Visiting 'Axes & Axles'

Guitarists and gearheads find common ground

Earlier this year, the Axes & Axles program, held at the NHRA Motorsports Museum along with the Grand National Roadster Show, gathered automotive designer Chip Foose; So-Cal Speed Shop foreman and star of TV series Hard Shine, Jimmy Shine; Scott Buehl, Fender Custom Shop master guitar maker, and David Steele, country music star Gary Allan's guitarist and a hot rodder.

First up was a custom bass designed by Chip Foose for Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, and created by Hot Rods by Boyd. According to Foose, "Michael's bass was hand shaped around the Ninja, a Boyd's Wheels design, before turning it over to painter Greg Morrell, one of only two created. Anthony's bass builder Lee Garver did the final assembly, which took two months from start to finish." A display model presented to the Hard Rock in Newport Beach now resides at the London Hard Rock, while a fully functional unit was used by Anthony while with Van Halen, and is now owned by his business partner, Brad Fanshaw.

Next, Scott Buehl spoke about his connection with So-Cal Speed Shop. "After meeting with So-Cal's Pete Chapouris and Tony Thacker, I agreed to build the first So-Cal Speed Shop guitar for their Open House. The paint usually dries in two weeks, but for some reason it took a month. I built most of it in my home garage before Dennis Rickliefs finished it. When I presented it, Pete said, ‘I'm afraid to touch it', and after that we produced a limited run of them. We also started Fender Car Parts custom dash inserts, made from materials normally used for pick guards."

Jimmy Shine stated, "Music, cars and guitars go together. The Larry Watson-inspired '58 T-Bird we did for ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons was painted by Mick Jenkins, along with a matching guitar. Each of Billy's cars is a hot rod or custom built off a theme in his music. To him, they are another form of artistic expression."

With two decades on the road, David Steele recounted, "At 15, I built my favorite guitar from parts I found in Guitar Player magazine. When I was 17, I had a car in my shop, a '71 Chevelle Super Sport that I bought from the original owner, and paint in the gun, so I ran and got the Strat, blew it apart and scuffed it up to paint the front. It has a sunburst finish with a maple neck, and it even survived a car accident. That was my first car and my first guitar, and I still have them both."

The P-32, Chip Foose's car and the guitar he made to go with it, began with a military theme. "The aircraft belt I used as a guitar strap was military surplus. I painted it twice. First, I laid down a smooth finish, then I scratched and gouged it until it appeared weathered. That was the look I was after."

Asked how he got started building guitars, Buehl said, "My father built race engines. That's how I learned about machining, welding and engineering, a big part of my success at Fender. I can make everything except the electronics. I own '65 and ‘68 Mustangs, a '28 Roadster, and a Beetle." He added, "The finishes, plating, speed knobs – all of that was from hot rods. Leo Fender founded the company in 1946 in California, and when he built the first Stratocaster guitar, he used automotive paint. At Fender, our history is in hot rodding and guitars."

So what do they listen to while building cars? Steele replied, "Chuck Berry". Foose said, "It depends on what I'm doing. For grinding or blasting, I like ‘metal' —Black Sabbath or Metallica. If I'm wiring something, I prefer classic rock. My changer's loaded with 100 CDs." Buehl's tastes range from classical to hard rock, and Shine echoed Foose's preferences with the addition of grunge.

Foose summed it up by saying, "Whether you're building cars or guitars, it's passion that drives you. We enjoy building something really cool, and having a chance to share it."