Skip to main content

The DIY Musician: Who Is Shovelman?

The American traveling freak show of the past is mostly gone. Its striped tents and curious discoveries behind the curtain have been replaced by two-to-three-minute-long viral videos of freaky people doing freaky things.

Instead of paying a dime to see Grace McDaniel (the mule-face girl) or the 750-pound Bruce Snowdon, we get videos of something called Shovelman.

God bless my fellow freak DIY musicians. They never stop applying guitar strings to random objects! This is one of several viral videos showcasing a guitar built from a shovel.

I decided to pull back the freak show curtain and learn a little more about this guy. After some tracking down on Facebook, I was able to snag him for a quick interview. (For the record, he only goes by Shovelman. I have yet to discover his true identity.)

GUITAR WORLD: What gave you the idea for the shovel guitar?

The shovel guitar was built for me by my strange uncle, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, and runs a "found object" art gallery. He doesn't play guitar but turns all sorts of things into guitars. He's built guitars out of tires, washboards, semi truck parts and stop signs. I worked for him for a while at the art gallery where I would play the instruments for patrons at art openings. Usually I would wear a business suit and stand up in the gallery window displays as part of the art instillations.

What was the shovel used for prior to concerts?

The shovel was found at a lumber yard and wasn't for sale. He had to convince the hardware store employees to sell it to him. I think it was used to shovel gravel.

How long did it take you to build?

It was built quickly, in one night. My uncle has a crew of small people who assist him with all his builds. They attached all the parts with hardware, and no welding was done. There's a notched-out handle from a meat grinder for the nut, and an antique drawer handle for the bridge. No fretboard. An old typewriter-set holds the strings above the bridge. The pickup is a DeArmond Korean knock-off from the Fifties. I had to really work with effects to get it to sound good at all.

Have you found satisfaction in the shovel or do you plan on building more instruments?

I'd like to release a few more Shovelman albums. I have one record that just needs a few more adjustments and I'll be able to release it into the wild. I have new guitar concepts in the works all the time.

I'm at the point where art-guitar builders give me parts all the time. Phil Sylvester of Pheo Guitars just gave me an odd-shaped wooden guitar body. I get advice sometimes from Ken Butler in New York. I have done some tinkering of my own. I'm interested in attaching lights to a lap steel for a space-age guitar concept. Although these things take time....

Where are you from, and where can we see you in concert?

I now live in Portland, Oregon, but I perform mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area since that's where I started out. I've opened for an eclectic array of different groups and solo acts. I've opened for Primus with a circus group I perform with. I've opened for Beats Antique, the Motet, Kaki King, Scott Biram, Jolie Holland, Reggie Watts and many others. I plan on doing more shows up and down the west coast.

Does a shovel guitar get you more women?

I'll just say the shovel guitar tends to attract a certain type of woman. They tend to be the type of gals that are strong and can fix anything.

You can learn more, purchase downloads and get Shovelman’s concert schedule at

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C.B. Gitty Records.