Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

On guitar making and creative outlets

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On Wednesday 4 March 2020, the young men of Warrane College welcomed Doug Jones as their formal dinner guest. A retired electrical engineer and project manager turned guitar maker, Jones was keen to talk about the importance of having a creative outlet, and to share his passion for guitar making.

“What I want to share with you this evening is the need we all have to release our creativity and to find something we’re passionate about,” said Jones. “I’m a great admirer of the work of Sir Ken Robinson… author of books like ‘Finding Your Element’, ‘Out of our Minds’… he presented the most viewed Ted Talk of all time which goes by the title ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ … In 2012 I was lucky to find my passion and that is building fine acoustic guitars. Know that when I’m in my workshop… I’m in my element…”

Jones continued, “I was first introduced to the wonderful sound of an acoustic guitar back in 1971, when I was doing military service that was compulsory in South Africa at the time. I made a great friend who is an accomplished finger-picking folk singer, and since then we have spent hours discussing the merits of songs, instrumentals, artists, guitars… I’ve always had a great interest in woodwork and the presentation of things. At some point I decided I should have a go at making an acoustic guitar, in a way to surprise my great army friend. Surprise him I did, and he remains my great friend … he’s my principal customer and tester to this day. The only problem is he lives in Perth… about 15 years ago I bought a couple of books on guitar building and started to read up as much as possible… bought some specialised tools required…”

Jones spoke on how he started off the journey to build guitars by experimenting with things like shape – he preferred more curved than boxy. He jumped at the opportunity of a two-week guitar making course in 2012, which he said, “… was a very intense but enjoyable two weeks, and I absorbed knowledge like a sponge. That guitar that I built remains very special to me, and I have to say that it turned out really well.” He told the young men about the joy of hearing a guitar make its first sounds, and also the other great joy of hearing friends or family play one of his guitars.

After reaching the goal of making another guitar in his home workshop, Jones spoke of a time of reflection that followed. “I had to work out where this newfound passion was going to take me. I soon realised that I wanted to build even better instruments, and I wanted to understand better… in other words, how do guitars work? I noted at the time that there are four elements that determine a fine guitar. They are: how it sounds, how it plays, how it looks, and how well it is made; all very important elements on their own of course. As I made the next four or five guitars it was clear they all sounded good, they played as well as they could play, and they looked very nice… and the workmanship was improving all the time.”

Jones continued to learn, and continued to have many lightbulb moments in relation to guitar-making. As his guitars improved in quality, he also began to decorate them using a laser engraver.

“So my guitars were turning out quite nicely, and my ideal specifications were evolving. And I was learning and building. Then a couple of years back I came across the work of Trevor Gore… he has co-authored a couple of volumes on guitar design that are arguably the most definitive works on the subject to date. Trevor also conducts workshops… on the modal tuning of the soundboard of the guitar… To my great surprise, I found that Trevor… lived about six kilometres from my home… and I went and attended a course not very far away… more gee whiz moments… Wow! It was totally mind-blowing,” exclaimed Jones, going on to explain certain details of guitar making which he learned made a big difference in quality.

“So that is my journey so far,” concluded Jones. “Hopefully you can see how passionate I am about guitar building and what a wonderful creative hobby it is… I hope that you will all be inspired to find something that you’re passionate about and release your creativity. It is really good for a good work-life balance, and really good for the soul. … Let me close with a couple of quotes from Sir Ken Robinson. He says: ‘Human resources are like natural resources. They’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them. They’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.’ … and ‘Creativity is as important as literacy.’”

Jones completed his time at Warrane with some questions from the boys. He was also kind enough to bring along two of the guitars and guitar stands he’d made and let some of the young men play and compare them.

 

[Warrane College offers a lot more than just student accommodation at UNSW: find out about some of our other guest speakers.]