Spring is here, birds are making nests in my back yard and it’s that wonderful time of year known as yard sale season.
For a rabid guitar collector like myself, this is prime time to scope out some six-string bliss.
Just last week, I scored this beat-up Japanese guitar from the Sixites. Sale price: $85.
Yard sale tip: Even if you don’t see any guitars at a yard sale, ask the homeowner if he/she has any. Sometimes they'll remember one in the basement or attic and go inside to get it for you to look at.
This axe has a wonderful offset body and an explosive single-coil pickup in the middle position. It has no branding, but was most likely made by the Nippon Onpa Kogyo Co., later known as the Teisco Guitar Company. These guitars can be found at deliciously low prices if you keep an eye out.
These old student-grade electrics from the Sixties are blues machines. Even ones with warped necks can be set up for Hound Dog Taylor-approved slide guitars. This one has a nice straight neck, but I still tuned it to open E (E B E G# B E, low to high) because I play slide. Here’s a quick demo. Kindly ignore the fat guy in sweatpants. BTW, the amp is just a little Roland MicroCube.
In a previous column, I wrote about the joy of heavily modding guitars like this into Frankenstein beasts. However, this sexy beast was found in mostly original condition. (A close inspection revealed some pickup rewiring.) I wanted to keep it almost as-is, but there were a few things that needed fixing:
• I replaced the worn-out tuners with a set of $15 Tombstone sealed tuners from C.B. Gitty. The keystone-style tuners are chrome and matched the retro pickguard. Best of all, they’re sealed and have a silky feel, keeping the strings nice and in tune.
I also swapped out the cracked plastic volume and tone knobs with some chrome Pignose snout knobs. (I’m also a parts hoarder and I keep a lookout for Pignose snouts!) See gallery pic #2.
• Lastly, I reconditioned the fretboard with a simple rubbing of Old English lemon oil. Just put a coat on and rub off with a soft cloth. It took a little elbow grease, but the fretboard shines like new. See gallery pic #3.
I’ve fully documented the process for replacing tuners over at Cigar Box Nation. It includes a key tip on getting the individual tuners perfectly aligned and straight. Trust me, a $15 set of tuners can completely revive one of these axes.
After these few tweaks, I now I have a killer offset in my growing guitar collection. It's the type of axe I'll be dragging out to gigs and also taking out on the back porch swing in the evenings. And doing these little repairs and upgrades is like meditation or therapy to me. There's nothing like honoring an old guitar by nursing it back to health.
UPDATE ON THE 2X4 LAP STEEL GUITAR PROJECT: In another GuitarWorld.com column, I showed you how to make your own lap steel guitar out of a 2x4 plank. (2x4 Lap Steel: Part One and Part Two.) Just recently, I received an email from Steven Bruce, who created his own version. See the pictures and descriptions here. Great job, Steven!
OK, I’m off to drive around the neighborhoods, looking for neon cardstock signs with yard sale arrows scrawled in Sharpie. If I find something new, I’ll put it on my new live Facebook video feed, Cigar Box Guitar TV: Facebook.com/cigarboxguitar.
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 ShaneSpeal.com. Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.