Two of the most freakish guitars in my extremely weird guitar collection were made by Tone-A-Cane Copper Pipe Guitars and Pete Regan’s Metal Guitars.
Both were crafted using metal for body and necks. And both are so damn heavy, you could win bar fights with them.
The Tone-A-Cane Guitar is the brainchild of Worcester, Massachusetts, artist Timothy Dlugasz, and—with the exception of the wood fretboard—is made completely of copper pipes. In the case of my Tone-A-Cane (an early version, serial Number 03), the body is mostly non-existent, with small shrimp-fork wings coming out of the sides. More recent Tone-A-Canes have a Les Paul-ish body outline made from copper for better ergonomics.
I appreciate a baseball-bat neck, and the Tone-A-Cane has the fattest, most massive neck I’ve ever seen. The neck consists of three copper pipes that run the length of the body. Two smaller pipes flank the sides while a thicker pipe goes up the middle. A wooden fretboard is glued to them (The intonation is perfect, by the way) and the headstock is formed from the two outside pipes joined with a few elbow connectors.
The humbucking pickup delivers a surprisingly warm jazz tone when plugged into my 30-watt Musicvox MVX-30 amp. I’ve used the Tone-A-Cane at several shows, and it’s always a crowd pleaser, causing cellphones to pop up for pictures and videos.
Tone-A-Cane Guitars are sold through copperguitars.com. You also can see the newer Ghost Body versions at the website.
Pete Regan Guitars look like modernist sculptures that should be hanging in an art gallery. Huntsville, Alabama, based Regan uses hunks of scrap iron, rebars and welding joints to create super-heavy Mad Max guitar/weapons that have sustain for days.
The Pete Regan guitar in my collection is a two-string slide instrument inspired by cigar box guitars. Regan started with a narrow rectangle body crafted from rebar and flat metal, adding disappearing circle “sound holes” and loading an EMG single coil. He added a bottom hunk of rebar to rest on your lap when sitting, providing enough weight to cut off circulation to leg.
The neck is simply two hunks of salvaged rebar with a nut also made of rebar. There’s no warping here!
I’ve tried several string combinations with the Pete Regan. One incarnation was to use the low and high E strings from a standard pack of electric strings and tune it E to E'. Here’s a quick demo:
In addition to making the scrap iron guitars, Regan has invented a percussion instrument that gives the sound of prisoners hammering railroad spikes with their chains clanging. The pedal (which I call the "John Henry") is simply an old ball-peen hammer with chain links attached to the back, mounted to a lever pedal. At the top of it is an actual railroad spike. When you stomp on it, the hammer slams the rail spike and then crashes back with a shattering rattle of chains.
Since prison chants and field hollers provided the continuing concept of my latest album, Holler!, we used this stomper everywhere. Here’s just one example, “Big Leg Woman/Swing the Hammer.”
Pete Regan doesn’t have a standard website. (I don’t even think that’s his real name!) However, if you want to see more of his instruments or contact him about building you an iron battle axe guitar, you can find him on Facebook.
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.