January 19, 2006

Chicago Tribune

Fix a Guitar
IF THEY DO IT: Labor costs and a guitar you don’t understand
IF YOU DO IT: You and your instrument? Best friends.
by Fauzia Arain

It’s 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. Do you know where your average musician is? Between the sheets, most likely, save for a select few driven by the desire for a deeper familiarity with their instrument and entry into a comfort zone generally only accessible to techs and repair pros. These ax slingers are in class at Ian Schneller’s Chicago School of Guitar Making.

“I want to be able to do setups myself so that I don’t have to pay $40 every time,” says Paul Foreman of Edgewater, who plays guitar in his band, the Saturday Nights. “I own four electric guitars and one acoustic, so it would save me quite a bit of cash. Plus, I’m simply a bit of a guitar fanatic.”

At Schneller’s request, the eight student’s all unsheathe their guitars, revealing a mix of new, used, and abused acoustics and electrics.

This is the first of four sessions in the Guitar Setup and Maintenance course, which takes place at Schneller’s Specimen guitar shop in the West Loop. The school also teaches a fretting workshop and plans to offer classes in both amp building and custom guitar making.

Student Travis Rejman, who sings and plays guitar in his band Model N, sees this course as a setup in that direction. “My father builds guitars and has studied with the master luthiers across the country, but those classes are much more expensive than Ian’s” he says.

After a diagnosis of each participant’s instrument and its respective “issues,” Schneller gets down to business.

A founding member of the experimental rock band Shrimp Boat, owner of Specimen and master luthier, Schneller wears a dusty, navy blue lab coat and stands in the middle of the eight newly crafted workstations.

Many guitar players would stress at the sight of someone taking a screwdriver to their baby’s neck. But the group surrounding Schneller is rapt, studying his procedures and organic take on guitar repair. Though in his first session Schneller is doing most of the hands-on work, students will get to fiddle soon enough.

The class ends with a promise of future lessons on tremolos, intonation and pickups, and the students are now on their way to becoming knowledgeable techs or at least well-rounded players.

Schneller is serious about imparting his wisdom to the students. “It used to be that your average 14-year old knew how to make a radio out of a Quaker Oats box and a crystal, your average 20-year-old knew how to rebuild an engine on their car,” he says. “That’s something that’s missing in our culture today [and] if I can educate people about what I know…it’s physical, material world that fascinates me.”