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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

ETSU Students Building Custom Electric Guitars

Lecturer Garth Ghearing creating a semi-hollow bodied guitar.
Lecturer Garth Ghearing creating a semi-hollow bodied guitar.
Additional photos below »

February 13, 2012

JOHNSON CITY, TN — Bill Hemphill is always looking for new ideas to benefit students. This year, he attended a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop and came back with a challenging and engaging way to teach a wide array of technology skills.

As a result, Hemphill, an associate professor in East Tennessee State University's Department of Engineering Technology, Surveying and Digital Media, taught a class in creating electric guitars.

"We've offered the opportunity for students to build an electric guitar as an independent study project in the past," Hemphill explains, "but this was the first time we had an entire class open to our students."

The highly individual instruments that resulted were a test of all the skills students have learned within their major field. No two looked alike, with students choosing from many kinds of wood, including maple, walnut, and even rosewood.

There was only one real musician in the class, Kevin Zollinger, who is also part of the ETSU Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music program. "I made a guitar last year as an independent study project," he notes, "so I've been making the only banjo in the class this time."

Garth Ghearing, a lecturer in electronics and robotics in the department, assisted the class in finishing the prototype for a semi-hollow body version. And he also worked on his own special project, a family of guitar amplifiers. He has completed a prototype of the entry-level amp, which he plans to incorporate into his sophomore electronics class.

In addition to each class member making a guitar to keep, the students made five additional instruments. One will go on display in the department. Outgoing ETSU President Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr. and incoming President Dr. Brian Noland will each receive an instrument, and two others will be donated to raise funds for Bristol Motor Speedway's Children's Charities and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure effort for breast cancer research.

Hemphill hopes to spread the word about this successful project even farther by seeking grant funding for workshops for area high school teachers as a way to promote the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) emphasis in secondary schools.

Photos of the guitars may be viewed, without joining Facebook, at the "ETSU Guitar Building" Facebook page at Also, a new, evolving ETSU Web site is located at

For further information, contact Hemphill at (423) 439-7822 or

A! ExtraTopics: Art, Crafts, Music

Kevin Zollinger displays the neck of his banjo project.

Andrew Smith (left) and Lenny Craig (right) while working on their guitars.