Inspiring Conversations

Instrumental Art

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Ben Simon’s marriage of music and art is both ear and eye candy.

By Penny K

Custom guitars haven’t looked this good in a while. Ben Simon, 29, a musician who moved to North Carolina in 2005 to learn woodworking applied the skills he picked up to the making of guitars. The result? Hand-made creations that are part instrument, part art.

We get in touch with Ben only to realise that while his works may be fascinating, so is he.

“Full time dog walker”

Hi Ben, thanks for allowing us the time. Tell us more about yourself please.

I live in Brooklyn, NY and am a full time dog walker and instrument builder.

So, what made you want to pick up woodwork and when was this?

I was lucky to randomly get a job at a custom furniture shop in North Carolina in 2005.  I had never used power tools or done any woodworking.  I was a player of weird music and a restaurant employee.

How did you decide to apply your woodworking skills to making artistic guitars?

I’ve been wanting to make guitars since was a little kid.

Who or what are your biggest inspirations where it comes to making custom guitars?

I’m not sure.  There’s a great website called that’s got some neat stuff.  I took long drives alone for many years listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The soul.

How many people have approached you for a custom guitar and do they walk away with the final product beaming?

People are starting to talk to me.  I’m building a guitar out of antique pine with a built in Casio for the manager of the local lumber yard.  He’s been great to work for.  Totally appreciative of all that goes into it.  I’m a terrible salesman.  I’m hoping to start an instrument building program for emotionally dysfunctional kids and high school drop outs.

“Spider vs. Firefly” – built in casio keyboard with all keys wired as on / off switches for drones

How should one go about obtaining a custom guitar made by you?

Just write me a note, and we’ll go from there.  If you’re local, come on over and check out what I’ve got at my apartment, or let’s meet for coffee. I am most definitely accepting commissions right now.

What’s the most ridiculous design someone has asked for?

Hmmm. Someone wanted a pants shaped body with a real ant farm inside.  The ants in the pants guitar. After doing some research, it was discovered that the ants would just die from being jarred around and having their home vibrate. Fake ants were discussed, but the idea was dropped. I could really relate to the whole ants in the pants concept though!

What’s the most ridiculous material/component you’ve incorporated to a guitar?

I guess a circuit bent Yamaha keyboard (the pss-460).

There’s a picture of you on “Fast Company” (April 2010, Issue 144) playing in the New York subway. We gather you’re a musician. What kind of music do you play?

I play originals (, covers and improvs.

Does music inspire your art (i.e. your guitars), or does your art inspire your music?

Sure.  Or I don’t know.  Music never sounded so good as it does these days. Life. The big questions. The unknown. God. Multiple Gods?

Could just give us a preview into what your next project will be about?

We’re making this film.  I’m going to wear this glittery astro man suit while I build a guitar on camera.  Then take the suit, guitar, and dvd to the street!

Ben in the neon suit

Some of Ben’s other works:

“First Guitar” – the first guitar Simon built. It has 18 different types of wood and was taken to Europe twice in 2007 for tours

“People” – this guitar is a semi hollowbody and has little handpainted figures of people inlaid into the front. the word ‘people’ is cut into the front and is kind of like the ‘f holes’ on a violin. brought this to Europe for a tour in 2007. –>the ambrosia beetle burrows through maple trees leaving the streaks seen on the body of this guitar. i thought they kind of looked like ghosts and thats where the figures were placed.

“Thunderclap” – This has a speaker built in and a sound circuit that makes a thunder clap sound.

On my favourite of the lot, “Thunderclap” (see above), Ben says:

That one was the first “crooked neck” guitar that I built. The crooked neck thing came from years of playing poorly and out of tune. Kinda sad, but hopefully all those feelings were eventually put to good use. I get a bit revved up, and when I was younger didn’t know how to control it that well. I would over play and things would probably get sloppy. So, with the crooked neck, you CAN’T play in tune. Problem solved!

You can own a Ben Simon custom by contacting him at Prices start from $500 so why not?

Photos courtesy of Ben Simon. See more here.

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