Giant guitar a labour of love

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Musician turns into craftsman building eight-foot instrument

Darrell Roth is particularly proud of the new guitar he has built, and he has hopes for it that are as big as the guitar itself.

It’s eight feet tall and weighs 137 pounds. While he’s been in talks to have it mounted as a kind of local landmark in Stony Plain, he’s also been talking to the Guinness World Records people to establish it as the world’s largest Dobro guitar.

“I’ve been volunteering at the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival out in Stony Plain ever since I retired,” the 75-year-old said. “Some other people have put three instruments on the hill made of plywood. I’m a Dobro player. We have other Dobro players in the province. We need some representation there.”

A Dobro is a guitar that features a metal resonator in the body instead of a hollowed-out space, and raised strings that don’t grind against the fret when you strum it. You have to look at the strings while you’re playing it, unless you’ve got a lot of practice in and have developed a real ear for it. Its rousing banjo-like twang is unmistakable and absolutely listenable.

Roth has been playing the Dobro for 11 years, taking his tunes to festivals across North America and on cruise ships. The former four-time Red Seal tradesman, safety officer and trainer started off playing the guitar, but his arthritis keeps him from holding a traditional pick. Dobro players hold the instrument on their lap and use finger picks and a steel slide. It’s a more natural fit for his abilities, plus he looks born for the part in his bluegrass formal wear.

“I went to the first festival and I heard the Dobro on the stage. I thought, ‘That’s it for me.’ ”

The music is certainly in his veins and there’s a healthy dose of craft in his fingertips. Building stuff runs in the blood, he said. As a child, he would enjoy the visits from his uncle and cousin who would come over to fix the farm buildings where he grew up. He studied woodworking in high school back in Forestburg and worked as a carpenter and cabinetmaker before picking up the trades.

This is the first time he has tackled a project such as this. He estimated he spent around 400 hours on it, starting in the spring.

It’s made of quilted maple, also known as fiddle wood, on the top and on the head. The fret board is walnut, the resonator is a tire rim out of a truck, the tuning pegs are doorknobs and the strings are flat wound metal wire rope, which are probably more useful in industrial applications than in musical ones. While it looks like a Dobro, it is not functional as one. You can pluck the strings and they’ll make a noise. I wouldn’t necessarily call it music, though, unless you have Tom Waits’ sense of experimentation. It also has wheels for easy transport.

He describes the monumental music maker as a real labour of love. His wife and the rest of his family, including his two guitar-playing grandkids, all love it, too.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.