Ed Stilley: An Innovative Craftsman and Guitar Maker

Unveil the brilliant folk art of Ed Stilley. With only basic woodworking materials and a rich imagination, Stilley crafted inventive musical instruments.

By Doug Stowe
September 2018

Box Maker's Guitar Book cover
Cover courtesy Spring House Press

In The Box Maker's Guitar Book: Sweet-Sounding Design and Build Projects for Makers and Musicians, Doug Stowe breaks down the guitar into simple components so readers can easily create their own unique instrument. This book includes all the pieces needed for readers to design their own musical instrument with little investment of time or tools. The following excerpt is from the section, "Makers' Gallery."

As a craftsman using only basic woodworking tools, a fertile imagination, and materials available to him from the forests of the Ozark Mountains, Ed Stilley made hundreds of guitars that he gave away to neighbors and children. His folk instruments are documented in a book by musician Kelly Mulhollan: True Faith, True Light, the Devotional Art of Ed Stilley from the University of Arkansas Press. Ed's work helped inspire me to cut loose and make without restraint. — Doug Stowe

Ed Stilley guitar maker

Ed Stilley in 1987, still in his prime and making instruments at a furious pace. He has gathered a sampling of instruments still under construction in his workshop for newspaper reporter Flip Putthoff.

red butterfly guitar

Ed's guitars are amazing folk art, not only for how they look, but for his unique way of addressing tonality. He used steel junk carefully fitted inside his guitar bodies to vibrate and provide resonance.

red guitar

red guitar

The butterfly guitar features dramatic proportions and an elaborate internal metallic skeleton consisting of a circular saw blade, door springs, aluminum pipe, and a steel truss rod.

handmade guitar

More from The Box Maker's Guitar Book:

Excerpted from The Box Maker's Guitar Book by Doug Stowe. Published by Spring House Press, copyright © 2017. Used with permission from the publisher.

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