The project was simple: have students build their own electric guitars.  The learning, on the other hand, has been rich!  


Students begin by choosing what type and what style of guitar they wish to build; then we ordered the materials.  We do some learning about the physics of sound and the mathematics of fret spacing on the keyboard.  They build a one string guitar out of a 2x4 and some twine.  They learn about octaves and harmonics.  We build a simple speaker and pick up from magnets and wires.  Then their materials arrive!

The first stage in actually building their guitars is strictly woodworking.  They sculpt and sand their bodies, design and shape their headstocks.  After finishing the above with paint, oil or stain, students locate, drill and fill each of their fret dots, cut and place the actual frets and attach the fretboards to the neck in the precise location to ensure the correct scale length, before attaching the neck to their guitar bodies.  This produces real guitar-looking products, but they are not yet instruments.

Students learn about different electronic components and soldering; then all the pickups, potentiometers, switches and jacks are connected and installed.  The guitars are strung and the final challenge begins: "intonation" of the guitar, which usually proves to be tricky.  Once complete, each student has a custom, self-made, musically excellent guitar to take home and keep.  Such a product is rare in schools, and this one seems to inspire immense pride.  Not only is the guitar a powerful pop-culture symbol of "cool," but its multi-media complexity makes its creation a significant achievement. 

Student feedback is overwhelmingly positive.  A few students have repeatedly said that it is the best class they ever took.  Several students have said that it is the only class they regularly arrive for and begin working for before the bell even rings.  Several students have said that the skills they learned will be useful for the rest of their lives.  A couple of students have claimed that they want to continue making more guitars as hobbyists.  One student said that the skills she learned were the type she imagines boys get from their dads.  From my teacher's perspective, it is tremendously satisfying to see students who are enthusiastic about creating something for their future, who help each other to stay safe and learn, who express their appreciation and demonstrate it every day by taking pride in cleaning up.  I wish all of my work in education was more like this experience. 

The Estes Park School District R-3 would like to thank OtterBox Foundation for their generous donation to make this a reality!