In a music scene replete with DIY-ers who press records, screen T-shirts and print zines, who's to say you can't build your own instruments as well? Josh Beyer, who plays locally with Tusk Lord, Mike Tamburo and Dave Bernabo's Assembly, decided to learn how to build guitars from scratch.
"I got the inspiration from learning how to repair my own instrument," he recalls. "The first thing I did was to scallop the frets of an electric guitar, which supposedly lets you play really fast. I had one guitar that I kept modifying, adding a distortion circuit to eliminate the need for a pedal."
From there, Beyer took a private class with a master luthier in Easton, Pa., who helped him make his first archtop guitar. "Instead of a flat top like a classical or folk guitar, it's curved and based on a violin shape. The standard jazz guitar is an archtop, and I like that sound because it's a little warmer. I've built two so far."
Beyer also delved into circuit-bending, changing the electronic innards of cheapo Casio keyboards and other devices to alter their output. He circuit-bent delay pedals that form a "feedback machine" when combined with pieces of luggage he converted into speakers. "If you go in and change the circuits, you can get 20 seconds of delay instead of the two seconds the manufacturer gives you," he says. "I wanted to exploit the possibilities they weren't allowing you to have. I'll go to Goodwill and buy cheap plastic toys for a dollar, then give them a bigger purpose, so I can make alien sounds with them instead of just quoting cartoon characters."
Even though much of his music is at least somewhat improvised, he compares building an instrument to the deterministic act of writing a song -- the pre-planned material one puts into it determines how the end product will sound. "The benefit is in having full control, so that I'm able to worry just about playing [the music], and not about the instrument, because I've taken care of that ahead of time."
Don't think the DIY route is without its expenses. Just like Bob Vila, Beyer had to acquire tools to make his handmade instruments possible, such as a carving duplicator, convex hand plane, flat planes, and some special Japanese chisels and saws. Even with the proper tools, "sometimes the wood doesn't do exactly what you want it to, though," he says. "There are little things that can make you rethink your plan."
Beyer initially concentrated on customizing his own gear for performance, but now he feels ready to work on projects to other people's specifications. Interested parties should contact him via http://josh.ography.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.