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Hot Rod Guitars and Broken Ankles

An orthopedic surgeon who builds guitars? Must be fate...

I’ve always been a firm believer that when it comes to the admiration and appreciation of guitars, there is literally one degree of separation among us. And man, do I have a cool story to support this theory.

Needless to say, we’ve been pretty jacked up about putting together this month’s hot rod theme issue. The resurgence of those eighties tone monsters reminds us that now, more than ever, we are enabled and encouraged to create the guitars of our dreams. Whether you’re turning a gank repair opportunity into a complete visual makeover, expanding the tonal possibilities of your favorite axe or creating a suppedup beast from the ground up, you are limited only by your imagination and your wallet. Back in the day, we were on our own. Do you remember Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo duct-taping that Big Muff to the body of his Strat in the early seventies? I can recall hot-rodding my $100 Japanese mail order Strat copy in the eighth grade—it had a natural finish with a knock-off large seventies headstock. The single coils were lame, so I routed a hole big enough to cram a Dimarzio Super D in the bridge. That’s a standard surgical procedure today, but boy was I scared to go down that path back then. I pulled it off, though—it sounded great, but geez was that route job crude! I had to pull a pickup ring off of an old Aims MPC 38 Les Paul copy (remember that built-in fuzz and phase shifter?) to conceal the mutilation.

So get this—as my nostalgia and the excitement about the production of this issue were coming full circle, I fell flat on my ass. Literally. We’re talking slip-on-the-ice, up-in-the-air and crash-back-down carnage, Fred Flintstone style. I broke my ankle in three places! The cracking sound is something I’ll never forget. Son of *****, that’s going to leave a mark.

Dr. Paul Dayton and his hand-built guitars
Something uncanny happened in the emergency room. As Dr. Paul Dayton, DPM, was checking out my x-rays and telling me that I had also ripped all the tendons and connecting tissues in my ankle, and fractured my Fibula (son of a *****!), he offered the inevitable small talk. He asked what I do for a living. Imagine our mutual surprise and genuine interest—FUBAR leg situation notwithstanding—when I told him I publish a guitar magazine and he told me he makes guitars as a hobby. The conversation quickly turned from hot-rodding my ankle to hot-rodding guitars. Dr. Dayton is a thirty-year veteran guitar player, collector and a pretty darn good guitar builder. I mean, this cat is into it. He has two sons who share the passion, too. My next visit with the doc was a pre-op consultation and a chance for him to show off two guitars he had just built. He cuts his own body blanks and does all his own routing from scratch. He even does his own finish work and assembly. Before I knew it, they were wheeling me in for surgery while Dr. Dayton and I were still talking about flamed maple, lower ohm pots, neck radius, pickup choices, etc.

The surgery went well. A few ankle screws and bolt-on necks later, our conversations about intonation are getting deeper, and my ankle is showing signs of recovery. The moral to this story is simple: the sanctuary of tone and the undeniable passion for guitars is universal and always just around the corner. I look forward to continuing my newly found gearhead friendship— perhaps we’ll hot-rod a few guitars together after we finish hot-rodding my ankle. The guitar doctor was in when I had my mishap, and I am grateful. I’m also damn glad I didn’t break my arm.