GUELPH, Ontario May 30, 2011 - University of Guelph News Release
A University of Guelph professor who crafted a made-in-Guelph guitar to share stories about the University and city is now telling the tale of the instrument’s origins — using a more traditional storytelling medium this time around.
In his new book, Storyteller Guitar, Doug Larson discusses how he built an acoustic instrument using items from immigrants, entrepreneurs and researchers who worked around the world but lived in Guelph. The guitar has effectively been billions of years in the making and its materials span the globe, said Larson, a professor emeritus in Integrative Biology who is also a musician and luthier.
“The goal was to build not just a guitar but also a great storytelling device, an instrument to talk about history, art and science.”
Larson believed his lectures would be more effective if students knew the history and stories behind the lessons. He built the guitar between 2006 and 2008.
“Students could pick up the guitar and play it knowing the stories behind the various materials incorporated into the overall instrument.”
He was inspired by the Six String Nation guitar 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.
The Guelph guitar parts include bones, fossils and wood from historical trees; most of the relics relate to the University. Even for the pieces he gathered from around the city or beyond, Larson traced their roots to U of G research and scholarship in biology, physical science, social sciences and the arts.
“The message is that these apparently different parts of culture are actually a part of the same human condition,” he said.
For example, the guitar’s back and neck came from a felled sugar maple planted on campus nearly a century earlier. The instrument’s front soundboard is made of Norway spruce, salvaged from a U of G windfall. That tree had been planted by Scottish immigrant William Brown, Guelph’s first professor and field superintendent. On the soundboard, a comma-shaped pick guard consists of turtle shell scutes donated by another biology professor.
“This was the most challenging and fun woodworking project I’ve ever done,” Larson said. “It’s an object that unites art and science, but it's also a lens to history.”