How To Make a Guitar from a Shovel

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

3990 Articles

By Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

3990 Articles

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In 2009, I happened to catch the performance of Isaac “Shovelman” Frankle at Maker Faire Bay Area. Fashioning a decent-sounding, working guitar out of a shovel and then entertaining the crowds at the Faire with it, struck me as the perfect expression of why Maker Faire and the maker movement are so very special. We even ended up using Shovelman’s performance as the soundtrack to the video montage that year. You can see that video here.

So, I was very interested when I saw that Bob of I Like to Make Things had posted a project showing how he created a one-string guitar out of a shovel and a guitar pick-up kit. On his project post, he explains how the instrument came about:

You may not know this, but I used to make music on YouTube a long time ago. Back then, I watched a lot of other YouTube musicians and one of them was Rob Scallon. Rob is an insanely talented guitar player and super creative guy! He always creates really interesting videos that go far past just showing off his skills (which are pretty amazing). It was really surprising to me recently when he reached out to me to do a collaboration! He asked me to make him a one string guitar from an old shovel!

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In the video, he runs through all of the steps of the build and what some of the design challenges were that he encountered (and some of the mistakes he made). He does a minimal amount in terms of cleaning up the rusty old shovel and prepping it to accept the hardware and electronics for the guitar.

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A lot of the work went into assuring that the neck was level and smooth enough for safely playing.

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In cutting the end of the neck to accept the tuning peg, Bob messed up and cut the curved area for the peg on the wrong side of the neck. To fix this, he flipped the peg around and created a diagonal hole through the neck to feed the string. It worked fine. Problem solved.

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For the bridge, he cut and fashioned a piece of aluminum on his bandsaw and installed it, cutting a groove in the center for the string.

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With all of the hardware in place, he installed the electronics on the shovel head. He used an active EMG pickup kit which he says was a complete no-brainer to install. No soldering required.

And how does it sound? Good question. Here’s a fun video of Rob Scallon playing it, but with all of the other instrumentation and treatments on this metal track, I’m not really sure what part of this is really the shovel itself.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the musical documentary, It Might Get Loud, where Jack White builds a diddly bow (which is what a one string guitar is actually called) in a cow field with a chunk of wood, a Coke bottle, and some nails.