Samek sourced padouk, mahogany, and Sitka spruce blanks for his acoustic guitar.

Second-year students have access to a fully equipped woodworking shop, including a three-axis CNC router. Their program includes a class on using the machine to create molds and templates, plus a prerequisite course on computer drafting in AutoCAD. (The second-year program isn’t required for graduation.)

Samek, who starts his second year of the program in August of 2014, notes that the second-year students are always willing to offer advice. “It’s one of my favorite things about the school,” he says. “Students are willing to help create a dialog about the proper way to do things.”

New Beginnings
Since the drive from his home in Iowa City, Iowa, to Red Wing is over four hours, Samek decided to move closer to the school. His rent for a room on the outskirts of town includes use of the house’s garage and workshop, where Samek spends much of his time working on school projects.

Samek applying a sunburst finish in the paint booth.

Initially, Samek and his classmates were taught how to safely use and maintain hand and power tools. Students would huddle around Matt Hayes desk, watching him demonstrate things like the way to hold a chisel when sharpening it. The students would then return to their desks and try it themselves, testing the results on scrap wood. “It’s similar to high school shop class,” says Samek, “but focused on what would be used to build acoustic and electric guitars. They develop good rudiments.”

Sharpening a chisel to a hair-splitting tip might sound boring to some, but not to Samek, who often unwinds by cleaning and sharpening his hand tools to a soundtrack of classic country and R&B. “I've never had nice tools before, and it’s fun and exciting to be able to learn those techniques. Believe me—it’s a hell of a lot harder to do this type of work if you don’t have well-maintained equipment.”

After completing the tools course, Samek’s class spent the next few weeks on basic guitar anatomy, including steel-string acoustics, classical guitars, archtops, and electrics. The students were introduced to various types of electric guitar bridges and instructed on identifying the parts used in different types of tremolo bridges. Next came a two-part section on the history of acoustic and electric guitar development. “Understanding the history is important,” Samek explains. “Students are more likely to solve building and repair problems if they understand how the great inventors and luthiers of the past conquered those problems. It was part history, and part critical thinking.”

Samek and classmate Franziska Andonopoulos blend the edges of hand-applied bursts to achieve smooth transitions.

By this point students were encouraged to start thinking about the materials they’d use in their acoustic guitar projects. David Vincent discussed wood properties, how to identify woods by their shades and grains, and using “tap tone” techniques to select the most resonant pieces.

All first-year students take an electric guitar setup lab that trains them in proper stringing, adjustment, bridge installation, wiring, and basic repairs. They learn how to take essential measurements such as neck relief and extension height to determine things like optimal saddle height and nut slot depth. After the setups are graded, the teacher deliberately misadjusts them so the next class can fix them.