Aluminum Electric Ukulele

It is time again to unleash the bandsaw and drill press in the glorious ritual of machining aluminum for new Specimen bodies.

This tailpiece is carved out of a billet of aluminum

Holes are drilled to lighten the structure.

Old warhorses in repose



Headstock Repair: SG

After cleaning up a bit, I waxed the truss rod threads and cavity. I then injected glue deep into the crevices, hoping for full penetration.

I clamped the break tightly

After cleaning up the joint with sandpaper and dowels, I sprayed primer, then black lacquer, then clear lacquer. After curing for a few days I buffed out the job and reassembled. The repair is invisible.


Q & A with Ian Schneller

What inspired you to build your first guitar?
I hate shopping. I don’t like crowds, driving in traffic, or the commercial selection of most things available in stores. Vintage instruments can be magic. You can feel their history and the thought that went into many of the designs, but they had started to become cost prohibitive to me even 35 years ago. I like unique things, and I have always had strong opinions about what I want mechanically and ergonomically from a stringed instrument. It just seemed like the best solution was to make my own.

What was your favorite guitar build, and what did you learn about the guitar making process from this build?
I think the Emerald Deluxe has to rank up there as one of my favorites. I made that for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. The pick guard is made of 600 iridescent emerald beetle wings laid up like ceramic roofing tiles and vacuum infused with epoxy. The guard is about 5/8” thick, so it had to be recessed deeply into the body. This created a dilemma with the mounting of the custom pickups Alex had ordered from the Creamery, in Manchester England. The pickups were made before the intricacies of the pick guard were known, so the mounting feet were too short for the thick guard. This necessitated a novel mechanical solution which resulted in even more amazing tone from the instrument. I had to cut off the pickup feet and permanently mount them with steel reinforced epoxy at fixed elevations. The need for pickup height adjustment is very real, so I made the entire pick guard height adjustable by placing springs under each of the pick guard mounting screws. This solved the mechanical issue and created a sonic interface between the strings and the pickups that is nothing short of astonishing.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case it was absolutely true. The lesson learned here is that the stricture embodied within the discipline of luthiery and of design in general is often unforgiving. When we stray from the beaten path of well established parameters, we often have to pay the price of engineering from scratch, other parameters that we had taken for granted.
This time, I got lucky.

What are some of the differences between acoustic and electric guitar building?
An electric guitar needs to be geometrically worked out according to the tenants of luthiery. It’s performance is dependent on this. It’s tone is a byproduct of the materials it is made from and to a large extent the craftsmanship that goes into making it. One can argue endlessly about the tonal effects of various materials but I feel it is largely psychosomatic. I hear people say that Mahogany has a dark brooding tone, while Maple is bright with a sharp attack. I think it is funny how these descriptions sound as if they are describing the look of the wood as much as the sound. Coincidence? You decide

The selection of wood species and even the individual tree an acoustic guitar is made from has a profound effect on sonic performance. I made electric guitars for two decades before I felt like I was ready to open the can of worms of acoustic building. I then started with traditional formats and experimented from there. Subtle differences in bracing and thicknessing impact volume, transient response, frequency response, linearity, Etc. I still make more electric solid body instruments than acoustic ones, but I continue to delve into the acoustic realm.

Who do you admire as a luthier? who has influenced your craft throughout your career?
The usual suspects, Although I don’t consider myself particularly versed in the matter. Loar, Fender, Nathaniel Daniels, Bennedeto, Maccafferri, De’angelico, stromberg, Larrave, Manzer

What do you think about before you build a guitar?
Historical context, precedent, application, cross pollination

What is the thing that bugs you the most about a bad guitar build?
Sloppy work, ugly lines. Greedy stupid engineering. Obvious fashion decisions at the expense of functionality


The Art of Listening

A lovely new documentary called The Art Of Listening by directors Michael Coleman and Emmanuel Moran and is now available to stream. Among many other musicians, engineers and designers in sound, Specimen Products own Ian Schneller is featured in a segment describing his process of luthiery. His segment starts at the 8:32 time marker, the whole movie is a fascinating watch!


CHIRP Record Fair


Join us at the 2016 Chirp Record Fair! We’ll be showcasing two 9ft Specimen XL horns along with our horn speakers, hifi tube amps and guitars. We’ll have a table right in front of the stage. Click here to RSVP and get more info. See you there!

CHIRP Record Fair
Saturday, April 9th
8am – 6pm

Plumbers Hall

1340 W Washington Blvd
Chicago, IL 60607


Announcing the Aerobund + Kit!


The Aerobund is a dual purpose aerodynamic bicycle cowling that also serves as a traveling storage unit/console/handlebar bag. The construction is “stick and tissue” like model airplanes of years gone by. Specimen Products will offer kits for this exclusive design to bicycle enthusiasts who love to do it themselves. Fundamental building skills will be obtained through building this kit and your bicycle will be ever so stylish and fast.


CSGM Summer Workshops – 2015

We’ve added our new Tube Amplifier Diagnostics & Repair Seminar and Tube Amp Building to our Summer Workshops 2015. This year you can combine the two and save in our Combined: Tube Amp Diagnostics & Tube Amp Building.  Now you can come away with a superior hand wired tweed style guitar tube amp or a hi-fi stereo tube amp and an thorough understanding of tube amp diagnostics and repair in just two short weeks.

In addition to our summer schedule of intensive guitar building workshops, we are offering  Set-up and Maintenance,  Guitar Finishing & Relicing, Guitar Electronics UpgradesEffects Pedal Making and Ukelele Building.

All of our workshops are hands-on and closely guided by your instructor.  Enrollment is limited.

Register early for significant savings on tuition.  Early registration ends 5/2/2015.

I invite you to peruse the summer menu and call our school with questions.  Now is your chance to take Chicago School of Guitar Making courses and come away with your handmade guitar, ukelele, tube amp and knowledge of tube amp repair!

Ian Schneller

Combined: Tube Amp Building + Tube Amp Diagnostics & Repair – 2 weeks
An exceptional opportunity to learn the principles and practices of tube amp diagnostics and repair and then hand build either a Tweed Style guitar tube amp or a Hi-Fi Stereo tube amplifier. In addition to a hand-built point-to-point amplifier ready for a custom finish, students will leave with the knowledge and ability to service the amp themselves.

For complete details and to register online click here> Combined: Tube Amp Building + Diagnostics & Repair

July 14 – 24, weeknights 7pm – 9:30pm

$1233 tuition. Amp materials cost is additional and varies according to kit choice.

Take $100 off for registering before May 2, 2015.


Acoustic Guitar Building – 2 Weeks
Construct your very own Martin 000 style steel string acoustic guitar of either Rosewood or Mahogony from an excellent kit under the watchful eye of the instructor. The Stewart- MacDonald kit uses top quality woods and can produce instruments which rival even the greatest luthier builds. Students will have a complete guitar ready to play and ready for custom surface finishing.

For complete details and to register online click here> Martin 000 Summer Workshop

July 13 – 24, Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm.

Course fee: $3615 for Mahogany, $3665 for Rosewood includes tuition, instruction and all materials.

Take $100 off for registering before May 2, 2015.


Electric Guitar Building – 3 Weeks
Build a sonically superior, high quality traditional style electric guitar to your personal specs this summer. This slab body electric guitar build will feature a non-adjustable steel reinforcement in the neck, yielding a guitar with superior longevity, stability and tonality. Daily lecture/demonstrations will cover the instrument’s design theory and construction principles and students will be guided through the skills and methodologies required at each stage of the construction. Students will have a complete guitar ready for custom surface finishing.

For complete details and to register online click here> EGB Summer Workshop

July 6 – 24. Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm.

Course fee: $3990 includes tuition, instruction and all materials.

Take $100 off for registering before May 2, 2015


Download the Calendar CSGM 2015


ICA Calla Audio Horns

The ICA "Calla" a new special edition Specimen audio horn & sat sub woofer

The ICA “Calla” a new special edition Specimen audio horn & sat sub woofer

From the ICA website:

Sculptor/instrument-maker Ian Schneller and composer/violinist Andrew Bird share a fascination with sound and its interaction with the natural world.

Since 2010, the duo has collaboratively produced Sonic Arboretum, an installation of up to 70 colorful horn speakers made from recycled newsprint, dryer lint, baking soda, and shellac and powered by custom-made tube amplifiers. Through the speakers, Andrew Bird plays an original, 50-minute composition, Echolocations: Canyon, which he recorded by whistling and playing his violin in a canyon to experiment with the site’s reverberations. Echolocations: Canyon written by Andrew Bird, published by Muffet Music Co. (ASCAP) © 2014 Used by permission. All rights reserved.


A New Sonic Arboretum at ICA Boston

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Most artists don’t record in canyons.

But Andrew Bird did, and it can be heard being played through over 30 colorful, Dr. Seuss-like speakers at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The exhibition, Sonic Arboretum, on which he collaborated with sculptor and instrument-maker Ian Schneller, opened Wednesday.

Bird, a primarily indie-folk musician, recorded himself playing the violin, along with the occasional whistling and sound of flowing water in the Coyote Gulch canyons of Utah.

Deviating from Bird’s usual singer-songwriter material, the recording is a 50-minute-long nonstop experience. If you had to slap a genre label or two on “Echolocations: Canyon,” as it’s called, you would have to call it avant-garde. It’s melodious, but the bouncing, reverberate echo effect of the exhibition makes it just as much about stylized ambiance as it is about composition.

But one genre doesn’t quite do it justice. The piece often breaks into segments that feel more like the score to a Hayao Miyazaki film than anything else. (I’d like to quickly take a step back from this piece to formally request a Miyazaki-Bird collaboration.) The oscillation between the feels of scientific exploration of echoes and the visceral, driving nature of the arrangement gives the piece a depth worth talking about.

Schneller’s role in the exhibition is not to be shoved aside, however. He was the one to meticulously place each of the 30-plus speakers made from recycled newsprint, dryer lint, baking soda and more on all four sides of the museum room.

The smaller details too, make what he accomplished technically impressive. To get all of the speakers to play the track at the same exact time, a multitude of iPod nanos have to be synchronized at a level of precision that is beyond human capability. To work around this, Schneller took the route that only a sculptor-instrument-maker would take: he created a device that hits play on up to ten iPods at a time, at the exact same moment. It’s called the Nano Sync, and it wouldn’t be art if it wasn’t as colorful and visually stunning as the rest of the audio equipment in the room, would it?

All together, the sonic and visual components come together to form a surreal experience. Whatever you’re thinking about when you walk into the exhibition, your mind will probably entirely lose sight of it in the process of calibration.

How much you get out of Sonic Arboretum also depends on how much time and attention you give it. Because there’s more art outside both entrances to the room, it’s easy to walk in, listen for a minute or two, and then continue on with your museum tour. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that approach. You have enough time to appreciate the visual aesthetic of Schneller’s artful speakers and get a general sense of Bird’s music, even if it’s on a relatively superficial level of understanding.

But if you want to stop, sit down on the bench in the center of the room and close your eyes, you can do that too. (And you won’t be alone, chances are). You can try to picture yourself sitting down cross-legged in a solitary canyon in Utah while a renowned musician plays his violin not too far away, if you’d like. Or you can let your mind wander and let Bird’s music be a backdrop to your thoughts.

As is the nature of modern art, there is no one expected outcome, as cliché as it sounds. There’s no specific way you’re supposed to think or feel when you walk out. It’s considerably liberating in a sense.

The installation, Sonic Arboretum, has been around since 2010, but it previously featured Bird performing live through the sound system. The pre-recorded “Echolocations: Canyon,” is the first of its kind in an “Echolocations” series. To follow in the upcoming years are “River,” “City,” “Lake” and “Forest.”

You can guess where he will record each one, but not where each one will take you when you hear it.

Sonic Arboretum is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art through May 10.

West Gallery
SONIC ARBORETUM: Sculpture by Ian Schneller /
Sound by Andrew Bird 

Feb. 4 – May 10, 2015

Sculptor/instrument-maker Ian Schneller and composer/violinist Andrew Bird collaboratively produced Sonic Arboretum, an installation of colorful horn speakers and sound that is looped and layered to generate a symphonic field.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is an art museum and exhibition space located in Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America. The museum was founded as the Boston Museum of Modern Art in 1936 with a mission to exhibit contemporary art.

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ICA_Sonic_Arboretum 11 Ian



ICA_Sonic_Arboretum 33 Nano sync


Unique Specimen Audio Horns Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

Unique SPECIMEN audio horns at Garfield Conservatory, Show Room. Protea, Hornlets, Hornling, Eremurus, Liatris, Calla, Liederhorn designed by Ian Schneller, produced by Specimen Products. 2014

Unique SPECIMEN audio horns at Garfield Conservatory, Show Room, 2014. Protea, Hornlets, Hornling, Eremurus, Liatris, Calla, Liederhorn designed by Ian Schneller at Specimen Products.

An assortment of different Specimen horns seen in the Show Room, Garfield  Conservatory, Chicago. Among them are Ian Schneller’s new singular new horns, which featured the premier of new music by composer Glenn Kotche at the Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago.

“Eremurus” and “Calla” Specimen Audio Horns graced the Mosaic Fountain, Horticulture Hall, Garfield Conservatory, Chicago


“Calla”, “Protea” and “Eremurus” Specimen Audio Horns, Show House, Garfield Conservatory, 2014


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