There can't be many guitar brands that have arrived on the market only to be instantly seized upon and used by Jeff Beck – but Bohemian's quirky oil can guitars can claim just that. But are these hobo-chic instruments just a gimmick? Is this really a usable guitar?
I've often seen footage on YouTube of various world musicians using unique handmade instruments and wondered what it would be like to play them. ‘Oil can’ guitars have been around for a long time in Africa, usually constructed using a recycled oil can bolted to a rudimentary bit of wood as a neck with a bit of wire secured opposite ends of the guitar with nails or screws. The oil can and materials used to build these instruments give these guitars a really unique open snappy sound. Now, thanks to the wonderful people at Bohemian Guitars they have now made it possible to get your hands on a, dare I say, safer to play and structurally sound instrument with guitar hardware, pickups and the rest!
First of all let’s take a look at the main part of the guitar which really makes it stand out from other guitars, the body, or in this case the oil can! The can is made from recycled metal and they have left it hollow but with the addition of a basswood frame for increased sustain and structural strength. The guitar features a P90 pickup which has its own volume and tone control. You can actually access the inside of the can via a removable back panel, where you'll find that the basswood frame inside is also part of the neck-through construction of this instrument, making it a lot more stable and giving us the option of not having to use nails to connect the strings! Instead we have a classic ‘tune-o-matic’ bridge and tailpiece.
The oil can body features two strap pins and rubber feet on the bottom, so you don’t need a guitar stand when you own an Oil Can guitar. The can itself features a ‘surf wax’ logo with lots of 'authentic' writing on the back and sides of the can to create the aesthetic of a real can that was used to carry surf wax of some description, and yes, for those who can't resist trying things out, the lid of the can is removable also, though I'm not sure why you'd want to!
Bohemian Guitars has a range of oil can style guitars with a variety of different designs and pickup selections. The neck is maple with a rosewood fingerboard, 21 narrow medium frets spanning a regular 25 ½ inch scale length with a gunmetal headstock with solid screw in tuners. I found this guitar to be incredibly playable, despite the unique body shape and neck placement.
The sound of this guitar is truly unique and this, of course, is key to whether it's a success. Tonally, it’s exactly what you would expect from a guitar made from an oil can, with a percussive attack and a hollow sustain. With a clean tone you can get some nice Delta Blues style sounds with a bit of warmth thanks to the P90, while with a bit of added dirt from a light overdrive you can make it howl with a snappy attack and if you go full metal you can expect this guitar to play ball as it sounds truly unique with most tones!
I can imagine this guitar is most effective in a roots Blues context, with a bit of finger picking and you can see why it would appeal to Jeff Beck, who has used one on his latest album (a gift from Billy Gibbons, no less! - Ed). I tried my best in the video review to capture that feel and also go elsewhere with the stylistic traits for this guitar, be sure to check out the accompanying video to hear it in action!
Who is this guitar for? Well, anybody that wants one. If you are looking for something unique, then this should be your first stop at least. If you are a blues/slide player then it has to be very high up your list to try. Rockers will enjoy it also due to its playability and the versatility you can find in the other models featuring humbuckers and various combinations of single coils.
Don't assume that because it looks funky and home-made that it performs like that. In fact the Bohemian has been built to a high standard and I imagine with a bit of care it could be road worthy. Check one out! I loved it!