Making guitars with STEM

Post date: Mar 08, 2019 4:29:44 PM

For the second year, science teacher Chad McCormack is teaching a class at Wells High School in how to build an electric guitar employing a blend of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a combination of academic disciplines referred to as STEM.

Since December, McCormack’s STEM Guitar Building class has been going through a day-to-day, detailed and hands-on process in creating their own electric guitar from a kit in a curriculum that also requires woodworking and painting.

“Some of these students have never touched a soldering iron…,” said McCormack taking a break during a March 2nd class where he was introducing the basic principles of electronics needed to complete an electric guitar. He said the guitar body and fret board were finished recently in an adjacent shop classroom and that the guitars will be finished by June.

“I don’t even know how to play guitar but I am building it which is cool because I am learning how it works,” said junior Dan Metzler who added that he is now learning how to play the instrument.

“I love it,” said senior Ben Campbell about the course. “I’ve been playing for a while, (but creating one) is something I never thought I would get to do.” Campbell says he currently owns two guitars including a Gretsch semi-hollow guitar.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) introduced STEM to the public in 2001 and, for 11 years, has funded the National STEM Guitar Project which is now offered in schools in 48 states including Maine where eight schools offer this program.

Currently, there are 20 teachers who travel around the country to train other teachers interested in implementing STEM Guitar Building in class. Chad McCormack is one of these core trainers who, last summer, trained a group of teachers outside of Minneapolis. He says he will continue training next summer in Indiana.

“In two trimesters, we have enough time to build an instrument and complete a series of academic exercises/explorations and corresponding assessments in parallel with appropriate stages of the build,” commented McCormack. He said the guitar kits used at WHS come from Sinclair Community College in Dayton Ohio and that the bodies “in this year’s batch” are made of mahogany, maple, alder, and walnut. The necks are maple and the fretboards are rosewood.

In general, STEM interdisciplinary education seeks to increase overall student interest in science and science careers by, in part, providing real-world opportunities such as the STEM Guitar Project. For more information visit:

Caption: From the left is Chad McCormack, Lauren Bartlett (senior), Liv Talevi (senior), Dustin Blake (sophomore), Ben Campbell (senior), Dan Metzler (junior), and Gary Andrews (senior). Absent from the photo is senior Lily Iannillo.