Person / Place / Thing
Every piece tells a story
Guelph professor Doug Larson has crafted a unique
guitar from hundreds of found or donated objects
PHOTO: MAR TIN SCHWALBE
doug larson is an inveterate storyteller and
he has created the perfect accompaniment
to his tales: a six-string guitar he handmade,
It’s not any old guitar. Dr. Larson, a professor
emeritus of integrative biology at the University of
Guelph, painstakingly handcrafted and decorated
the instrument from hundreds of disparate pieces,
including rare wood from windfalls, bits of shell and
bones, ancient fossils, a piece of mastodon ivory and
even a diamond in the headstock. Every item, naturally, has a story or lesson to it.
Take the diamond, which comes from the Ekati
mine in the Northwest Territories and was given to
him by a local jeweller. The story never fails to im-
press students, says Dr. Larson. “It opens up a whole
discussion of diamond formation and geology.”
There’s also the pick guard, made of the stomach
plate of a wood turtle. Dr. Larson got the piece from
renowned Guelph herpetologist Ron Brooks, who
had followed the turtle with a radio collar for nine
years before the animal died.
Or how about the top piece of the guitar, built
from part of a massive European spruce planted on
campus in 1880 by the university’s first professor of
agriculture and felled in a windstorm just months
after Dr. Larson embarked on his project?
“What’s lovely about this project is that at every
turn there is a story that fascinates some audience,”
he says. “All I have to do is play the instrument and
then have them ask me questions. It becomes a hook.
“The real problem,” he adds, “is stopping.”
The Storyteller had its debut in late 2008. Dr.
Larson’s inspiration was the Six String Nation guitar,
conceived in 1995 by broadcaster Jowi Taylor and
built by Nova Scotia luthier George Rizsany. That
guitar was made from 63 different pieces representing
Canadian history and heritage.
Dr. Larson credits his interest in crafting musical
instruments – he’s built 65 guitars in total – to his
interest in ecology and the challenges of scavenging
and reusing materials. Retired in 2009 after 34 years
at Guelph, he can be found back on campus for a
weekly lunchtime show. He also gets frequent invitations to appear at local schools, conferences and other
gatherings. – léo charbonneau