BIKE FENDERS AND MATHS: Dagmar Guitars

Originally published in our Innovative Issue

By Joe Holesworth

I have to confess that when I was told to prepare this interview, I didn’t know anything about Pete Swanson and Dagmar Custom Guitars. As soon as I started to research about his work, I just became fascinated—once more. As previously interviewed builders Pete Swanson is a clear example of a creative power that, together with a background experience in woodworking, design and great love for 50’s cars and guitars, took him to have an ambitious vision while making bike fenders. After the “magic moment” came to him it was time for the drawing board and maths—plenty of them. We are, for sure, living in the golden era of guitar building (if you doubt it, please review the previous issues of this magazine). This renaissance moment can be compared to the building of the first lutes, the transition from the vihuela de mano to the classical/Spanish guitar, or Leo Fender´s Broadcaster. All these innovations and ideas are pollinating the guitar building community in such a way that we can really think that the sky is the limit.  In this interview Pete Swanson, he will share with us how his vision came to reality and we will know how much passion, dedication, love, and craftsmanship was necessary to bring Dagmar guitars to live. Read, dream, and enjoy.

GC: How did you start on guitar building?

Pete Swanson: Guitar building came to me in a string of events. It started with leaving my graphic design job to enroll in an advanced woodworking course taught through our local college. Upon graduation, a job posting comes up for a finish carpenter at a custom yacht builder. I got the job and from that moment on took great pride in filling out “occupation” on forms and applications. I loved building boats and worked with some of the best craftsmen whom I’d watch like a hawk and ask endless questions to. An incredible amount of woodwork knowledge was learned while fostering my new found passion and obsession. On the weekends I’d do more creative work like making my own furniture… The day my stepdaughter asked for a bike for her 16th birthday a co-worker brought a bunch of garage junk to put into the dumpster. I rescued an old bike from the pile and tricked it out to fulfill my daughter’s wish. I made a wooden gas tank to fit in the frame in a checkerboard of ash and cherry wood. Figuring out how to make matching fenders kept me up at night trying to solve how to get wood to bend around the bike’s wheel radius and at the same time cup around the tire. Bending wood in two different directions was revealing to be impossible. And then, our boss’s father passed away and our lead hand, Art, was commissioned to build an urn. I was amazed how Art used math, simple trigonometry, to build this beautiful wooden vessel. I was struck with a powerful “Eureka!” moment. The solution how to make checkerboard bicycle fenders came that night resting in bed. Thinking about how Art had made the urn my subconscious figured out how to bend wood tightly in two opposing directions simultaneously!  I built a second bike and gave it the full custom treatment. I motorized it into a rat rod scooter, with lots of found object art like a baseball bat exhaust, ashtray chain guard,  a dollar store Halloween skull for the front and, of course, wooden fenders. That bike drew big crowds at local car shows. A lot of people called me an artist, something that I had never heard before. All of the encouragement I received inspired me to start another bike project. While building my second set of fenders I had THE life-changing Eureka moment. I put a stylized line at the back of my new fenders that is referred to as a ducktail. I reversed the curve and immediately saw the waste of a guitar. I also noticed that the concave interior reflected my voice louder and clearer when I talked into one of my fenders like a telephone to entertain my kids. I asked myself “How would this affect the sound of a guitar?” The fenders were pushed to the side and every day since I have been passionately obsessed with the guitar.

GC: I have read that you had experience as a woodworker and designer when you started Dagmar guitars. How much of this background helped you to envision and develop your guitars?

PS: After high school, I enrolled into a course that was focused on the print industry. I studied all facets of print from industrial photography, desktop publishing, printing press operation and graphic design. It was the graphic design component that I liked most. A friend of mine graduated before me and bought a small print company. He hired me and I learned an incredible amount about design and became more and more aware of design in general. However, the print world was not where most of my influence and design sense comes from.

Going back further, as a kid, my dad would take me to car shows. I clearly remember studying custom cars and would get lost in the tiniest details of what these automotive artisans were doing. My dad had a few custom cars as a young greaser in the 50s. The one he talked about most was an Indian red with gold metallic ’55 Pontiac that was severely chopped, decked, filled, shaved and stood a pack of smokes off the ground, affectionately known as “The Pig”. My dad’s descriptions of her radically altered lines and never finding the car’s top speed was very exciting. These stories and the visual impact of custom cars sparked awareness in me and I became a walking car encyclopedia. I knew the year and model of any car from the late 20s to the early 50s just by seeing the front grill.

GC: Did you first start building a prototype, or did you start working first on design, 3D rendering, and molds?

PS: All of my guitars except for one are made without 3D rendering or molds. My original construction innovation was all developed in the old school way. I hand draft the body shapes with pencils, rulers, a compass and tons of erasers. My guitars are designed in segments that go together like keystones in a Roman arch. Their “pie like shapes” are calculated using Pythagorean’s theorem all relating to the radius and perimeters of circles. Every guitar I build this way is done freehand and is, in fact, a one-off creation. Because my guitar rims are made of about 86 pie shaped (Keystone) segments, each with two critical angles and one fixed length, any mistake I make in machining will exponentially multiply with every segment I add. If I’m not “dead nuts” on I quickly stray away from my drafting and I get a slightly different end result. Therefore, every guitar I build requires its own soundplate patterns to achieve absolute perfection in fitting them into the rim. However, I have recently introduced my first repeatable shape that I call the Firebolt. Its straight lines greatly “simplify” things, an achievement that took over seven months to research and develop but five years to come to. New jigs and fixtures have been invented and my process continues to evolve. All top secret stuff!

I have built one archtop that was patterned in a famous tessellation pattern known as houndstooth. My friend, since high school, Scott Duyn, is an extremely talented industrial designer and an absolute wizard with a program called Solid Works. From my simple hand-drawn 2D drafting and some general verbal sketches, Scott was able to transfer those drawings and ideas into the virtual realm and 3D modeled it into a piece of mathematical perfection. Scott was the first one to build the guitar, digitally. After he finalized the complex compound curved rim he painstakingly patterned the houndstooth pattern onto the surface. Even with 18 years experience, this was no easy task because there isn’t a houndstooth pattern prescript command. It is not a single push of a button. It’s more like 3 solid months of pushing buttons and ripping your hair out. His work on this “Super Custom” was at a genius level.

Scott also rendered and engineered the needed mold to produce the rigid foam buck designed with an ingenious plug-in registration system. The mold was 3D printed in ABS plastic and consists of 20 sections that all bolt together. It took just under 500 hours of machine time to 3D print all of the sections in high-resolution ABS. Two part foam was mixed and poured into the plastic mold. The foam expands, filling every square mm of the mold and cures quickly to a solid. The mold is then popped off leaving behind the rigid buck that allowed for foolproof perfect placement of each unique maple houndstooth.

Each tooth was converted into a cutting path by Mark Kett for his CNC machine. There were 156 maple teeth in total, 57 uniquely shaped teeth which equaled 57 completely unique cutting paths to map out. This tedious programming step was measured in weeks, not hours.  Each tooth on the CNC took 30min to cut. On the backs of each piece was a nub that plugged into a corresponding divot in the foam buck. Mark Kett is one of the world’s most technically skilled inlay artists, his work is flawless. The CNC machine was able to cut out all of the complex compound surfaced teeth but it was not able to cut the three sharp crotches within each tooth. Mark custom made chisels and finished each maple tooth by hand (about 5 hours to chisel all 468 crotches). The cutting and honing of each one represents an incredible amount of machine time and tons of hand labor. Mark sent me the teeth, I put them on the foam buck and long story short everything was so well engineered and thought out that its complexity was very manageable and enjoyable. I can not describe the thrill of seeing that guitar rise up from idea to reality. It was an insane project! Insanely fun, a dream commission where we were fully funded to go and blaze trails. I loved the experience and being able to collaborate with my super talented friends. I’m beyond proud of Scott and Mark’s work and am forever thankful for my customers, Mark and Denise Trokanski’s for their vision, absolute faith, and support in all of is.  I’d also like to give special thanks to Joe Yanuziello who laid the catalyzed finish on the guitar. More than a few people that saw the guitar at the 2012 Montreal Guitar Show thought the guitar was made of blown glass!

GC: Is Dagmar a one-man company most of the time?

PS: Dagmar the majority of the time is just me. The houndstooth guitar went way beyond my skill set and shop capabilities. So, I needed the super talents of my friends to complete the vision. And whenever I have inlays to be cut, whether it be for the DAGMAR logo or a custom fretboard design, I use Mark Kett. Mark has also developed some slick appointments which have become standards, like the magnetic truss rod covers.

GC: Apart from the innovations that you have applied to the building of the guitar body, have you used traditional Archtop guitar measurements, proportions, and geometry?

PS: Yes, all of the measurements, proportions, and geometry are taken from what has been done before. I ordered Bob Benedetto’s book and DVD set to learn all of the essentials. I also had to write a few of my own chapters because my neck joint and plate attachment is radically different compared to a traditionally made instrument.

GC: How are the necks made? What’s your choice of materials? Why?

PS: My signature neck design is made of nine laminations. Five are wood and 4 are carbon fiber. The carbon fiber runs all the way through the neck which helps with the stiffness and adds strength in the transition area from fingerboard to peghead where the wood grain is at its shortest and weakest. I really like using flame maple for its beauty and stiffness. But I should say that my mind is wide open when it comes to materials. I have no problem using non-traditional materials and methods for any area of construction. In fact, I am engineering a checkerboard patterned neck using green and cream colored poplar with hidden laminations of carbon fiber. Top Secret stuff!

GC: We don’t want you to reveal any secret recipes, but can you please give us a brief explanation of what materials are you using for building the sides and how are they made?

PS: My rims are wood exterior with carbon fiber interiors. They are derived from practical full sized draftings, back checked mathematically and are comparable to the way the ancient Romans built their arches and domes. I don’t bend wood with traditional methods using moisture and steam. Instead, I build in segments that are derived from mathematical calculations and tight, tight, tight mechanical processes.

GC: Which woods are you using for the top and back?

PS: For acoustics, I have gone mostly traditional with my wood choices, Spruce or Cedar for the top with a maple back and neck. I have used ancient Kauri which is a lot like mahogany tone wise but carves a kind of stringy like basswood.

When I first started building I did an obsessive amount of tonewood research. I came across cooked maple which is exactly what it sounds like. Kilned maple is put through a cooking process inside of an oxygen-free oven (the lack of oxygen prevents the wood from igniting) for a period of 3 days at a fairly high heat. Just like a piece of meat it browns up from its natural blond color to a gorgeous golden cognac hue. The moisture is zapped out of the wood causing the cell structure to collapse making it denser and stiffer, a perfect choice for guitars. The seasoning time is a non-issue too which was a great benefit before I starting collecting wood. It’s delivered at sub 4% moisture so after a short time acclimatizing to my shops 41% humidity it’s ready to be worked.

I love the look and tone of Claro walnut. Mahogany is a gorgeous wood to work and is stable. I’ve used both Honduras and African for necks and soundboards.

For electrics, I have recently discovered poplar aka Tulipwood. I use perfectly seasoned (sub 6% moisture content) and quarter sawn poplar on my new electric rims. It carves and finishes beautifully. It’s softer than maple with a less bright tap tone but still has plenty of snap and sustain. It also has the benefits of being lightweight and is an environmentally friendly choice. The royals of lutherie, aka makers of fine bowed instruments, have used it for centuries to manipulate the voices of their instruments – not to save money but rather use its tonal characteristics to create a certain desirable timbre.  I’m really excited about using it because it is the psychosomatic polar opposite of say highly figured maple tonewood. It’s my current mission to showcase that it can be a beautiful wood both visually and tonally. And I love the idea that it is a rogue choice which will make for a very rebel hardcore vibe.

GC: How are the top and back carved? How do you brace them?

PS: All of my arched tops and backs are done by hand and by eye. I have a pin router set up that allows me to take a lot of wood away quickly and accurately. The fine carving and tuning are done slowly over time with thumb planes and scrapers. When a piece of wood has a lot of mass taken off of it quickly it should be allowed to settle before all of the final shapings is done. My process is; carve the top to rough out the shape and let it sit. Carve some more, let it sit, etcetera… A fine guitar should be done over a 4 month period. I apply rules of physics and engineering when carving too. The secrets are having a good understanding of the thickness to stiffness relationship, how the different frequencies travel through the sound plate and applying ones built in intuitive. I pick up all sorts of nuggets from other builders. When I met Ken Parker at the 2008 Montreal guitar show(before I started building) I was floored by how thin he carves his archtops. His tops are carved to the point of being largely translucent! I drilled him with questions and he laughed when I asked “how do you get away with going so thin? Why do other builders go much thicker?” He answered with a question; “Do you know what happens to a diving board’s stiffness when you double its thickness? How many times more stiff do you think it becomes?” I fumbled for the answer before he put me out of my misery and told me “Eight times”. He gave me a practical lesson of the cube rule of stiffness. So, a 2 mm thick piece of wood is 8 times stiffer than one that is 1mm thick. Look at what one mm on a ruler! That tiny measure is a mountain to a luthier. The next guideline also comes from physics. It is a well know scientific truth that bass waves travel best though material that is dense/heavy and or less stiff. Treble waves travel through materials that are less dense/lighter and or stiffer. You can identify the conundrum easily because if you leave wood heavy/thicker it’s less stiff and if you shave it down thinner/lighter it becomes much more flexible. I have my secrets that allow me to exploit the above scientific truths with the way I thickness and shape my bracing. Lastly, I tap into my intuitive which is the magical part of the process; the part that can’t really be taught. Sometimes you just know how to handle a piece of wood by spending time with it throughout the build. It involves using your senses as you’re flexing wood in your hands, racing your fingertips over the surface, listening to the tap tone or how it sounds under a tool and reading the grain. It’s comparable to a sommelier or a winemaker developing their pallet to figure out how to make a better wine through both hardcore chemistry and practical subjective tasting. Lutherie is a very tactile pursuit and although I’m not completely opposed to CNC processes it is my belief that in order to really draw out the potential of any given piece of wood you need close and personal contact with it, to reanimate it into its new reincarnated form. Insert Geppetto cliché here!

I prefer X bracing my acoustic archtops. I have done parallel bracing and I can hear a difference. X Bracing is just sweater sounding to me and it makes more intuitive sense to send the vibrations from the bridge across the wood grain out to the corners of the sound plate.

GC: Can you tell us something about the ancient Kauri wood that you are using?

PS:  I encourage you to visit this website for the answer – I think you’ll find it fascinating: www.ancientwood.com

GC: Having a guitar without 90-degree angles on the body and what you comment about the “amphitheater effect” created by the sides makes a lot of sense to me—as sound doesn’t like symmetric and squared spaces; how did you come to this conclusion? 

PS: While building the bicycle fenders my kids would come visit me in my shop. I would talk and sing into the concave underside of the fenders and noticed immediately that my voice was reflecting back much louder and more clear. Once I learned how to manipulate the wood and make it go in any direction I wanted the guitar shape was the first thing to pop into my imagination. I have always been intrigued by the guitar. My aunt Gaye played her classical at family gatherings and when she put it down I’d stand in front of it and gently strum it. I found it amazing! The next guitar I remember being hypnotized by was my cousin Wade’s new Fender Stratocaster that he got for Christmas in about 1978. He had pictures of Jimi Hendrix on his bedroom walls playing the exact same one and all I thought was “WOW!” As a child, it seemed to me that my cousin was going to become Hendrix and that guitar was the key to extreme talent and fame. He has since become a drummer.

My dad bought me a Les Paul for my 11th birthday and I took unscheduled lessons for a short time. My guitar never had 6 strings on it. I became pretty good with five, then 4 and then three. My brother and I would improv songs and we formed a band called PMS which was, of course, short for Pete and Matt Swanson. Our first album was called “Wings of Protection”. We disbanded while my brother went to school for Radio and Television arts but soon after he graduated we started making music again. Matt landed a job as a sound producer for a local radio station and one of the perks was he had weekend access to all of the sound equipment. We’d go in and record as many silly songs as we could, having an incredibly fun time learning how to mix tracks.

The love of music has always been there and in my blood. My grandmother was a professional pianist and my great-grandfather was a toy maker. I got a bit of both of their genes I guess. I’ve always loved the guitar – the sound – the shape and I’ve always loved design whether it is print, automotive, architecture, or sculpture. With all of these natural elements in my makeup, becoming a luthier, I think, was written in the stars.

GC: Which finishing materials and techniques are you using on your guitars?

I prefer using waterborne finishes. I support this technology because it is more environmentally friendly. They are also much, much less harmful to the user. I have worked with people who have sprayed VOC solvent based finishes for thirty plus years. Many of these old schoolers used to spray without proper protection; makeshift spray booths without an exhaust, not wearing a hazard suit or mask The vapors travel through the skin and into the lungs and seemingly lacquer the furls of the brain. The one poor bastard I worked with used to randomly shout things out as if he had developed turrets. I’d walk by his finishing bench and he’d suddenly bark out stuff like “HASBRO TOY!” Not cool… Not. Cool. At. All! The waterborne technology has come a long way and I’d like to support its development.

GC: What is your choice for hardware, pickups, and electronic components?

PS: I prefer using North American products. I have only used pickups from American builders. Jason Lollar, TV Jones, and Arcane Inc are all terrific.

GC: How do your innovations affect the performance of the archtop guitar compared with the traditional way of building? What feedback are you getting from players?

PS: My designs are ergonomic. Arm and rib bevels are standard build ins that are everywhere on the rim. It does not matter if you’re right-handed, left-handed or how you hold the guitar the ergonomic benefit is there. I’ve been told that my designs scream “play me!” and that they sound and feel great. The compound rims are extremely strong and take the brunt of the lateral string pull (about 180 lbs). The stress on the top sound plate is reduced an astonishing amount. My rim construction is such that I rout into the top and back to produce my glue shelf for the plates. Unlike kerfing my glue surface is completely solid without voids. Some traditional builders cap their kerfing for the same result and upcharge for it claiming better vibrational/energy transfer. My neck and tailblocks are contained within the curve of the rim which means my recurve area goes all the way around the sound plate’s perimeter and not muted by extra glue surface from the neck and tail blocks. Lastly, my necks are cantilevered off the plate and my tailpieces don’t rest on the sound plate. The only thing touching the sound pate is the bridge. The result is a very open sounding guitar from first stringing.

I have many demo videos on youtube of different guitars played by world-class guitarists to check out including Phil X, Kinloch Nelson, Brice Delage, Steve Nullmeyer and David Barrett. My player friends are very encouraging and supportive of what I am doing.

I took the opportunity to ask three very qualified people for their feedback.

Arthur McGregor

Arthur McGregor has been the director of the Ottawa Folklore Centre since 1976. Over the years, he has represented many guitar makers and has actively pursued new Canadian makers as well as established builders. The Ottawa Folklore Centre has represented Oskar Graf, Marc Beneteau, Grit Laskin, Jean Larrivee, Linda Manzer, Sergei De Jonge, Martin Blackwell, Boucher, Edward Dick, Jeremy Hamm, John Carroll, Dmitri Kulakov, George Lowden,  as well as Santa Cruz, Martin, and Gibson. He currently evaluates stringed instruments for the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology. He plays a Graf and a Beneteau.

”I was asked to evaluate ‘Vicki’ for the Canadian Science and Technology Museum. She’s unique in design, looks, and sound. Excellently executed with top-notch fit and finish, Vicki has a voice that is sharp, clear and loud”

David Barrett

David is a world-class player based in Toronto whose band, “The David Barrett Trio” has recently released their first instrumental album that was produced by prog-rock legends Alex Lifeson and Alan Parsons. The album has been met with excellent critical reviews.

davidbarretttrio.com

“Of course the obvious thing that comes to mind is the incredible aesthetic quality with all of Pete Swanson’s Dagmar Custom Guitars.

Pete and I talked about guitars in great detail a couple years ago, and what has been created with “Jane” is a real player’s guitar.

It’s surprisingly lightweight, tunes and intonates very well, and features a pair of alnico pickups, which I have always loved in hollow body guitars.

The guitar sounds killer unplugged, and that is always a sign of a great electric guitar!”

Mark Trokanski 

Mark is a dream customer who, with the incredible vision of his wife Denise, commissioned two of my most ambitious guitars to date.

“I am lucky to be the proud owner of not one, but two (2) Dagmar custom guitars.  The first guitar Pete built for me (Delivered at the 2011 Monreal Guitar show) was co-designed by my wife Denise, myself and Pete and is aptly named “Denise”  A note here for all other guitar players…naming a guitar after your wife, girlfriend or significant other is a great way to get them to give you the go-ahead to invest in a custom guitar!

Our second guitar “Working Girl” (also a joint design by my wife Denise, myself and Pete and delivered to me at the 2102 Monreal Guitar show) has a beautiful houndstooth pattern around the rim, thanks to a unique manufacturing process developed by Pete with a great assist from our engineering partner Scott Duyn.

I have had “Denise” (the guitar) for over two years and celebrated “Working Girl’s” first anniversary July 2013.  I alternate playing each one daily.  Both guitars just scream to be picked up and played.  Both are absolute dreams to play and I often find that time just seems to slip on by as I play away on either of them.  One of the great advantages of having custom builds is that they are created specifically for you.  The necks on both are Perfect!  The feel of the neck is the first thing I look for in any guitar.  If the neck isn’t right, then I’m not interested, no matter what else the guitar might have going for it.  There is no compromise with Pete’s custom builds unlike those we players sometimes have to make when buying a stock guitar.  The bodies fit like a glove and have excellent balance, which was a concern when I first saw the rounded sides of Pete’s guitars.  However, having played these both seated and standing, I can tell you they are as comfortable and playable as can be.  Light (thanks, carbon fiber!), strong, and stable.  I live in Arizona and despite the ongoing battle to keep the instruments at the correct humidity range, they are rock solid and stay in tune.

Pete’s expert attention to detail is evident everywhere on both my guitars.  Great neck, excellent tuners and hardware and flawless surfaces (thanks to Pete and Joe Yanuziello).  The inlays on both guitars were done with his usual genius flair by Mark Kett are incredible in their detail.  Mark should have been a neurosurgeon, but I’m glad he builds guitars.  The woods used in both guitars provide excellent tones and are gorgeous to look at.  Both guitars have clear resonance and sustain and even sound great unplugged.  I love that I can easily coax a wide variety of sounds and styles out of both of my guitars, from country to rock and roll to blues pretty effortlessly.  Couple all of this with the great electronics Pete put in each and you’ve got winners all around!  Every player that has seen and played these guitars have been very impressed with Pete’s work.

I have what I consider to be a very nice collection of guitars (Martins, Fenders, McPherson’s, Gretsch, etc). I can easily put my two Dagmar guitars up against any of the rest of my collection in terms of sound, quality, and playability.

As a side note:  I have been a student of Japanese sword for many years.  I often liken Pete’s guitars to my Japanese katanas.  They are both beautiful works of art and eminently functional.

Another benefit of having commissioned the guitars that Pete has built for me is the friendships that have been forged as a result.  The relationship between a Luthier and the Musician can be amazing as I found to be the case in working with Pete.  The time we spent with Pete detailing all of our design inputs leading up to and going through the build process led to a great friendship with Pete and his lovely wife Annette. Add in getting to know Mark Kett, Joe Yanuziello, Scott Duyn master guitarists Kinlock Nelson and Mike McAvan and the legendary Ken Parker along the way, I can say without a doubt that this experience has been one of the greatest in my life.”

GC: You are collaborating with Queen’s University developing a photonic pickup technology; what are the most obvious differences when compared to magnetic and piezo pickups?

PS: Queen’s University professor Hans Peter Loock and his chemistry lab team developed the fiber optic technology. I merely built the first guitar to have the hair-sized photonics directly spliced into the guitar’s sound plate before it was glued in place. However, I do have a clear understanding of how the technology works and where it came from. Professor Loock’s chemistry department was using fiber optics to measure the vibrations of chemical reactions. They were figuring out new ways to use fiber optics to form databases just like they do with the Hubble telescope. Scientists can look into deep space and with absolute accuracy determine what elements are present in color arrays. Similarly, by measuring the vibrations of chemical reactions they can compile a database to determine what chemicals are in a well of an unknown liquid. Needless to say, the fiber optics are insanely sensitive. They are used in the preventative maintenance of huge industrial machines like those used in hydroelectricity. The fiber optics can quickly detect if a bearing is showing signs of wear well before the point of failure. These are used in aircraft wings and building as well to detect movement and stress. Peter and his department knew that vibration is sound. They could now listen to what was once considered inaudible chemical reactions! Peter was struck with the thought of using the optics on musical instruments. Long story short they wrote proposals to get the funding needed to develop the idea which they did with great success.

The fiber optics read EVERY vibration that the instrument makes. That means it can amplify EVERY sound the instrument produces; audible and inaudible. What comes through the amplifier or PA system is an exact replication of the guitar’s acoustic signature. The fiber optics are filled with very high-frequency laser light. When the guitar is strummed and vibrating the laser light is refracted. That disturbance is recorded by a tiny sensor and sent back to the laser’s filter and then to the amplification system. The fiber optics is spliced into the wood fibers of the underside of the guitar’s top plate. Some are in the upper bout; some under the bridge and some are in the sweet spot of the lower bout. A sound produced can mix all of these different signals together and achieve perfect balance. The sound is pure and strong without the same feedback issues as a piezo system or induction magnet pickups. There is a display of “Vicky” at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa that includes an audio sample of the guitar being amplified with its Piezo pickup compared to its fiber optics. The fiber optics are noticeably better. Excitingly so! The problem is getting the technology to commercialization. The laser frequency that is required to make the system work does not exist in any already used industry. The Queen’s chemistry team would have to make a custom laser which is an expensive pursuit that strays too far away from chemistry. However, they know it can be done and once mass-produced they could get the price down considerably. The laser in the Queen’s lab that was borrowed from an unrelated industry for their experiments was estimated at $50, 000. Their research into commercialization concluded they could manufacture a system for about $1000.00.

GC: What is ahead for you in the near future?

PS: The last few guitars I built were all tremendously complicated builds. Complicated builds are where my heart is because they are much more on the art side of the scale. However, they take a lot out of you and the opportunities to create one are not predictable. I want to have guitars out there and being played. Therefore, to satisfy that need I have been busy developing my designs into more simple and affordable models. It is super easy to build an expensive guitar in North America. Building something affordable is a true challenge, especially a design innovation that is as involved as mine. Every guitar I make is a lofty pursuit that requires a relatively large amount of time and labor, which is something, not everyone can afford to appreciate. However, I’m working on it! This artist is blue collar too and I’m mostly interested in making an honest living at something that I love and am passionate about – a pursuit that I am bound to.

Earlier this year I received my third grant as an emerging artist in fine craft from the Ontario Arts Council. The money will be used in developing my invented method that was used to make the houndstooth-patterned guitar but in a totally new and radically different direction. Top secret stuff!

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