With its hand-carved grim reaper figure standing upon a field of skulls next to a cluster of gravestones, Ben Bauer’s Death of Decency guitar gives one the impression that it was made in prison by some tattooed Danny Trejo lookalike.
However, a closer look reveals that the gravestones are not marked with the names of victims awaiting vengeance but rather words like love, hope, trust, honor and courtesy.
“I was going through some tough times,” Bauer admits. “I remembered how our parents tried to teach us these important values, but later in life you hardly if ever see them anymore. It’s as if everything decent has died. So that inspired the theme of this guitar.”
Bauer says that he had only limited experience as a woodcarver and guitar builder before taking on this ambitious project. “I’d done a few relief carvings and customized every guitar I’ve owned, but the Death of Decency is the first guitar that I’ve completely built on my own,” he says. “I made the body from several pieces of basswood and bought the neck and parts from various places, like Allparts, Musician’s Friend and Stewart-MacDonald. The most difficult part was getting the routs for the control, pickup and neck cavities right. I eyeballed my work with my Squier Telecaster.”
The guitar’s concept started as a small, one-inch drawing that Bauer scribbled at work. “I later made a full-scale drawing of my concept,” he says. “After I made the body, I transferred the drawing onto it as a guide for the carvings.” Bauer carved every detail of the graphic design—the field of skulls, grim reaper, tree and gravestones—entirely by hand, using an inexpensive woodcarver’s knife, razor blade and a four-piece set of Flexcut gouges.
Death of Decency is the first of what he hopes will be many hand-carved Bauer guitars. He’s currently working on an Ásatrú/Viking-themed Les Paul Junior and is offering the Death of Decency for sale on eBay. “I welcome custom orders,” he adds. “I’d love to do this as a career.”
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