Guitars that can really swing

Swinger Guitars founders Noah Vachon, left, and Gaetano Frangella have turned tennis rackets into fully functioning instruments. Photograph by: Mamoru Kobayakawa

Swinger Guitars founders Noah Vachon, left, and Gaetano Frangella have turned tennis rackets into fully functioning instruments.
Photograph by: Mamoru Kobayakawa

Gaetano Frangella and Noah Vachon have created the air-guitarist’s dream.

They are the co-founders of Swinger Guitars, a company that transforms tennis rackets into fully functional instruments.

It’s an idea that has been around for a long time, but has never actually been attempted. “We saw a picture of (author) Marcel Proust from the 1890s on bended knee pretending to serenade his family and realized, ‘Who hasn’t picked up a tennis racket and pretended to play guitar?’ ” said Vachon, an industrial designer and luthier.

Although the idea is simple, the mechanics of actually turning a tennis racket into a guitar constitute an engineering feat. No wires are visible from the outside — they are all hidden in the frame of the racket.

“I was afraid by the idea,” said Vachon, “because from a technical position there are so many incongruities between the two things. Even though they look very similar, there are a lot of problems you run into structurally, and also in terms of trying to keep that tennis racket esthetic as the predominant form.”

There are two standard models: the Tour de Force and Riviera. Both are designed to emulate vintage tennis rackets from the early to mid-20th century. To fit the esthetic, the necks are shorter than a standard guitar. Swingers have seven frets, plus a fretless section higher up the neck. Both models have a Quebec maple base with a cast acrylic soundboard.

The guitars are luxury items: each takes 75 hours to make and costs $6,500.

Swinger appeals to a niche market — a risk Frangella and Vachon understand.

“The way we see it, there may be only one or two people in Montreal who have the desire or means to acquire such an instrument: a collector or musicians who are pushing the envelope and want something completely new,” Vachon said.

“If you’re making something that people can make beautiful music on and is one-of-a-kind, there is no fear, because the people who want it will find us,” Frangella said.

They estimate they only need to sell a dozen guitars a year to break even. Since they launched in August, they have sold a handful and have six out in specialty stores in the United States.

Combining sports equipment and instruments also has a second benefit, says Frangella.

“It also works as a tennis racket. I’ve tried it once or twice.”

Originally published in The Montreal Gazette:  http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/guitars+that+really+swing/9027928/story.html

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