LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56)- Mike Mankel has been playing music for more than 50 years. He hopes it’s as smooth as his favorite Kentucky product.
“I moved here 30 years ago and became a fan of bourbon and bourbon culture,” he said.
He sees gracefulness in a guitar and beauty in barrels, so why not combine the two?
Mike can take barrel heads and a couple of staves and turn them into playable works of art. He wants his guitars to look like they came right out of the rickhouse and that they aged right along with the barrels that housed bourbon for 20 years.
Mankel said he has enough barrel heads to build guitars for the next ten years, but he’s always looking for more. He wants to keep the stamps and stains intact.
Mankel cuts staves into small pieces and fits them into a frame to make the curves of his guitar bodies.
“Basically, it’s like a child’s puzzle. You pick what fits and what doesn’t,” he said.
He’s turned out nearly 50 guitars at his Bourbon Barrel Guitar Company in Lexington, which is a one-man operation.
“The old saying is, ‘if it was easy, a ton of people would be doing it,'” Mankel said.
It takes about four months to make just one, and prices start at about $7,500. He knows it takes a special buyer to take one home.
“It’s very rewarding, but, oh my gosh, it’s a lot of effort.”
The instruments are never far from their roots. Just like the original barrels, each guitar holds some of the product. There’s a compartment for hiding a flask in the back of each one, and he pours a little bourbon in each one, so they can maintain the smell of his favorite beverage.
“It goes in and you swish it around and now it’s happy,” he laughed, saying he thinks of the guitars as living beings.
Many of the guitars have been purchased by people who don’t play music. They display them as pieces of art, which is just fine with Mankel.
“I just feel positive pride that my hands, my work, my heart, my instruments are appreciated.”
The guitars are something to see, each with unique markings and perfect imperfections, but it’s also fun to hear them… barrels of fun.