I saw this level at the antique mall about a year ago and immediately knew I wanted to make a guitar out of it, but I wasn’t sure how. I originally wanted to keep the components within the confines of the level, meaning that the outer border of the level would remain untouched, but that kept me inactive for months. It would also have deprived me of full-scale 24.75″ fret spacing, which is my usual preference. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a configuration that would allow me to have full-scale and correctly position the pickup.
So…parts wise, I used an well worn level that I believe was used in conjunction with pouring concrete, since I spent a lot of time chiseling chunks of cement out its small nooks and crannies.
For the pickup, I used my usual power adapter style; however, the string action was too low to allow me to install it on the top side of the level, so I had to install from the bottom and then build the magnets on the top side. The rusty razor blades look cool, but they also serve as a steel foundation for the magnets. The homemade nature of the pickup adds to the rustic/primitive charm of any build.
The jack assembly was constructed from a square erector set plate and an RCA jack. A standard 9-hole square plate was cut, bent to a right angle, and bolted to the level. The angle end was drilled and a single RCA jack was installed. RCA jacks are not often used for guitars, but some builds have space issues—this build was such that a 1/4 inch jack would not easily install within the required parameters. RCA jacks can be adapted to 1/4 inch via specialized adapters and cords at any point within the signal flow.
The tuners are ground-down thumb screws and rod nuts. This is a simple machine that I have used on two other projects that had very specific space limitations, which otherwise could not have been accommodated with standard precision tuners. These tuners are very precise and hold their tune, but the turn ratio is quick so tuning must be changed in small increments. Much like the pickup, fabricating the tuners from simple parts adds to the DIY/homemade quality.
The nut and bridge are made from cut prices of rebar and the strings are fastened to the frame at the end opposite the tuners with bolts and nuts. The strings go on easy and a hex driver is used to tune with precision.
The strap is made from 41″ hook bungee. I cut the hooks off, drilled holes in the plastic ends of the bungee and each end of the level, and then attached it with zip-ties. It’s easily removed—just cut the ties and then zip-tie it back on when desired.
All in all this four-string steel guitar turned out pretty decent, though it could benefit from higher action for better playability. I recently entered it in a local build contest at the St. Louis MO Cigar Box Guitar Club and won a Boss RC-50 Loop Station that was formerly owned by cigar box guitar virtuoso Justin Johnson-very cool.