In a world of high unemployment, budget cuts in every sector and school closures, it’s refreshing to see a school program that, not only teaches students valuable life skills and providing them with a sense of accomplishment, but funds itself.
Woodshop Rocks is a program created by an unassuming man by the name of Duane Calkins. Calkins teaches a woodshop class at Buljan Middle School in Roseville, Calif., but this is no ordinary woodshop class. It’s a woodshop class that, dare I say, rocks. You see his students learn how to build their very own guitars from start to finish.
Taking about six months to build, students are able to learn a number of skills, over and above woodworking. Skills they take into their adult life. Along the way, they will not only learn how to craft their guitar out of wood, but learn the electronics within the guitar as well as install the electronics, including soldering the pieces together, but more importantly, how it all comes together.
As you enter Calkins classroom it appears to be a normal everyday woodshop. Upon closer inspection you start to see the beginnings of guitars around the room, with some in their final stages and others in the beginning stage.
Calkins, a quiet soft spoken man, lights up at the opportunity to talk about his program. Entering its 15th year, students have custom built over 4,000 guitars and helped numerous local and national artists.
The program got its start when one of Calkins students came up and asked him if he could build a guitar for his woodshop project. Not knowing the difference between a fret and a humbucker, the two set out together to build the first guitar – The rest, as they say, is history.
People have taken notice. Eighteen schools across the country have mirrored Calkins program. One school was without woodshop classes for nine years, but reopened their woodshop class to start this successful and, more importantly, self-funded program.
According to Calkins, at least 80 percent of his students go on to learn how to play guitar. Many students have gone on to build their own business around the guitar, doing repairs, building in their garage, or starting recording studios. One student went on to build surfboards.
Woodshop Rocks has built guitars for local bands like Road 88, Billy Goats Gruff, Voodoo Fuzzbox, Grenade Jumper, and so many more. Nationally recognized artists include James Hatfield of Metallica, Avenged Seven Fold, Sammy Hagar, Sublime and Bo Bice.
Woodshop Rocks also hands out guitars to the winner of the Bass Master Classic, and yes, the guitar is in the shape of a fish, a bass to be exact. This year the award went to Brent Chapman for winning Toyota Bass master Angler of the Year. In fact, avid fisherman and country music star Brad Paisley was on the receiving end of one of those bass guitars, and according to reports he’s got it prominently displayed at his home.
I was lucky enough to be there on the day that Calkins and his students presented a custom made guitar to local country music singer Madison Hudson. Hudson had not seen the guitar until the big reveal and was ecstatic with how it turned out. Prior to seeing the guitar, the 15-year-old Hudson performed a couple of songs along with Scott Prentice, guitarist with band Road 88.
Past student, Britanny Brazil, who helped design Bo Bice’s guitar also played a part in designing Madison’s.
It was the first time I had heard Hudson sing unplugged and was quite impressed with her powerful vocals. She’s one to keep an eye on as she develops into a country star.
Calkins is still emotional even after 4,000 guitars, as he teared up watching Hudson appreciate her newly made custom guitar.
Calkins has provided thousands of kids with the opportunity to learn life skills by building something they can appreciate and grow from. Music speaks to us all and now there are thousands of adults out there who continue to share the love of music and art all because of Woodshop Rocks.
Show your support for this wonderful program by going over to their website and purchasing one of their customer designed t-shirts or hoodies!
Bo Bice, B is for Alabama!
While the latest round of “American Idol” contestants continue battling it out for the top spot, “Idol” alumni Bo Bice played to a full house in Thunder Valley Casino’s Pano Hall Friday evening. The crowd was a wide range of young and old.
For those non-“American Idol” fans, Bice was runner-up in season four, coming second to none other than Carrie Underwood. Being a proud Alabaman, Bice adopted Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hit “Sweet Home Alabama” as his theme during his “Idol” journey. Alabama Governor Bob Riley even declared May 24 Bo Bice Day.
Bice hit the stage with “Keep on Rollin.'” He continued with two more upbeat songs until he got to “Country,” which was a slower medley of various hit songs that influenced him during his earlier years. He played several songs from his latest album, “3,” including “Long Road Back” and “Take Yourself with You,” which is dedicated to his mother. The crowd loved it start to finish and even gave him several standing ovations throughout his performance.
Bice has a great stage presence and never stopped moving, pointing and winking at people and making regular eye contact (an “American Idol” trademark). The only exception was those poor people in the front row. The way he was throwing the mic stand around was a little scary, and they were ducking for cover. OK, maybe not literally, but I bet they were thinking about it!
Bice thanked Thunder Valley several times and mentioned how impressed he was with their lighting system.
Just prior to performing “Sweet Home Alabama,” Bice left the stage to grab a custom guitar with an interesting local story. While visiting local
radio station KNCI 105.1 FM last year, he admired another guitar which was custom-made by Woodshop Rocks for country music artist Brad Paisley. The bass guitar was an actual bass guitar, as in the fish variety. Way cool!
Turns out, Woodshop Rocks is a program at Roseville’s Buljan Middle School designed to teach seventh to 12th grade students the value of hard work, one guitar at a time. With woodshop programs getting cut all over the country, it’s refreshing to see a program like this survive, especially one that challenges students in an area that interests and motivates them. Not only do the students learn about woodworking, but math, science and, most importantly, life skills.
Bice contacted program leader Duane Calkins, and soon after student Brittany Brazil began helping design Bice’s brand-spanking-new guitar in the shape of “” you guessed it “” Alabama. The design includes the images of a number of Alabama music legends, plus the opening notes to “Sweet Home Alabama” on the neck. You really need to check out Brazil’s work.
Earlier that day, Bice had visited Buljan Middle School to pick up his new guitar and treat the students to a performance of “Sweet Home Alabama.” He ended the story by introducing Calkins and Brazil, asking them to join him onstage and letting them know they would be performing “Sweet Home Alabama” with him onstage.
I spoke to Calkins after the show, and he was under the impression nobody could hear him. Oh how wrong you were, Duane. We heard you and Brazil loud and clear! It sounded great, too. The audience loved it, and it was the best part of the performance.
If you haven’t been out to Thunder Valley to take in a concert, you really should think about treating yourself. Next month they kick off their summer series with Credence Clearwater Revisited on May 21, followed by The Fray on May 25.
Set list in the order performed:
“¢ Keep on Rollin’
“¢ Long Road Back
“¢ Different Shades of Blue
“¢ Whipping Post
“¢ Who Knows What
“¢ Take Yourself with You
“¢ Get on and Ride
“¢ The Real Thing
“¢ Sweet Home Alabama