Forward Township guitar maker enjoys his craft
There are guitar crafters whose names have literally become their products.
Les Paul, (Leo) Fender and Paul Reed Smith and others come to mind.
It's unlikely you'll see any “Chris Thomas” guitars mass marketed anytime soon; the so-named part-time guitar maker from Forward Township says he has no plans to give up his day job teaching school to make axes.
But Thomas — who in addition to being a skilled guitar maker is an expert player— has been building high quality handcrafted guitars for years.
Recently, one of his electric six strings did go global.
Thomas built a guitar for a 16-year-old player in Panama and shipped it out last week through a missionary project undertaken by his church, the Bible Chapel in the South Hills, benefiting a youth home.
Will the gesture produce the next Eddie Van Halen? Time will tell.
It's safe to say, however, that Thomas has already created an EVH tribute guitar.
“Eddie Van Halen set the standard for what custom guitars would be,” said Thomas, who credits the rock legend with being the reason he started playing guitar at age 11.
The striped double cutaway looks like an axe Eddie would sling on stage. He also included hardware features like a D-Tuna drop D tuning system that lets him play in alternate tuning at a switch on stage much the way Van Halen would.
Thomas uses burl Maple as a go-to material on many of his guitars. Rosewood, cocobolo and mahogany are also used, giving the instruments a depth in sound and appearance.
Remnants of Thomas' first guitar remain in his garage workshop. He built that first one in ninth grade woodshop at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, just down the hall from where Thomas now teaches music.
“It was awful and ugly,” Thomas said of that first guitar which used hardware and a neck salvaged from another electric. “But it was fun.”
Thomas didn't make his first guitar neck until high school. Much more trial and error would follow.
His recent projects have notched it up quite a bit from those woodshop days. One of his notable creations is a semi-hollow body jazz guitar with a flat top and f-holes. There is also an unusual electric, nylon-string model with a classical headstock.
“You do a job and you know what you want it to sound like,” said Thomas, who performs solo jazz shows at the Duquesne Club and is a member of the group Honey Riders.
Each guitar is an involved project.
Thomas has posted a host of instructional videos on YouTube detailing the process, from cutting and shaping the wood, finishing the body and outfitting guitars with hardware.
The videos, which also examine how different sounds can be achieved through pick-up selection, have gotten positive feedback online.
Thomas takes musical instruction seriously.
In the past, he's brought a veteran violinist in to speak to strings students at the middle school. He also teaches music at the elementary level and is a graduate of the Duquesne University musical performance program.
Elizabeth Forward superintendent Bart Rocco said Thomas is a talented teacher who seems to have the ability to engage students with music. Rocco noted that type of engagement is linked to his musical aptitude to academic performance.
Most of Thomas' guitars exploit the rich characteristics of the materials from which they are made. The EVH tribute, with its white, black and red paint job and vibrant stripes is an outlier, but Thomas said that doesn't mean he'd necessarily leave it at home on his classier gigs.
“I've worn it with a tux,” he noted.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Special events planned as part of Kennywood’s 2015 season
- Some ONE Homestead housing units almost ready for occupancy
- No apology coming for Steel Valley teachers
- Allegheny County reiterates support for Pangburn Hollow overhaul
- Elizabeth Forward honors 6 for state Special Olympics medals
- Biz students chart strategy for stemming McKeesport’s population decline
- Greenock kids learn 3 R’s of Earth Day
- Political signs line Mon-Yough streets at election time
- TreeVitalize spruces up McKeesport’s Seventh Ward
- Steel Valley board OKs no-tax-hike spend plan
- McKeesport Area Pre-K Counts program to expand because of Tender Care Learning Center closure