20 Reasons Why Atlanta is America’s Music Capital

Our garages aren’t just for bands—they can be for makers, too

Kenny Ellsworth
Sleep the Owls’ Kenny Ellsworth

Photograph by Fernando Decillis

Kenny Ellsworth, a 40-year-old Georgia Tech graduate and architect who co-owns architecture and design firm SOGO and plays with rock band Sleep the Owls, wanted a guitar that would make both melodic and bass sounds. So, he headed for the garage-turned-workshop behind his home in southwest Atlanta’s Westview neighborhood. There, among scrap pieces of wood and machinery he’d amassed during years of building furniture, he sketched out a six-string guitar equipped with a special pick-up under the low E string that could emulate the sound of a bass.

Ellsworth sourced large planks of walnut, maple, and Italian tupelo (for accent pieces) from rare wood vendors Carlton McLendon in Home Park and Atlanta Hardwoods in Mableton. He cut, bent, and shaved the wood around custom templates to shape the body, then sanded down and laid out the fret board. Lastly, he drilled holes and whittled spaces for electronics. Roughly 100 hours later, he had created his guitar, and the notes it made matched what he heard in his mind.

“It sounded amazing,” Ellsworth says. “When you’re playing a chord, it’s like a wall of sound.”

After Randy Garcia of the local bands Snoot and Smoochyface heard Ellsworth play his combination bass and guitar at a Sleep the Owls concert, Garcia asked him to build a guitar to his specs. Ellsworth agreed to a barter arrangement: I’ll make the instrument if you record and mix our band’s first full-length album. Garcia agreed. The album will be released this spring.

Ellsworth doesn’t plan to launch a custom guitar business, but he keeps building, recently crafting a three-string guitar with special circuits that vibrate the strings so strongly they shake, creating a droning sound that mimics an EBow—allowing Ellsworth to play two melodies at the same time without having to strum.

“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Ellsworth says. “Sometimes they come out completely different than I expected. I suppose that’s when the happy accidents happen. That’s where the magic is.”