The first thing that grabs your attention when you see this bike is the color. This is not the typical flames and metal-flake high dollar paint job, or rattle can black, but a careful use of color and metallic tones that give it a classic look. And, when you consider that there is not one drop of pigmented paint on it anywhere, it’s even more impressive. The rust finish on the frame, natural aluminum, nickel plating and chrome supply the metallic tones. They complement the warm honey and cocoa brown colors in the wood of the gas tank and fenders. That’s right, wood, and we’re not just talking knotty pine here, folks. This is exotic wood, the kind you would find in a custom guitar. This is a guitar-themed bike.
Two years ago, brothers Jeff and David Dickson were sitting around on Thanksgiving watching one of those holiday TV marathons. It featured a certain family in the Northeast that builds custom themed bikes. “We were just sitting there saying we could do that,” says Jeff. “Our first thought was to build a bike, video the whole thing and spoof some of the popular build shows on TV. The more we talked about it, the more serious we got about doing the build. We were only worried about one thing. We had never built a bike before.” That’s right, this stunning ride is their first custom build.
The typical TV scenario for building a theme scoot is get a wide tire frame, clone motor and tranny, whip it all together and bolt on the appropriate theme parts. Since this is a guitar bike, you would expect to see a Gibson Les Paul bolted to the frame or something. No way was that going to happen with this build. David says, “We wanted all of the parts on the bike to have a real function, not just be there for looks or effect.” So, no theme bolt-ons for this scooter. The brothers wanted to fabricate as many parts as possible; no fancy CAD design or machine made parts, just what they were able to make with hand tools, sweat, and a few choice explicatives when things didn’t go so smoothly. They also wanted to use mostly off-the-shelf H-D product. As a result, only the frame and a handful of other parts are aftermarket goods. Commenting on their choices, Jeff says: “We wanted to go a different way, true old school, no billet wheels, no high dollar motor. There’s enough of that out there already. When people built back in the day, they either made what they needed or scrounged up parts and made them work. Not much came out of catalogs.”
The bike’s main features are the gas tank and fenders. The wood used is a mixture of flame maple and a type of rosewood called Cocobolo. They are combined with mother of pearl to simulate the neck and body of a guitar. The “pinstripes” flanking the sides of the Cocobolo are actually a vinyl trim called “binding,” used to outline guitar bodies.
David was responsible for all of the woodwork. The fenders were the most labor intensive, taking hours of design and mockup to get right. David says: “You just can’t bolt the wood up solid. The vibration will crack it in a heartbeat. We ended up mounting the fenders on springs to let them move around a bit.”
Jeff designed the tank. “I bought some floral foam from a craft shop and carved it to the shape I wanted.” Jeff ‘s inspiration for the shape came from a Stradivarius violin. “Our great-grandfather was a concert violinist, and David plays both the violin and guitar.” The tank is made of three sections: the wood top cover and two fuel bags, similar to the layout for fat bobs. The aluminum for the tanks was repurposed from an old stop sign. As for the origin of the sign, Jeff says, “We found it laying in some weeds.” Yeah, right bro, sure ya did. The two tank sections are joined at the rear by an exposed balance tube. This is a nod to David’s profession, in his 9-to-5, he’s a carpenter, and the tube is made like the bubble section on a carpenters level.
The gas tank is not the only thing repurposed on this build. The oil bag at one time was a gas tank on a John Deere lawn tractor. When asked about the vintage, Jeff muses: “Sixty-Eight or Nine, I think. It took a lot of hammering to get all the dents out.” Final finish on it is nickel plate, done by local plater, Pro Plating.
There are other clever uses of non-motorcycle items. The floorboards are actually old Wah-Wah pedals, and the tach mount is from the tailstock of a guitar. Other musical details are the guitar strap holding the battery in place, and the cone cover medallion is made from an old pick guard. If you look closely, you can see even more. The coil mount is a treble clef, and the taillight / license plate mount is a music note. The detail to this theme is deep. Even the wiring and oil lines have meaning. “People wonder why we didn’t hide our wiring or use steel braided lines,” David says. “Have you ever been on a concert stage? There are cables everywhere hooking up all the equipment. That’s what this is.” Not even the seat has been left out. Jeff did the fabrication of the base, then had it covered in material from a Marshall amplifier.
Jeff and David chose a Santee frame for its classic lines. The finish on it is an old technique called browning. Before bluing was invented, gunsmiths used this as a finish. To best describe it, it’s kind of a controlled rusting process, something Jeff had to do three times to get the look right. The frame was then sealed in an epoxy based clear coat. If you are wondering about the drilled covers on the lower rails, it’s a practical thing. “We knew the frame rails might take a beating, so we made the covers,” David says. “If they get scraped up, we can take them off, buff it out and put them back on. Good as new.” Up front, a DNA springer two inches over stock compensates for the rise and stretch in the frame so the bike sits level. The bars are Flanders flat tracks, with vintage H-D controls.
The heart of this machine is pure Harley-Davidson. Jeff chose a stock Evo crate motor, straight out of the H-D catalog. The engine didn’t stay stock for long. Jeff had Sego Brothers tweak the motor a bit with an Andrews cam and some headwork. “Stock Evo’s sound a little weak. I wanted the motor to have a good bark,” Jeff comments. And bark it does through a set of wrapped Santee L.A.F. pipes. These puppies live up to their name. They are loud! Breathing chores are handled through a Mikuni HSR 42, capped off with a Crime Scene Choppers First Offence air cleaner. Sticking with the old school theme, an open BDL belt drive hooks the engine to a kick only four-speed ratchet top. No electric leg on this scooter! Jeff has no idea about the age of the tranny. It was a swap meet item. A large percentage of the parts on the bike came from swap meets. Here’s an example. When questioned about the maker of the headlight, Jeff says: “No idea, found it at a swap meet.” Foot controls? “Harley, swap meet.” The taillight? “Arlen Ness left turn signal, I think, swap meet.”
Twenty-one and sixteen-inch wheels hold up the ends of this custom compilation. Even they have an interesting twist going on. The wheels are discontinued Harley Profile rims shod with an Avon Speedmaster on the front and an MK II on the rear. Avon has been making these classics for more than thirty years. Sounds pretty normal for an old school ride, right? Not completely. The rear rim was originally intended for the front. Jeff says, “I liked the look of the rims but Harley never made a Profile sixteen-inch for the rear, so I had to make some modifications.” A set of Hawg Halters brakes was chosen for its smooth contours that complement the look of the wheels.
After two years of building, chasing down parts, busting some knuckles and working late nights, do they ever regret not taking the billet route for the build? Jeff says. “We built this for a third of the cost that those factory customs sell for, and I know I won’t see one just like it out on the road.” David added, “It’s been great taking it to shows, seeing people’s reaction to it and we have won some trophies.”
Jeff and David have built a classic ride in the true old school tradition. They have also proven it is possible to build a trophy winner without spending a small fortune.
Great job, guys!
Words By: Terry Cavender
Images By: Terry Cavender