I have a confession to make: I’m afraid of shiny, new, barely-been-played guitars. I have a tendency to add “character” marks to them quite easily because I’m such a caveman of a player. Over the years, I’ve tried owning “mint” guitars, but I always end up selling them in favor of well-worn axes. Really, I’ve always been drawn to true mongrels. It probably dates back to my youth, when I would buy cheap guitars and then piece them together into more interesting creations.
When the phenomenon of buying a new guitar with a “worn” finish took hold during the last 20 years, I was a little amused. I like the idea of a distressed-looking guitar, but in my slightly skewed mind, I still see these as new instruments.
However, there have always been fringe guitar makers who are able to combine wacky parts to create something impressive to us oddball players. As evidence, may I present the sparkly green concoction in Photo 1. Dubbed the “Calculon 6” by its maker, this guitar combines weirdness and artistry in a way that amazes even the most gonzo guitar fan.
And there’s a story here: The mysterious builder who brought us this unusual guitar lived in Nashville. After working as a guitar tech and prop designer for Hee Haw—the variety television show hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark for much of its 26-season run—he began to focus more on creating parts guitars that expressed his personal vision. Using these instruments as his canvas, he added interesting details and recycled parts to create unique art that could actually be played.
Apparently, Calculon 6’s builder traded this guitar to a speaker cabinet maker, who then passed it on to me. Sadly, the builder died a few years ago and the original owner lost all the paperwork for this beautiful gem, so we don’t know who created it.
This guitar appears to have started life as an off-white Fernandes T-style with EMG pickups. Though I’ve disassembled and studied every part of this guitar, I’ve been unable to find any markings that could further my research into its roots.
The homemade pickguard was cut with a jeweler’s saw. It is some sort of flexible plastic and the paint is just globbed on, à la Van Gogh. The circuit board, bottle caps, and industrial nameplate (Photo 2) all add to this masterpiece. But for me, the most intriguing touch is the external ground wire running from the bridge to the jack.
I’ve always embraced this sort of aesthetic when it comes to guitars, and I would love to tell the builder’s story if I ever discover who he or she was. The guitar plays incredibly well and has great action up and down the neck. The pickups can handle whatever you throw at them, and that ground wire actually accentuates certain effects, such as flange. It’s like a very basic Theremin! Instruments like this are folk art to me, and it’s always inspiring to see people express themselves using guitars as their preferred medium.