URBANA — Rachel Rosenkrantz is used to demonstrating the process of crafting a guitar.
As an assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, she shows students the art of molding the instrument’s sound and structure, and she appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s show, "Raw Craft," wherein she and the late TV star made a bass guitar.
But at the biennial Ellnora: The Guitar Festival — where she’ll lead an 11 a.m. workshop on Sept. 7, sandwiched by three days of performances by renowned guitarists from across the musical spectrum — the luthier will find something totally different.
“I cannot dream of a better context,” Rosenkrantz said. “That’s what we do it for. And I think maybe it’ll help people appreciate even more what they hear when they go to a show after understanding a bit more what goes into it.
“They can enjoy what goes into a great piece of music, but now that they are aware of what goes into a great instrument, maybe they can appreciate it even more and have a better understanding of music. It expands the landscape of understanding what music is. It’s not just in our ears. It’ll be a bit of reverse-engineering, I guess.”
Rosenkrantz, who is a trained architect and accomplished industrial designer, began making guitars in 2011, eventually leaving her career in the electronics design business to hand-make the instruments that sell anywhere from $5,500 for a ukelele to $10,250 for a bass guitar.
This summer, the native of France has been busy putting together different guitar parts to show attendees the steps that it takes to make one. She’ll have a box of strings made of different material, and attendees will be able to swap out different types of wood to see how each affects the quality of the instrument’s sound.
Rosenkrantz’s workshop is one of the highlights of an Ellnora that will be even more interactive than in years past.
In addition to Rosenkrantz’s showing, Ellnora will host live podcast recordings, three panel discussions, a taping of Illinois Public Media’s “The 21st,” a talkback, and yoga and meditation sessions.
“We’re sort of adding some elements that you might associate with an ideas festival,” said David Spelman, artistic adviser of the three-day event, set for Sept. 5-7. “We have had talkbacks, and we have had public interviews with artists, so we’re just going a little further in that direction and deepening the conversations.”
Before her workshop, Rosenkrantz will take part in a talkback with slack key guitar players, something she’s excited about because it’s a type of guitar playing she isn’t completely familiar with.
She’ll also host a panel along with guitarists Luther Dickinson, Kaki King, Tony McManus and Jason Vieaux.
“I think for a lot of people, whether they play the instrument or not, (how it’s made is) something they don’t think about,” Spelman said. “To a lot of us, if they give any thought at all to where a guitar comes from, maybe it’s in a factory in China, maybe it’s in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“In Rachel’s case, it’s made on a workbench in Providence, Rhode Island. I think what’s interesting is not just Rachel and her unique background ... but it’s joining some other musicians to talk about the kind of dialogue that goes on between a luthier and a player.”
Rosenkrantz will focus her workshop on how to “voice” a guitar, the process that makes one guitar sound different from another. So this year, not only will Ellnora attendees see guitar-playing from across the musical world, they’ll learn about the instrument from the inside-out.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand how much structure there is inside their guitars,” she said. “I think they will be surprised to see how much bracing, which are beams to prevent the collapse of the instrument under tension, but also to guide the quality of the sound ... because it’s such a common instrument, but this is the part that’s not visible. Even musicians don’t know as much about the insides of their instruments as you would assume.
“So for people, not necessarily musicians, but that are music aficionados, I think that will be more than welcome. I think they’ll be excited about that. I think they’ll say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s what goes into a guitar? It’s not just a box?’”