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Part I: The “Real Al Bundy” lives right here.

You won’t find this Al Bundy on any episode of Married with Children or hogging any spotlight. This Al Bundy is famous for his unique contribution to music by making custom guitars and lives in Buena Vista.

Al Bundy’s custom guitars are made from everyday objects. Photo by Landon James.

Born in Mankato, Minnesota, Bundy grew up working in his family’s automotive parts sales business before eventually becoming a full-time mechanic. Rebuilding engines by day, Bundy restored classic cars at night.

Working long hours in the shop, Bundy always had a radio blaring. Bundy was unique, interpreting music a little differently than others. “I’ve always liked listening to the radio, loved rock ‘n’ roll. It was strange.”

What some might find even more strange is that Bundy only listened to the music, and totally ignored the lyrics. When he eventually got around to learning the words, he said he was almost always unimpressed, and would just as soon forget them again.

Despite his affection for music, Bundy was no musician and remained a listener.

Bundy’s favorite guitar is his “Sticktar”, made from a piece of driftwood. Photo by Landon James.

Before long, life took the reins, Bundy got busy and forgot about music. That is until his sons Trace and Greg began showed an interest.

Scrounging together $5 each, Trace and Greg bought a second-hand guitar and began teaching themselves how to play. “They played so well there was no sense in me trying,” said Bundy with a chuckle.

Trace Bundy would later go on to become an internationally-acclaimed solo acoustic artist whose phenomenal talents handed him the nickname “Acoustic Ninja”.

As Trace’s career began to take off, Bundy noticed how expensive top-of-the-line guitars were and became dismayed. When Trace received sponsorships from companies like Breedlove and McPherson, they sent him home with custom acoustic guitars worth up to $6,000.

Bundy says he scoffed at the price tag, telling his son, “Are these really better than a cheap guitar? I bet I could build something better for a lot less money.”

He may have meant the comment as a joke, but before long what started as a joke, quickly consumed Bundy. He spent sleepless nights thinking about it.

“I visualize something and it keeps me up at night,” said  Bundy.

That was how the  “Bowltar” was born. Costing only $14 to make, the “Bowltar” was comprised of a salad bowl body with a plywood neck reinforced with a metal rod. Bundy fashioned frets out of wire from a broken umbrella and used five-gallon paint stirring sticks to make the fretboard.

The only pieces Bundy didn’t make himself were the zither tuning pins and the electronic pickup system he received from Trace. Despite his son’s doubts, he said Trace was blown away when he plugged the $14 Bowltar in for the first time and heard it ‘scream’. He encouraged his dad to continue his engineering experiment, but there were some problems.

Bundy said he had to find a better way to insert the metal rod in the neck as straight as possible. Simply drilling a hole while eyeballing wouldn’t do. The metal rod is essential to stabilizing the neck of the guitar, preventing the instrument from warping when exposed to temperature changes or frequent use.

Unable to rest when faced with a challenge, Bundy was forced to learn a crash course in woodcraft and guitar-making. “I like building stuff. I’m not a carpenter or skilled luthier for sure. I had not worked with wood,” said Bundy.

He also needed to address the intonations and accuracy of the fret sizes on his instruments. Intonation refers to the tuning along the guitar’s fretboard. It is directly affected by the preciseness of the frets and their ability to resonate consistently.

Working from home with materials he had laying around the house, Bundy fashioned a jig out of a piece of plywood that allowed him to measure frets down to 1/1000th of an inch.

Once Bundy cracked the code, his ideas starting coming to life.

Saturday Part II: Ideas of the “Real Al Bundy” come to life.