In his Chicago studio, a guitar-maker strives for immortality, one instrument at a time.

By Angela Ufheil
August 21, 2017
Ian Schneller
Ian Schneller

Fine specimens More than 30 years ago, Ian Schneller realized he wanted to apply his master's degree in sculpture outside the gallery scene. Inspired by his band's aging instruments, he began crafting retro guitars and amps, drawn to the mix of art and utility. The sculptor had become a luthier-a maker of stringed instruments. "There's a tangible set of criteria for making a functional instrument," Ian says. "But once all the geometric requirements are met, you have a beautiful blank canvas." He's since built more than 800 instruments and speakers out of his workshop, Specimen.

Ian Schneller

Mixed media Ian finds the hours of traditional carving and sanding laborious yet soothing: "You gain an intimacy with the materials, letting you understand them more thoroughly." But he also experiments with aluminum, dryer lint, even bugs. On a guitar for Alex Kapranos of the band Franz Ferdinand, Ian laid emerald beetle wings like roof tiles in the pick guard, an iridescent reference to Alex's love of entomology.

Strings Attached Specimen is a rebellion against mass production and planned obsolescence. "A stringed instrument has an opportunity, if it's loved well enough, to persevere for centuries," Ian says. "It's kind of a stab at immortality."

String Theory Ian offers a variety of studio classes. He suggests taking Setup and Maintenance as an introduction before trying the more advanced instrument-making workshops. From $185 (

Ian's instruments