Veterans build electric guitars and new skills in Edmonds CC STEM workshop

Local veterans celebrated Veterans Day weekend by learning how to build electric guitars from scratch.

During a three-day workshop hosted by the National STEM Guitar Project at Edmonds Community College, 14 veterans built customized electric guitars to help build confidence and a new skill set. The workshop was supported by the Phoenix Patriot Foundation and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Phoenix Patriot Foundation Operations Manager Tony Villegas said the workshop is a form of therapy for those veterans battling PTSD.

“When they’re working on these, they’re so focused,” he said. “The best compliment we’ve received was ‘I haven’t though of anything else but this for the last three days,’”

The National STEM Guitar Project began as an effort to help high school students learn math and science by applying it to real-world projects. The project has since expanded to working with the Phoenix Patriot Foundation help local wounded veterans.

Tom Singer, a STEM Guitar instructor who traveled from Ohio, said the goal of the workshop is to help veterans build self confidence and give basic skills in woodworking.

“Each veteran transforms during the weekend,” he said. “It’s amazing how just the guitar is able then to use to help with PTSD, other ailments they don’t think about while they’re building a guitar. Their focus is on the instrument.”

Gerry Olsen, a Marine veteran who sings with the Snohomish County Music Project, said he enjoyed the workshop.

“I love it,” he said, while feeding the wires through the freshly-drilled holes in his pink and blue guitar.

Navy veteran Tim Farstead said he uses music as a form of therapy and his new guitar will help with that.

“It (music) takes me back to better times,” he said.

Chris Szarek, director of Edmonds CC’s Veteran’s Resource Center, helped recruit veterans for the workshop.

“It gives them a chance to meet other veterans, which is just so important,” he said.

The workshop offered other opportunities for veterans as well by including a class on entrepreneurship and a chance to become instructors in future workshops.

“There’s at least two we’ve identified in this group that will become instructors with our team,” Singer said.

— Story and photos by Cory Sexton

    1. This is an on-going project through STEM Guitar Project ( Look for other upcoming Guitar Builds for educators and Veterans (separately) in 2019-2020 at Edmonds CC. STEM Guitar has been in existence through an NSF grant for 10 years. The educator Guitar Builds teach applied STEM learning for their students to get more engaged with science, math and engineering. It’s been very powerful over the years!

  1. I worked as a Luthier in Philadelphia when I was stationed in NJ. Building guitars is incredibly therapeutic. If I can ever retire, I’m going to get back to it. Great job STEM and ECC.

  2. I might add that going forward, American Patriot Music Project (formerly part of the Music Program for Phoenix Patriot Foundation) will be supporting the STEM projects for Veterans APMP now supports ALL Veterans and 1st Responders ( This last project was an incredible success and if it wasn’t for the community support of Lynwood we’d be “singing a different tune!!”. Thanks to ALL organizations that supported this event at Edmonds Community College.

  3. This was an absolutely amazing project. The Vets who participated put in some hard work over 3 long days and built some great guitars. Enough cannot be said about the kindness and patience of the instructors which came from all over our area, and as far away as California and Ohio, as well the support we received from EDCC and the community. What’s truly special is seeing the change in the participants who came out of their she’ll over the weekend and recaptured the camaraderie some of them had walked away from over the years since they’ve been out. That’s the great thing about our Veterans Community, you can walk away for a while if you need to (a lot of us do at some point), but when you come back we’ll be ready to welcome you with open arms.

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