YouTube guitar builder Burls Art melts down 1,600 RadioShack dollar coins and turns them into a very cool lap steel guitar

Burls Art made a lap steel out of 1,600 dollar tokens for defunct US retailer RadioShack
(Image credit: Burls Art / YouTube)

What do you do if a relative swings by your house and drops off some 20lbs of aluminium dollar tokens for a retail chain that’s gone the way of the dodo? 

Well, if you are Burls Art, and you have made electric guitars out of coloured pencils, aluminium cans and 700 sheets of newspaper, then maybe you can find a use for them.

This time around Burls Art, whom you might know for his YouTube channel documenting some of the most unconventional and inventive guitar builds we have seen, thought of something different. He was going to make a lap steel guitar out of the coins. He has never made one before, never played one either, but if you can turn 14 old skateboards into a fully functioning guitar, then anything’s possible. 

The first job is to create a pattern and a sand mould. The tokens will be wrapped up in foil – “a coin burrito” – and melted down in a furnace, fed into the mould, and once cooled they will form the chassis for the instrument. The first pour does not go to plan. The aluminium did not reach the required temperature. It was back to the drawing board, and that called for a second mould.

“These moulds are well over 100lbs,” says Burls Art. “And they take a good four or five hours to make, so I was really hoping that I could nail this attempt.” 

The original pour was sawn in pieces and recycled into the furnace. The second was good enough to use after a little finessing. Now for the top. This, too, was going to be aluminium.

Burls Art made a lap steel out of 1,600 dollar tokens for defunct US retailer RadioShack

(Image credit: Burls Art / YouTube)

“I have never tried casting something this thin,” he says. “So I wasn’t really sure how it was going to turn out. That is kind of the fun part about metal casting.”

There is also a lesson to be taken from this section; sometimes it is better to let the part cool in the mould. After warping the top when cooling with water, it needs a little more work on the bench before it is ready. Once the top and the frame were ready, it was taken to a local welder to put it together.

“I always try to do as much work as I can within my own shop but every now and then I need something done that I just don’t have the equipment or skill to do,” he says. “I never have a problem seeking out a professional when those times come.”

As for anodising the body of the instrument, he had no problem taking that on. Immersing in a tank to anodyse for two hours, then into a dying tank. There are some imperfections but that gives it a homespun look. The fit and finish thereafter is classic Burls Art; precise, exact, and when he demos it on his Vox AC15 it really does sound incredible. 

You can check out some of Burls Art’s other builds at his YouTube page, or buy one from his website.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.