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Casey Evens sands the neck of his electric guitar. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

Last week, 14 educators from around the state met at Sitka High School to learn how to make shop and engineering classes more engaging. Supported by a grant from the Alaska Department of Education, the group had a few days to build and wire their very own electric guitars.

Downloadable audio.

“Right now I’m just cutting out the head of my guitar into the shape that I want, or the basic shape that I want then I’m going to go in and sand it down to make it exactly how it’s supposed to turn out.”

Casey Evens is a sophomore at Petersburg High School. And he’s joined teachers in learning how to make an electric guitar from scratch.

Casey is fascinated by computer aided design software. His teacher sent him to Sitka for the workshop so he could bring these skills back to the classroom.

Before Casey started taking industrial arts classes, he thought he would go into a field where he could use his hands, like diesel mechanics, he says.

But digital fabrication introduced him to other possible careers.

“It kind of opened the possibilities to engineering or design or manufacturing or stuff like that,” he said.

The classes are hands – and brains —on.

Retired Sitka High School career and technical education coordinator Randy Hughey secured the state grant, which funded the professional development course. Teachers from the Lower 48, one whose class helped design a custom Seahwaks guitar for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, flew up to teach it.

Hughey says in CAD classes 20 years ago, students used technology to draft blueprints of houses.  His students were mostly disinterested because it was something intangible to them.

Only when he started having his classes design their own logos for stickers did his students become more engaged.

“My enrollment tripled in one year because they were suddenly doing something that was tactile and they were interested in having,” Hughey said.

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The bodies of the guitars. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

Expanding on that idea, Hughey thought students would be excited to apply design concepts to building their own electric guitars. But before they could get into the fab lab,  teachers needed to learn how to do it first. Karl Jordan is the woodshop teacher at Blatchely Middle School.

“We’re doing electrical, we’re soldering stuff,” he said. “There’s a bunch of parts and pieces that I don’t even know what they’re called because I’m learning how to do it as we go. It goes from simple to complicated in one project.”

He says the students also learn about tools, wood properties, electromagnetism, basic safety skills and other manufacturing ideas with the project.

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Josh Arnold’s Mt. Edgecumbe guitar. (Brielle Schaeffer/KCAW photo)

Josh Arnold, who works at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, was as pumped as a teenager would be about his guitar, which he tricked out with a laser-cut logo of a Brave, the school’s mascot. He hopes to eventually paint it the school’s colors of cardinal and yellow.

“We get excited about anything that we can show the kids, hey if you can think it we can design it on a computer with CAD, with computer aided design and then the equipment exists in the world for you to make a real model, in this case we’re going to end up with a guitar that really plays,” he said.

In the end, after some trial and error, the group had fully functional instruments that they were excited to bring back to their classrooms. Now they just need to learn how to play them.

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