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‘Heavy metal’ guitar amplifies Burnet downtown as destination

Valerie and Richard Went

Valerie and Richard Went stand with a giant guitar and its model on the Burnet County Courthouse Square in Burnet. Went and his crew at Nail Head Spur, a custom fabrication business, built the guitar as a photo-op for visitors to Burnet festivals and music events. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Burnet has a new photo-op on the courthouse square: a 9-foot-tall, 800-pound acoustic guitar that looks real enough to strum a tune. The guitar is the latest project of the city’s Community Coalition, a small committee that includes members of the Burnet’s City Council, Economic Development Corp., and Chamber of Commerce as well as Burnet County officials. 

“We wanted to promote downtown and the best way is to bring music, so we brought back the summer concert series and decided to do it on the square rather than (in) the park,” City Manager David Vaughn said. “Councilman Phil Thurman said why not get an inflatable guitar for the Jackson Street Jams series.” 

Jackson Street Jams brought live music, food, and cornhole tournaments to the courthouse square on several Friday nights from June through August. The coalition liked the inflatable idea but not the available inflatables. 

They decided on something more permanent. 

Burnet business owner Richard Went has a history of making larger-than-life guitars, mostly what he calls “45-mile-per-hour signs.” Went owns Nail Head Spur, a custom fabrication business he and his father started 30 years ago in Llano. He and wife Valerie moved the business to Burnet about 15 years ago. 

“I’ve built a couple of these (guitars), but they are 100 feet off the road and you drive by them at 45 miles per hour and you can’t see the detail,” Went said. “You walk up to this one and you can get up close and personal, so the details had to be a little different.” 

The details, in fact, are exquisite: inlaid silver, diamond-shaped position markers on the neck and steel wire as strings. The guitar is covered in vinyl car wrap that looks like real wood. 

“You have to move it with a forklift,” said Went, who also designed the wide, square, heavy base. 

Moving it is necessary, as it will be put away in the winter along with the giant photo-perfect metal picture frame that Went built for the square a few years ago. 

“I call it the art side of the business,” Went said. “Our bread and butter is commercial.” 

Nail Head Spur on Texas 29 East in Burnet ships its steel fabrications across the United States. Some are molds for plastic trash cans, deer blinds, and ice chests. Others are heavy metal screens for the National Fish Hatchery System, railroad car parts, and some items that are proprietary and can’t be written about in the media.

“Our client base is way beyond art and gates and metal guitars,” Went said. 

However, it’s the artistic side that captures the attention. It’s hard to miss that massive musical instrument last seen standing outside of Wedding Oak Winery at the corner of South Pierce and East Jackson streets on the courthouse square. 

“I’m in my element when I’m working on a project like that,” Went said. “I’d rather build something than go to a party. I like building.” 

The project demanded a quick turnaround, which Went had no trouble meeting, although he was worried at first. 

“I rolled up in my driveway, and the city manager in Burnet called and said, “Hey, Richard, you ever build a big guitar?’” Went said. “I said, ‘Well, yeah, David, I built a couple in the past. Why, do you need one?”

Vaughn not only needed one, he needed it in two weeks for the first Jackson Street Jams concert. 

“We built it in six or seven days,” Went continued. “It was one of those fun builds. It just kind of became, “I can’t wait to get here at six o’clock in the morning and see what we were going to do next with this thing.’” 

The Community Coalition gave Went a photo of a basic acoustic guitar to use as a guide, but he needed the real thing to measure for proportions. He discovered one in the office that someone had left behind. 

“I have no idea where it came from, but here it is,” said Went, lifting the guitar from where it leans against the fireplace in his showroom.

When members of the coalition checked on progress halfway through the build, they were blown away, Vaughn said. 

“I was thinking it would be like a black silhouette,” he said. “I never dreamed of the quality of what he did. (Went) did an amazing job on very short notice. We left most of it up to him and I’m glad we did.” 

Went is up to whatever task comes his way in the world of welding and metal fabrication.

“No telling what’s going to happen between now and the end of the day,” he said. “I’m always one phone call away from ‘What do you want next?’”

Vaughn already has a pretty good idea.  

“Next year, we may add an electric guitar,” he said.

suzanne@thepicayune.com