How long does it take Jeff Schreckengost to build a custom guitar? About 60 to 80 hours ... and most of his life.
Schreckengost, 40, is best known in Pittsburgh art circles as a painter. But he's been collecting musical parts and other fragments since high school. And about a year ago, he began using them to build his own guitars.
"It's kind of a recycling thing: taking a broken-down piece of furniture and giving it new life," he says.
Materials can come from anywhere: a guitar smashed during a punk show 10 years ago, his grandmother's rocking chair, a friend who spots a discarded tuning machine. ("Thankfully, I have a big studio where I can hide everything away," Schreckengost says.)
When he assembles those parts, the result can be a guitar like this one, which Schreckengost has named "Pittsburgh Debris." It's a portable sculpture, a traveling collection of music-scene memorabilia -- and of course, a hammer of the gods suitable for playing.
Schreckengost has made more than a dozen guitars, which he recently exhibited at Penn Avenue's Rebellious Nature gallery. (He prices them around $500.) See his guitars and other work at jschreckengost.wordpress.com.
A: Schreckengost does make his own guitar necks, but it isn't easy, and using a premade neck "makes things less frustrating." This one -- from a guitar spotted on Craigslist -- was "too good to pass up."
B: An oddly shaped piece of wood Schreckengost spotted in Braddock one day. To end up in his studio, a fragment "just has to catch my eye for some reason -- because of its color, the shape, the way it's put together."
C: Schreckengost recovered this pick-up from the floor of the long-defunct Electric Banana, after it was smashed during a punk-rock show.
D: Strap buttons salvaged from another guitar-smashing performance, this one at the Millvale Industrial Theater.
E: "These knobs are made from pool cues: I found a huge bundle of them thrown away behind People's Restaurant, on Penn Avenue. I knew I could use them for something ..."
F: A piece of cherry wood salvaged outside the Allegheny (North Side) branch of the Carnegie Library. "They threw away a lot of things, and if I drive by a big pile of furniture on the curb, I'm the guy who jumps out of the car to see if any of it is usable."
G: To fill voids between larger pieces, Schreckengost uses smaller pieces of wood sealed together with epoxy. "You don't think of plastic resin making a good-sounding instrument, but this is one of the better-sounding ones I've made. I was surprised, because it has so many pieces."
H: Another fragment from that Millvale Industrial Theater show. Where others in the crowd see frenzied destruction, Schreckengost sees creative opportunity: "If I see somebody trash an instrument on stage, I figure out how to rescue it from the garbage bin."
I: Another find from the Carnegie's pile of cast-offs. "I turned up this huge book of soiled maps. It was pretty amazing, but I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them." One of them ended up here, where -- like the rest of the guitar -- it's now part of the city's musical landscape.