Senior's Custom Guitar Project Combines Several Disciplines

Gunnar Clingman '21 is combining his passion for music with industrial design knowledge and the advanced technology available in the Wellemeyer STEAM Center to design and build a custom electric guitar. Gunnar started the project on campus last year as a junior in the Upper School's highly regarded Industrial Design course, but progress was delayed last spring when all schools went to remote-only learning due to the pandemic. Undeterred, Gunnar meticulously planned out the design and production process to complete the project this year, conferring with STEAM Coordinator Matt Tramontana as a project advisor.

"I've been playing guitar for a long time and have always wanted to build one," Gunnar explained. "Mr. Tramontana and I began discussing the idea last spring as something to do in class when the rest of the Industrial Design class was away on senior projects. I planned it and sketched all kinds of designs in a notebook. For this first custom design effort, I ultimately decided on a traditional Stratocaster shape to take advantage of published information on dimension specifics and other production documentation. From there, I got pickups that could handle a variety of applications to make sure the guitar could be used for any style of music that I wanted to play on it, which was one of the goals of the project," he continued.

Powerful New STEAM Center Resource

Physical production of the guitar involved creating a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model of the guitar body and laser cutting its profile from cardboard to verify the design. To accurately cut the guitar body from a slab of ash, Gunnar relied on the STEAM Center's Shaper Origin, a handheld precision router that utilizes augmented reality to accurately and efficiently cut digital 2D vector files. "When we acquired the Shaper Origin last year, I was excited for the world of possibilities that the device would allow students to pursue in the STEAM Center. For this custom guitar, the first project to use the Shaper Origin this year, the device allowed Gunnar to cut the wood with extreme precision in order to properly fit all of the necessary components," Mr. Tramontana shared.

With a busy and challenging senior year underway, which has already included his record-setting cross-country season this fall, Gunnar continues to make progress and work on the guitar whenever possible. With the pandemic-related program shifts required to operate safely on campus this year, "the STEAM Center, which would typically be filled with students from morning to evening every day, has more availability for independent work this year, allowing more access for Gunnar to come in when he has free time," Mr. Tramontana said. 

The rare combination of engineering courses, state-of-the-art STEAM facilities and professional-grade wood and industrial design studio space, powered by expert faculty in each of these program areas, is one of Princeton Day School's signature attributes and a powerful motivator for student-driven learning. In Gunnar's case, these PDS resources helped him set specific learning goals and hone new skills while adding multiple dimensions to his lifelong passion for music.

Gunnar Clingman's custom guitar in progress

Photos (from top): Gunnar Clingman using the Shaper Origin to cut the body of his custom guitar; Clingman's guitar in progress

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