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Dirt Road Blues: Danny Mangold’s Clarksdale tribute guitar

Most people who visit Mississippi are likely to spend time gambling in Tunica or Biloxi or soaking in authentic blues mojo in Clarksdale. While Seattle guitarist Danny Mangold did his fair share of the latter during a month-long trip there, he also spent much of his time combing the streets and riverbanks for scraps to build a guitar.

“Street cleaning is pretty laid back in Mississippi,” Mangold says. “I found tons of objects laying around or washed up on the banks of the Mississippi and Sunflower rivers. Everybody there plays guitar, so I found bodies and necks in second-hand stores, grocery stores, gas stations—you name it.”

When Mangold got back home to Seattle, he used the various items he collected to convert a Gibson Les Paul into a one-of-a-kind tribute to the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues. He decorated the body with photos, rusted furnace hinges, old keys, coins and other found objects, and he finished the wood using lacquer mixed with dirt that he collected from Muddy Waters’ birthplace in Stovall and from the legendary crossroads of highways 61 and 49.

The Clarksdale guitar is just one of 15 similar instruments that Mangold has built to date. Other notables include a Hank Williams tribute Les Paul TV decorated with items found outside Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and an Elvis Presley Precision Bass. “I got a box of metal letters from an old church that had just enough letters to spell out Elvis Presley and Graceland,” he says. “Divine intervention!”

While Mangold’s guitars look like something Fred Sanford scrapped together in a Ripple-induced haze, they actually have high-performance parts that deliver pro-quality tone. “Everything under the hood is high quality,” Mangold explains. “I use Switchcraft pots, Fender and Gibson hardware, Grover or Kluson tuners, and Duncan or DiMarzio pickups.”

Although Mangold has kept three of his creations for personal use and enjoyment, he has sold the others, usually for an average price of $2,500. “I’m bored with the sameness I see in guitars everywhere,” he says. “That’s what inspired me to build guitars that tell a musical story.”

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