Problem solved: A glass guitar that works
I once ripped out an article called, “How to Solve Almost Anything” from a US Airways Attaché magazine. The story told how Stan Mason, inventor of the squeezable ketchup bottle, stringless Band-Aids and pinless baby-fitted disposable diapers, tackles problems. Mason was quoted as saying invention is very simple; “anyone can be creative once they learn how.”
I’ve referred to Mason’s how-to list several times over the years (you can find the list at www.GlassMagazine.com) and was reminded of it when I received an unusual letter from Dave Hackett, manager of Premier Auto Glass, Waukesha, Wis., about a former glazier, a bonding system and his glass guitars. Here’s an excerpt.
“Brian Chivers has garnered local acclaim here in Waukesha and Milwaukee, in part due to the fact that he has been inspired by Les Paul (who was born and raised here in Waukesha, and is known as the inventor of the first solid body electric guitar). In fact, it was Les Paul, who after meeting Brian and autographing one of the art display guitars, encouraged him to ‘make one that works.’ ”
A lifelong drummer, Chivers made his first glass guitar 15 years ago as decoration for his basement rec room. He hand-cut horizontal strips of glass and experimented with various glues until he found a combination that fused the glass and gave it strength. A friend saw the result and told him he needed to make more of them, offering to put photos on a Web site. “Next thing you know, I’m sitting in a hotel room in 2007 with Les Paul,” says Chivers. Paul asked him if he’d ever thought of making a real one with working strings, he says. The guitar legend’s parting advice, “Don’t think about it, just do it.”
“I couldn’t sleep for two weeks,” says Chivers as he tried to figure out how to make a neck that wouldn’t snap in half with the added string tension. “Then one day, sitting in my studio just looking at my Les Paul wood guitar, I thought, ‘why can’t I make a glass log neck like he made a wood log neck?’ ” That solution solved a 2,300-per-square-inch tension problem.
Chivers traveled to Nashville to visit the world-famous Gibson Guitar company. They were impressed by the guitar’s crystal clear sound and gave Brian his next challenge: Make it lighter. Once home, he sat and looked at his first working guitar and it hit him: Reduce the overall weight by making cutouts in the guitar body. By notching the glass, he trimmed the weight from 23 pounds to 15 pounds to 11 pounds.
He also wanted to build a glass-stripped guitar with no visible seam lines. Much glue and experimentation later, Chivers hit on a bonding formula that literally dissolves the glass between the ¼-inch layered strips (he wears a respirator). He also figured out that he had to work in a 72-degree environment to keep air bubbles out of the bonded layers. These solutions, plus hours of hand polishing, have yielded an almost striation-free guitar body.
Chivers’ latest challenge: Simultaneously building four one-of-a-kind working guitars to meet his self-imposed delivery deadline to Gibson Guitars. Two of these are made of low-iron float glass and two of green-tinted float glass. One of them will be imbedded with small LED lights around the wings.
And that’s another, ah-ha moment story. One Christmas his 14-year-old son came home with a set of tiny yellow LED lights. “I knew it!” his son said, when he saw his father’s latest guitar model light up with the imbedded lights. Think of the look this would have on a dark stage, says Chivers. “I’ve got so many ideas in my head,” he adds, including an innovation that would help people learn how to play guitar, including Chivers himself. “I know everything about a guitar except how to play one,” he says.
What he misses these days is time to jam on his drums with band friends. But he has a solution for that, too. “I hope that when I sell one of these guitars to a rock or country music star that my contract will say I get to play the drums with the band.”
Meanwhile, his plan is to just “keep at it, solving one idea at a time.” Or as Mason puts it, problem-solving is “like trying on shoes. If one is too tight, you get a larger size.”