Music is an art form that has been experimented with by humans since, quite possibly, before we had even developed the ability to verbally communicate with one another. As music has advanced, changed, and evolved, so have both humans, and the instruments that we have used to create these sounds. First, we banged sticks, and rocks on the dirt to create rhythms. Then we created drums, and skins to cover the drums. Soon we had hollow gourds that we would fasten a stick and string to, and so forth. Ingenuity has driven the creation of both music, and the instruments that create the sound.
When Professor Leon Theramin patented his theraminophone in 1928, he changed the way that many musicians viewed the possibilities of sound that they could use to create their art. Arguably, this led to revolutions such as electric organs, keyboards, and guitars. Just the mere concept that electricity could be converted into music was a revolution. Almost all at once, the range of sounds that a musician had to choose from had increased exponentially.
Since then, we have been witness to the Grateful Dead’s “wall of sound“, the invention of the talk box (Wikipedia describes the talk box as an effects system that “the musician controls the modification by lip syncing, or by changing the shape of the mouth.”), and Les Paul’s visionary electric guitar.
When I had first become interested in building guitars, I had attended a lecture in Washington State by luthier Fred Carlson about creativity in guitar design. He prefaced his lecture by informing the audience that he was an “alien” from another planet (I forget the name of the planet now, or I would share it with you. I am certain that a transcript of the lecture is available through the Guild of American Luthiers). He then went on to describe how his process of designing his most recent instrument, which he called “The Flying Dream“, had begun with a sketch that he had earlier drawn reminding him of a chicken trying to fly. Mr. Carlson is a charming person with whom I had the pleasure of talking after the lecture. His words have been inspirational to me ever since.
The Fall of that year, I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. I attended Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, in Phoenix, AZ, directed by William Eaton. William Eaton is an Emmy award winning composer, a performing musician, and luthier. Acknowledged as one of the world’s great designers and builders of unique guitars, Eaton’s instruments have been featured in books, magazines, video, luthier conventions and at international exhibits. His countless lectures, and live demonstrations of his unique instruments has greatly influenced my way of thinking about musical instrument design.
I suppose that what I am trying to say is that imagination is where art begins, and creativity begets more creativity. We have come a long way since our neanderthal ancestors, and with technology continually changing and advancing, who knows what new and interesting instruments will be created, and what the artists who use them will be able to create in the form of music as a result.
Grosse Pointe Music Academy Staff
Books on Instrument Design: