Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 18, 2015

Building guitars in a dorm with Theo Ruffins

This week, The Knox Student sat down with freshman Theo Ruffins to discuss guitars and guitar-building.

The Knox Student: So first off, how did you get into music in general?

Theo Ruffins: When I was younger [eighth grade], my friends and I wanted to make a band, and I played bass for a long time … but when I got to college, I realized you can do a lot more with guitar than you can with basses.

TKS: So how did you get into actually building guitars?

TR: I’ve always sort of liked building stuff, like I worked on cars for a little bit. [But when it came to guitars], there was a woodshop in my high school and, you know, free wood … that’s a major component [of building guitars]. It’s really expensive just to buy wood and stuff. And as I listened to more music, I thought it’d be pretty cool to build guitars. And I saw YouTube videos of people building stuff … it just all seemed too cool to me.

TKS: Did you build anything before you built a guitar?

TR: Well, I had done some basic woodshop stuff, like boxes or whatever. But nothing to this same level [of difficulty]. Actually, I worked on guitars that I owned for a long time. One of my first guitars was this really s****y $100 guitar that a friend just gave me and it was terrible, so I researched it a lot and worked on fixing that. I’ve been preparing stuff for a bit, but I was never really tempted to build stuff until high school.

TKS: So what’s the process of designing a guitar?

TR: When I’m looking at guitars online, whatever I’m enjoying right now is sort of what I gravitate to. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed hybrids of different guitars. My latest guitar was a Jazzcaster, which is a cross between a Jazzmaster and a telecaster, so it’s like weird and retro. … I always sort of thought that mixing the best elements from different guitars was kind of cool.

TKS: So do you build guitars based on kits? Or do you always build guitars from scratch?

TR: [For] this last one that I did, the white semi-hollow body [was built] from scratch. That was the one that I did in woodshop, and that took a long time. It was a lot of trial and error, like a lot of trial and error. But for this most recent one I did, I just bought all the parts online; it wasn’t from scratch.

TKS: Ordinarily, how much does it take to build a guitar?

TR: This past one I finished was about $700 from start to finish, but only because I already had the neck for it and the tuners. But besides [all] that, it was about $700. The one that I built prior to that was only about $300 because I built more of it myself.

TKS: So earlier, you said that you also used to work on cars. What does that entail and on what kind of cars did you work?

TR: My friend’s dad had this old Triumph 2 race car that was modded up to racing specs, and he went on a lot of track days with it. I was actually part of a pit crew for a 24-hour long Le Mans race. … I’ve always sort of liked building stuff and working on stuff, and I guess that guitar-building is the latest iteration of that.

TKS:What projects do you see yourself working on in the future?

TR: I’d really like to build a jag stang. Like the one that Kurt Cobain had; I always thought that looked really cool. I think it’d be cool to build some more effects pedals because I haven’t tried that. That’s a lot of the electronic components that I’m not good at yet, but I would like to work on that a little bit. We’ll see where it goes.

Stefan Torralba

Tags:  College dorm guitars life music Ruffins Theo Theodore

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