STRING ‘EM UP: Bohemian Guitars

Bohemia Guitars 2

It’s one of the music world’s more notable recent start-up successes: the young guitar company creates eye-catching designs out of recycled oil cans.


 Bohemian Guitars was founded in 2012 by South African-born brothers Adam and Shaun Lee.  They’ve lived in Atlanta since 1998, but are still inspired by the inventiveness of South Africa’s township musicians.  Bohemian Guitars reflects that spirit, creating and selling guitars made from recycled oil cans.  In 2013, the brothers raised money for the company via Kickstarter and flew to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest’s Gear Expo, where I interviewed Adam Lee.

BLURT: Could you give me a history of the company?

ADAM LEE: My brother and I are from Johannesburg, South Africa. And in the townships in South Africa, people are pretty resourceful.  They repurpose pretty much anything they can get their hands on into functional instruments. It inspired my brother to try and take it to another level and make an electric oil can guitar.  He built his first guitar early last year out of an oil can.  He’d been building regular instruments for quite a while.  And we got such a tremendous reception we decided to start selling them at festivals and markets and demand grew and grew.  Throughout the year we set some milestones for ourselves which culminated in us starting a Kickstarter campaign beginning of 2013 which was a success. We finished 165 percent funded over 32 days.

Where do you go about finding some of the oil cans?

At first we were recycling old instrument parts and old oil cans and we would go to antique shops or look online where collectors sell their items. But after a while we found out that they’re rather expensive and they’re rather rare and difficult to find. So the Kickstarter route allowed us to create our own lower price point with our own Bohemian branding oil cans. And that will allow us to allocate some funds to dedicate to the recycling program in Dumpsters and old recycling shops just like that show American Pickers.

And this is all based on what they do in the townships.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

You walk through, for example, the townships in Soweto, Johannesburg, no one there has any money.  They make homes out of whatever sheet metal they can find, and scraps they can find.  And if you walk through there and see people playing the drums out of buckets or out of old trash cans and instruments from Coke cans that they create. And it’s kind of turned into a novelty item where some South Africans have created tourist products that people buy when they visit South Africa. An oil can guitar just happens to be one of those.  We give credence to South Africa for inspiring us. You walk around the markets at Cape Town and they’ve got all sorts of instruments that they’ve made out of whatever they can get their hands on, scrap wood or scrap metal.

What is the next step for Bohemian Guitars?

The next step is to…eventually gain some investments so we can grow the company and the brand, bring the price point down a little so we can start distributing them on a wholesale level.

And these are for professional musicians?

Yeah, these are fully functional electric guitars, six-strings.  Back in November of last year the band Of Monsters and Men just played our guitar live in Atlanta on stage. We’ve also got Australian multi-instrumentalist Jonti….He’s been playing our instruments.  He’s actually opted for our $299 instrument over his $4,500 Fender.

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