Senior Yanni Giannakopoulos is passionate about the guitar—specifically, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar. Considered one of rock ’n’ roll’s most iconic models ever built, it is also rare and very expensive. Yanni said the chances of purchasing one was likely not in the cards, so he’s building one for his Senior Project.
Yanni grew up around music in the Bahamas, where the drums and calypso beat were common, but he gravitated to the guitar and rock music. He received his first guitar from music legend and mentor Lenny Kravitz in 2009 and taught himself how to play by ear. As his skill increased, he became fascinated by the Gibson Les Paul.
His Senior Project is a labor of love that began four years ago. One of the reasons the Gibson Les Paul is so sought after is that timber used to make it is very hard to find. Sourcing the wood, including mahogany and rosewood, was Yanni’s first big challenge. He imported the wood from the Bahamas, Brazil, California, and Canada, and then spent his time researching the design and electronics.
Along the way, he’s met up with famous guitar players like Craig Ross and has made it a point to travel to locations where guitarists have invited him to play their personal Gibson Les Pauls. “It’s a very small community, so musicians from all over are very supportive when they learn about my project,” Yanni said.
Yanni is learning the art of woodworking and building the guitar in Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern’s classroom. “I’ve never tackled anything like this before, so the necessary skills are all new to me,” he said. He’s also learning by watching documentaries and doing good, old-fashioned research. He said he’s invested time and love into the craftsmanship and finds the results rewarding.
He began to build the guitar back in September and spent the first weeks refining the shape of the instrument’s body and working through the bumps and grooves in the wood to make it smooth and flush to the book-matched maple top. He printed out a life-size template as a guide to help during the carving and shaping process.
Yanni has definitely overcome some significant challenges during the work. Over the Thanksgiving break, the filtration system at the school was shut off, and the wood became warped and needed repair. He also makes his own rabbit skin glue from pellets, a tedious task.
Adding the electronics and getting the sound just right is also an intricate process, but Yanni said the guitar will be perfected in time to perform songs associated with the iconic sound of the guitar at Senior Project Performance Night on January 22. His mentor, Performing Arts teacher Rob Davies, is helping with this second aspect of the project.
Yanni says he’s looking forward to continuing to improve his playing and furthering his studies in jazz guitar in college next year.