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In musician's hands, vintage oil cans become electric guitars

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Joe Filipovich plays one of the guitars he and Mike Jenson built using a vintage oil can. The Cottage Grove musicians sell them through their company, Hayburner Guitars. Photo by William Loeffler.2 / 2

Two Cottage Grove musicians have struck a chord selling what might be called canned music.

Blues guitarist Joe Filipovich and trumpet player Mike Jenson are neighbors whose curiosity led to the founding of Hayburner Guitars, a company that manufactures electric six strings made from vintage motor oil cans.

They’ve sold six Hayburners so far, Filipovich said. They’ve also built a bass guitar using the same design. Prices start at $499.

“We have people asking about a ukulele version or a banjo — a can-jo,” Filipovich said.

Few would argue that they look unique. But are they more than just a novelty?

Filipovich demonstrated by plucking a few bars of “Smokestack Lightning,” the blues classic by Howlin’ Wolf.

The metal oil can produces a different sound than a wooden guitar body, Filipovich said. Electric guitars use pickups, which are magnets that capture vibrations made by the strings and convert them to an electrical signal. That process is more dynamic on a Hayburner guitar because it’s metal transducing to metal.

“The entire body is a hollow metal body, so it reacts much more to the pickups and adds a very unique, warm, bright, twangy tone,” Filipovich said.

They began building their first guitar in September, working in Filipovich’s garage.

“I was pretty pessimistic about it,” he said. “Mike said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ I had an oil can laying around. I had a bunch of old guitar parts laying around.

“One or twice a week we’d tinker around with it in the garage,” Filipovich continued. “After about a month we finally had one solid oil can guitar.”

“It made noise,” Jenson said.

They built the second guitar “faster and better,” Filipovich said. “That one pretty much sold right away.”

The hardest part of the manufacturing process is cleaning and sanitizing the oil can.

Filipovich, a 2003 graduate of Park High School, has built a career in music, primarily the blues. He performs and records as Joey Flip, conducts blues workshops at local high schools and gives free harmonica lessons to kids at the annual Strawberry Fest in Cottage Grove. He was named the April artist of the month by the Cottage Grove Arts Commission. After he found out, he joined the commission. He said he’d like to become more involved in the local arts community.

“I never really thought of Cottage Grove as a music town but then I found out about the arts commission and sat in for a couple meetings,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to find like minded people in your hometown.”

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William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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