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Part II: The “Real Al Bundy” lives right here, in Buena Vista.

This is not the Al Bundy who in 1966 scored four touchdowns in a single game while playing for the Polk High School Panthers in the 1966 city championship game versus Andrew Johnson High School. This is not the Al Bundy who scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against his old nemesis, Bubba “Spare Tire” Dixon.

This is the Al Bundy who makes amazing instruments and has an annual Al Bundy Night at The Lariat named for him.

Bundy began with the challenge of creating a guitar from ordinary household materials for his famous son Trace Bundy. Once Bundy cracked the code, his ideas starting coming to life. He names the instruments. His “Oartar” is a bass fashioned out of an oar and made with Bundy’s signature umbrella wire frets.

“Sewtar” is an electric guitar constructed of an old sewing kit box with beautiful empty spools of thread displayed in the body of the guitar so you could see clear through the instrument.

Bundy’s guitar made from an old silverware case opens to reveal a drawer full of silver, as if ready for a picnic. Photo by Landon James.

With a not-so-subtle sense of humor, Bundy crafted another electric guitar out of an antique box holding kitchenware and utensils. The beautiful embroidered box opens to reveal a set of silverware daintily displayed as if you were about to sit down to a picnic.

Bundy says his love for engineering and obvious persistence made him the perfect architect to execute his visions. But not everything has worked out.

“I make them out of crude methods, dream it up, and go to work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I got lucky with these ideas. Some of these ideas I didn’t think would work,” explained the avant-garde luthier.

One such idea was what he called the “Minnesota Snapping Turtle” banjo, named after his home state, Bundy manufactured an old-timey banjo out of an enormous Minnesota Snapping Turtle shell. Bundy soaked the rawhide and stretched it taught over the 5/8-inch-thick shell and let it sit overnight.

The next morning, much to his chagrin, Bundy found the hide had shrunk so much it shattered the shell to pieces. Undeterred, Bundy set about finding another suitable shell and tried again. This time, he says he hit the turtle on the head and the rawhide adhered perfectly to the leather-colored hull. With the addition of violin tuners, the banjo was complete.

Bundy says he’s learned more with each instrument he builds. But far from being prideful, Bundy refuses to boast about any of his creations, but a jolly smile electrifies his face when he picks up his favorite creation of all, the “Sticktar” (photo on the left).

Made from a beautiful rifle-shaped piece of driftwood found while fishing in Clear Creek Reservoir, Bundy knew the piece was going to be special. With nothing more than zither tuning pins, five-gallon paint stick stirrers for a fretboard, and an electronic pickup system, Bundy turned a simple stick into a feat of nature.

Unwilling to waste anything, Bundy took the piece of wood he removed to expose the fretboard, sanded it, and attached it to the guitar with a small leather strap at the top of the neck to create a natural portable guitar case. To call such an instrument a piece of art would be an understatement.

As Bundy hit his stride in manufacturing his household instruments, his son Trace began to take notice. Enamored by his father’s instruments, he started bringing them with him to play on tour. The more Trace played around Buena Vista and on the road, the more people began to ask about the guitar made from a sewing box, or the bass made from a paddle.

When Bundy started bringing his instruments to open mic night at The State Highway Department in Buena Vista, the whole town noticed. One open mic night, organizer Lynn Noel announced on a whim that every musician signed up to play would be using Al Bundy’s instruments that night.

And with that, The “Real Al Bundy” Night was born.

Coined by a friend in Minnesota who affectionately addressed his Christmas cards as “the Real Al Bundy”, the phrase stuck. Despite receiving calls in the middle of the night asking to speak to Pam, Bundy took his comical counterpart in stride. When he got the urge to go exploring, Bundy refurbished and outfitted an old bookmobile (mobile library) into a motorhome and started driving with his wife into the great unknown.

With no fixed destination, somehow Bundy and his bookmobile ended up in Buena Vista. “We got to Buena Vista and liked it a lot,” Bundy fondly recalls.

Bundy quickly found work repairing and maintaining fire trucks and emergency vehicles for Chaffee County and the State of Colorado, becoming a household name in Buena Vista

The “Real Al Bundy” Night has grown to become a favorite town celebration of a man who is humble, yet brilliant to the bone. On this one night each year, The Lariat invites local musicians to play Al Bundy’s instruments in honor of all he has done for the community. Bundy, who avoids the spotlight, says since he can’t play the instruments, he’s not sure what the big deal is.

The standing-room-only audience would disagree with him. Bundy refuses to take credit, or boast about his imaginative instruments.

“I’m nothing except for one night. I get my 10 minutes of fame once a year. Without the musicians in this Valley, there’d be nothing,” said Bundy humbly.

Bundy infuses joy into each instrument, but he doesn’t appear to think they are particularly remarkable, they’re simply extensions of his love for music and for his son. He says that for those who cannot make music, these instruments bring joy to those who can instead.

“I make the instruments. You make the show.”

That’s what the “Real Al Bundy” is all about.

See Part I The Real Al Bundy here