The Epic Guitar Project

“I would have, at best, a bad reputation as a teacher and, at worst, a prison sentence.”

Ever since we arrived as a family in Bangladesh, I have been teaching Thing I and Thing II various musical instruments and skills. They suffer learn piano, guitar, recorder, theory, aural skills and a limited amount of music history and composition.

It’s not an easy task for any of us. Children have a habit of not listening to their parents and getting grumpy with them. Had my two been genuine students whose parents were paying for lessons, I would have refused to continue several times over because of their grumps, groans, lack of practice, moods, cheekiness and – occasionally but horribly – tears and storms-out-of-the-room.

To be fair, I also found that professional music teachers (yes, that’s what I was before I came to Bangladesh) with 21 years of experience can behave terribly unprofessionally with their own kids. Had my children been the aforementioned spawn of paying parents, I would have, at best, a bad reputation as a teacher and, at worst, a prison sentence.

I’ve screamed, shouted, punished and – very occasionally and not with pride – shamed my children (“I can’t believe you can’t even find middle C right now after two years of lessons!”) whom I believe have a secret mission to exasperate their old dad so he will lose the few remaining hairs on his head in no time at all.

Despite all the horror of the above, most lessons have been good over the years, both son and daughter have actually made good progress, are now talented musicians and both enjoy making music for themselves (which is actually my main aim for them – I don’t want either of them to become professional musicians if I’m honest…).

Thing I enjoys the piano but tolerates the guitar. Thing II, however, tolerates the piano and loves the guitar. As a result, he wanted to build one as his birthday present last February.

At Christmas we returned to the UK for a short time and took his electric home with us. We returned with his birthday present – a build-your-own-guitar kit – hidden in one of the cases. Both son and father (both of us with ADHD remember) were excited about the idea of the project. I trained as a classical guitarist where you simply buy the instrument and the jobs done. Apart from replacing strings and, very occasionally, the need to replace the machine heads if they break, you don’t mess around with a classical.

So I knew nothing about putting an electric ‘Flying V’ guitar together. It was very exciting.

Alas, I had assumed the kit would come with instructions: It didn’t.

Nevertheless, I’ve been around electrics enough to have a pretty good idea what to do so we set off to do it anyway. The neck and body came unpainted and unvarnished so I left that part of the work up to Wifey to sort – she being an artist in a former life and all that (besides, I hate mess). Then Thing II and I began the men’s work.

The result, stage by stage roughly, you can see in the photos in the slideshow. What you can’t see is the length of time it took to build the bloody thing.

“I still haven’t figured out how the tone pot works”

Everything was fine while it was mechanical. just slotting things in place, screwing, threading, twisting – no problem. But I had no idea how to do the wiring. I spent hours on the internet trying to find guitar wiring diagrams for two humbucker pick-ups, a three-way switch, one volume control and one tone control. What the hell I was supposed to do with the weird green ‘tutti-frutti’ sweet thing on two wire legs I had no clue! I’ve since found out it was the secret ingredient in turning a volume pot into a tone one. So now you know.

I researched maybe 20-30 diagrams and got what I figured would be a gist of guitar wiring basics and decided we could make a start and see what happens as we go along.

But then, having procured a soldering iron from the school science lab, we found we had no solder itself. The dokans, the shop stalls outside, had no idea what it was but eventually I mangled my Bangla well enough for them to understand. I learned it was not available here in the north. Considering the immense amount of electrical work and repairs that go on in and around LAMB I think it was an excuse. Anyway, we couldn’t lay hands on any so: no solder, no finished guitar.

The guitar sat in a corner, half done until we went to Dhaka recently and a friend gave me some. One week later and another attempt on the internet to find a decent wiring diagram (which, this time instantly produced the diagram I needed – damn you Google), we finally soldered the wires and slapped it into Thing II’s amplifier.

It worked!

I really didn’t think it would and, as a science teacher who teaches electrics to O level students, I still haven’t figured out how the tone pot works. As far as I can tell it has no electrical input going in to the thing so how on earth anything is coming out is anyone’s guess. I’m also ashamed to admit that I forgot to earth the bridge and once it was set in the body it wasn’t going to come out again – so I had to do a bit of a secret ‘bodge-job’ there. Yet, once plugged in, work it does.

So, yesterday, I had Thing II practising on his new electric Flying V all day. Of course, he tried to tell me he’d done hours of music practice so he couldn’t possibly do his piano work now after all – there just wasn’t time.

I told him nice try and to think again.

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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7 Responses to The Epic Guitar Project

  1. Lunch Sketch says:

    Nice job! What a great Father and Son project.
    And with respect to piano practice … I’m with Thing II 😉

    Like

  2. I admire your patience [both]! I think I would have ended up playing with the parts! But then I guess one gets even more attached to it, don’t they?!!!! 🙂
    Well Done!

    Like

  3. What a great project! Well done Dad.

    Like

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