Making Handmade Guitars

Memphis, TN –

That's the "shorty two lowebow guitar." It's a simple instrument. It doesn't look like a guitar. It's a rounded oak stick, with bottle caps with pick-ups beneath, wires, guitar strings that make an eerie, haunting sound that you hear in the Delta Blues. But Lowe doesn't make traditional music, his music sounds more like the rock of the 60's.

I caught up with John Lowe at his shop recently after he returned from a gig in Richmond, Virginia. He's thin, with wirey hair and is is more than 6 feet tall. He calls himself Johnny Lowebow One Man Band when he's touring. John Lowe is a craftsman, who makes instruments out of dowels, couplings, bottle caps, and cigar boxes to support his tours.

His shop is small and located in a small sunroom behind the cash register in the back of his music and bookstore that he runs with his wife in MidTown. It's crammed with trinkets, cigar boxes, chrome tuners, hose clamps, oak dowels, guitar strings, and tools.

In the late 90's, a customer came in and asked me a one-string pick-ups for his for pick ups for his diddley bo guitars, and I came up with a design for a pick up, and he made one for his instrument and brought one back for me to have in my shop to try to sell. And I tried it out and I liked the sound of the pick up and everything, so I started making a dowel instrument, so I wouldn't be copying a cigar box instrument.

No instrument is identical, says Lowe.

And I played those with one and two strings until a friend of mine Richard Johnston came in, and he wanted a three-string guitar because he said two was not enough for his style. He plays a Hill Country Blues style like Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill.

That's the Hill Harp, which doubles as a guitar and a bass. When Lowe plays the Hill Harp, he hooks it up to two separate amplifiers. One for a guitar and the other for a bass. Then he plays at the same time as playing his drum kit.

Lowe says he makes the instruments so he can continue to tour as the Johnny Lowebow One Man Band.

To get your own Lowebow guitar, go to Xanadu on Central Avenue in Mid Town.