School of rock, guitar edition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tyler Waller, the technology instructor at Dawson-Bryant High School, helps as student adjust the neck of a guitar. (The Ironton Tribune|Jeremy Holtzapfel)

Dawson-Bryant students make guitars from scratch

In the Tech Lab at Dawson-Bryant High School, students are using all the skills they have learned over the past few months to make guitars, pretty much from scratch.

It all started with a simple guitar pick.

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Tyler Waller, the technology instructor, got the idea for classes to build guitars six years ago when a colleague brought him a guitar pick. It was from the STEM Guitar Program. It has a QR code that lead him to the Sinclair University, which had a five-day class that taught teachers to teach students how to build a guitar.

In his free time, Waller is a singer and guitar player and quickly realized that students could apply a lot of skills while assembling a guitar.

“I was looking for a project that would hook students into learning STEM projects,” he said.

Students build nearly everything they can in the Tech Lab.

“If we can build it, we build it,” Waller said.

Students design the body of the guitar on their iPad and then send the information to a computerized router which carves a piece of maple into the body. Then they use a neck from a kit and then spend many classroom hours assembling the guitar, putting on strings and wiring it so it can be hooked up to an amplifier.

Making a guitar isn’t cheap. Waller said that it runs about $300 to buy a kit, which he felt was expensive enough that it would prohibit some students from taking the class. So, he got community partners to help fund some of the cost and found industry partners like Harold White Lumber of Morehead, Kentucky to supply the maple and walnut lumber, while Crystalac provides the varnishes and Starbond and Titebond supply the adhesives.

Waller designed and refined the design of the guitar necks himself. The school pays for the parts that the students can’t make themselves. He estimates that the students create 90 percent of the guitar themselves.

“The greatest thing about this project is that students get to take a guitar home at the end of the project,” Waller said. “The only thing is that it has to make a sound and it has to be complete. And it is 100 percent free to them.”

Waller said that from an engineering standpoint, it’s pretty substantial to build a guitar in a high school class because there are so many parts that go into it.

“We spend 27 weeks learning how to build the guitar in 2D and 3D computer modeling. The last nine weeks, they are building the guitars,” he said. “We are teaching kids skills that they can use in the future, no matter what they are doing.”

Waller was originally in computer engineer by trade but 14 years ago decided to go into teaching.

“It’s been a wild ride so far,” he said. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

He said he much prefers teaching and interacting with students as to sitting in a room by himself working on computer systems.

“I thought that is what I wanted to do, but luckily, fate had something else in mind for me,” Waller said. “With these guys, I make a difference and that is what it is all about.”