Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Bay Splash Guitar

If you’re looking to bid on this item, visit the online auction before it closes April 5 at noon.

Ian ’16 and his father, Charles, have generously donated an electric guitar to The Bay School’s annual Bay Splash auction. But it’s not your ordinary electric guitar; it’s been thought up, cut out, sanded, lacquered and strung by hand, then offered for bidding with hard work and a good story behind it.   

“My dad’s been making guitars for a couple years now,” began Ian ’16. “He started out with making classical guitars, and now he’s doing electric guitars.”

It’s a labor-intensive hobby, to be sure, but one that both Ian and his father, Charles, are uniquely poised to succeed at and enjoy.

“I play classical guitar, electric guitar, electric bass,” Ian explained. “I played a little stand-up bass … and a tiny bit of piano [but] guitar’s my thing.” In fact, Ian was a vital member of the pit orchestra for this year’s winter musical and plays with Colin Williams’ Jazz 1A class. Despite his long-standing passion for guitar both in and out of school, only recently did Ian come to share his father’s related hobby..

“I’ve [made guitars] before a little with him, but this is the first time I’ve gone in-depth,” Ian said. “We’ve pretty much done equal shares. We took turns sanding and cutting the guitar out. I put the frets in and that sort of thing.”

Already, guitar-making sounds like an undertaking. But how exactly do you begin the process of building such a complicated instrument?

“First we get the plans; they’re online,” Ian said, “and they do work pretty well. Then we have a friend down in Redwood City, who’s got this massive shop – you could put an airplane in there. He’s got this thing called the shop bot. It’s a robot, basically; you can program it to do certain cuts, and it can get pretty precise. If we’re doing multiple bodies, that’s how we’ll do it.”

“But for this one, we cut it out of a piece of wood, and we sanded it down, and we made the neck out of several pieces of wood,” Ian continued. “We had to wear masks while we were painting it and leave it in a shed for about two weeks while it dried … Then we get to put the strings and all the electronics on it. Then it will be done.”

And what does Ian think of his foray into guitar-making?

“It really is cool to know that it is pretty meaningful, and it will make cool noises when it’s done. The image of electric guitars is like shredding, lots of screaming, but people don’t really think about how the guitar got there. It is a bit of an effort; you have to be a craftsman. I’m kind of a craftsman, with a lot of help.”

So, come April 6, keep an eye out for a truly special auction item nestled among fabulous getaways, hosted parties  and special beverages vying for your bid. You’ll know it when you see it.

Maybe you’ll recognize the style as the redesigned Gibson Les Paul, later called the SG for “Solid Guitar.” Maybe the blue color, which Ian and Charles carefully selected to match that of old SG models, will stop you in your tracks. Maybe it’s the hand-sanded body, the shiny frets that Ian painstakingly applied or the glint of the finish that took weeks to dry that make you look again. But one thing’s for sure: you’ll recognize it. “Of course, it’s not an actual SG,” Ian concluded. “It’s homemade.”

Which is to say, even better.


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