On the Beauty of Handmade Slide Guitars

Guitarkadia, a series of documentary portraits, looks at the craft and the stories behind guitarists of all stripes. In this segment, Mark Nilsen describes his DIY approach to building slide guitars with found wood and unconventional dimensions. Emon Hassan, the creator of the series, talks about the pesrsonal project in an interview below. 

The Atlantic: What is the Guitarkadia project?

Emon Hassan: Guitarkadia grew out of frustration of not finding the type of stories, interviews, and lessons I'd like to read about, listen to, and watch online about music, specifically related to guitars. My favorite kind of pieces have always been of artists and authors sharing the craft and philosophy behind their work; they'd not only talk about their tools -- pen, keyboard, camera, brush or what have you -- to express themselves, they also allowed a glimpse into their world. Do they have rituals? What does their workstation look like? How do they overcome writers block? 

I was hard pressed to find the same approach taken with the guitar when I searched online. Simply put, I wanted to a blog that talked about guitar as a craft and passion. And as they say, if it doesn't exist, build it. Yet the first year, Guitarkadia struggled with an identity crisis. I only knew that I didn't want to do reviews, be a tech guide, etc. It wasn't until I gave the blog a tag, “stories around guitars” that I found a clear purpose for it. 

Guitarkadia, therefore, uses the guitar as an excuse to enter a person, event, or culture's story. A big influence has been the film The Red Violin, where a violin witnesses several lives effected by its presence over three centuries. Though I don't model Guitarkadia in that fashion, it inspired me a great deal in terms of storytelling.

How do you select musicians to profile?

I'm sent recommendations or I stumble into them, literally, as I did with Mark Nilsen when I spotted him with his cigar box (seen in the video) in the subway. When I walked up to ask him about the guitar and he said, "I built it," I knew I wanted to learn about what made him decide to build his own instruments and this video was the result of that exploration. In a way, the cigar box guitar was my excuse to tell Mark's story. 

I also do sessions and interviews where guitar player shares their thoughts on music, writing, practicing, recording. Sometimes they perform a piece to end the video. In essence, I have to find them and their story interesting to feature it on Guitarkadia. It isn't about the popularity or fame of the guitar player.

What do you want viewers to take away from the series?

I want them to enjoy these stories whether they play the guitar or not. I hope I capture life stories greater than just guitar stories. Of course, I also hope they feel inspired to pick up a guitar, build their first one, or write their first song. I want viewers to see what I see when I meet the subjects in my pieces, the joy and hope in their faces when they're around their guitar. 

I've learned that inspiration comes from surprising sources. I hope that the stories I tell on Guitarkadia inspire someone from another trade, or another region of the world to take on something. Anything.

What's next for you?

Besides work for my fictional web series, The Third, and freelance photography, I have a long list of guitar stories in cue to edit. Balancing it all is a challenge but I do as much as I can. Guitarkadia projects are still a labor of love and I'd like to find/generate funds that would allow me to take on bigger projects and travel outside of New York to pursue stories. In the meantime, I'll keep telling stories as best as I can.

For more videos from Guitarkadia, visit http://guitarkadia.com/.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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