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Avant-Guitar

Avant-Guitar Stringing Together New Instruments By Abby Talcott   Old cigar boxes, sink drains and deer antlers abound in the small pear-green workshop which rests next to a home of the same color. Instruments lie scattered in various states of unfinish, each made of different materials, but all made by Scott Hanley. Hanley, 57, has been crafting string instruments out of what others see as castoffs and scraps since 2014. It started as a personal project but has since grown into a full-fledged business. After shattering his wrist and breaking his thumb in a work accident at Clinton Correctional Facility,…

Avant-Guitar

Stringing Together New Instruments

By Abby Talcott

 

Old cigar boxes, sink drains and deer antlers abound in the small pear-green workshop which rests next to a home of the same color. Instruments lie scattered in various states of unfinish, each made of different materials, but all made by Scott Hanley.

Hanley, 57, has been crafting string instruments out of what others see as castoffs and scraps since 2014.

It started as a personal project but has since grown into a full-fledged business. After shattering his wrist and breaking his thumb in a work accident at Clinton Correctional Facility, Hanley lost the mobility needed to play a six-string guitar and began thinking about building a three-string guitar.

“My wife said, ‘Instead of talking about it for a year, build one,’” he says. Hanley, with a goatee more salt than pepper, warm brown eyes and his characteristic black beanie pulled to just above his eyebrows, immediately snapped into action. Gathering some maple hardwood f looring and an old cigar box he had lying around, he set out that day to create a guitar he could play. By the time his wife returned home, he was strumming away.

He didn’t make or sell many instruments the first year. But after a few years, his business took off, and now he never has fewer than seven orders. Hanley has since made instruments for famous musicians such as Roger Fisher of the band Heart, and Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society.

“I put 15 layers of lacquer on my guitars,” Hanley says. “They shine.”

Hanley accepts orders for more than just his classic three-string guitar, he has also made ukuleles, mandolins, upright basses and, recently, a fiddle.

All of Hanley’s instruments are custom. Themes have ranged from famous sport teams to classic brands such as Harley-Davidson. He’s even
crafted a deer-themed guitar using deer fur to line the instrument, the tip of an antler to act as the bridge and a chunk of the antler base for the
volume knob. Hanley’s favorite unconventional material is wooden salad bowls, specifically his wife’s salad bowls.Michelle Hanley, Scott’s wife, says after a while, she was forced to buy scalloped bowls that she knew he couldn’t use.

The first instruments Hanley made were basic designs that cost his customers $60. As Hanley added more wiring and mechanical aspects like pickups, the prices rose to $265. The pricing differs based on the number of strings: a three- or four-string guitar is priced anywhere from $245 to $265 and a six-string guitar is $400.

As the price and the intricacy grew, so did Hanley’s need for a dedicated workspace. Originally, Hanley built his instruments outside in front of his garage. But after years of working in negative-degree weather while battling the elements, Hanley moved his lawnmowers out of the shed and transformed it into a workshop.

Not everyone who buys an instrument from Hanley plays it. Many of his orders come from people who just want a decoration to hang on their wall. One custom order required woodburning, something Hanley had never done before. The customer wanted him to burn a rose onto the back of his guitar. Hanley accepted the challenge, and now he’s burning howling wolves, deer and everything in between into his creations.

Hanley still works full-time at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, yet after work he always makes a little time to plug in one of his electric creations. He looks forward to retirement come October.

After retirement, Hanley plans to f ly to Anaheim, California, and to display his work at the National Association of Musicians and Merchants trade show. His instruments could be displayed next to the most innovative and latest designs from brands such as Fender and Gibson. The event is held exclusively for people in the music industry where Hanley is finding his footing.

Despite his budding notoriety and having built 103 guitars, he’s still learning to play. Good or bad, his wife will always dance along.

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