created legendary music. And both guitars look like they’ve been molested with chisels, cut with coping saws and fitted with mismatched parts.
They’re sound searchers. For them, a guitar is a tool that sometimes needs to be modified … vintage status be damned.
Like Les and Eddie, I’ve modded and destroyed more collectible and vintage guitars than many people have ever owned…and these zombified creations have been used in concert, on albums and provided inspiration for other instruments that I’ve built. My Franken-Dobro is a perfect example…
The Franken-Dobro is mashup instrument I built from yard sale parts, thrift store finds and a pizza pan:
- The body is from an old 1960’s Teisco ET-200 ‘tulip’ guitar. I love the shape!
- The ¾ scale neck was taken from a broken First Act kids guitar.
- The Franken-Dobro gets its name from the shallow pizza pan that I embedded in the body, creating a poor-man’s version of a Dobro cone. I simply cut a hole through the entire guitar body that was big enough for the pan.
- A lid from a cigar box provides the backplate. Oh, and there’s no worries on having the body buckle under pressure. These Teisco bodies were made of industrial grade plywood!
- An old Stella trapeze tailpiece holds the strings and a bolt I found at a flea market is the perfect bridge.
- Topping it off (pun intended) is a C. B. Gitty lipstick tube pickup screwed right into the pizza pan and hard-wired to an upside-down Strat jack. (At less than $18 each, the lipstick pickups are deliciously underpriced. I buy ‘em by the dozen.)
I have the Franken-Dobro tuned to a dizzying Open D tuning DAF#A (low to high) and the metal pan gives a bit of banjo snap. It’s pretty and delicate sounding and the perfect guitar for some Appalachian blues.
For all the online discussions I see about fitting necks perfectly into the pocket and upgrading electronics for perfect tones, I bask in the glory of this guitar’s shittiness. The pickup wire is exposed. The bridge is nothing but a bolt sitting on a piece of wood. Hell, even the string spacing isn’t perfect. Yet this guitar kicks butt! I’m actually proud of the sneers I get from people when they comment on this. Yes, I destroyed a vintage Teisco tulip body. So what! There’s thousands more still out there. There’s no other guitar on the market like this and it only cost me $50 in parts.
The Franken-Dobro is definitely a keeper and will probably have my future grandkids scratching their heads when they divvy up my estate after I die. Then again, they may see this guitar-with-personality as more valuable than the store bought axes in my collection.