Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/12/2010 (3921 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SELKIRK — When principal Wayne Davies was interviewing candidates for the job of shops teacher at Ecole Selkirk Junior High, he asked each person what his or her first wood -shops project would be.
The responses were things such as a stool, a toolbox, etc.
Then he asked candidate Kris Hancock.
First, you have to know Davies is a rock and roll fanatic. He has a stereo with floor speakers playing rock music in his office. Rock music books and memorabilia clutter the room. He’ll tell you a Harlequin concert changed his life and he used to book bands at the University of Manitoba when he was a resident.
Hancock replied he wanted to teach kids how to make electric guitars. It took Davies about 30 seconds to pick up his jaw and arm-sweep the other resumés off his desk.
Two years later, a program — believed unique in Canada — in which junior high school kids build real electric guitars is in full chord. The kids design, saw, sand, paint and assemble the guitars. And play them.
The extracurricular program already engages 50 of the school’s 452 students. On any given lunch hour, from 15 to 20 kids will be in the shop working on their guitars. Students ages 12 to 14 put in time before school, after school, and through lunch hours. One student built five guitars last year.
But that’s not all, as they like to say in their video people are encouraged to watch by Googling "Built by Suns, Signed by Stars" (‘Suns’ is the school’s sport team name). At a gala dinner on May 26, 2011, the kids will auction off up to 30 of their guitars to raise money for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The guitars are being autographed by people such as Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Slash, Trooper, Nazareth, Jonathan Toews, Darren Helm (guitar body with a Detroit Red Wings logo), Olympic gold medal winner Jon Montgomery, and skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Randy Bachman has also donated an autographed guitar he played as a member of the Guess Who.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signed one, too.
The guitar is emblazoned with hockey’s Team Canada 1976 logo, with a ‘C’ for Captain, and the number 22 on the back because he’s Canada’s 22nd prime minister.
"When people hear there are these 12-year-old kids out there trying to improve the world, they want to be part of it," said Davies.
The 20 kids who volunteered to build the guitars have visited the museum building site and met with Gail Asper, the museum’s fundraising dynamo. "They loved her. They thought she was awesome," said Davies. "I think a lot of people don’t understand what a big deal the museum is going to be."
The guitars are built from kits, which cost $90 each and are purchased from a company outside Memphis, Tenn. If students can’t afford it, they can sell nine B.O.S.S. Guitarworks T-shirts.
"They have to work a little harder but it’s a life lesson," said Davies.
B.O.S.S. stands for Building On Student Success and is the name of their guitar-building operation.
When a student finishes a guitar, he or she gets to show it to 451 other kids at the next school assembly.
That gives them a sense of self-esteem, Davies said.
The idea for building guitars is Hancock’s alone. A musician himself, he started making guitars while in university. "I figured there was no reason why you couldn’t do this with students."
They start out with a 45.7 cm by 61 cm (18-inch by 24-inch) block of wood, trace their guitar body design on it and jigsaw it out. It’s typically made from white pine but they also use maple or oak. The neck and headstock are pre-made and students assemble them to the body, string them and tune them.
They don’t make typical guitars. They come in all shapes and designs. Or else students make up their own shape. One is shaped and painted to look like a grey, cracked tombstone. Ozzie Osborne was supposed to sign it but there was a mix-up when he performed in Winnipeg recently. The school still hopes to get his signature.
Alyssa Fey designed that one. She’s building another now on which the guitar body is shaped like a jigsaw puzzle piece.
Jennifer Roman, 13, was spotted sanding a more traditional-shaped guitar body. "I’m going to paint it blue with red flames. I’m making it for my dad for Christmas," she said. Someone else’s guitar is painted like a tie-dyed T-shirt.
Students could build a guitar in a week if they really dedicated themselves, but most spend more time. One to two months is the more typical time period, said Hancock.
Bret Chamberlain is taking more time than that.
Chamberlain has been learning to play guitar for five years and plays a nice riff on the video.
"For my first guitar, I want it to be perfect," he said.
Chamberlain has designed it like the instrument used by his favourite guitarist, Herman Li, of the band, Dragon-Force, right down to its deep purple colour.
He has also added a unique hand-grip into the guitar body. "I think the program is a great way to express your idea. You see a guitar on a store shelf and it’s not unique. When you build it, you can do whatever you want with the design," Chamberlain said.
Selkirk Junior High School kids built about 50 guitars last year. They’re on pace to build about 120 this year.
They are starter guitars that would sell in the $200$250 range in a store. But word is getting out and Davies has already received an offer of $1,000 for the Jonathan Toews guitar.
"We’ve got students doing something bigger than themselves. When they see the museum in the future, they’ll be able to say they did something to help it get built," said Davies.