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Penn College student manufactures bass guitar

A manufacturing engineering technology student at Pennsylvania College of Technology hit the right note with his senior project – literally.

Jaron A. Williams, of Lopez, spent countless hours during the academic year combining his twin passions of manufacturing and music to create a functional bass guitar.

“When he submitted this as a proposal, I said ‘yes,’ but I told him he would have to play it during his presentation,” noted John M. Good, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining. “He did. It sounded great! As he played, he demonstrated various technical aspects and sound-quality controls of his guitar. The audience was amazed.”

Penn College manufacturing engineering technology student Jaron A. Williams, of Lopez, built a unique bass guitar as his senior project.
Penn College manufacturing engineering technology student Jaron A. Williams, of Lopez, built a unique bass guitar as his senior project.

The decision to build a bass guitar was an easy one for Williams, who started playing the instrument as a young teen and attended Williamsport’s Uptown Music Collective for five years. However, designing and manufacturing the instrument from aluminum was anything but simple.

“I’m a pretty avid musician, so I really like to go to the next level and build my own instruments to play,” Williams said. “You can design tons of stuff, but sometimes it’s not going to be possible to machine it. I really had to think about how I could actually produce the guitar. The hardest part was figuring out a way to hold the stock in the machine.”

A combination of Williams’ ingenuity and access to a high-level computer numerical control unit helped transform the guitar from a neat idea designed via SolidWorks to a cool reality draped around his shoulder.

The Dean’s List student devised his own fixture to hold the aluminum stock in a position suitable for cutting, and he employed a Genos M560 vertical machining center – built by the Okuma Corp. – to do the actual cutting.

Students working in the college’s automated manufacturing lab have gained experience on the 18,000-pound, $185,000 unit throughout the spring semester, thanks to a collaboration with Gosiger, a machine tool distributor, and Lycoming Engines, a manufacturer of aircraft engines.

Finding harmony between music and manufacturing
Finding harmony between music and manufacturing

Gosiger loaned the machine to the college prior to the unit being purchased by Lycoming Engines, which has kept it on campus throughout the spring to enhance students’ hands-on education.

“The machine is pretty amazing,” Williams said. “I used specific tool paths on the Okuma that it could easily handle, such as really thick rough cuts on the aluminum and hollowing out of the body. On the other machines, it would have taken longer to do.”

Williams purchased and attached various components to the aluminum body of the bass guitar, such as the neck (made of graphite), strings, bridge, tuners and pickups.

“It weighs about 12 pounds, which is a little heavy for a normal bass guitar, but it sounds good for what it is. I would definitely use it for a performance,” said Williams, who plays with a local band.

“It looks cool, and I’m also impressed with the value of the project,” Good said. “The total cost for materials and components was about $1,500. Custom bass guitars can sell for much more than that.”

Williams works on his senior project, for which he made use of a vertical machining center on loan to Penn College.
Williams works on his senior project, for which he made use of a vertical machining center on loan to Penn College.

For Williams, selling is not an option. The instrument is an embodiment of his inspiration and represents the education and skills he has acquired throughout his four years at Penn College.

“I got to use all the designing aspects that I’ve learned,” he said. “I got to apply all of my machinery knowledge. I got to go from an idea all the way to a finished product, and that’s what our major teaches us. To see my idea become an actual physical thing is amazing. I definitely plan on using it for many years to come.”

Cue the music.

Penn College offers several manufacturing-related majors, including a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology, associate degrees in automated manufacturing technology and machine tool technology, and a certificate in machinist general.

Information about those majors and other programs offered by the college’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies is available by calling 570-327-4520.

For more on Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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