October 19, 2021

School project hits all the right notes

Photos by Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

Geoff Marsted next to Cortland High School’s spectrum laser.

Geoff Marsted’s wood shop project — an electric bass guitar — combined two of his loves: Making things and music.

“It’s always fascinated me. I have been making things all my life,” said the 16-year-old teen, an eleventh grader at Cortland High School. “Music is a big part of my life.”

He’s been playing guitar since the seventh grade. He picked up the bass guitar between eighth and ninth grade. “I am able to get by,” he said. “Primarily, I’m a drummer.”

Marsted doesn’t take lessons, belong in a band or take Cortland High’s rock band class. He learns by doing.

That’s how he tackled his electric guitar project — a guitar with a drunken checkerboard pattern, meshing two kinds of wood: ash and walnut.

Geoff Marsted, 16, with the electric bass guitar he made from scratch in Tom Herting’s shop
class at Cortland High School.

The top and bottom layers of the guitar body are mirror images of each other in pattern. The middle layer is pure ash. There’s a metal rod in the guitar neck to keep the neck straight.

“I have never seen a technique like this,” said Tom Herting, industrial arts teacher at Cortland High, looking at the pattern.

“This is one of the finest projects that I have seen in my 32- year career,” he said. “Look at these joints. There’s no gaps. It’s perfect,” he said. “This is complex and highly difficult. He nailed it.”

The whole project was a challenge, Marsted said: cutting and combining the wood, putting in the frets on the fingerboard and now dealing with the electricity.

“I am having a little difficulty getting it wired,” Marsted said.

A technician who repairs guitars and drums, as well as playing them, he figured he’d have that completed by the end of the week. Herting pushed him to finish the basic model so Marsted could enter it in the Scholastic Art Competition for high school kids in Central New York.

“We have made checkerboards through the years, not curve style,” Herting said of the pattern.”They are difficult to do correctly.”

“I have had kids in the past attempt electric guitars. Because of the complexity, kids never got it done.”

When Herting heard what Marsted wanted to do: “My first impression: No way. We are not going to waste materials and time for this.”

Tom Herting, industrial arts teacher at Cortland High.

But Marsted had a plan. And Herting said, “You know what? He gets it.’”

But: “You are doing it on your own time: after school, study hall and in technology club,” the teacher said. He’s spent two years on it.

Maybe he’s done 60 hours in the shop alone?

“The number of hours? I couldn’t tell you,” Herting said.

The boy has been doing well in Herting’s class, from the beginning where he learned about identifying wood to manipulating it, to finishing it. But Marsted said there would be no guitar without Herting.

“I absolutely love it in here,” Marsted said. “I just love to learn. I’m always learning something new. I’m always researching, even maybe useless things.”

Marsted has no one favorite tool, whether the lathe, the power saw or the full spectrum laser.

“All work in unison. Everything has its own job, but they work together, too,” Marsted said.

“I see a lot of gorgeous projects. Kids do beautiful work,” said Herting. “This is out of the ordinary … This is what I like. He took the initiative on his own to make this.”

“I don’t know the difference between a bass and a guitar. Music to me is the sound of machine cutting wood,” Herting said.

“You can’t find examples online,” Marsted said. “I was going primarily by speculation, trial and error.”

Musician and craftsman Devon Mac- Rae of Cincinnatus has made a couple dozen guitars and mandolins; he knows what Marsted had to do.

“It is difficult. There a lot of learning involved with it, a lot of time. A lot of trial and error.”

When he heard a description of Marsted’s work, he said: “It sounds like it was successful. Any success, especially on the first time around is pretty impressive.”

“Not many young people these days want to take the time to create something,” he said.

He too is self-taught.

“That’s the way I learned anything and everything… trying it out, failing, trying again and going through it a second time,” said MacRae. “I am always chasing the excitement of something new. It makes me happy doing something new.”

Marsted said he wanted to try.

“Why not?” he said. “It’s the only one I have made from scratch. There’s no way to learn without failure. In this case, I have to try. That’s how we work. You have to try. I had my doubts in the beginning … I always try to find my way around issues. I always found a way to fix it.”

The lesson of the guitar:

“Just never give up … The only way to feel progress is to keep working. If you give up on it, it’s a lost cause.”