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The Campus Lantern

Josh Mattingly doesn’t just teach history; he also builds guitars

Josh Mattingly poses with Dr. Druggan after gifting him the guitar at the end-of-year faculty meeting. Photo courtesy of Josh Mattingly

“It gets really complex and… there’s an art to it, but there’s also something of a science to it,” said Josh Mattingly about the process of making a guitar.

Yes, in addition to teaching American history, Josh makes guitars for family, friends, members of the SCH community, and even some big-name-artists.

A longtime woodworker and collector/player of guitars, it was about five years ago, before the pandemic, that Josh thought to combine his two hobbies and start making guitars from scratch.

Early on, Josh made guitars for himself because, being a guitar enthusiast, there were so many that he had always wanted. “I did that for a little,” Josh said, but then he “made [his] own designs and put [his] own spin on different things.” At that point, Josh had guitars “piling up…. My wife was like ‘we don’t need a 16th guitar floating around the house,’” he recalled. “So I started giving them away….” Before Covid, Josh gave guitars to his sister, his father, and a former SCH history teacher.

When lockdown began, Josh noticed on YouTube that one of his favorite artists, Nick Shoulders, was using “an okay guitar… but it wasn’t a great guitar.” Josh thought “‘Why don’t I give this guy a guitar?’” The two connected via email, and they collaborated back and forth, deciding what the artist wanted. Josh ended up producing the guitar pictured below.

Shoulders gave Josh several shout-outs on Instagram and YouTube, and the high praise caused Josh’s hobby to “snowball,” he said. Since then, Josh has “gotten in touch with artists that [he likes], and some folks have gotten in touch with [him].”

“It’s kind of become a thing that I do now, making guitars for artists that I admire.” Josh noted that “the coolest thing” is when the artists use the guitars he makes. “I listen to that next record, and I’m hearing the guitar that I made on their record.”

Arguably Josh’s favorite guitar that he has made, though, was not for one of his favorite artists; it was for former head of school Dr. Druggan. As a going away present for Dr. Druggan, Josh crafted him a guitar made almost entirely of repurposed wood from the SCH campus.

The guitar’s back and sides come from an old CHA bench that Mr. Brewer, SCH’s previous woodworking teacher, gave to Josh for the guitar. The binding around the edge of the guitar is cherry wood from an old desk, and the pickguard is chestnut from a pew kneeler that was in the chapel. “The strips of maple in the [guitar’s] neck are from the Vare gym floor,” Josh said, and he pointed out that there’s wood from the lower school, middle school, and upper school in it, in addition to SCH’s shield on the headstock.

“The fingerboard and the bridge are made from macassar ebony which came from Indonesia, where Dr. Druggan taught before coming to SCH. So there’s a little bit of his past from Indonesia connection. And then Dubai, where Dr. Druggan [is now], is known for its pearl, so I got some nice pearl in there. So it’s like where he was, where he is now, and where he’s going.” Josh added that the guitar is “in the style of a Martin double O guitar. The first year that the Martin style came out was the first year that CHA was in the Wissahickon Inn…. So it’s cool, all those little connections.”

Dr. Druggan, on a recent Google Meet, said that the guitar was “so impactful” for him because he “[loves] the SCH campus and the mixture of the old and the new.” Through the guitar, which Dr. Druggan and his family keep in their home in northwestern Pennsylvania, they maintain “such a connection to a place that was such a wonderful time of [their] lives.” Dr. Druggan does not play guitar, but “whenever we’re together in the summer, my son plays it for us,” the former head of school said. “It’s a perfect thing to have when we’re all sitting out around the fire pit.”

Mr. Pevear, the upper school librarian, is a longtime player of acoustic guitars, and can confirm that Josh’s guitar’s are “right up there” with other guitars of the highest quality. Josh is currently in the very early stages of building a guitar for Mr. Pevear, but the librarian is “leaving most of [the customization] up to Josh because of his expertise.”

According to Josh, building a guitar can “easily take 100 hours.” He admitted that during the school year balancing guitar-making and teaching can be “a lot,” but as long as it does not interfere with his work, all Josh wants is to “keep having fun with [the hobby].”

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About the Contributor
Griffy Whitman
Griffy Whitman, Inaugural Editor-in-Chief
Griffy is a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and he revived The Campus Lantern last year. He loves lacrosse and writing, so you can usually find him either on the field or interviewing someone for a story. Outside of school, he loves to play with his dog, Wesley.
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