Swami Kon Tiki by Brandon Madrid


The Swami’s newest and coolest six stringed masterpiece.

So, by now you’ve all probably realised that I’m ‘slightly’ obsessed with anything related to John ‘Speedo’ Reis. His music, his guitars, the way he plays his guitars, the way his guitars look, the way he looks at his guitars, the way his guitars look while he plays them, the way he looks like when he plays his guitars. You get the picture. It’s one step away from restraining order obsession.

Being a tone hound, Speedo uses many guitars to make the music I love so much, so I try to keep an eye on what new axe he brings to the battle. Lately, Speedo has been playing a heavily modified Silvertone… which has been rebuilt from the ground up by his long time guitar tech, Brandon Madrid at Madrid Guitars.

image by Kate Hovland Photography

Recently, Speedo has been playing a brand spanking new guitar based on this vintage Silvertone. It had the same curves, but put together in a totally new and cool format.


Brandon was nice enough to fill in the details of this newest of Swami guitars.

The Kon Tiki starts with a vintage gold foil case with a new alnico 5 magnet over wound to 11.25 from Curtis Novak and an aluminum cover to replace the gold foil. The bridge is a Lollar over wound p90 around 9.32. Both are custom made for the guitar. The pots are 100k in the bridge 1meg in the neck and 250k on the tone, with vintage Vitamin c oil cap at .047. Quite the crazy combo. When we started the project John needed a guitar to take the place of the Silvertone for everyday playing. But the problem was Silvertones were not built to last this long, they’re kinda toys. I have taken the back off of his Silvertone to reinforce the bracing and I have pulled the fretboard on the neck to add a truss rod but after all the hours of work when the guitar was moved around a bunch and Swami sweat it got funky, we needed to remake a great design, but do in with modern knowledge.

So I started with the body–I basically took a design and re-engineered the guts. I wanted the guitar to sound the same out of Masonite but with more sustain and stable with temperature and moisture change. Also weight was a issue. I wanted to make a guitar that was lighter then the Silvertone box guitar, so i needed to take an acoustic guitar approach. I started building acoustic guitars under Charles Fox. He taught me how to make a strong and amazing sounding instrument. Next I needed to make a guitar out of Poplar and Masonite. Structurally it’s built kinda like a standard X brace pattern but with a larger block for sustain and stability. When you hold the Kon Tiki and a Silvertone box guitar next to each other they actually have very different bodies.


The Kon Tiki weighs about 6.30 pounds with a maple neck. It was really hard to pull off without making the guitar neck heavy. Our goal was 6.5 pounds. With this design weight was everything to make the junky boxy tone of a vintage Silvertone, you need a super light body. Next was the neck– I had to go for maple/rosewood for strength and tone. The neck has some chambers for weight reduction and tone and the headstock has no angle like the Silvertone. We did not want to do 6 inline, John wanted 3×3 tuners so I had to redesign the head to look the same, but again function with no bunching at the nut. After months of mock ups and prototypes we have came to this–the “Kon Tiki”.


John named the guitar after Kon-Tiki, the raft used by Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1940’s expedition from South America to the Polynesian islands. Guess it kinda documents the journey we made to make the perfect guitar, or at least one that John and I feel really strong about.


 Thanks Brandon! Here’s Speedo in action with the Kon Tiki.