It Might Get Weird: The Bone Guitar

We’ve all heard of a guitar with a bone nut, but how about a guitar made by a bone nut? That nut would be New Zealand–based artist Bruce Mahalski, who is known for his incredible animal illustrations as well as his haunting gun replica sculptures made from bones of various creatures. “I have been collecting bones since I was about eight years old,” Mahalski says. “Some people might consider it ghoulish to collect bits of dead animals, but to me it isn’t about death—it’s about life.”

When luthier Dave Gilbeard of Goldbeard Guitars saw Mahalski’s sculptures, he approached Mahalski with the idea of making a guitar. “I loved Bruce’s bone art,” Gilbeard explains. “I wanted to see a guitar in the same vein. I had a prototype acoustic six-string guitar that had reached the end of its useful life, so I offered it to Bruce.”

Mahalski and Gilbeard both wanted the guitar to remain a functional instrument, but Mahalski also wanted to cover the entire visible surface with bone, from the spruce top and mahogany back and sides to the entire neck. Gilbeard removed the guitar’s fretboard so Mahalski could replace it with trimmed cow rib “frets” and bones from various birds, arranged to look like a spine. As a result, the instrument is still playable but only with a slide.

The remainder of the instrument is covered with bones from a virtual Noah’s ark of tiny critters. “It has about 35 skulls on it,” Mahalski says. “Hedgehog, stoat, weasel, rabbit, rat, magpie, hawk, gull, possum, pukeko, duck, sparrow, thrush, stingray and more. It even has part of an extinct moa’s jawbone, and there are bones and teeth from a cat, dog, sheep, wild pig, cow, wallaby, swan, seal and snapper. I laid out an undercoat of the largest bones and built up from there until every tiny gap was filled. My aim with this project was to make it look as if the guitar grew itself organically. I see what I do as painting with bones.”

The Bone Guitar is currently for sale for NZD$5,000 (about $4,100 in U.S. funds), and Gilbeard and Mahalski plan to collaborate on at least one more bone-covered guitar. “I liked the idea of making a piece of art that is actually functional and not just purely decorative,” Mahalski says. “My work and Dave’s work are very different, but we both have a passion for wood, music and design.”

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.