Interview with Tim Sway: Upcycled Guitar Builder

Hey Tim, my dude! First time I know you from your youtube channel, and I’m so glad to finally meet you in person. Let’s talk about your project, I’m so curious about the guitar made from nails, you’re the man, hahahaha… Tell me about ideas behind the guitar, you just hammered into the guitar body? Is it playable?hahaha

I hope to meet you some day in person. I think we have a lot in common. I became aware of your work via your very silly Instagram videos only to discover your excellent punk bans and pedal work. I love how the internet can connect like-minded people a world apart. About the nail guitar, most of my work is made from reclaimed wood, which means I have a lot of reclaimed nails I save from the wood. Years ago I made a hammer out of nails and it actually kind of works! I want to some day make a whole life size sculpture of me out of nails but decided to start with a simpler shape first, so I made the guitar. It was a lot of work and I’m in no rush to make me from nails anymore! The guitar is basically just a small wood guitar covered in nails and functions perfectly normal. It is sharp and heavyand you can get hurt playing it – which was the idea and intent.

I think we have same interest, findsomebody’s trash and make it into something new! What is your first project of making something like that? I wanna know how its all began,hahaha.

I was always a broke-ass musician and couldn’t afford things. So I always shopped from second hand stores and from other people’s trash on the curb. I’d find a table or chair someone threw away. I had no tools or skill so instead of trying to repair or restore these things, I’d rebuild them in to something new and slap some paint on them. By 2010 I had more tools and some skills so I started an Etsy store where I would put little boxes and things I made from pallets and garbage for sale. By then I was focused on saving the planet and using reclaimed materials and I started enjoying this work more than playing music. As I got better at woodworking this has turned in to me combining my passions and making guitars and instruments – from reclaimed materials, of course. I hardly have time to play anymore – and definetely not professionally, but I feel like I can do more good in this space than I could playing music.

You have a “Dad and Son” moment, I really enjoy watching those videos, your son just look like you! hahahha…Maybe your son have to make a musical instrument project made from his bike, or maybe you guys have unfinished project together?

My son Vance is turning 10 and has been in the shop with me since he was old enough to walk. It is part of his education to learn to use his hands as well as his mind and his heart. We had a video series called “Vance Maker” which I moved to a separate channel and he still occasionally makes videos there – with me and by himself. ( We did make a short scale bass guitar a year ago. We shared the process in Instagram stories. He drew a design on paper and I had him involved in every step of the process – wiring, fretting, sanding finishing – he did a little bit of each step with me. Currently I’m converting a truck in to a mobile guitar store and Vance is very eager to help.

I really curious about your musical project, tell me about that.

I’m not sure I understand the question, you mean bands I’ve been in? I was a full-time performing bassist for about 15 years. This meant most of the work I did was for other people or playing cover songs in bars, weddings, etc., but I was lucky enough to have a few cool projects (that never made any money! haha!) and I used to write and record a lot of songs solo where I would play all ther parts. Most of them are not very good. I switched from electric bass to double bass because I wanted to physically work harder when I played and my hands were so heavy on the electric bass I would get a lot of string clack and noise. The double bass suited me better but I usually just played regular rock and roll on it usually (not just rockabilly or jazz). I grew up on punk rock and always identified as a punk rocker (which is why I LOVE your band) but I never got much of a chance to play it, as an adult or professional at least. The one cover band I spent most of my time in was with an acoustic guitar, my double bass and a drummer and we heavily stylized cover songs. I would make sure we had some Rancid and Social Distortion in the set – but we had to play the radio friendly stuff 🙂

You’re famous as a guitar builder who build musical instrument from something unusual. What is your favourite “standard”guitar and bass?

Well, I’m no where near “famous”! haha! But yes, my mission is to make instruments from reclaimed and sustainable materials, not rare imported woods and expensive stuff. I like vintage instruments and have a few in my collection (inlcuding a 76 Fender P bass and a similar era Gibson L6-S) but I’ve always like the “cheap” and weird 1960s and 70s Japanese brands. I own a couple old Harmony guitars and my alltime favorite in my collection is a 1960 Harmony Meteor that looks like it was used as target practice with a pellet gun! I got it for $100 about 20 years ago and nothing is cooler – except maybe the stuff I make 🙂