Industrial Design seniors work with award-winning instrument designer to build their own guitars

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A class of Auburn University students spent the spring semester working with guitars. But, it wasn’t a music class—it was a real-world design studio where industrial design students worked alongside an award-winning instrument engineer to build their own guitars.

Rich Britnell, the Bauhaus Professor of Industrial Design in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, developed the idea for his 13 senior thesis students because many designers are interested in guitars and music. They worked with instrument designer Keith Medley to learn how to construct their instruments.

“I think this will be a good recruiting tool for our program,” Britnell said. “There are no limits for our students.”

As the inaugural guitar-themed senior thesis at Auburn, Britnell’s class is an expansion of the industrial design program’s existing commitment to industry collaborations. The innovative curriculum of the guitar design class is another example of Auburn’s commitment to an elevated student experience.

For senior Cayman Frederick, the class was a chance to build upon a hobby he’s enjoyed since high school.

“The first instrument I actually built was a banjo. And it was terrible. I went and got spare parts from all the music stores close to my house. It didn’t sound good or look good, but it was a starting point,” Frederick said.

Now, Frederick’s project, along with those of his classmates, was displayed at the FretHaus 2019 showcase. FretHaus was an event in Auburn that showcased live music by Medley, show and band posters, a juried photo show featuring work of Auburn’s students and faculty, and the guitars and related products designed by the industrial design thesis students.

“Students spent the semester, from day one, designing, prototyping and constructing guitars and guitar-related devices,” Britnell said. Some students built complete guitars while others built assistive devices, a guitar case and an app for learning how to play the guitar.

Studios such as the guitar studio give students real-world experiences to replicate the relationship between a product design team and a business or industry. Britnell hopes to expand the program next year by hosting FretHaus at the Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Mobile with hopes that the 2021 show will be held in Nashville.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.