CSU student Alex Blackford builds guitar from scratch

Sarah Ehrlich

a student poses with a handmade guitar.
Sophomore economics major Alex Blackford has recently completed his first guitar build, inspired by the Gibson Flying V model. Here, Blackford poses with his guitar in the final stages of the building process. Blackford has also apprenticed under a luthier in Grand Junction. (Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

In terms of turning passions into successful ventures, Colorado State University students have no problem. 

Sophomore economics major Alex Blackford turned his love for music into a successful hobby and fun way to earn money. Blackford repairs and restores guitars and has recently completed building his first guitar from scratch.

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Blackford’s relationship with music started in sixth grade as a percussionist for his school’s band in Grand Junction. He started playing the guitar in eighth grade. He was lead guitarist and vocals for a reggae band in high school, and he has also played in a death metal band.

“I realized I enjoyed playing and began repairing my own guitar and eventually decided to build one,” Blackford said. “I found a piece of wood while lumberjacking for my grandfather. Then (I) found a luthier in Grand Junction who could help me since I didn’t really know what I was doing.” 

After learning more about building guitars, Blackford decided to continue apprenticing for the luthier, Ryan Whitehurst, who had his own shop. The guitar that inspired Blackford’s design is the Gibson Flying V 1958, a classic rock guitar with a unique body shape.

J.D. Mattos, employee at Music Go Round, said playability and aesthetic are good things to look for in a guitar.  

“You want to feel compelled to pick up a certain guitar and rock out,” Mattos said. “You want to consider how comfortable the neck is, how the strings feels. You should also pay attention to the harmonics. You know, how does it sound to you?”

The process of building a guitar from scratch is long and tedious. It begins with logging and choosing the right wood. For Blackford, it was a piece of Engelmann spruce affected by beetle kill that made an interesting design in the wood.

Trees tend to have a lot of moisture, so it is important to cure the wood, usually for about a year or two, according to Blackford. However, using a kiln can rapidly speed up the curing process. After this, it’s time to develop a design.

“I used the AutoCAD program to design the schematics of the guitar,” Blackford said. “My dad is an engineer, so we would go to his place of work after hours to work on the design. When you have the design you want, you cut it out with a handsaw.”

a row of colorful electric guitars.
Different shapes of a guitar can change the sounds and aesthetic you want. There are many to choose from in the music shops that call Fort Collins home.
(Sarah Ehrlich | Collegian)

Woodworking is the medium used in guitar design. Blackford said the frets should be even, and the neck should attach to the body of the guitar perfectly. The final steps are adding the hardware to the guitar and putting a finish on it.

Nutrition major and Blackford’s roommate, Jace Kansgen, said he has no experience in music but enjoys watching his roommate work. 

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“He’s very meticulous and organized with the small details,” Kansgen said. “You can tell how passionate he is about his work and how well he knows his stuff.” 

Blackford is now the repair technician at Guitar Center, where he continues to improve his craft. He hopes to build a career in economics, retire early and someday open his own guitar repair shop. 

Collegian reporter Sarah Ehrlich can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com Twitter: @SarahEhrlich96.