'The whole point is for it to be unconventional': Regina students build electric guitars

Grade 11 and 12 students from across the city head to Campus Regina Public to learn the math behind electric guitars and how to build them.

Grade 11-12 students take 2 hours a day to learn about electronics

Dawson Dressler holding his finished guitar, inspired by James Hetfield of Metallica's custom-made Gibson Explorer. (Mike Zartler/CBC Saskatchewan)

Students in Mark Wilson's electrical class work on years-long projects. But instead of research papers or book reports, they make electric guitars or speakers.

"The whole point is for it to be unconventional," said Wilson. Grade 11 and 12 students get math and electrical credits through the course.

It's a fun way to teach them about electromagnetism.- Mark Wilson

Making the math relevant and applicable is crucial to the class, said Wilson. In the classroom at Campus Regina Public, there are mock kitchens and bedrooms for students to learn how to properly wire a house from top to bottom. 

Working on the guitars came as a suggestion from a student who had completed the class. In past years the class made an arcade cabinet and a hockey scoreboard.

"It's a fun way to teach the math and to teach the electrical behind it, and so instead of just standing in front of the classroom, we try to apply it to something they would be interested in," said Wilson. "It's a fun way to teach them about electromagnetism."
Mark Wilson says his class offers students an alternative to the conventional classroom setting. (Mike Zartler/CBC Saskatchewan)

The course runs for two hours every day and is open to all Regina Public School students.

Focusing on the practical aspects of education and offering an alternative to university is part of what motivates Wilson as a teacher.

"Number one, trades based education is not pushed enough," he said.

"I think we really have centred schooling, to date, on sending kids off to university which I don't think applies to many students."

Students look to musicians for inspiration

This semester the students that didn't make guitars opted to make speakers instead. The projects take about 20 hours each to fully complete, and many of the students go an extra mile to customize their projects.

Dawson Dressler took some inspiration from Metallica's James Hetfield and recreated his iconic Gibson Explorer.

Dressler hand-wound the electrical pickups and painted the guitar, which is made from plywood and salvaged pieces.

He said he was proud of his final project, adding that holding the guitar in his hands and being able to play it was much better than a final grade.

"It's something I'm proud of at the end, and it's just awesome. I'd rather work with my hands than work on some paper in a class," said Dressler.

Final projects in Mr. Wilson's class are able to be played, displayed and taken home once the semester is over. (Mike Zartler/CBC Saskatchewan)

'I get excited to come here': student

Dressler, whose father works for SaskPower, said he'd always been interested in electricity. Since enrolling in the CRP electrical class last year he's been accepted to the University of Regina electronics systems engineering class.

"I've always been fascinated with electricity and how things work," said Tanner Purser. Like most of the students in the class, he prefers working with his hands over writing and reading. 

Purser said he hardly viewed the class as school, because he liked it so much. "It doesn't feel like school work," said Purser. "It's like learning a song by looking at the lyrics versus learning a song by singing along with it. 

"School drives me crazy but I get excited to come here."