Tumbleweed Guitars makes some of the tastiest and yet some of the most artistic guitars around. Combining woodworking skills, artwork and craftsmanship, Dave Kellum - owner and founder of Tumbleweed Guitars - has shared his talents to make some of the most appealing guitars on the market today.
We were able to catch up with Dave and extract some choice industry nuggets from him. We appreciate his time and his partnership with Planet Tone Pickup Co.
Be sure to checkout www.tumbleweedguitar.com
Your guitars have an awesome unique flair and character. Can you give us insight into what inspired you to create such artistically beautiful guitars?
Thank you so much, Jose! Aged guitars feel comfortable and inviting. I’ve heard from people who don’t like artificially aged guitars, and I totally understand their reasoning. If I had lugged my Tele from smoky pool halls to sleazy bars, aging it naturally for years with sweat, tequila, tar, and nicotine, I might be bitter toward non-musicians attempting to recreate reality from the comfort of a corked workbench. Hopefully, those salty rockers will see that I deserve a pass after they hear my excuse for relic'ing.
I built divisions of plastic model tanks when I was a kid, and then dioramas to display them on. I made a living as a clay sculptor, spent the last five years writing a novel, building furniture, and now guitars. All of those endeavors have required me to create stories in my head by asking myself "Well, what if this happened?" and "What if that happened?. . .then what would happen?" After the story forms in my head, I try to physically represent it in my work. How much wear around the output jack? How much funk would have built up around the control plate? Philips or standard screws? What kind of strap would be on here?—You could go on forever with details but you can also go too far. Some relic'd guitars are ridiculous, as if freshly harvested from the Titanic. It is my belief that a relic'd guitar should look old and worn, burnished, but loved and cared for. I try to build drama on a guitar with sensible, natural subtleties, not loose rust and splinters. I've screwed that up before, but I've seen the errors of my past and I’m excited about where I'm headed.
Is there a particular element or flavor that you look to put into each guitar?
In my limited experience within The World Of Guitar Parts, and while subconsciously aiming for a semi-Wild West flavor on my guitars, a few items have stuck out as necessities, and a few as no-nos.
The ultimate guitar part is the lead-heavy, Fender Tele knob. Tactile perfection!
I like making wooden pickguards, but if using plastic it has to be single ply—so much more of a historic feel!
American parts whenever possible! That is one of the many reasons I'm so thankful for Planet Tone pickups.
F-holes are delightful. I'm slicing a wicked little slit of one on a current Tele job, and I love it.
I’m not a big fan of ashtray bridges on Teles, but I know that I’m wrong not to be.
I can’t imagine a blasphemous, six-saddle bridge on a Tele.
How do you work with your customers or artists to achieve the ultimate guitar for them?
My customers are amazing. There are only about twenty of them so far, so I guess things could change pretty quickly, but so far, so good!
I have my clients list the specs they want: fret radius, hardware preferences, wood types, design/theme elements or ideas, etc., and then I just build. People will know my style after seeing my website, (Tumbleweed.com), Instagram, or Facebook. If they don't like that style, they’ll find someone else to build their guitar. There are thousands of talented builders out there, many with great styles of their own! Many that I’d love to have build a guitar for me.
You've been able to work with some awesome people in the music world. What are some of your favorite moments?
By the grace of goodness, I came up in the '80s, The Golden Age of Music. By another grace of goodness, I’ve worked with two of the rock stars that I’ve loved for ~35 years.
Several years ago I built a three-guitar display for Bang Tango's guitarist, Mark Knight. We kept in touch. Mark now has his own band called Mark Knight and the Unsung Heroes. He is a super-talented singer/songwriter and guitarist. He wanted a relic'd seafoam Tele with a mint green pickguard. He named it the Sea Hag.
A few months ago I built Erik Turner, of Warrant, a Tumbleweed Esquondido with a Planet Tone '56 Hot P-90 pickup with the Eldred mod and an F-hole with a floating island. I won't say I invented the "Floating island F-hole" because I'm sure someone would prove me wrong, but I've never seen one before or after.
By coincidence, I finished the guitar just before Warrant was to play a show in the next town up from mine. Mr. Turner invited my 9-year-old son and me to sit in on Warrant's sound check before the show. Other than the births of my three kids, that day was one of the best of my life! Mr. Turner loaded up my son, Jasper, with Warrant shirts, hats, and picks. My son and I sat beside the stage and watched Warrant play. Sharing that moment with my son was incredible.
I am aware that I'm babbling now, but I hope you stick with me for a minute. Events headed into Dreamland at this point.
Mr. Turner busted out his new Esquondido and played it! After the sound check, he came to our table and said he was going to play the guitar at the concert that night! DAMN! WHAT!?! I tried to act cool, but I’m pretty certain that I failed. The concert wouldn't start for another few hours, and I couldn’t keep my son there for 9 hours, so I had to painfully decline Mr. Turner's offer to have us stay for the show. He told me he'd have his guys take videos for me.
The next morning, there they were: Warrant concert videos in my inbox! I could go on and on about how grateful and impressed I was by Mr. Turner's hospitality and generosity.
Seeing Erik Turner play my favorite two Warrant tunes (Uncle Tom's Cabin and Heaven), in concert, with the guitar I made was indescribable. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. The P.T. Hot P-90 in the Eldred position was a gritty, squawky sound of beauty! There are clips of it on my website
Just one more thing. . .
I couldn't stop chattering during the drive home from sound check with my son. I was a shuddering moron. I said, "Jasper. . . you know what? We are now a slice of rock n roll history. A tiny slice, but a slice nonetheless!" We took turns saying, "We're a slice!" for the rest of the way home. What a great day with my son.
Do you have a favorite guitar you've built that you are particularly fond of?
I've been an Alice Cooper freak since the mid-70s. I built an Esquondido based on his "School's Out" album cover that I am fond of. I hoped that he would see it and buy it, but guess what? Nah.
My two rock star guitars, the Sea Hag and the Mojo Machine, are favorites, too.
The only guitars that I’m not thrilled about were my first few, and they are now daddy-long-leg habitats on my living room wall. Each guitar has been a huge learning experience and a great time. I wish I’d learned this trade before I got old! There are precious few things I’d rather do than be neck-deep in a guitar build.
My son, Jasper, and I just built a guitar together for him. The Hydra—Teal and Sea Glass sunburst with the image of a Hydra. He wired and soldered it himself. He picked all of the shiny hardware. He didn't want any relic'ing. We had so much fun together building that guitar! The headstock has a Tumbleweed & Son signature. We both really like that. The Hydra is equipped with Planet Tone mini-humbuckers. I don't have much experience with humbuckers, but these are little miracles. Nothing mini about the sound. This is a good opportunity to mention how fortunate I feel for having stumbled across Planet Tone several years ago. Providing top-of-the-line pickups for my clients’ guitars is something I don’t have to think about anymore! It is a given! I realize this sounds like an ad, but it is just the truth. I’ve had nothing but rave reviews from my clients regarding Planet Tone. The greedy angel on my right shoulder wants to keep it a secret, but the blabbering angel on my left tells everybody.