Prof, Guitar to 'Make History Sing'

September 30, 2008 - News Release

Start with chunks of wood salvaged from windfall trees. Add a tiny fish fossil, pieces of stone, shells of turtles and mussels, and bits of ivory and ancient cedar and what have you got? It's a made-in-Guelph guitar, one that its maker hopes will play music and tell tales.

For the past year, Doug Larson, an integrative biology professor at the University of Guelph, has been engaged in the Guelph Guitar Project. He has collected and crafted seemingly disconnected items into an acoustic guitar meant to evoke stories connected to U of G research and scholarship and to area history.

“This is an instrument to talk about history. It's not just a guitar but a great storytelling device," said Larson, an ecologist as well as a musician and guitar builder.

The guitar, dubbed "Storyteller," will makes its debut Friday during the official launch of the Guelph Guitar Project at the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph. Local musicians will play the guitar in the Co-operators Hall starting at 8 p.m. The "Making History Sing" gala also features scientists and storytellers who were involved in the guitar project. Tickets are available at the box office or online.

Larson said he was inspired by the Six String Nation guitar that was built by Nova Scotia luthier George Rizsanyi from 60 pieces of Canadiana ranging from Pierre Trudeau's canoe paddle to Lucy Maud Montgomery's house.

Most of the Guelph guitar parts relate somehow to U of G, including items collected from several colleges on campus. Even for the pieces he's gathered from around the city or beyond, Larson traces their roots to Guelph scholarship in biology, physical science, social sciences and the arts.

For example, Larson created the back and neck of the guitar from a chunk of a felled sugar maple tree that had been planted on campus nearly a century ago. The instrument's front sound-board is made of Norway spruce, salvaged from a U of G tree that blew down last year.

Other pieces used in the guitar came from colleagues who sent wood from damaged trees, including American mahogany rescued after a hurricane 10 years ago in Florida and rosewood from trees felled by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

Larson got turtle shell scutes from another biology professor that he's glued together into a comma-shaped pick guard for the instrument's soundboard. The guitar also includes, among other things, a piece of sandstone containing a fossil fish, ancient pieces of slate and limestone, part of a snapping turtle's backbone, deer bone and a bit of mussel shell.

“This is the most challenging and fun woodworking project I've ever done," said Larson. He plans to write a book about the project, including the stories and scholarship it evokes. “It's an object as a lens to history. You see history through it.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/

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Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1