Lincoln resident to turn battleship wood into electric guitars

A Lincoln man is turning wood from the USS Battleship Texas into electric guitars.
Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 7:03 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - When most of us see an abandoned factory or forgotten pile of wood, we see a ruin--something to discard completely.

But not Phil Whitmarsh. He sees history, and his task is to make you hear it.

The World-War-era battleship USS Texas took to the water for the first time in a long-time in late August. It was heading toward toward Galveston for $35 million in repairs, which prompted Whitmarsh to see out some of the ship’s aged deck wood and turn it into one of the many electric guitars he’s crafted at the Nebraska Innovation Studio since the beginning of the pandemic.

Whitmarsh first got his idea to turn wood from historic buildings into guitars from an artisan in New York.

“Because the building was so old, he believed that at a cellular level, that those beams had become hard woods and would resonate really well in musical instruments,” Whitmarsh, the founder of Old Market Guitars, said.

So Whitmarsh got his hands on wood form the Woolworth building in Omaha’s Old Market during planned renovations and set to work making two prototype guitars: Mary Kate and Ashley.

Whitmarsh also started work on guitars with wood from a factory in Wisconsin.

“The energy from all those workers, and the creativity from all of the people who worked there over 100 years, in a sense it passed onto the wood,” he said. “And I believe that whether its energy from machinery or energy from heartbeats or energy from creativity, it ends up being infused into the wood.”

That energy, Whitmarsh says, haunts the sounds of his instruments

“I told them that they could continue to hear the voices of their co-workers through the music that these guitars could make,” he said.

And whether it’s historic energy or the natural aging of wood, guitar experts say there’s a difference between Whitmarsh’s guitar and one you’d buy off a store shelf.

“The mid-frequencies are more present there,” said Matt Richardson, who works as a guitar instructor at Blue Raven Music Stuidos. “And it has a warm quality about it. It’s really cool. And I think it makes the guitar a little more punchy too.”

Whitmarsh got his deck wood form the USS Texas just a few weeks ago. It didn’t form the deck of the ship during its support mission on D-Day, but it has been there for decades now. And Whitmarsh says the wood has special character.

“Millions of people have walked on these decks,” he said. “And the service people that served our country and fought in those wars and those campaigns on the Texas. And all of the Texas pride that goes into this wood. I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to see what kind of blues monster we can create with it.”

Even in design--with the pattern of a ship bow--it will carry on its legacy: a sword turned into a ploughshare.