An excerpt from Shane Speal's Book, Making Poor Man's Guitars. (purchase here.)
Two of the most freakish guitars in the Cigar Box Guitar Museum are by Tone-A-Cane Copper Pipe Guitars and Pete Regan’s Metal Guitars. Both are crafted using metal for body and necks…and both are so heavy, you could win bar fights with them.
The Tone-A-Cane Guitar (www.copperguitars.com) is the brainchild of Worcester, MA artist, Timothy Dlugasz and, with the exception of the wood fretboard, is made completely of copper pipes. In my Tone-A-Cane (an early version, serial # 03), the body is mostly non-existent, with small shrimp-fork wings to coming out the sides. More recent Tone-A-Canes have a Les Paul-ish body outline made from copper for better ergonomics.
I’m a guy who appreciates a baseball bat neck and the Tone-A-Cane is the fattest, most massive neck I’ve ever seen. The neck consists of three copper pipes that run the length of the body. Two smaller pipes flank the sides while a thicker pipe goes up the middle. A wooden fretboard is glued to them (intonation is perfect, by the way) and the headstock is formed from the two outside pipes joined with a few elbow connectors.
The humbucking pickup delivers a surpisingly warm jazz tone when plugged into my 30 watt Musicvox MVX-30 amp. I’ve used the Tone-A-Cane in several concerts and it’s always a crowd pleaser, causing cellphones to pop up for pictures and videos.
Tone-A-Cane Guitars are sold online at www.copperguitars.com. You can also see the newer Ghost Body versions at the website.
Pete Regan Guitars look like modernist sculptures that should be hanging in an art gallery. Huntsville, AL based Regan uses hunks of scrap iron, rebars and welding joints to create super-heavy Mad Max guitar/weapons that have sustain for days.
The Pete Regan guitar in my collection is a 2-string slide instrument (above) inspired by cigar box guitars. Regan started with a narrow rectangle body crafted from rebar and flat metal, adding disappearing circle “sound holes” and loading an EMG single coil. He added a bottom hunk of rebar to rest on your lap when sitting, providing enough weight to cut off circulation to leg.
The neck is simply two hunks of salvaged rebar with a nut also made of rebar. There’s no warping here!
I’ve tried several string combinations with the Pete Regan. One incarnation was to use the low and high E strings from a standard pack of electric strings and tune it E – E’. Here’s a quick demo.
In addition to making the scrap iron guitars, Regan has also invented a percussion instrument that gives the sound of prisoners hammering railroad spikes with their chains clanging.
The pedal (which I call the John Henry) is simply an old ball peen hammer with chain links attached to the back, mounted to a lever pedal. At the top of it is an actual railroad spike. When you stomp on it, the hammer slams the rail spike and then crashes back with a shattering rattle of chains. Since prison chants and field hollers provided the continuing concept of my latest album, HOLLER, we used this stomper everywhere. Here’s just one example, the song “Big Leg Woman/Swing the Hammer.”