How to

The Troutcaster: How to build a working guitar out of burnt rubble

OILDALE, Calif. (KGET) – An iconic honky tonk music venue is now literally playing music itself. At least some salvaged parts of this historical place.

Introducing the Troutscaster guitar.

This is a story of reincarnation. A happy ending to the tragic loss of a longtime landmark.

Trout’s, or what’s left of it, is a legendary Oildale honky-tonk that the late Vern Hoover opened in 1945 in a former bar called Red’s. Ironically, another Red – songwriter and general cutup Red Simpson – became closely associated with Trout’s in his later years.

Trout’s closed almost a decade ago, the building was sold in 2018 – around the time the famous sign disappeared – and then it burned to the ground in April.

Red’s son David Simpson, himself a musician, salvaged some lightly toasted wood paneling from the drawing room before it was all hauled away. And that’s really where our story begins.

David Simpson gave several pieces of this hallowed but aged wood, including the pier of Pismo Beach and a piece of Merle Haggard’s famous childhood boxcar, to Tony Brown, a luthier whose T and T Customs has made instruments from all manner of scrap materials. Brown set out to build a small number of six-strings modeled after a Fender Telecaster. Imitations that would make the old Red proud.

Watch the full How to Build a Guitar with Tony Brown.

He undertook the task of transforming these redwood scraps into objects of redeemed glory. It was an arduous endeavor, but with the help of their friend Theresa Spanke, a musician who has sung with Trout literally hundreds of times over 20 years, they took up the challenge. And they found some surprises.

“When I sanded down a bit, I discovered the red paint underneath,” Brown said. “So we sanded it down, left some of the patina look on it, and then we thought that was a really cool look, so we left it. We didn’t want to reduce it to mere wood because we wanted it to represent Trout’s where it came from.

Finally it was time for the hardware, some items more visible than others. The frets, the pickup, the special finish, the abalone inlay. Trial, error, trial, error. Two months later – viola!

Theresa Spanke – the other T in T and T – did the graphics on the guitar.

“You know, I made a lot of music in these walls, and now there’s a lot of music being made in these walls,” Spanke said.

And now you too can experience a little of Trout’s reincarnation – if you happen to attend a show with a player who owns any of the four or five that exist. And that’s easy to achieve. The proud owner of this Troutscaster guitar is Ernie Lewis, one of the regular performers at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.

Check it out – you might just meet the pair that – in the best tradition of legendary Bakersfield luthiers like Moserite – are keeping the legacy alive.

“First time I’ve played this thing,” Lewis said.

And so Trout lives on – in exactly the places it deserves – on the stages of Bakersfield Sound.

You can catch Ernie Lewis playing his Troutscaster guitar this Friday and Saturday night at Crystal Palace.

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