Functional, unique guitars from unusual materials serve as a creative outlet for Fox Lake man
What began as an artistic challenge about five years ago has turned into a pretty good side business for Fox Lake resident Bill Turner.
For the past five years, Turner, 58, has pursued this hobby, building around 100 guitars -- but with a unique twist.
As his one-of-a kind works continue to evolve, he includes materials, such as discarded, repurposed materials and reclaimed wood, as well as recycled hinges, handles and some custom 3-D printed components. His interest in merging old-school techniques with new technologies led him to create totally unique, functional products.
"He's always been making things," said Debby Turner, 62, his wife of 35 years. "Years back, he designed these monkey-looking creatures on a 3-D printer he called a Wunky. It's become his guitar logo. Everything he does is a hobby to him. He enjoys creating."
Self-taught in guitar-making, Turner studied fine art and advertising at the American Academy of Art before pursuing an advertising career.
"I have always wanted to build guitars, but was intimidated by the level of accuracy and the equipment necessary to be a luthier," he said.
That changed when he saw a documentary about singer/songwriter/musician Jack White called "It Might Get Loud." When Turner saw White create a one-stringed instrument using a scrap of wood and an empty soda bottle, he became intrigued.
When he began to research homemade instruments, he discovered cigar box guitars and built his first from a kit. Amazed by the sound but unsatisfied by the product, he began a journey to design and build his own bodies under the name Wunkywerks Guitars.
The guitars, which have an average cost of about $300 each, range from one that looks like half an instrument to one shaped like a fox.
Turner said the process of designing and building guitars is continuous. It starts with hours spent collecting found objects that inspire the look and feel of each creation.
Each guitar can take between eight and 12 hours to build. His most unusual guitar was designed for a recent "oddities" show. The guitar featured real deer jawbones, with an etched serving tray at its center.
"His creations are works of art," said music teacher and family friend, Erin Connelly, 56, of Ingleside. She described Turner as quiet, witty, smart, unassuming, and passionate about his guitars. "We go resale shopping for repurposed items like the hardware and wood. He sees things through a different lens."
Longtime co-worker John Smith, 53, of Oak Park, said Turner never stops creating.
"Despite his range of creative pursuits, his art and design all carry traits that are distinctly his own. He jumps into everything with a unique perspective, which fuels his fearless, never-ending creativity," Smith said.
Photographer and friend, Rudy de Ram, 63, of Wauconda, said Turner always thinks outside the box.
"All his guitars are unique. Some are classic-looking while others are more fanciful like 'Lord of the Rings' with texture and different looks," de Ram said. "Some are folksy, with barn wood and leather and have a rustic feel. He has a good sense of pulling together different materials."
Turner accumulates materials from junk bins, antique sales and garage sales. Items include ashtrays, hubcaps, metal window cranks, and used wood.
"He experiments and pulls them together to make the (guitars) work in form and function," de Ram said. "They are not just things to hang on the wall, but are very eclectic."
Always willing to help others, one of Turner's other activities included participating in a science, technology, engineering and math event through a Northern Illinois University Makers Fair, where he demonstrated how math and science play a part in activities they consider to be fun.
"(Bill's) guitars really drew people in because they didn't look like regular guitars," said DeKalb-based NIU STEM educator Kate Powers. "He told where he finds materials, how he adjusts them to get sound and discussed the skills needed to build guitars. Wunkywerks allowed them to try them out. It was very hands on. He was invested in sharing his craft and inspired others to see value in junk items and how they could make beautiful things out of them."
Turner's daughter Zoey Kendell, 27, who lives in Michigan, said Turner has been involved in the arts since before her birth.
"He's into crazy, different, unique stuff and never worries what others think of him," she said. "He makes what he thinks looks good. He used to make me stuffed animals and other pieces of art but his guitars blow me away. I don't know how he comes up with the ideas for them. He'll come up with a sketch and then will make one. He recently made one shaped like a fox for my mom, who loves foxes. He'll name his instruments after people he admires."
Turner, who continues to work full-time designing retail environments, also writes novels for fun. He most enjoys the creative process.
"The end result is nice, but the concept creation, following through to make it real, is more fun than the end result," he said.
To learn more about Turner's work, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wunkywerks.