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I had live music in my shop this past Saturday! Our youngest daughter was studying on the dining room table for her AP History exam, our oldest daughter wanted to practice at the same time, scholastic's take priority over all in our home, even over good music, so our oldest girl needed a place with her friend to practice for an open mic event that same night at a local music store that holds open sessions on Saturdays. They asked if they could come out and practice while I work. I turned off my radio and opted for live. Hey, free live music while I work! What more can ya ask for! Typically I don't like things on my table saw, I'll make an exception, this time. This a just a warm up they were doing to have fun. Cynthia is our oldest daughter, on violin, and her "boyfriend" is on geeetar. He's an ok kid, took me a loooong time to accept it, but he's alright. Her first, they been seeing each other since their Jr. year in high-school and they are equally yoked. They are both wrapping up their freshman year in college. Good kids. She plays in her college symphony, quartet, and symphony choir, she is well studied in classical, but her favorite to play all day long, is Appalachia.
When it comes to sustainability, Warren McKenney of Marinette, Wisconsin, practices what he preaches. Warren believes in the 3 R’s: recycle, re-purpose and reclaim – and he shares that philosophy wherever he goes. Playing guitars as a youngster, Warren also became proficient at fixing them when they broke, as they often did. These days, he uses materials he saves from old homes or finds in dumpsters to create unique re-purposed wood guitars. A part-time construction instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Warren (who bears a passing resemblance to musician Neil Young) uses his pallet guitar concept as a way to get at-risk youths to use their hands in a productive way. He also teaches guitar building classes at his workshop, a converted 1904 two-story grocery store in Marinette. Oh, and in his spare time, he is a sustainable residential building contractor who has worked in the construction field for 35 years. The guitars built in his classes can range from acoustic, semi solid electrics to electric guitars, depending on the student’s preference. His students are all ages and backgrounds, but one thing remains the same when Warren teaches – “Everything has to be re-purposed,” he explained. “That’s the object of it.” Class meets 1-2 days a week for 6 weeks, and everyone is encouraged to bring in donated or re-purposed materials to use. One gentleman brought in his old walnut cabinets and made a beautiful guitar from the wood. Generally the only things new on these instruments are strings and fret wire, although Warren has been known to strip an old guitar for parts. Most of the students have never worked with wood before, so Warren finds it particularly appealing to teach to those who feel they can’t do a little woodworking or be creative with their minds and hands. Warren’s classes allow beginners, after safety training, to gain experience using various power tools, including 12” planer, oscillating sander, edge planer, router, table saw, palm sander, belt sander, and drills. They also use hand tools like chisels, cutters and carving tools to create the final look they are after. “People don’t realize the talent they may have buried. They’re just afraid to try it,” he encourages. “Try something.” And by following Warren’s three R’s, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. “It’s pretty much your imagination and your hands. If you can do that, you can make it work.” One of Warren’s younger students, teenager Max, built this “Ax” guitar made completely with recycled and reclaimed materials. It has three layers of mixed wood species and aluminum fret marks inlaid into the hand-made fretboard. “Not bad for 14 years old,” Warren beamed. “Plays well and it’s got that wicked look.” To build a guitar with Warren’s method, he said he starts with the wood. “It depends on what I have around,” he explained. For the main body, he often uses pallets, which he can generally get for free from a local trucking company. “Pallets are made with beautiful wood, once planed and sanded,” Warren said. “And they have to be strong so you know the wood is good.” In a musical sense, stringed instruments need good, durable wood in order for the tones to resonate. He also reclaims flooring, stadium seating and other items, saying “I’m not afraid to dumpster dive if I see something.” He often mixes species of wood in order to have enough to complete the project at hand, sometimes using various pieces of scrap wood artfully added into the design. “We as protectors of our environment need not waste,” Warren stated. “Use those small pieces of wood and incorporate them into works of art.” One example of this is the “Monarch” guitar seen here, which is a 12-string hollow electric concert size guitar. The monarch’s body in the center is made from a piece of a flowering crab-tree that was hit by lightning. All other pieces were made from leftover walnut and ash flooring, and cut and shaped by hand. There are no dyes used; what you see is all natural coloring in the various wood types. The entire body of the “Here’s to Ireland Guitar” is made of cedar logs, which were reclaimed hand rails and posts from the Menominee Tourist Lodge after it was remodeled. The hollow, bowl-shaped body makes for a mellow sound when played. The neck is a combination of cedar and walnut, and the fretboard markings are an old, well-used, cymbal. The white binding came from the strip peeled off a 5-gallon pail lid. “It served the purpose,” he laughed. Warren painted the colorful design using kid’s latex art paint, followed by clear latex floor finish, left over from a job and applied with an HVLP sprayer. “We use HVLP spray paint systems for spray finishing and all low VOC products. Less environmental damage,” Warren stated. “I’m a tree hugger at heart.” Another unique creation is the “’47 Roadmaster” guitar, inspired by Warren’s antique Buick and his passion for restoring old cars. He used the Roadmaster with the car-inspired guitar to get young people interested in his classes. “Kids love to play it,” he said. The hickory and cherry instrument is a hand-carved acoustic/electric guitar, finished with water-based materials. It is housed in a case modeled after a ‘50s/’60s gas pump and made from an old floor model radio. Warren’s latest class was a group of men and women from the Marinette Senior Center. Although they had no previous experience, the students all left with beautiful guitars they built themselves. Nick’s musical-themed piece (second from right) is a tribute to his singing days when his band, The Overtures, opened for The Four Seasons. Medical issues make things a little more challenging for him, but Warren was pleased that he was able to adapt in order to create a keepsake he plans on handing down to his grandchild. The happy campers pictured here are: Gene (acoustic), Mary (electric), Nick (electric) and Greg (acoustic). Not pictured Diane (acoustic/electric). Warren said he will continue to share his message as long as he can. “Never throw away if you can use it. I guess that’s my concept,” he said. “I want things just to keep moving. They don’t have to get thrown in the garbage somewhere.” Watch this short clip by Warren’s good friend and fellow musician, Marc Golde, to learn a little more about Warren and his mission. For more information on Warren’s classes and his work, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember his 3 R’s: recycle, repurpose and reclaim! To find classes on making musical instruments at a Woodcraft near you, check out class schedules here.
John Morris posted a topic in General WoodworkingI took our oldest girl to the shop where she gets her strings and other items from. She is going to college this fall, and she has a scholarship in music amid others, she'll be playing for the Californian Baptist University of California in their Orchestra, Symphony, Choir Ensemble and a Quartet. She'll be busy, and she'll be earning that scholarship! Since she is in the big leagues she had to upgrade her bow from the one she has been using. The instructor of the strings section requires all bows to be a specific weight, in order to ensure an even tone throughout the orchestra. We had to head on over to the shop and purchase a bow, it wasn't your average bow I found out! Some more overtime at my day job is in order, again! While there, the Cruz's, the wife and husband couple who owns the shop is always gracious and welcoming, and Mr. Cruz always comes out from his builders shop and plays something for us, or he'll show off a new violin or Mariachi instrument he just made as you'll see in this set of images. So I just walked around and snapped some images from my cell phone, I thought our woodworkers would like to see a working shop for building stringed instruments. He also performs maintenance on instruments that belong to the school districts around our region, and he is very busy repairing, restringing, as you can see by all the cases around his shop, and the violin on his bench. A school violin on Mr. Cruz's bench being repaired Just another shot of his shop Some of his jigs and patterns, he specializes in the Stradivarius style violins. And another shot of his shop Take a look at his nice Laguna 14" Band saw! More shop A view of his area from the front of the store Mr. Cruz plays a Mariachi instrument he made, as our daughter looks on and enjoys the sound Mrs. Cruz looks on as well as Mr. Cruz plays. Mr. Cruz is an accomplished violinists and violaist as well as playing all instruments in the guitar family. We always enjoy our visit to Cruz Violins in Riverside, CA. We always go there with in mind we'll be there for a few minutes to just pick a few things up, but we always end up staying over an hour or more, just visiting and listening to Mr. Cruz play, he always comes out and is ready to play his most recent creation for anyone who walks in. It took two hours for our daughter to choose a bow, they had two dozen bows out for her, she played with each one until she found the right one. For a sneak peek at where our daughter will be playing starting in the fall, here is a video of her new orchestra, she'll be sitting in the pit with the other violinists soon! We are so very happy for her.