Building a guitar

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell tells stories of Bill Gates, the Beatles, and many others who became incredibly successful.  He (Gladwell) claims that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become really good at anything – music, painting, programming, flying airplanes.

In theory, 10,000 hours sounds great, but who has the time?

I recently became a member at Pittsburgh TechShop, a fabrication and prototyping studio in Pittsburgh’s Bakery Square.  That place is absolutely amazing – the first time I came in for a tour, I was pretty damn close to jumping up and down in excitement when I saw all the CNCs, milling machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers.

I had a goal in mind when I joined TechShop – I wanted to build a guitar.  Speaking of 10,000 hours of practice, I’m not a very good guitar player.  That being said, I’ve always wanted to own a National steel body guitar.  Unfortunately for me, National guitars cost thousands of dollars, so unless someone wants to make me a really really really expensive gift, I’m pretty much s**t out of luck.  So I decided to build my own.

Steel is a fairly expensive (and difficult) material to play with; it is also very time consuming to prototype anything in metal (unless you have the money to use the very expensive water-jet cutter).  I decided to prototype my guitar in wood, first starting with a small-scale ukulele-sized prototype, and scaling up as I got better with proportions and details.

I modeled my design after Gibson Les Paul, another guitar of my dreams.  I traced a photograph of a Les Paul Studio in Corel Draw and made drawings for Trotec Laser Cutter.  It has no frets, but boasts ukulele tuning pegs, ukulele strings and bass guitar tuning!

Les Paul guitar drawing

My first prototype looked good, and I looked pretty damn good forcing horrible noises out of it.

Playing DIY Guitar

Now my kids have a new toy and I’m moving on to the next prototype.  I already laser-cut templates out of cardboard and will hopefully move on to making the first steel prototype in a few weeks.

I just hope it doesn’t take me 10,000 hours to reach the final destination.

Experiments with physical computing and conductivity

My kids and I did some hands on experiments with physical computing and electricity. Initially I only intended to do these experiments with Daniella, but Sophia seems to be pretty interested as well. Using an Arduino board, a breadboard, a 10OM resistor and a few wires we made a simple capacitive sensor. Capacitive sensors take human body capacitance as input and (depending on sensitivity) detect anything that is conductive.  I wrote a simple Arduino sketch that would randomly draw colored circles on the screen when our sensor detected conductivity.  Basically we took a bunch of household items – metal spoons, plastic spoons, cups, wooden plates, etc… and connected them to the circuit using a small crocodile clamp.  When Daniella would touch a conductive object (like a metal spoon which conducts electricity), the program would begin to draw circles on the screen.  One of the items we used was a piece of paper.  While dry it would not conduct electricity; however when we dipped it in water and connected it to the circuit, the capacitive sensor detected touch once again.  This experiment had a dual purpose – she learned how different materials conduct (or don’t conduct) and got a vague introduction physical computing.

Experiments with physical computing and conductivity






You can find detailed instructions on how to create capacitive sensors on Insructables website (Turn a pencil drawing into a capacitive sensor for Arduino) and on Arduino Playground.