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The DIY Musician: Meet the Driftwood Guitar

When it comes to social networks for guitar builders, is like the Island of Misfit Toys. Weird and bizarre inventions abound over there, starting with simple cigar box guitars and eventually venturing into things that should never exist in a normal world.

Case in point: During a recent visit, I saw that Jason Mills proudly showed off this lap steel made entirely of driftwood. It’s an instrument in its simplest form with just two hunks of driftwood bolted together, an $8 set of CB Gitty economy tuners and a $14 Gold Foil pickup. And yet, it’s beautiful.

I interviewed Mills about the Driftwood Guitar, and the story behind it is even deeper than expected.

“My wife and I like to go for walks the Saginaw River in Bay City, Michigan. We often frequent all of the places my grandfather and I used to visit when I was a boy. From the early days of the saw mills, lumberjacks, ship building and rail roads, all were part of the river’s history.

“My grandfather played some homemade instruments and told me the stories of what they did before the days of radio. The day I found the driftwood used for this guitar build, I was telling my wife how much my grandfather would've liked the handmade music movement of today with cigar box guitars and all of the other instruments. I saw this piece and knew it had to be a guitar, almost as if my gramps directed my dog to pull me over to it.

“Then my wife picked up another piece and said, laughing, ‘Hey, here's your fretboard.’ We returned home and I couldn't wait to get out to my barn and see what could become of it.

“I like to imagine it might've come off of and old ship or a piece of wood from the millions of boards they used to float down the river back in the day.

"The tuners, pots, pickup, jacks and knobs came from CB Gitty Guitar Parts. The bridge and tailpiece I made from some walnut pieces and brass for a saddle. The neck, or in this case I like to think of it as a spine, is a piece of 3/4-inch-by 1 1/2-inch oak that's is glued to the driftwood fingerboard and runs underneath the driftwood body for support. The nut is a copper bolt that was just the right height for this build. The fingerboard markers are aluminum nails.

“The whole build went together fairly easily. Some nails, glue, screws, a bit of solder, and after its long, lonely journey down the river and into my hands, it was ready to make music.”

Jason Mills runs Highwood Guitars in Kawkawlin, Michigan.

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.

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