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Students learn the fine art of guitar making

Jimi Hendrix, considered by many to be the greatest guitarist ever, once said of his craft, “Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded.”

Those words may help guide the nine boys who this week were finishing up building their own electric guitars at Garrett Junior High.

The quarter-long course taught by band teacher Stacy Toal, came about out of necessity. According to Principal Melanie Teemant, the guitars would have been made through Ben Franke’s Advanced STEM course, but due to his sudden death near the beginning of this school year, Garrett had to reconfigure its master schedule and make sure his classes were covered. They did not have a teacher qualified to teach advanced STEM, so they converted it to a guitar class, which is when Toal took over.

“She did such an amazing job and was learning a lot right next to the students,” Teemant said of Toal. “This was when we talked about doing the STEM guitars in the guitar class and the students were so excited, that we decided to make it a part of Ms. Toal’s final project in guitar class.”

Teemant went on to say, “The students have excelled in creating unique guitars, collaborating together and learning new skills in woodworking, guitar stringing, and using tools, which has culminated in having an instrument that they can play. We are deeply thankful to Larry Archuleta and the Rotary Club of Boulder City for their three-year sponsorship of this STEM project. Their financial support and personal involvement in working directly with our students have been crucial. Without them, this incredible initiative would not have been possible.”

For nearly a decade the Rotary Club has sponsored the guitar program by purchasing the kits to make the instrument. Started at the high school, the course is now at Garrett with the assistance of Archuleta, owner of Dam Computer Medic, who has volunteered his time for years to assist with the course.

“At the high school, their kits are more of a build but these kits are more of an assembly,” Archuleta said. “Regardless, there’s so many lessons to learn, like design, deadlines and math. These guys don’t even realize they’re learning, they just enjoy doing it.”

Monday was one of the most popular days of the course - painting. A large, plastic garbage can was filled with water and then, based upon each student’s request, Archuleta would drip colored paint in and mix it gently. Then, the student would lower the guitar into the can, turn it slightly and remove it.

“When they see the finished product and are holding it in their hands, you seem the gleam in their eyes,” Archuleta said, adding that with increased curriculum, he’s hoping the school will turn the class into one that lasts an entire semester next year. “I built my first guitar when I was in high school in wood shop. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed playing. So, being able to help the kids is very rewarding.”

Toal, who along with her students, built her own guitar and enjoyed the painting process, said, “I’m so impressed with their ability to work independently, to help one another, their interest in the mechanism itself and the process of building a guitar. Many have brought great skills to the table, ones they probably picked up with the families. They’ve taken a lot of pride in their work and seem to really enjoy it. It’s been nothing but a positive experience.”

Toal added that next year, she hopes to increase the size of the entry-level class to as many as 20, with the plan of encouraging girls to take part as well.

“Staining it and not knowing how it will turn out and then seeing how it turns out was my favorite part,” said Elias West, who took the class last year.

As an added bonus for the nine students, not only will they be going home this summer with their own electric guitar, but thanks to donations from the Rotary Club of Boulder City as well as the Lions Club and Community Club, each will be presented their own small amp.

Those interested in donating to the program can do so through Rotary or Garrett Junior High with the funds earmarked for the guitar program.

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