No strings attached
MCHS class strikes chord with guitar project
If Morris Community High School students listen closely, they might hear an unusual sound coming from teacher Mark Smith’s Industrial Arts classroom at the end of the semester.
In place of the typical noises of drilling, sanding, sawing and hammering, there will likely be the lilting musical tones from a multitude of guitars, each being strummed by the student who made it with his or her own hands during the term.
This is the first year that students in the Morris Community High School Wood Technology class have made guitars. The usual products of the class are of a furniture nature, such as dressers and bedside tables, but a new teacher has brought some new ideas to the table.
Smith came to Morris this year from Tuscola, where he was an industrial arts teacher. He was also the national director of WoodLINKS USA, where he came across a company called Taylor Guitars that had a program for high schools. Smith attended one of the company’s training sessions, and the result was the acquisition by MCHS this fall of several parts needed to make wooden guitars.
“They sent us jigs and fixtures and all the parts for the guitars,” Smith said. “The high school didn’t pay for anything.”
And in making the instruments, the students are learning all the things they should in the class, Smith said, such as safety, material handling, accurate measuring, problem solving, separation and combination processes, and finishing.
Senior Zack Laursen is taking the class and is also one of Smith’s helpers. Wanting to eventually work in the building trades – he’s taking the Grundy Area Vocational Center’s building trades class now and will be working for a family member in Texas in the trades after graduation – he enrolled in the class because he loves working with wood.
“I like the fact that we get to make guitars,” Zack said.
He used to play the trombone and the keyboard, and he is learning how to play the guitar now.
Senior Aidan Baetzel is in the class, as well, and has taken several of the high school’s shop classes, such as metals, woods and home improvement, and is in welding at GAVC now.
“There are a lot of details,” she said of making the guitars. “Seeing them being made, they’re pretty awesome. ... With woods, you can make something really beautiful.”
Aidan said the most difficult part of creating the guitars is having to be very careful during the whole process, especially with the finish. Although she does not play an instrument, Aidan said she is starting a collection of musical instruments, and that she might have a music room someday.
Aidan hopes to be in the pipefitters union after graduation or become an industrial arts teacher.
Luke Smith, a junior, just moved to Morris this year with his father, the teacher of the class, and his family.
“I can’t play the guitar,” he said, “but I think it’d be cool to have one.”
Luke knew some things about working with woods before the class, like how to use tools, but he is learning a lot more in constructing the guitar. The instrument is quite a bit more complicated than he would have thought, he added, especially everything that goes on the inside of it to keep it stable.
The most difficult part is the gluing, he said.
The industrial arts classes are in the midst of some big changes lately, Smith said.
“The program is changing over to high-tech,” he said, “to a pre-engineering industrial technology program. The technology will make the students better marketable in manufacturing and other fields.”
In the past, Smith explained, classes such as woods, metals, foundry and construction used only manual machines, like the table saw and the metal lathe.
“Today, these are only part of the equation,” he said. “They also need CNC (computer numerical control) technology.”
As an example, Smith said this year the students used a jig created by a CNC machine to make their guitar bodies. Next year, they will be able to do even more with the CNC technology.
“We’ll use hand tools and manual machines plus high-tech equipment,” he said.
Next year, Smith said the class will also likely be offered for dual credit with Joliet Junior College.
A big challenge in industrial arts programs today, he added, is funding. The classes can be expensive. However, Smith said that $300,000 has already been donated to next year’s program by several supportive industries.
Microvellum, a high-tech pre-engineering program, is one tool that has been donated, as well as a desk-top CNC. This year, glue, veneer, clamps and a router have been donated.
Bessey Tools donated the clamps used in the making of the guitars.