RANDOLPH — A Northeast Nebraska man with a flair for frets and a way with woodworking now has a museum credit to his name.
Jesse Thomas, owner and creator of Hummingbird Guitars, has a custom handmade instrument displayed at the National Blues Museum in St. Louis.
Thomas uses an array of different materials to craft his guitars, including cigar boxes, license plates and smaller pieces he embeds into the solid wood bodies he creates.
He’s even made a bass guitar out of a hockey stick.
“It’s a one-string bass that’s got a wrench for a pickup winder with a 42-gauge wire, which is thinner than a hair,” Thomas said.
The six-string guitar he has displayed at the museum is made from an Archer Lubricants oil can.
“The can goes back to the ’50s or ’60s, and I made a homemade laminated neck with multi-species wood and did some woodwork on the inside. The reason I chose the Archer Lubricants can is it was made in Omaha. I had to represent Nebraska,” Thomas said.
He has been constructing the custom guitars for the past four years, learning along the way.
“In the beginning, I was making all the wrong moves. I thought I could teach myself. My very first guitar has so many errors. I had to learn about string height, scale length, and with the solid bodies, the kind of woodworking,” Thomas said.
After quite a bit of trial and error — and plenty of sweat equity — Hummingbird Guitars came to fruition. As Thomas honed his craft, he became involved with a Facebook group of instrument craftsmen.
“Michael Breedlove is the owner/operator of MGB Guitars & Parts Supplier. He and another guy, Bob Bowman from St. Louis, wanted to find a place to display our work and spread the word on handmade instruments. They got in contact with the blues museum there, and everyone in the group was to each build an instrument,” Thomas said.
Around 30 people brought guitars, and a special exhibit room at the National Blues Museum opened the display on Sept. 12. The show will continue through April of next year.
Although Thomas said he doesn’t play guitar himself, he can “make some noise.” He also encourages his 5-year-old son, Daxton, to feel the beat.
“I’m trying to put music in his veins. It’s fun being able to interact with what’s making the sound, to have it in your hand. (Daxton) has a little Hummingbird Guitar shirt he likes to wear, and he has a Spider-Man lunch box guitar I made him,” Thomas said.
He has dozens of handmade guitars for sale, and Thomas does make custom instruments.
“I’m very proud of them. They’re not going to rank with the $3,000 guitars from some factory, but that’s what I like about them — they’re not mass produced. Every one is one-of-a-kind, and I really enjoy making them,” Thomas said.
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Want to see what Jesse Thomas has made?
Check out his Hummingbird Guitars page on Facebook.