Copper in the Arts

August 2013

Art Guitars: Where Music and Metal Meet

By Jennifer Hetrick

Mark Noll Mark Noll crafted this Ibanez RG4 electric guitar design for a tenth anniversary gift of a client.

Photograph courtesy of Art Guitars/Mark Noll

Mark and Ethan Noll are the father and son duo behind Art Guitars, an Oregon-based company that handcrafts wall art guitars out of colorful sweeps of copper. Saul Hudson, otherwise known by Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame, received one of the Noll’s Les Paul guitar sculptures from his wife Perla Ferrar for their 10th wedding anniversary after she discovered Art Guitars on Etsy.

“That’s the kind of guitar he plays,” Mark says about Slash and why his wife sought it out as a gift.

Mark explains that he and his son Ethan paired up in the endeavor of Art Guitars after realizing the 19-year-old had such a zeal for understanding and appreciating guitars. Mark is also the name behind the metalwork operation known as Nature Art Studios and says he saw a great and unique opportunity to bring his copper labors into a musical realm to share with Ethan.

In high school, Ethan played guitar but also had a project in woodshop of building an electric guitar. He soon began repairing guitars and bringing old ones back to life through his newly growing passion.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Mark says about Ethan who is largely into blues and likes classic rock from the 1980s including Van Halen, Metallica and Aerosmith just to name a few bands his son tends to gravitate to in his music appreciation.

“I try to represent them in copper,” Mark says about his recreating of famous historical guitars from the past half-century. “I’ve used Ethan’s guidance on design, terminology and different parts of guitars when I’m making them out of copper.”

Mark notes that the art guitars are frequently ordered as anniversary presents for those who are married to music enthusiasts.

“People love the color variations with patination,” Mark adds, pointing out that he incorporates brass from sheets in certain components of designs. “And they often ask for a specific brand or style of guitar with words on the back.”

Guitar with copper butterfly sculptures As playable wall art, this repaired old guitar incorporates copper butterfly sculptures attached.

Photograph courtesy of Art Guitars/Mark Noll

The words are usually lyrics from favorite rock songs for whoever is intended to receive the art guitar.

The father and son also sometimes craft playable guitar sculptures out of upcycled guitars found at garage sales.

Tuning knobs, pickups, strings and other elements of the guitar structure are crafted as authentically as possible through Mark’s metalwork, which is unique compared to other guitar sculptures.

The other main guitar Mark and Ethan work together to offer is a model called the Fender Stratocaster from 1954, designed by instrument-making aficionados Leo Fender, George William Fullerton and Freddie Tavares.

The two source their metals from Storm Copper Components, Co. in Decatur, Tennessee, Nimrod Hall Copper Foil Company in Springfield, Virginia and Basic Copper in Carbondale, Illinois. Mark also works with a fellow at a local scrap yard who calls him if he gets any copper alloys that might be useful for his guitar sculptures.

Since shipping long-necked guitars is difficult, Mark adapted to making the necks detachable and includes two brass screws in packages to let clients assemble the guitars upon delivery.

“They pretty much sell as fast as I make them,” Mark adds as positive evidence of the sculptures and their popularity. “What’s appealing about copper is how malleable it is, the wide range of patinas possible and iridescent color."

Resources:

Art Guitars, Dallas, OR, (503) 623-2293

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