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The DIY Musician: Frankenstein Guitars and the Pizza Dobro

In the past month, Eddie Van Halen donated a replica of his Frankenstein guitar to the Smithsonian—and Les Paul’s Black Beauty sells for $335,500 at auction.

Both guitars are iconic and have created legendary music. And both guitars look like they’ve been hacked at 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 Pizza Dobro is a perfect example.

The Pizza Dobro is mashup instrument I built from yard sale parts, thrift store finds and a pizza pan:

· The body is from an old Sixties Teisco ET-200 "tulip" guitar. I love the shape!
· The ¾ scale neck was taken from a broken First Act kids guitar.
· The Pizza Dobro gets its name from the shallow pizza pan 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 under-priced. I buy ‘em by the dozen.)

I have the Pizza Dobro tuned to a dizzying open D tuning (A, D, A, F#, 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 are thousands more still out there. There’s no other guitar on the market like this, and it only cost me $50 in parts.

The Pizza 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 might see this guitar-with-personality as more valuable than the store-bought axes in my collection.

I WANT TO SEE YOUR FRANKENSTEINS FOR A FUTURE COLUMN! Send two to three photos and a two-paragraph description of your hacked/chopped/zombified guitar to Tell me what you did to it and why you love it so much. Send your submissions before March 1, 2015. My favorite submission will get featured in this column, and I’ll even send the builder a handmade Shane Speal cigar box guitar as a thank-you.

Oh…one more thing: If you haven’t watched Eddie Van Halen Plays Guitar (and Discusses Innovation) at the Smithsonian — Video | Guitar World, budget one hour of your time this week and do so. It’s friggin’ awesome.

Shane Speal is "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.

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