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!
This sounded like a fun challenge and a great opportunity to work with someone I respected, so I jumped at the chance! After you see how I made the guitar, be sure to go watch Rob’s video of him playing (and rocking) it! Be sure to subscribe to his channel while you’re there, you won’t regret it!!
I literally got an old shovel out of my shed.
I clamped down both ends of the shovel to my work table.
Using a cut off wheel, I started cutting away some of the metal that wrapped the handle.
The key was not to cut off too much, so the handle still had something to attach to.
After finally getting through, there was a lot of rotten wood at the end.
I used a belt sander with 80 grit paper to flatten down the upper side of the handle to make a fret board.
I used a level to check the flatness of the “neck”, sanding and checking over and over again until it was mostly flat.
I measured up from the shovel pan to find a place for the nut and marked it’s location.
I made sure that the neck was flat from this point down (towards the pan).
I used a flap disc on my grinder to smooth out the edges of the cut metal since this is where your strumming hand would land.
The wood and metal were only held together by one nail on each side, so there was a lot of flex between the two pieces.
I drilled two holes on each side of the shovel and drove screws into the handle. This made it much more rigid.
Using an orbital sander, I smoothed out the surface of the handle so it wouldn’t be rough on the players hand.
A few inches past the nut marking, I found the placement for the tuning peg. Here I marked the necessary depth where the peg would need to sit.
Around this marking, I drew a rough shape to cut away.
On the band saw, I chopped off the end of the handle to length.
Then I carved out the shape to act as a headstock.
In that area, I drilled a 1/2″ hole for the tuning peg.
I set the peg in place and gently knocked it from the top with a mallet to mark two dimples where it sat.
I punched these two dimples with my ice pick, then pre drilled shallow holes there.
These holes allowed the tuning peg to sit flush on the surface and stop it from spinning.
Then I realized that I’d made a small mistake and flipped over the tuning peg, mounting it in the same fashion.
I tightened it in place with the included washer and nut.
On the top of the neck, I marked for a through hole for the string, and it’s approximate angle on the side of the handle.
This angle let the string hit the nut from below as it should. Originally, I had the string higher than the nut and that just wouldn’t work.
I drilled an angled hole from the top so that it would intersect with the string hole on the tuning peg.
Here’s an example of how the string would feed through from the nut to the tuning peg.
I laid a straight edge on the neck and scraped a mark where it intersected with the pan.
I also centered it on the neck to find the intersection point.
Where they intersected, I used a punch to mark a spot for drilling a hole.
I used a stepped bit to drill a small hole, large enough for a guitar string to pass through.
I didn’t have a file that would fit in the hole, so I used a drill bit to round over the edge of the hole. If the edge is too sharp, it could cut the guitar string when it’s tensioned.
A couple of inches above the first hole, I drilled a second, smaller one. This one has to small enough so the strings nut can’t pass through.
The string feeds in from the top (where the nut stops) then out from the bottom hole and down the neck.
I sharpened a pencil with a utility so that it had a fully flat side.
This allowed me to mark a line right up against both sides of a piece of aluminum, to be used for the nut.
I used a hack saw to cut out the area for the nut to fit, making sure not to cut it too wide. This needs a flush, tight fit.
Once I had the width cut correctly, I focused on flattening out the bottom of the slot so the aluminum would sit flush.
I used a chisel to square off the inside corners of the slot.
Once the aluminum fit into the slot, I roughly marked the shape to cut out.
I cut out this small piece on the band saw. Aluminum can be machined with most common woodworking tools.
Holding the nut with some pliers, I used a belt sander to rough over the edges and corners.
Adding some CA glue to the bottom of the nut, I knocked it into the slot with a rubber mallet.
Here’s the nut in it’s final state, almost.
The last part of making the nut was to use a file to cut a small groove for the string to sit in.
It’s important not to make the groove any deeper than absolutely necessary. If it’s too deep the string will buzz on the fret board.
For the pickup, I used an active EMG pick up kit. It comes with everything you need and requires no soldering. Everything just plugs together.
I marked holes underneath the pickup for the mounting screws.
These holes got drilled out with a bit that matched the screw size (very small).
I also drilled holes for the audio jack, volume and ton knobs.
These controls fit through the holes and were held in place with the supplied washer and nuts.
I mounted the pickup with the screws and springs that came with the kit. It need another hole drilled below it for the final wire connection to the pickup.
I also added some simple knobs to the controls.
I did a couple of coats of tung oil finish (tung oil/polyurethane mix) to all of the wood to protect it. This isn’t a typical neck finish, but it’s better than nothing at all.
This mixture is applied in light coats and requires a good amount of ventilation.
Finally, I string up the one string and it was complete!
I hooked it up and it worked on the first try!