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Specimen was fortunate enough to be selected by the kind and talented people at Fruit Bonus films to be featured in a series of short doc videos about our work.

We met with Mark Pallman and his crew last September right at the time Ian was finishing the Upside Down Ceiling Janus. After nearly a year in development, this Specimen was due to be delivered to its new owner in a couple weeks. It seemed the perfect opportunity to document this one-of-a-kind horn speaker.

On the day of the shoot we invited a musician and good friend, the amazing Jim Elkington, to demonstrate the magic made possible with this unique speaker. After months of editing hours and hours of footage, the video is now complete. We couldn’t be prouder.

Check it out!

Filmed in September 2012 at Specimen Products in Chicago IL.

This video features owner/engineer Ian Schneller detailing the internal structures and functionality of his first ever upside down spinning double horn speaker.

Musical demonstration by Jim Elkington

Directed by Fruit Bonus
Director of Photography – Drew Wehde
Camera Operator – Amanda Speva
Camera Operator – Mark Pallman
Camera Assist – Gary Maloof
Production Audio – Erik Rasmussen
Data Management – Abbie Hamilton
Editor – Mark Pallman
Assistant Editor – Tim Cahill
Animation/Design – Tyler Nelson
Titles – Jason Oberg
Color – Jeff Greco
Audio Mix – Marina Bacci

This Tele-style instrument is a commission for a local guitar player. It has an alder body with a book-matched flame-maple cap. We wanted to take this traditional instrument in a special direction so the guitar will feature custom-made checkerboard binding, square fretboard inlays, orange-into-walnut sunburst, and Lindy Fralin pickups with a 4-way circuit.

To create the binding, I first made up checkerboard tiles from rosette sticks. I ripped two different sized slots in a solid chunk of Teflon (even super glue is reluctant to stick to this material). After staging my sticks strategically in the Teflon slots, I impregnated the bundles with super glue. After it set, I managed to remove the logs. Then after sanding them, four quarter logs are placed in the larger slot and the process repeated.

I used a small mitre box to cut 2.5mm tiles from the logs. These are then individually tapered in order to negotiate the guitar’s curves. There is actually a hidden inner rivulet of alternating cubes inside the checkerboard.

Below is a slideshow of images detailing the binding process.

For an entomological bent on this very special commission for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, I created a pickguard using 600 emerald beetle wings infused with urethane resin. The process is very involved and required making many test samples before embarking on the final form.

The first consideration was how to juxtapose these wings. The thickness and curvature of the pickguard shape posed a challenge. I didn’t want to break apart the wings as they would lose their identity. Topologically, they resemble miniature ceramic roof tiles, so I decided to interlay them just like roof tiles to form a continuous covering. Perfect!

I embedded the beetle wings in epoxy resin using a vacuum pump. Once in place, a perimeter mold is cut out and screwed down onto a Formica platter with mold release compound on it to ensure separation at the end of the process. Cup by cup, resin is catalyzed and put in a vacuum chamber to de-gas it and remove all the tiny bubbles. It is then carefully poured over the wings.

The overall thickness of the pickguard grew to a formidable 3/4″. Since I wanted to keep the guitar a regular shape so it would feel ‘normal’, I had to rout the body and deeply embedded the pickguard into the guitar’s body (another engineering challenge!). Once installed, only 1/8″ of pickguard protrudes above the body’s surface where it is beveled like an ordinary pickguard. This overall effect gives gives the pickguard a three-dimensional wing-scape.

Below is a slideshow of images showing the pickguard making process.

Check out my other Blog post documenting other building processes. You can read more about this guitar, see photos of the finished instrument and videos of the band here.

SPECIMEN Hornling Hi-Fi Stereo speakers look right at home in the new corporate headquarters of Instagram which was designed by the Geremia Design interior design firm.  See more pictures of our horn speakers in homes around the world: Horn Speakers: Customer Photos.

Specimen exhibited for the first time at the SOFA Art Expo in Chicago. The SOFA (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art & Design) exhibit has been presented in Chicago for the past 19 years and provides an opportunity to galleries from across the globe to present artists whose media includes wood, glass, metal, plastic, and other materials. Ever since attending the show back when I was in art school, I have always thought of it as “the non-painting show.”

Chicago’s Packer Schopf gallery invited Specimen to participate. Aron Packer, the gallery’s owner/curator is known for representing artists who create idiosyncratic work, usually with exceptional craft or some obsessive quality. We’ve known Aron for years, and have always admired his singular vision. Specimen was honored to exhibit in Packer Schopf’s booth alongside artists such as Ellen Greene, Casey Gunschel, Brian Dettmer, Matthew Cox, and Jim Dingilian.

Apart from exhibiting our horn speakers and hi-fi stereo tube amps in the Packer Schopf booth, Specimen’s Aerosel Horn Sculptures could also be seen in the cafe suspended from the ceiling of the Exhibition Hall. The show’s presenters (The Art Fair Co.) created custom walls that curved behind each Aerosel. Under the spotlights, the Aerosels cast shadows on these curved walls creating mysterious, undulating forms. The effect was amazing!

We were also an integral part of another space at the show – the Audi Conversation Space. In this space our XL Horn Speakers were exhibited and used when various lecturers gave presentations throughout the show.

SOFA opened on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 1., to massive crowds who perused the booths, enjoyed cocktails, and exhibited their personal style. My favorite visitor was a tall, thin, elderly woman with cropped white hair dressed in full equestrian attire: black velvet riding hat; jodhpurs; and riding boots!

The exhibit was opened to the public Friday, Nov. 2 – Sunday, Nov. 4. Below is a slideshow of pictures from the show. Thanks go to Scott Shigley for his amazing photos of the Aerosels.

– Nadine Schneller


Our first ukulele building seminar was a great success! Students came from as far away as Hawaii to build their instrument during this three day inaugural run.

In preparation for the seminar, we built many custom jigs and fixtures to make the whole process go more smoothly and quickly. Each student received a kit that contained most of the needed parts and hardware.

Over the course of three days, students learned how to glue in braces, shape their neck, glue in the neck, locate and install the bridge, cut and create their soundhole rosette, and more.

The process to build one of these kits is very similar to building an acoustic guitar, just in a smaller and more manageable scale. Taking this seminar is a great way to embark upon acoustic guitar building.

Below is a photo gallery created during the first seminar. The next Ukulele Building Seminar will run February 8-10, 2013. Register here.

One day about a year ago I received a call from Jack White. He inquired about a Janus spinning double horn speaker. He said that he wanted me to turn it upside down and hang it from the ceiling. After a long pause, I said it would take a little engineering. He suggested I embark on the project.

Below is more detailed information about the building of this newest Specimen including photos and a slide show of images taken during the building process. You can see more images of the finished Specimen here.

Original Janus Double Spinning Horn SpeakerCeiling-Mounted Janus Double Spinning Horn SpeakerWell it did take a little engineering, quite a bit actually. I quickly realized that not only was I grappling with the typical rotational forces, I was now defying gravity right above people’s heads. The prospect of a sharp-edged spinning projectile hurtling through space and chopping off someone’s head was terrifying to say the least.

To ease my conscience, I decided to fabricate all the support structures from half-inch steel plate instead of the aluminum I used on my other models.

Posing another engineering challenge was the diameter of the shaft. The Janus Horn Speaker features a half-inch shaft which is appropriate for the horn throat diameter, but I needed to drill through it and install a cotter pin of some description in order to hang it safely. My other Janus Spinning Horn Speakers rely on gravity to seat the bearings, instead of having to defy it and hang. Half-inch was the maximum diameter I could use for the shaft. Any larger than would obstruct the sound passing through the horn’s throat diameter. What to do?

After quite a bit of research I decided that key-less bushings were the way to go. One of them properly torqued is good for eight hundred pounds of thrust. If I added a backup bushing in case of failure, I felt reassured enough to go with it. With this stumbling block out of the way it was time to solve some aesthetic issues.

I was having a fundamental difficulty with the idea of simply inverting the Original Janus Horn because mounting a box on the ceiling just didn’t seem right. Coincidentally, I had started doing research on ceiling fans for my living room. After looking at scads of nasty designer fans I settled on the Hunter Original— a heavy industrial-looking fan with oil bath bearings. Very impressive. Then it hit me. Of course! The enclosure for the Specimen Ceiling Horn would be cylindrical. I made a cylindrical form out of laminated MDF and used 1/8″ thick bending plywood to create a custom 3/4″-thick cylinder. Once this was done I was on a roll.

At one point, I had mentioned to Jack that a cable controller might be a little awkward coming down from the ceiling and that I could look into a wireless system with a handheld controller. Careful what you wish for! Luckily, Blaise Barton from Joyride Recording Studio has expertise in such matters and made me a custom transmitter and controller. In spite of its ultra modern, etched board, surface mount, micro processor technology (essentially the opposite of the Specimen ethos), the unit has worked flawlessly and is a wonder to behold. I am very happy to have it on board (pun intended).

After installing the transmitter, circuit board, motor, fittings, and silver-foil backed sound-deadening material, the inside of the Ceiling Janus was really starting to look a little like the lunar module.

Instead of relying on wood screws alone to attach hanging components, I used long, 1/2″-13 stainless steel bolts running up through the whole assembly. This ensures that the unit will continue to defy gravity.

The threaded rod and clevis used to mount the unit to the ceiling was not visually inspiring, so I embarked on a modular carapace to enclose the whole upper unit. A bit of whimsy here resulted in a rather interesting onion dome. Following the format of the octagon, I created a single section of the carapace carved out of wood. I then made a mold of this and layed up epoxy into it. Repeating this process seven more times produced all the sections for the carapace. These eight sections were glued together and lacquered in alternating black and white colors.

One of the last steps was to install portholes around the cylindrical main body. I decided to use screens normally found on National/Dobro guitars and swaged them to hug the radius of the cylinder. This allowed for ventilation and I thought it might assist with the telemetry.

Last week, we delivered the Ceiling-Mounted Janus and successfully installed it in its new home. For having just a six-inch speaker, the Ceiling Janus sounds like a psychedelic Twin Reverb! It is a wonder to listen to.

The quest for an acoustic-electric instrument that sounds great and is useful on stage without troublesome feedback has puzzled luthiers since the PA system was invented.

The focus of this newest Specimen instrument is on electric output while still yearning for lovely acoustic tone. The instrument will join Specimen’s Luddite line as “The Amontillado.” It is made with bent sides and traditional bracing, but with NO sound hole whatsoever. Once the guitar’s chamber is sealed off, no one will ever again see the splendor within. Only the electric signal will escape to see the light of day.

The guitar is being created using Flame-maple back and sides and Sitka spruce top. It will feature a slotted headstock, bolt-on neck, and a new “vertebral” neck block made of Linden wood. It’s shaped like a neck vertebrae in order to accommodate the large heel of the bolt-on neck. Below is a slideshow of photos taken so far during the building of this guitar. We’ll keep posting photos all throughout the process. Stay tuned!

You can see photos of the completed instrument here.

Columbia College commissioned Specimen’s Ian Schneller to participate in a special exhibition titled Material Assumptions: Paper as Dialogue. For the exhibition, contemporary artists were asked to create new work using abaca and cotton paper handmade by graduate students of the college’s Center for Book and Paper Arts.

The horn speakers we usually make using recycled newsprint, baking soda, and dryer lint yield surfaces that are ruddy, organic, and wild like an untended garden. By contrast, the handmade paper fabricated for this project is so pure, white, and structurally profound that Ian chose to use it to create a pair of Hornlet audio horn speakers that are pristine, stripped down to the lines, and completely naked. Only hand-pulled paper can come close to this organic purity. It is similar to working with porcelain versus terra cotta or stoneware. Naturally, it seemed fitting that the bases for these paper horns also have a quality of purity or transparency which is why Ian chose to use thick acrylic sheets. “It is a little bit eery to listen to them and realize visually to what extent the internal volume of air plays a role in sound production. I think of them as a “full disclosure” version of the Hornlets.” -Ian Schneller

These one-of-a-kind Hornlets will be on display along with newly commissioned works by 11 other artists as well as work by artists-in-residence at Dieu Donné, a New York-based non-profit artist workspace dedicated to the creation, promotion and preservation of contemporary art in the hand papermaking process. The exhibit opens June 15 and runs through August 11. For more info: Material Assumptions. Below is a slideshow of photos taken during the building process.

Specimen Horn Speakers created for Columbia College's Book + Paper Arts ExhibitSpecimen Horn Speakers created for Columbia College's Book + Paper Arts Exhibit

On a beautiful night in May, Andrew Bird and his band performed at Chicago’s esteemed Auditorium Theater. On stage with him were six Aerosel horn sculptures we created in January.

Throughout the performance Andrew’s lighting wizard, Ryan Murphy, dazzled the audience by casting an amazing array of colors, textures, and shadows onto the Aerosels as they gently spun around moving to the music. Below is a slideshow of photos taken at the show. Pure magic!

Designed to be suspended from ceiling, the Aerosels created for Andrew Bird range in height from 5 to 8 feet and will become available after his 2012 tour. We will be posting more photos, descriptions and prices soon!

On Monday, April 30, 2012, Andrew Bird appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! performing two songs from his newest album. With him on stage are two of the four Specimen Aerosel horns he is touring with and his Specimen Janus spinning horn speaker. Mesmerizing!

Yesterday we received an amazing email from Felipe Bravo who lives in California and has been a big fan of Andrew Bird and Specimen for more than a decade.

Specimen Horn Speaker tattoo

He spoke of how much the Sonic Arboretum inspired him and of a tattoo design he had been contemplating for a couple years.

On March 30th, Felipe sat down at Traditional Tattoo in San Luis Obispo, California, and with the help of tattoo artist Jake Schroeder, made it real. This is his first tattoo!

We at Specimen are flattered beyond words.