When music fans think of the electric guitar, a number of names come to mind. These typically include artists Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page (to name a few). Die hard aficionados may also think of the masterminds who actually designed the instruments used by these artists – Leo Fender, Les Paul, Paul Reed Smith, Bill Collings and many others.
Twelve University of Houston students may soon find their names alongside those legends. This semester, a class of industrial design students in UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture have been hard at work creating electric guitars for rock, blues and jazz players.
Led by UH industrial design professor Mark Kimbrough, these students are partnering with Collings Guitars in Austin, Texas. Each student was tasked with creating a guitar for rock, blues or jazz artists. In doing so, they researched these musical styles, as well as pioneering artists from these genres – Clapton, Page, King, Beck, Stanley Jordan, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Wes Montgomery and others.
The students are still hard at work finishing their instruments and traveling between their UH studio and the Collings factory in Austin. Once complete, their finished products will be put to the test on Nov. 22 during a performance in the atrium of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture (Entrance 18 off Elgin Boulevard). Veteran virtuosos Van Wilks and Michael Wheeler (who teaches jazz guitar at UH’s Moores School of Music) will deliver a free performance at 7 p.m.
Students are designing the instruments at UH and are receiving hands-on experience building them at the Collings factory. The construction process is quite extensive and requires meticulous craftsmanship, Kimbrough said.
“One student has spent several days just sanding her guitar,” he said. “There will be innovation that won’t be noticeable on the surface. Students are learning lamination techniques and chambering within solid body models to replicate certain sounds.”
Kimbrough is overseeing the course, but students also are benefitting from another teacher, Collings Guitars founder, Bill Collings.
According to Kimbrough, Collings has taken these students under his wing, and is offering his insight on the art of crafting guitars.
“Collings’ factory offers the students the best of the best tools,” Kimbrough said. “They also have Collings and his craftsmen are guiding them, but their work is being held to the factory’s high standards. It’s been quite a spectacular experience for everyone involved.”
Students learned more about guitars and what artists look for in these instruments through extensive research. Several of the UH designers consulted with local musicians to find out how design is integral to a guitar’s functionality. They also learned more about artists with whom they weren’t previously familiar.
Student Liza Morris found herself listening to Larry Carlton’s music on Pandora quite a bit. Her assignment was to construct a solid-bodied jazz guitar that could produce the sound of a hollow-bodied instrument.
“It’s probably the most complicated object I’ve designed here at UH,” she said. “As a designer, I have theories about how it will ultimately sound. I won’t know until it actually has strings and can be played. We’re producing the shape right now, but it’s also about the sound.”
Her classmate Lindsay Lahaug also was tasked with producing a jazz guitar and was using artist Joe Pass as her inspiration. It also helped that her boyfriend is a guitarist, so he offered valuable insight regarding appropriate ergonomics for the instrument.
“I listened to a lot of music by Joe Pass, but I also looked at photos of him and how he held his guitar. I looked at photos of other guitarists too,” Lahaug said. “I also researched what is taught as the traditional playing position. My guitar is very light and has a lot of curves, so a guitarist doesn’t have to struggle to keep it in position and can also play by resting on his or her leg.”
UH's Industrial Design program in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture grooms aspiring designers through a calculated curriculum program. First-year students learn design fundamentals in the classroom and the studio. During their second year, students familiarize themselves with industrial design history, materials, manufacturing methods and visual communications skills. Third-year students conduct research and apply their findings to design projects. By their fourth year in the program, students are prepared for careers through curriculum addressing diverse design issues, design ethics, business practices and strategies.
A graduate degree in Industrial Design is currently being developed for UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.
In addition to its curriculum, UH's Industrial Design program connects students with world-renowned designers through extensive workshops and special lectures. It also hosts an annual exhibition to showcase students' projects.
UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines. These include architecture, space architecture and interior architecture. Faculty members include esteemed professionals in the architectural community, as well as award-winning academic veterans. Facilities include studio spaces, the new Materials Research Collaborative, computer labs and the Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center. To learn more about the college, visit http://www.arch.uh.edu/.