So what do they sound like?
You are no doubt curious as to how these odd creations sound. I hope you enjoy these clips we’ve created for that very purpose. They are just odds and ends inspired by the particular instrument’s capabilities. The intonation of each instrument is tricky to say the least, but it is also part of the magic. I tried to select tunes that accentuate the natural reverb of coming from the metallic skeleton of sawblades, pot lids, and springs. I used no effects or equalization on any of these recordings. The reverb that you hear is coming from the instrument itself.
Beyond the instrument samples, I have included recordings of Ed Stilley himself, singing and playing and even preaching. Ed discovered the cassette recorder back in the 80s and made good use of it. It was one of those portable double cassette recorders—it enabled him to make copies of his recordings. He would sing and preach into the recorder and then make copies and hand them to anyone who crossed his path. I have over a dozen of these tapes and many more recordings I made myself of Ed singing.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. A full-length CD of classic Christmas songs played instrumentally on one of Ed’s guitars is also available below. If you want to go deeper, other options are available. Contact us for more information.
The Butterfly Guitar
Given to me, the author of True Light, True Faith (Kelly Mulhollan) in 2004. Among the last instruments Ed built, the butterfly guitar has magnificent proportions and puts out a lot of volume. I have used at countless Still on the Hill concerts for over 10 years. Taking it into the studio caught me by surprise—I discovered all sorts of intonation landmines and distortions coming from the enormous body cavity that I’d never noticed in a live setting. The 3rd fret plays very sharp rendering some chords out of bounds. It took me a while to find a ditty that worked. The X-Ray shows the metallic innards including a saw blade, coil springs, door springs, and an aluminum ‘echo’ tube. 39 1/2 inches long, and a walloping 24 inches wide, it weighs 11.6 pounds.
guitar found by darren mccullough
This is my favorite in terms of playability. It’s got good intonation, lots of sustain, and the best natural reverb of any that I’ve played. The X- Ray image shows how the pot lid, chainsaw sprocket, and various springs are mounted inside. I chose two tunes because I just can’t get enough of this guitar. There’s a slow stately Celtic melody and a series of flamenco flourishes, both chosen to give the natural reverb some breathing space.
guitar given to johann pott
This guitar is not very warm but it has a nice bite and works quite well on this traditional ballad. The body is very small with a heavy assortment of metallic odds and ends—a saw blade, chainsaw sprocket, and various springs.
fiddle given to donna
Donna uses this fiddle at most every concert by Still on the Hill. While it’s a bit harsh in the midrange and lacks overall warmth, it does possess a mysterious tone and charm of its own. I put a sock inside to keep the crankcase cover from rattling. Beneath the basswood top you’ll find a crankcase cover plate from a chainsaw, door springs, and an aluminum echo tube. At 3.4 pounds, it’s very heavy for a fiddle and the scale length is 1 1/2 inches longer than standard.
guitar given to jason lawler
I pulled several pounds of dirt daubers nests out of this one but there are still more in there. The X-ray shows them clearly! Chock full of metallic components—a metal pulley, a tin can, and all manner of springs. Its tiny body does not create much volume but it plays quite well and has fairly good intonation. I enjoyed improvising on this little jewel.
guitar given to tom & nina luther
This is the instrument Donna saw at the Luther’s home that started us on our journey with Ed back in 1995. It best illustrates Ed’s middle period-- a time when he was extremely experimental. X-rays clearly show a saw blade and all manner of springs along with a Right Guard aerosol can, a glass bottle, and a plastic Dixie Cup. One of the tuning pegs slips and won’t go past a certain point so it’s always been tuned at a low pitch, but I love its rich dark tone. Not sure what came over me that caused me to record this improvised boogie-woogie ditty!
guitar given to ann & bill caldwell
X-rays reveal a variation on Ed’s internal skeleton. The only heavy object inside is a small chainsaw sprocket, but Ed still gives great attention to completing the ‘metallic loop’ that was so important to his construction. This guitar has a warm tone with a subdued high end.
four stringed instrument given to cindy robinson
There’s a heavy pipe straddled by a spring inside, and a glass medicine bottle as well! This is one of Ed’s very early creations. The fret spacing does not correspond to the overall string length so the intonation is very tricky to say the least. Luckily, there are sweet spots to work with here and there.
GUITAR GIVEN TO ROSE GRAHAM (NOW OWNED BY BOBBY THURMAN)
Some of Ed’s guitars just don’t want to be brought up to full pitch and this is one of those. It has a dark tone with very little high end. One of my favorites to play, it has a beautiful voice. There’s a sawblade and springs inside. This is one of my favorite pieces of music in the world and Bobby’s guitar takes it to a whole new place.
guitar owned by melinda fitch
This early instrument is quite ‘guitar like’ due to the use of sides salvaged from an old factory made guitar. The tone is dark and mysterious. It likes to be tuned below standard pitch. Classic “j “ frets and a smattering of crude metallic internal components are characteristic of Ed’s earliest creations.
guitar given to valarie cover, ed's granddaughter
Since the book came out, I made some modifications to the bridge and got this one strung up and working again. The back tilt of the neck forced the bridge height to be incredibly high. Almost 2 inches! Somehow, it all works. There’s a pot lid and springs inside. This is a beautiful chant from the middle ages that would have originally been sung in unison without accompaniment.
guitar owned by whitney capp
A big chunky instrument with an exceptionally long torso that extends halfway down the fingerboard. There’s a sawblade, springs, and echo tube inside. Sound is dark but with good volume and sustain. Notice how long it take for the last chord to fade out. A real pleasure to play.
Ed Stilley himself
This clip was chosen to give you a good overview of Ed Stilley’s playing and singing-- a collage of excerpt from a cassette he recorded on 4/3/96. He is accompanying himself on one of his own guitars. It begins with a fragment of a hymn (I believe it’s called ‘Everlasting Joy Within My Soul’). You can hear Ed shift back and forth between the guitar, and the ‘harp’ of the guitar mid-song. After a short Harmonica break, there’s a fragment of another hymn, ‘Till We Meet Again’ followed by Ed’s whistling.
I have recorded hours of Ed Stilley singing hymns a cappella. Ed will sing at the drop of a hat, but you better be ready for a good half hour of it! He moves from one hymn to another without a break, trance like with every verse included. Ed is a living encyclopedia of traditional hymns.
Ed Stilley often had a harmonica in the front pocket of his overalls. He plays an old time harmonica style that is largely forgotten. Alternating sucking and blowing in a rhythmic way, Ed creates a self-contained arrangement that is both rhythmic and melodic at the same time.
Ed Stilley sings with his wife Eliza every single day and are often joined by their talented granddaughter, Valerie on the piano. Valerie can follow all of Ed’s twist and turns flawlessly! Here is an excerpt an old hymn called Shake Hands with Mother Again featuring all three of them playing and singing together.
Ed Stilley loved the high tinkling sounds created by picking the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece—something well outside the lines of conventional playing. He called it the ‘pickin’ on harp’ and often utilized this technique mid-song to great effect. His voice becomes gentle to match the gentle dynamics of the ‘harp’ stings. Very touching.
This is an excerpt from a recording Ed made himself preaching into a portable cassette recorder. It’s just a short fragment from a relentless non-stop forty minute sermon. The blazing tempo might remind you of an old-fashioned auctioneer. This recording demonstrates Ed Stilley’s connection to an historic style of southern preaching.
hymns for eliza
Ed’s wife, Eliza once asked Donna and if we could make a recording of her favorite hymns. She gave us a list. We recorded these with the Butterfly Guitar and Donna’s Ed Stilley fiddle. Here are 3 excerpts from the collection we call ‘Hymns for Eliza’.
1- The Old Rugged Cross
2- Fairest Lord Jesus
3- I Saw the Light
Kelly Mulhollan - Christmas Carols on an Ozark Guitar
Long before Ed gave me the Butterfly guitar he would let me borrow instruments before he gave them away. In the late ninety’s I decided to record an assortment of familiar Christmas music on one of these borrowed guitars and make a cassette tape for a few friends. The guitar had a deep tone and I recorded it with a microphone inside the body to capture all the metallic components. Well, since then it has taken on a life of its own with two different covers and over a thousand copies scattered around the country. This is certain to be one of the most unusual Christmas recordings in your collection! I don’t have any idea where that guitar ended up.
Here a sample song from the album:
To purchase Christmas Carols on an Ozark Guitar ($15, includes shipping)