Ryan Chism | Luthier

This is a little preview of a new project I'm working on. The next few months I will be photographing artists ( musicians, artisans, etc.) and doing a brief interview and photo journal of their work and process. My husband has been building a guitar, from recycled materials, on and off the last couple years, and I wanted to start this series with him. 

Ryan Chism | Day Job - IT stud at The University of Texas School of Public Health | Hobby - Guitar building

What inspired you to start this?

I always wanted to try my hand at making one. I become interested in ergonomic guitars a while back, and liked the idea of having that with a fanned fret board...and a bigger body since I'm so tall. I think I was slightly out of my head when starting this project. I was a few months out from having back surgery and dealing with a great deal of pain. I guess I started it to take my mind off of my back. I had always tinkered with things over the years, and kind of approached with a helping of "How hard could it be". Man, was I wrong! It has been a ton of work and I have learned a great deal about how hard it is to actually do. It looks so easy, but the design challenges when you are building an unconventional instrument are really difficult sometimes.


What types of materials and tools are you building with?

This was a big reason why the project was so difficult. I had to cut down a Live Oak tree from my front yard that needed to be removed. Here is a link on the facts about it, http://sptreefarm.com/interesting-facts-about-live-oak-trees.html . All that wood, how could I pass up only using it for firewood? I guess I had romanticized the idea of building something from material in my own yard. It felt like a natural thing to do. And, I will say that there probably aren't that many guitars in the world made from it. For good reason though! It's extremely tough wood to work. It dulls tools and became even worse to work with over time. The wood itself is interesting though, as you can see from the photos. It's grain can be tight but also swirl in unpredictable ways. It's prone to cracking, but is an extremely hard wood. I think it was used in ship building because it was so tough.

I really only used hand tools. Chisels, scrappers, files. I did use a drill press with an attachment to do most  of the hollowing of the body though. The body is made from 2 pieces that were split from one big piece of stump. The neck is made from a piece of an old door from my house. I'm pretty sure it's Douglas Fir. The house was built in the 50's so the wood is at least that old. It actually resonates really well. The fretboard is Macassar Ebony that I bought through LMII. The other small pieces on the end of the neck are from a friend's Pear tree. It's very dense as well. As you can see from the photo of the pickups, they are from Bill Lawrence and family. Bill just passed away, and so I wanted to pay tribute to him in this build by including them. 


If you could give your past self some wisdom, about this project , what would it be?

Choose the right wood! Some woods are just easier to work with and make into instruments. There is a reason maple has been used extensively in instrument building. Each species is unique and offers it's own benefits, not just for sound but for actual ease in building.

Enjoy the process and don't rush the execution. 

Use the right tools for the job. I guess this goes for any endeavor :)

Pace yourself and take breaks. Sometimes something will feel overwhelming, but you usually just need a break to work it over and come at it with a new perspective.

Make sure you finish and it's playable. 

That's it for now....I'm still finishing it so maybe I'll have more thoughts on the way.

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