Destroyed Amps, Fried Circuits, and the Forgotten Gear Graveyard
Anyone who’s played long enough—and loud enough—has probably fried their fair share of circuits, amps, and speakers. (For example, I fried the output circuitry on my Peavey Heritage 2x12 combo twice. Smoke billowed from the chassis and everything. The second time was at an audition. I didn’t get the gig.) You can leave your old gear in the garage. You can convert it into a lamp or coffee table. Or—believe it or not—you can sell it. Reverb even has a category for non-functioning gear. “Keep in mind,” the site claims, “there are still plenty of buyers out there who are in the market for project guitars and other fixer-upper items.”
Juday agrees. “I partly got my start by buying broken equipment, fixing it, and reselling it back in my repair days. There are people who want broken gear for a bargain.” But if no one wants it, bring the metal parts to the scrapyard. “Take out the speaker and metal chassis and take that to a local scrapyard. They weigh it and pay you for the scrap metal. That metal is chopped up, melted down, and turned into new steel. However, there really isn’t a good way to recycle the wooden cabinet. Your best bet is to break it down with a sledgehammer and throw the wooden enclosure away.”
Circuit boards and non-functioning electronics are recyclable as well. Your local scrapyard will take them. However, the EPA also lists several retailers—including Staples and Best Buy—that have buy-back and drop-off programs. “If you want to see some interesting videos,” Juday says, “search ‘circuit board recycling.’ You would not believe what they’re able to do by grinding them up and melting them down. A circuit board has all kinds of precious metals—like gold and silver—and also harmful metals like lead and cadmium. They can all be recovered through the recycling process.”
Tubes, Cables, and Picks
What should you do with blown tubes? Short of converting them into shot glasses, not much. “People say, ‘You should recycle them,’” Bosso says. “But the response is, ‘Where do I take them? What’s going to happen to them?’ It’s a pain in the ass to do it. Cities and towns will hold the occasional eWaste day. You bring them your eWaste and what happens, frankly, is oftentimes it is put in a big container and shipped off to developing countries where someone might try to get the metals out of it.”
Juday agrees. “There’s not a good way of recycling tubes, which is unfortunate,” he says. “The good news is they don’t have very much metal in them. They do have some precious metal in there, like tungsten and other metals, but it’s in such small quantities that it’s not really worth anything.”
Your frayed cables can be disposed of like other metals and the copper wiring can be reused for various projects. Some even claim you can use old braided and shielded cable as solder wick (Visit Instructibles.com for “How to Recycle an Old Dead Cable" article.), but the verdict is out on that.
There’s also not much you can do with your old, beaten, worn-out picks. “Some plastics are recyclable,” Bosso says. “They have some value in the marketplace because they can be reused. But a lot of plastics increasingly don’t have much market value, so cities and towns may end up incinerating it.”
However, there is a trend for converting old credit cards, vinyl records, and other hard plastics into picks. If you feel a connection to your last credit card—or maybe if you’ve paid it off—you can continue using it to make music.
Part II: Making Treasure out of Trash
Wallace Detroit Guitars, based in Detroit, Michigan, builds guitars out of wood salvaged from the city’s many abandoned properties. “When you’re in Detroit, it’s hard not to notice that there are a lot of vacant properties,” Mark Wallace, the company’s founder and CEO says. “It looks like these places should be torn down, thrown into a dumpster, and nobody should ever think about them. But what’s exciting to me is that we’re actually finding really incredible wood in those houses and turning that into instruments that stand up next to any handmade instrument.”
Wallace Guitars uses reclaimed wood from abandoned Detroit buildings and houses. According to CEO Mark Wallace, old-growth pine dated between 1860 and 1930 yields favorable tonal characteristics.
Most of the wood comes from the Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit, a local non-profit that functions as an unusual lumber yard. “We’re not breaking into houses we don’t own,” Wallace says. “I walk into a warehouse that looks like a scene in Indiana Jones and it’s full of reclaimed wood. I can see the wood, I can see the species, and they track which property a piece of wood came out of.”
The most plentiful species of wood found in old Detroit houses, other than oak, is old-growth pine. “There are 60,000 vacant properties in Detroit and most of them have pine in the joist. I knew that if I could turn a pine two-by-four into a great guitar, I would have a supply that would last a very long time. I didn’t know if it was going to work—so we spent a lot of time prototyping—because pine has different characteristics from swamp ash, maple, or anything you traditionally make a guitar out of. What I discovered, which was really thrilling, is that the pine that comes out of houses that were built between 1860 and 1930 is generally pine that was grown in old-growth forests and it’s very different from pine that is grown in modern forests. Typically, if you’re trying to produce a two-by-four to sell at Lowe’s or Home Depot, you’re going to use trees that are spaced out a certain distance to maximize light and rainfall. You’re going to hit them full of fertilizers to make them grow straight. You’re going to trim them so they don’t have any knots in them. In the old forests, every tree is competing with every other tree. They are fighting for sunlight and grow in a context of scarcity of natural resources. The reason that matters is that the growth rings you get from the old growth forests are much tighter than the growth rings you get from a modern forest. What I have is pine, and because it’s so damn old, it’s much more similar to ash, almost to maple, than pine you would typically expect to see in 2017. I’ve got this really beautiful stuff that has this really interesting performance characteristic to it.”
The bodies are made from bonded-together two-by-fours and come in two styles: long grain and end grain. “The long-grain style is like racing stripes,” Wallace says. “If we find trims made out of mahogany or walnut or something, we chop that up, plane it down, and slab it together. In terms of the standard pine, I really like showing off the history of the wood: the stains and the nail holes. [For the end grain], we do a long grain back and that forms the neck pocket. We then do a 5/8” cap on top where we expose the grain.”
But working with these woods does pose unique challenges. “The big one is metal. Even if you use a metal detector, you still never know what’s buried inside. We burn up a lot more blades than others do. Making sure the wood is dry to a consistent level is really important to us as well. Some of this stuff has been sitting outside for years.”
Wallace guitars are constructed piecemeal by different teams of luthiers around Detroit. One group does the glue-ups, one does the planing, another does the sanding and finishing coat. The necks and set-ups are done separately as well, and the necks are made from maple. “I can’t find enough consistent maple to do a reclaim,” Wallace says. “We use Michigan maple and try to keep it in the state, but they’re not reclaimed.”