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Fine-tuned: MHS shop students craft own guitars

Staff writer

Although each requires a great degree of artistry, it takes an entirely different skill set to make a musical instrument than it does to make music.

However, young guitar players Bret Voth and Corbin Wheeler each recently decided to take their appreciation of music to the next level by trying their hands at guitar-making in industrial education classes at Marion High School.

“Bret, Corbin, and myself have no previous experience building guitars,” building trades instructor Lucas King said. “But they have been watching a lot of guitar-building videos online.”

Bret, a senior, is building a traditional six-string acoustic guitar with a dreadnaught style of different types of maple wood as part of a project in King’s advanced cabinet making class.

“There are guitar kits you can buy online, but I decide to order the parts separately and build it on my own,” Bret said. “I really like seeing it come together.”

Bret has played guitar since he was in sixth grade. He enjoys listening to and playing “older country” songs.

“Bret has developed great problem-solving skills here at MHS,” King said. “He is a great ally to me during class. He not only works on his own projects, but he assists first year students with machine setup and fabrication ideas.”

Bret said the hardest part of his guitar project has been bending the wood.

“I’ve been bending this piece for four or five days,” he said. “You have to get it wet to bend it.”

A piece of spalted maple will become a curved portion of the guitar body. His dad, Don, helped him manufacture a specialized bending iron for his project.

The bending iron is an aluminum cylinder heated by a 200-watt bulb, Bret said.

He has already fabricated the guitar neck and head and has acquired the “quilted maple” soundboard pieces, but still has much to do before his guitar is complete.

Conversely, Corbin, a freshman in Wood 1, is nearing completion of his more primordial, but equally involving three-string cigar-box guitar.

His project is part of an independent study he does on his own time during seminar and before and after school.

Corbin listens to bands like Garth Brooks, Three Days Grace, the Foo Fighters, and Nirvana.

“I’m really anxious to hear how this thing sounds,” Corbin said.

He got the idea from watching a do-it-yourself video on the internet.

“It seemed simple enough, so I thought I would try it,” Corbin said.

A cigar-box guitar is exactly what the name implies — a guitar made out of a cigar-box.

Sustaining modifications, the cigar-box will serve as the instrument’s resonator and project its sound once complete.

“It really smelled like cigars when I was sanding it,” he said. “I had to cut a sound hole in the front and glue it shut so the box won’t rattle.”

He removed another portion of wood from the cigar-box near the sound hole in which he fit and glued the guitar neck. He also made his cuts in such a way that the manufacturer name “Casa Blanca” is visible.

Corbin said his cigar-box guitar only has 12 frets and will be tuned to the E, A, and D, which is the same as the three lowest strings on a normal guitar in standard tuning.

The tuning hardware consists of nuts and eyebolts.

“I will have to nail the strings into the body,” he said. “I’m going use a wrench to tune it.”

King said his only requirement for these projects is that the students round up the extra materials and special parts for their instruments.

“Bret and Corbin are both incredible students,” King said. “They’re perfectionists that enjoy a challenge, and they both have the work ethic it takes to complete a complicated project like building a guitar.”

Last modified Feb. 11, 2015

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