In a workroom at the Skills Canada centre in Marwell, a project nearly three years in the making is finally being wrapped up — or, more accurately, plugged in.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time — you would not believe,” said Aaron Bielz, as he put the final touches on his electric bass guitar on Thursday.
Bielz, along with friends Willie Quarton and Jeff Hills, built solid-body electric guitars with guidance from FH Collins woodworking teacher, and Willie’s dad, Gerry Quarton.
It was a brand new challenge for all of them, even the teacher.
The idea came from students in Quarton’s popular snowboard-building class at FH.
“They were talking about doing guitars,” said Quarton. “One guy was almost a professional musician.”
A group of eight interested builders started the project, as an extra-curricular endeavor with Skills Canada.
Starting from scratch, the group got as far as spruce mockups of the guitar bodies in the first winter, learning how to steer a router through the inside of the solid body design.
Quarton said it wasn’t too much trouble for him — “but getting it to the level where the kids can do it, where they’re not going to get eaten by the routers,” — was key.
“These were a lot more work than I thought they would be — and dealing with the router and plunging this deep is a lot more of a screamer,” said Quarton. “Did anyone not wreck the template?” he asked, looking around the room.
Several students graduated, moved on, or abandoned the project after the first stage, and only four went on to the hardwood bodies over the next winter.
“It’s the financial constraints that are the biggest factor,” said Quarton. “You can’t get cheap parts — Skills helped out with the necks, which made it doable at the high-school level,” he added, holding up a prefab neck, with frets and a blank headstock.
“Including myself, four of us made it to the end.”
Willie Quarton finished his guitar in the summer, before leaving for university.
He estimated the whole project cost him around $400 to complete (including prefab neck, hardware, wiring and lacquer finish).
“My other guitar cost around $600, and this one’s just as playable, if not more playable,” he said. “I use it all the time.”
Bielz’s bass is the last of the projects, and he’s eager to start playing — but before he can, the bass will go to Unitech for an inspection of the electrics.
“It’s giving me a lot of feedback when I turn the knobs,” said Bielz.
The members of the group have varying levels of woodworking experience.
Bielz took woodworking through his four years at Vanier — but this type of building was something new.
“It’s a lot different than making sheds and larger projects — it’s way more fine detail,” he said.
Strewn across the table at the Skills centre are guitars, and pieces of guitars, in various stages of completion — Quarton points out his Stratocaster copy, and Willie’s slick dark brown design — but it’s an unfinished body covered in measurements and notes that catches his eye.
“This is much more useful to me, as a teacher, than a finished guitar — all the dimensions are on here, all the mistakes,” he said.
Quarton’s not a guitar player himself, he just wanted to find a project the kids were excited about.
“I guess I should start, since I’ve got these instruments now,” he laughed.
“I think cutting a hand-dovetail is more important, and probably more work, but they’re not as interested because it doesn’t necessarily impact them at this point,” he said.
“I would personally like to teach them cabinet making, but I have to listen to what the kids want to do — it’s a bit of ‘how am I going to get them where I want them?’”
Building an electric guitar isn’t just woodworking, and Quarton, along with Skills Canada, went looking for assistance from local business to finish the projects.
“Unitech did the wiring and intonation, Treeline for the finishing, they helped us spray the lacquer overtop, and Jacobs Industries for the machining on the bridge,” said Quarton.
“That’s what’s exciting to me — it shows these kids a bunch of trades. It’s really a community project.”
Helping kids to see that they can make things themselves, and that you can have a career doing it, is one of the reasons Quarton stays open to new project ideas.
“I remember one of my professors telling me never to forget about popular culture — I’m not 21 anymore, these kids will tell you what they need to learn,” he added.
“You don’t know where the cabinet makers of the future will come from, but it might be one of these three.
“As soon as it impacts them, we’ve got their attention,” he said.
“That’s exactly what it’s about, getting their attention — we’re a million tradespeople short already… try getting a plumber or a carpenter in this town to do a small job — it’s almost impossible.”
Pursuing trades seems like a tough sell these days, with an educational culture that is focused on university as the be-all of achievement.
“That’s why we’re short,” said Quarton. “It’s better to go to university… well, are you sure? Is that the best solution for every kid? I just try to offer some options.”