Life + Arts

Cougars tweak, collect unusual instruments

Many students enjoy strumming an instrument they got once upon a Christmas, but Austin Howell and Henry Watts have more eclectic tastes.

It’s hard to get the exact sound desired from an instrument. This is not a problem if you make your own instruments, which is exactly what electrical engineering junior Austin Howell does.

‘I was aiming for a real specific sound,’ Howell said.

Howell has built an electric 12-string guitar, a four-string electric bass and a five-string electric violin.

The process begins at the lumber store where Howell buys the wood that will become an instrument. He carves the wood into whatever he needs for a particular project, such as the neck of a guitar or the chinrest of a violin.

Making the instruments is worth it to Howell because of the personal flourishes that he puts into them.

‘The most satisfying part of building is finding the little subtle touches that mark it as a custom instrument,’ Howell said.’

‘The 12-string has a rose inlaid down the fingerboard and each leaf is a fret marker, and [the bass] has a rose inlaid on the panel that covers the electronics.’

Building the two guitars was a two-year-long effort because he worked on them while still in high school. The violin was constructed last summer in about three weeks.

Between builds, Howell repairs and modifies friends’ instruments for free, provided the owner supplies the parts. He says the experience is worth it.

‘The most important thing that I found for putting them together is having the confidence to go forward,’ Howell said. ‘Part of the reason [the guitars] took so long is just being hesitant about the building.’

At the moment, Howell said he is focusing on writing music instead of building instruments.
However, he has a project in mind for the future.

‘I really do want to build an electric six-string guitar for myself,’ Howell said. ‘Through this whole time I’ve been learning different bits about what I like in an instrument and I’ve been slowly piecing together the idea of what I’d like for my personal, ultimate guitar.’

Gotta Collect ‘Em All

People might think cellist Henry Watts is a standard music education student, but they haven’t seen his erhu.

The erhu is one of a host of instruments that Watts has started collecting. Right now Watts’ instrument collection includes a cello, clarinet, violin, flute, trombone, two guitars, a ukulele and an accordion.

Watts started collecting instruments shortly after he began playing cello.’ He said he was inspired by a friend’s collection.

‘The collecting didn’t really start until after I realized I wanted to pursue a career in music,’ Watts said.’

‘I thought it would be really neat if I had a house that was just full of at least one of every single instrument.’

Watts’ primary instrument is the cello, but he says he also enjoys playing the accordion for people.

‘It’s just something you don’t see every day,’ Watts said.’ ‘People either love it or hate it, so it’s always fun to see peoples’ reactions whenever I bring it out.’
Watts said he can’t pick a favorite.

‘Each one has its own characteristics,’ he said.’ ‘You can really express different feelings in different ways with each one.’

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