Instrument project awarded grant for science, technology

Martin might want to move over and Gibson may need to give way.

A handful of new, young luthiers are well on their way to debuting their first projects.

After months of meticulous work, tenth grade technology class students at Warren County Christian School (WCCS) have nearly completed work on handmade stringed instruments including a violin, dulcimer and ukulele.

The results would be impressive for a seasoned woodworker, let alone high school students, but not surprising when you find out the care and precision that has gone into the project.

Students started from a kit, but incorporated engineering and design techniques taken straight from professional manufacturers of stringed instruments.

“We incorporated the engineering for popular instruments,” instructor John Lewis said. “We get them (students) the information and they decide what they want to do.”

Some things that students have decided to incorporate included using unmatched woods for best tone and structure results and, in the case of the ukulele, incorporating the neck bolt design used by Taylor Guitars.

Being a technology class, the designs aren’t slapped in piece-meal either. Every inch of the instruments has been carefully measured and precisely manufactured.

“They’re measuring with micrometers,” Lewis noted. “They’ll use feeler gages.”

It all stems from an accidental find in Lewis’ attic. After finding a dulcimer kit, Lewis brought the idea to his students, who decided to take on the challenge. After discussion, he purchased a violin and a ukelele kit. Shortly thereafter, he found out the project could be eligible for a NW PA STEM (Science, Technology, Energy and Math) Grant to pay for the project.

“At the time, I was looking for ideas that would be unique for the tenth grade technology students,” Lewis recalled. “I hears about a STEM grant a couple of months later.”

Lewis applied and was approved for a $1,000 grant through the program.

According to the grant application, the project will teach students about the science behind vibration and accompanying sound transmission and the engineering behind construction of instruments for that purpose.

“The goals are to understand how an instrument is a system that requires a precise engineered structure that produces acoustical vibration and transmission,” the application goes on.

Meanwhile, students are documenting the process using the technology they carry with them every day. Students are taking photos of the crafting process with their smartphones to be used in a PowerPoint presentation. The documentation encompasses every step of the crafting process and includes information on what, how and why the students are doing things at each step.

“We incorporate technology into this,” Lewis noted. “Their cameras, their iPods, by using them in the classroom to document their performance.”

The students themselves are enjoying the process, working in teams of three to complete the instruments.

“It’s fun,” student Erik Sorensen said.

According to his team-member Charlie Grinnen, “It’s better than physics.”

“It’s a challenge,” Student Zack Ballard said. “It’s different.”

According to Lewis, another group of students, inspired by the project, have requested an opportunity to make their own instruments.

Once completed, student plan to donate the instruments to the school at the WCCS spring concert.