Artist Ken Butler Turns One Man’s Trash Into Another Man’s Quirky Stringed Instrument

Hey, hoarders, think you’re the only ones who see potential in a single crutch, an empty Scotch bottle, the jagged remains of a skateboard?  Not so. Musician, artist, and all-around visionary Ken Butler has been turning such trash into treasure since 1978, when he fitted an ax with a tail piece, fingerboard and contact mic and snuggled it inside a 3/4 size violin case. Chop a cherry tree with it, or play it just like Buddy Guy plays his ax. Like most of the hybrids Butler creates in his Brooklyn studio, it’s a functioning musical instrument, though he’s quick to point out that for him, the sound is immaterial. What really counts is the poetic coupling of unlikely materials.

Things really get cookin’ at the 4:20 mark, when Butler plays a few licks on a three-stringed shovel before moving on to a bowable, electrified tennis racket. The results are far lovelier than the master would lead you to believe.

Ayun Halliday can stumble her way through the Entertainer if there’s a piano handy.

Related Content:

The Art of Making a Flamenco Guitar: 299 Hours of Blood, Sweat & Tears Experienced in 3 Minutes

Making Fender Guitars, Then (1959) and Now (2012)

The Joy of Making Artistic Homemade Guitars

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