When told by their physics teacher in January they’d be building electric guitars over the next 10 weeks, West High students didn’t fret. Nor were they strung out.
Instead, they amped up their efforts and are now the proud owners of their unique musical creations, which they displayed for parents and others Tuesday in the classroom of their Physics II teacher, Maureen Ladd.
The seven students enrolled in the class — Richmond Paschall, Devon Rye, Jarrod Altrogge, Gena Lustig, Joe Knee, Ben Carroll and Malia Gesuale — presented the process of constructing the guitars from kits, along the way demonstrating the physics concepts, woodworking and problem-solving skills they acquired.
Farmers Insurance awarded Ladd a $2,500 Thank a Million Teachers grant to purchase the kits — and some needed tools — as part of the National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Guitar Project. West High is the only Montana school to participate.
A number of important features in the field of physics, including electromagnetic fields, circuits, vibrations and tension, come into play while constructing an electric guitar. Students used photos and props Tuesday to explain how they met the challenge of building their guitars in less than one hour each day for 10 weeks.
“I did the shopping, and they rolled up their sleeves and dove right in,” Ladd said of her students, all of them seniors completing their second year of physics. “We made our share of mistakes, and there was mild to moderate blood loss.”
But students all passed one crucial construction test — when they were finished, there were “no leftover parts in the bottom of the box,” Ladd reported.
Students took the group almost step-by-step through the construction process, peppering their talk with descriptors like Altrogge’s “this step required the use of Grade-A elbow grease” and Carroll’s explanation of how a vibrating electric guitar string disturbs a magnetic field — a magnet with a coil of wire wrapped around it.
That disturbance produces an electric current picked up by something called a pickup — in this case, a Humbucker, which Carroll said literally “bucks the hum,” concealing excess noise and giving the device its colorful name.
Two students, Lustig and Rye, already knew how to solder, so they taught the other five how.
Ladd concluded the class period by offering students and guests frosted cookies in the shape of guitar picks.
Throughout the 10 weeks, students honed their problem-solving skills, Ladd noted. That’s a skill they’ll need in whatever endeavor they pursue.
“They had to answer two questions: What’s going on? And how can I fix it?” Ladd said. “Sometimes we’re not sure what we’re educating students to do, because the future is uncertain.”
Lustig, whose guitar coordinates with the teal and purple in her hair, is pretty certain about her future — she plans to study mechanical engineering at Montana State University.
“I liked the woodworking, and I liked the sanding,” she said of her efforts. “I play the violin, so the guitar was quite a lot different for me. But I plan to learn how.”
Looking around the classroom, Lustig concluded that “you can tell a lot about each person’s personality by their guitar.”
Knee, for example, moved to the U.S. at age 10 from Cam, England, a small town near Bristol. His ax sported a Union Jack design that Pete Townshend of The Who might pick up and play.
“I decided to make something unique,” Knee said. “In school we learn a lot of things, and we’re thinking, ‘Where will I apply this?’ Now we know.”