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Students jam for grades in guitar program

Don Shortt works on one of his own handcrafted guitars in the joinery building at BCIT. He
Don Shortt works on one of his own handcrafted guitars in the joinery building at BCIT. He's a cabinet-making instructor who will be teaching guitar building in September.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

There aren’t many courses at BCIT that offer students the chance to jam on guitars as their graduating project.

But that’s part of the curriculum envisioned by Don Shortt for the new luthier program he’ll be teaching at the school in September.

The 12-week custom guitar building program will take students through the entire process of designing and crafting their own electric axe, from selecting the type of wood that will create the sound they seek, to installing frets and pickups, to the jamming finale.

For Shortt, a cabinet-making instructor at BCIT for the past 18 years, it’s a chance to pass on his passion to a new generation of musicians.

Shortt was playing in a variety of blues and rock bands in Ontario 35 years ago when he and his wife decided to sell everything and move to Arizona so he could take a seven-month course in guitar building.

After he completed the program, the couple moved to Vancouver where Shortt started working in various music shops doing repairs. That work put him in contact with big-time musicians like Bryan Adams, Randy Bachman, k.d. lang and Colin James, who appreciated his intimate knowledge of wood and his precise attention to their instruments’ electronics.

When he started teaching cabinet making at BCIT, his guitar building became more of a hobby. But he often brought samples of his work into the joinery workshop at the school to show his students the fine characteristics and possibilities of various woods.

Every year a handful of those students would suggest he teach a course on guitar building, said Shortt. “I realized there is a desire.”

With the go-ahead to launch the program, Shortt figures most of his students will already be musicians with the desire to take their avocation to the next level by building their own dream guitar.

“The idea of the course is more for a guitar player who has that special guitar he wants to build,” said Shortt, who’s constructed 12 of his own instruments over the years.

It can be an arduous and exacting craft, Shortt says.

Wood for the instrument not only determines how it will look, but also the quality of sound it creates.

“Every tree is different,” said Shortt.

And the electronic components have to be installed precisely. There’s no room for error.

“It’s very finicky work,” he said.

But when the strings are tightened, the light glistens off the polished finish and that first chord resonates through a room, the expense, time and sweat pay off, Shortt says.

“It’s magical. There’s no other way to describe it.”

For more information go to http://www.bcit.ca/study/courses/join0010

 

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